Tour de France Stage 20: Time Trials

Eye-catching stat from today’s time trial: Tony Martin, the Stage 20 winner in a time of 55:33, won on the same course June 8, Stage 3 of the Dauphine Libere, in 55:27. For the civilian cyclist and for anyone who looks at the Tour racers as I do and assumes that the race takes a brutal toll on bodies, endurance, and psyches, it’s sort of a starling statistic. The guy dominated then, and he dominated today at the tail end of a race in which he’s been driven very hard to help his team’s sprinter (HTC Highroad, Mark Cavendish) and has had to go over all the big mountains with the rest of the pack.

I figured there were more interesting comparisons to be made between the Dauphine and Tour performances. Here’s another: Cadel Evans, who rode a very strong second today in 55:40, finished seventh on June 8 in 56:47. So there’s a guy who’s been driving very hard for three weeks–has been on the spot to cover all his rivals’ mountain moves and with his team’s help (BMC) has reliably kept himself out of trouble near the front of the pack–who made a major improvement in his performance in the space of six weeks. Thomas Voeckler, fresh off several harrowing days defending his overall race lead, improved by almost a minute.

One question it raises–no, not about doping–is what are the factors besides fatigue that might explain such an improvement. I’m not taking that on right now. Instead, here’s a side-by-side comparison of some of the other Dauphine/Tour performances on the Grenoble course used in both races (I haven’t done them–yet–all because my painstaking one-at-a-time method takes a little too long; I’m about to break out a spreadsheet to do the whole list):

Racer Dauphine time Tour time Change
Jean-Christophe Peraud 58:20 57:06 -1:14
Cadel Evans 56:47 55:40 -1:07
Thomas Voeckler 58:45 57:47 -:58
Lieuwe Westra 58:28 58:12 -:16
Kristjan Koren 58:10 58:09 -:01
Tony Martin 55:27 55:33 +:06
Sandy Casar 58:29 58:36 +:07
Rein Taaramae 57:23 57:36 +:13
Danny Pate 58:39 59:03 +:24
Adriano Malori 57:31 58:11 +:40
Vladimir Karpets 58:29 59:09 +:40
Nicky Sorenson 58:37 59:24 +:47
Jerome Coppel 57:35 58:24 +:49
Jeremy Roy 58:05 58:56 +:51
Christophe Riblon 57:04 58:12 +1:08
Maxime Bouet 58:22 59:32 +1:10
Gorka Verdugo 58:35 59:46 +1:11
Juan Antonio Flecha 58:42 59:53 +1:11
Robert Gesink 58:16 59:34 +1:18
Edvald Boasson Hagen 56:10 57:43 +1:33
Ramunas Navardauska 58:42 60:21 +1:39
Andriy Grivko 59:58 62:24 +2:26
Rui Alberto Fario da Costa 57:27 60:02 +2:35
David Moncoutie 58:29 61:58 +3:29
Joost Posthuma 58:36 62:09 +3:33
Geraint Thomas 57:03 60:48 +3:45
Rigoberto Uran 58:08 62:24 +4:16
Biel Kadri 58:10 63:03 +4:53
Brian Vandborg 58:20 64:00 +5:40

Tour de France Stage 2: Fast, But Not the Fastest

Team time trial speed record? Good post from Chris Carmichael on how yesterday’s shorter (Stage 2) time trial played out. But he and others are calling yesterday’s 23-kilometer the fastest in Tour history.

Really? The winning team, Garmin Cervelo, clocked 24:48 for 23 kilometers. The way I calculate the speed (dividing 60, the number of minutes in an hour, by 24.8, the finishing time in decimalized minutes, then multiplying the dividend, 2.41935484, by the distance covered, 23 kilometers), I get an average speed of 55.65 kilometers an hour. That means that Team Discovery’s 2005 team time trial, in which they covered 67.5 kilometers in 1:10:39, an average speed of 57.32 kilometers an hour, is still the absolute record. (Some of the excitement about the average speed came from the stage’s first time check, for which the fastest team (Sky, I think) came through in 9:02. For that opening stretch, their speed was 59.8 kilometers an hour).

Even if yesterday’s winning time had been the fastest average speed on the Tour books, I think it would be awkward at best to consider it the fastest in Tour history. No two Tour courses are the same, for one thing. For another, I think Discovery’s feat of maintaining that sort of intensity over such a long distance–what, you’re going to say they were *all* doping?–was exponentially tougher than the dash we saw yesterday.

Also of note: the high speeds put in by other teams in the 2005 TTT. Team CSC was just 2 seconds behind Discovery, 57.17 kph; T-Mobile came in 35 seconds back at 56.86; Liberty Seguros was 53 seconds back at 56.61; Phonak, 1:31 back and 56.12; Credit Agricole, 1:41 and 55.99; Gerolsteiner and Illes Balear-Caisse D’Epargne tied at 2:05 and 55.68.

By my count, that’s eight teams that recorded higher speeds over a much longer distance than Garmin-Cervelo put in yesterday.

Tour de France: Stage 1, A Day for the Crasheurs

If crasheur isn’t a word in French, it should be, at least for the three weeks of the Tour de France. It would denote the huge crowds of racers hitting the deck on the Tour’s byways, as happened today more than once. I don’t know the details, but a typically incautious fan standing on the edge of a road managed to get hit by someone from Team Astana. The racer bounced off and veered into the very tightly packed peloton. Result: Lots of bodies on the pavement. Les crasheurs.

Somewhere up the road, Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert won the stage on a long uphill just ahead of Australia’s Cadel Evans. The good news in the high Evans placing: he’s a legitimate condtender in the race, especially seeing how the likes of Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck were caught in or behind the mass crash and a subsequent mishap and lost more than a minute today. The bad news in the high Evans placing: We can count on hearing his whinging on a daily basis as the race progresses.

Tour of California Stage 2: Farewell to Winter

Note: This is text from my post on KQED’s News Fix blog.
Update, 7:40 a.m.: Here’s KQED’s story on the Stage 1 cancellation on this morning’s “The California Report: Tour of California’s First Stage Snowed Out. (And yes, we’re updating it to reflect today’s shorter stage.)
Update, 6:50 a.m.: The winter weather in the Sierra has prompted Tour officials to cut today’s stage in half, moving it from Squaw Valley all the way down to Nevada City. That reduces the stage from 133 miles to 61 miles, and moves the start back from 10:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Here’s the lemonade-from-lemons announcement from Andrew Messick, head of AEG Sports, the lead Tour organizer:

“Nevada City did an outstanding job hosting the first stage of the 2010 race and we know that the riders and fans will appreciate the return. We owe a debt of gratitude to Andy Chapman, Carol Chaplin and everyone in Squaw Valley, who worked tirelessly to create what would have been an exceptional Stage 2 start and hope that we will have an opportunity to bring the Amgen Tour of California to the city in a future year.”

Earlier: The plan for the second stage–is it still second if there was no first stage?–is to ride from the Squaw Valley ski resort down to the town of Truckee, ride along the north shore of Donner Lake, then climb up to Donner Pass on old U.S. 40. It’s a gorgeous route and would be ideal if you didn’t have to think about traffic or the weather. The racers won’t have to sweat the traffic–the road will be closed. Weather? That’s another matter. Overnight temperatures in the area will be in the high teens, meaning Sunday’s wet roads may be icy in the morning. After the summit, a little above 7,200 feet above sea level, the riders will start a long, long descent to Sacramento (altitude 25 feet above sea level). They’ll crest the pass after working up a nice little sweat, only to be faced with a long, fast, cold, and possibly slippery descent. (Remember, they’re paid to do this; we’re not.) The question naturally occurs after Sunday’s Stage One cancellation: Will the race really happen as planned? The answer just past midnight Monday is that the Tour organizers are keeping all options open, but nothing will be certain until much closer to the scheduled 10:15 a.m. start. Here are a couple quotes from the “post-stage” press conference Sunday that make that point: Andrew Messick, head of AEG Sports, one of the outfits putting on the race:

“Honestly, our focus has been on today. Tomorrow we have a number of contingency plans if we again encounter drastic weather conditions. It is likely going to depend on the status of Donner Pass. We have our team up there right now assessing the situation.”

Jim Birrell, race director:

“We have our team focusing on Donner Pass, and that will be critical for making a decision tomorrow. It will be our goal to make a decision by 8 a.m. tomorrow. Our team will contemplate the alternative and then proceed with the option that is best for our riders. Right now we are moving forward with tomorrow as planned, and we will have to react to the weather as it unfolds.”

Links Amgen Tour of California still under snow watch San Francisco Chronicle: Winter in May will stick around another day San Jose Mercury: Tour of California officials hope for better weather Monday

Tour of California: Stage 1 Delayed, Shortened


Update 11:45 a.m.: The Tour of California organizers just announced that a 50-mile version of Stage 1 will roll out from the Stateline, Nevada, start line at 1:15 p.m. The route will head around the southern end of Lake Tahoe, turn north on Highway 89 to head north up the lake’s east side, climb to a Category 4 King of the Mountain summit above Emerald Bay, and finish with an uphill finish at the Northstar ski resort.

We are sitting comfortably in Berkeley, a good 180 miles away from the action, but we note that according to the National Weather Service reporting station at Lake Tahoe, the snow has never let up since it started last night. Current conditions: light snow, temperature of 30 degrees F., wind from the south at 10 mph, gusting to 22.

Here’s the revised course map:Tour of California Stage 1 map

And here’s the revised course log: 11 AToC Stage 1 log south side only.xls

Earlier: Above, an image posted to Twitter this morning by Team Garmin. Yeah–that’s near Lake Tahoe and the planned start of the Tour of California this morning.

It snowed all night in the Sierra and now the organizers have decided to shorten the stage and delay the start for several hours to give the weather a chance to improve. If weather and road conditions are still bad at noon, the stage could be canceled outright. Here’s the latest Tour statement:

Due to severe and unsafe weather conditions in the Lake Tahoe area, the start of Stage 1 of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California has been delayed. If the weather improves, a shortened stage will be started at 1:15 p.m. PT. We will continue to monitor the weather conditions and state of the roads and make a final decision at noon PT, with the riders’ safety as our number one priority.

The new route will continue to take the riders from South Lake Tahoe to Northstar up the west side of Lake Tahoe. The stage will be approximately 50 miles. There will be no changes to the timing or the finish line at Northstar. The Lifestyle Festival at the finish will still open at noon PT, with the Amgen Breakaway Mile also remaining on schedule for 2:30 p.m. PT.

– Andrew Messick, President of AEG Sports, presenter of the Amgen Tour of California

Tour of California: Waiting on the Weather

The Tour of California organizers have just released a statement on how they’ll respond to the onset of potentially dangerous winter weather on the planned Stage 1 course around Lake Tahoe on Sunday:

The 2011 Amgen Tour of California is scheduled to kick off Sunday, May 15, in South Lake Tahoe at 10:30 a.m. PT. As everyone is aware, there is a storm front predicted to reach the area. Therefore race organizers, in conjunction with the commissaires, teams and public safety organizations, have developed a number of contingency plans with the safety of the riders and fans being the number one priority. The weather is constantly changing in the Sierras, and our team will be assessing weather conditions throughout the morning. A decision on any changes to the route and timing will be made at 9 a.m. PT tomorrow, and will ultimately be based on what is best and most safe for our riders and spectators. Details will be distributed on the official race website and via email.
– Andrew Messick, President of AEG Sports, presenter of the Amgen Tour of California

I’ll only note that as the clock strikes midnight, the latest weather reports show light snow at Lake Tahoe Airport and at Blue Canyon, on Interstate 80 at about 5,200 feet west of Donner Summit. The National Weather Service office in Reno notes that on May 15, 1984, the town of Truckee recorded 4 inches of snow. Winter can last a while in the high country.

Some other links on weather and race speculation:

Cyclingnews: Contingencies in Place for Amgen Tour of California Weather San Jose Mercury News: Tour of California may have to change course for first day because of snowstorm Los Angeles Times: Snow, ice threaten start of Tour of California cycling race Tour of California can’t get a break Sacramento Bee: Tour of California officials ponder options

Tour de France: Learning to Love Cadel

Love Cadel? Just kidding. One of the side-effects of Tour watching is over-familiarity with the trials and tribulations of Cadel Evans. Which means: tipped as a perennial race favorite by the Brit commentators on Versus, he’s never quite shown up. But unlike some non-winning favorites you root for because they win sympathy in defeat through a show of panache or humor or some other token of class, Evans always seems to have had a whine ready about the tough conditions he couldn’t quite overcome, plaints about the long odds he’s always facing, or some other bit of unpleansantness. (Here’s the “You step on my dog, I cut your head off” moment from 2008 which shows Evans at his best; and here’s a brief review of Evans’s 2008 Tour, which thankfully he did not win.)

But there’s more to being a Tour fan than just hating Cadel. It stands to reason we ought to like someone in the peloton, and also that we dislike others nearly as intensely as we dislike Evans. Here’s a short list of who we love and who we find insufferable, with an attempt to rationalize our choices:

Guys We’d Ride With, If We Could Keep Up

Fabian Cancellara: Awesome power, but mostly he just seems like a cool guy. We liked what he did to control the peloton after the Tour’s big Day of Crashes (Stage 2) last week.
George Hincapie: The guy’s been in 15 TdFs and seems like the definition of the smart, selfless, capable rider. Again, he seems–and we’re aware how much we’re relying on the thin evidence of what we see on the telly–to be a cool, thoughtful, approachable human being.
Andy Schleck: The accent might be a barrier to understanding him, especially as he accelerates away from us on the first molehill climb of the day, but he seems like a decent sort. Great win on Sunday (Stage 8).
Jens Voigt: Tough and courageous, and seemingly never afraid to bury himself for a teammate or for an unlikely breakaway result.
Levi Leipheimer: A local (Northern California) guy who has stuck his nose into the elite ranks and has stayed there. I don’t seriously believe he’ll contend for the top step of the podium in Paris, but whether he does or not he seems to take each accomplishment or disappointment as it comes.
Svein Tuft: Who? Not a top performer in the Tour. But one hell of a guy. And no one has a better story.
Dave Zabriskie: We still remember his day or so in yellow. We still remember the story we heard of him borrowing a tube from a recreational rider here in the Bay Area. And we love his Yield to Life campaign.
Greg Lemond, Floyd Landis: You know, I saw LeMond at a regular old midwestern century once. He’d been hired as the honorary ride leader or something, and did the distance and hung out with folks in a park in downtown Milwaukee afterward. I remember him goofing around on someone’s hand-cranked recumbent. That was cool. More recently, he’s become a bit of a nag as the Cassandra for doping in cycling. As for Floyd: What a mess. But I’d still like to see if he’d talk about, ahem, The Stage, and whether he’s ever told the truth about any of it. One of these by themselves would be some kind of a treat. How about getting them together for a gabfest?

I’d Have a Beer with These Guys, As Long As It’s Not a Michelob
Really, we’re not worthy to kiss the hems of their jerseys. I mean, these folks seem sort of Olympian, and a couple of them are known to not suffer fools or second-place finishes gladly. Still

Lance Armstrong: Why? In his own way he’s the best.
Mark Cavendish: Our hearts go out to a guy who seems a little deranged by his emotions. We’d love to watch tape of some of his wins and hear him explain the strategy.
Alberto Contador: Tell us, please, what kind of guts it takes to attack on the most desperate climbs.
Johan Bruyneel: OK–not an active rider. But his book, “We Might As Well Win,” is a fine racing memoir even though it’s less than convincing laying out its strategy for success.

We Woudn’t Give These Guys Change for a Twenty Even If We Had It
We realize without being told that we’re being small and ungenerous in our opinions. But here’s a group that just rankles somehow.

Cadel Evans: Yes, we’re aware that there’s evidence to the contrary, but the guy seems like an unhappy, griping, pouty piece of work.
Thor Hushovd: Here we turn our back on our blind allegiance to one of our ancestral homelands, Norway, to deliver this verdict: Tour muttonhead extraordinaire. Just seems like a blockhead. Although it must be admitted he’s not to blame for the idiot commentators who persist in calling him “The God of Thunder.” But we never promised to be fair or reasonable in our judgments, did we?
Ivan Basso: It looked like he was the heir apparent to Armstrong, then he doped and couldn’t quite get his story straight about what he was or wasn’t doing. We have an expression for guys like this: dumbass.
Sylvain Chavanel: We should have a soft spot in our heart for this guy. After all, he crashed during one of the classics this spring, fractured his skull, and had to be put into a medically induced coma during his recovery. And now he’s won two stages in this Tour and twice worn the yellow jersey. Bravo. On the other hand, his riding seems to typify the strategically empty role of the French racers in the Tour. They seem to specialize in the long, desperate, and usually predictably fruitless escape.
Thomas Voeckler: Another hard-riding Frenchman. Next.
Alexander Vinokourov: He had a great Tour, once. It was 2003, he was wreaking havoc on the peloton and on his own team with his boundless daring, courage, energy, and lack of concern for tactics. In fact, he was the rider Armstrong and the ill-fated Joseba Beloki were chasing when Beloki crashed and Armstrong made his famous cross-pasture ride. Alas, “Vino” turned out to be a doper of the worst sort–the transparently lying kind. He was banned from cycling for a couple years, but last year appeared at the end of the Tour to announce he was taking control of “his” team–the Kazakh-backed Astana, run by Bruyneel, home of Armstrong, Contador, and Leiphemer.
In short, he seems selfish to the nth degree, though yesterday he did surprise by not attacking his own team leader (Contador).

Pine Flat Road: How Levi Descends

By way of another Brekke–Thom–a cool video of Levi Leipheimer descending the scarifying Pine Flat Road in Sonoma County. Any steep, technical descent on a single lane of shattered-looking pavement would be a little frightening for the average cyclist. What elevates this is the demonstration of how a racer throws himself at such a road. It’s just part of the distance between us–the folks who ride for fun and the occasional thrill–and them–the people for whom the bike and life is not readily distinguishable.

Levi Leipheimer Descending Pine Flat Road from Roger Bartels on Vimeo.

Tour de France, Stage 20: Mont Ventoux Outlook

If you’re following the Tour, you know today’s stage finishes atop Mont Ventoux, a 6,700-foot summit in Provence. The climb from the town of Bedoin is about 21 kilometers. Average grade is 7.6 percent, but there are long stretches of 9 and 10 percent grades and some pitches as steep as 12 percent. Here’s a good everyday-cyclist’s description of the Bedoin route.

The climb is one thing, the weather on the mountain is another. Forecast today is for a high of 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius) at the foot of the climb in Bedoin. None other than Phil Liggett is reporting via Twitter that gale force winds–his term–are blowing at the summit (around 9:30 a.m. local time, a good five hours before the race will be on the mountain). Warm temperatures on the stage leading to the climb and winds on the slopes, combined with the urgency of the race leaders to hang onto their places, would raise the difficulty of the stage to extreme. Did I mention that half a million people are expected on the mountain?

So, the mountain is a known. The weather conditions are becoming clearer. What we don’t know is the race outcome. Here’s a guess at the overall standings after Stage 20, and we’ll judge how educated it was later.

Yellow Jersey, or My-Yo-Jawn: Contador will hold it. No one in the entire field has shown they can successfully attack him; conversely, he’s shown he can attack just about anyone at any time with a fair to excellent chance of success. It would have been interesting to see the outcome of his Stage 18 attack–the one that dropped Andreas Kloden–if he hadn’t sat up. How much time could he have picked up on the Schlecks before the descent. Twenty seconds? Thirty? Maybe that wouldn’t have been enough for him to stay away on the descent. Add to the fact he’s the strongest man his 4-minute 11-second advantage. The only way he loses yellow is a spectacular mishap or blow-up.

Second place: Andy Schleck. He’s got a minute and change on Armstrong. He could have a bad day and go backwards, but as in Contador’s case there’s no evidence of a bad day in store. Plus, he’s got the world’s most dedicated and reliable teammate in his brother Frank

Third: With four riders bunched at 38 seconds apart–Armstrong, Wiggins, Kloden, Schleck–this is the G.C. battle to watch. I’m pulling for Armstrong, but his words after Verbier–about how quickly he was at the limit and how clear he was that he didn’t have what it took to contend for that stage win–were direct and honest. At the same time, the Tour has changed since Verbier. The competition has been wrung out a little. None of the three men who could push Armstrong out of third have demonstrated they’re superior to him. In fact, Armstrong toyed with Wiggins on Stage 18 and dropped him at the top of the last climb. Frank Schleck was one of the many riders surprised to have Armstrong blast by them during his great bridge attack on Stage 17. And Kloden? Like Frank Schleck, he’s been the good teammate. I don’t see him attacking to get on the podium unless Armstrong simply can’t make it. So: advantage Armstrong, and the podium you’d have seen Friday is the one we’ll get Sunday.

Unless all sorts of crazy stuff happens. Sometimes it does during the Tour.

Mark Cavendish: Climb Was ‘Grim, So, So Grim’

Columbia’s Mark Cavendish, asked by Frankie Andreu on Versus whether he took special pleasure in beating Thor Hushovd this morning:

No, not at all. It’s irrelevant. It’s beating the mountains that gives me more gratification. You know that was a hard climb at the finish and it was about getting over that. I put the top of the climb as my finish line, and if I could get there I could get to the real finish. We only had three guys [George Hincapie, Tony Martin, and Maxime Montfort] after it and what a job those three guys did, all three of them emptied the tank the day before Mont Ventoux. That takes guts, that takes determination, that takes will, you know. to put me in the best position to win, and for me that goes down as my nicest victory just how it went with the climb and the way the guys rode. You know, we were on the back foot but we came through.

FA: Talk about emptying the tank, how much did you have to empty the tank to stay on that climb when Menchov was really going?

MC: It was hard. It was really hard, but you know when you’ve got guys staying with you and you give up then it’s not fair on them. I said if the guys stay with me, there’s no way I can give up, I have to go go go until I can’t go any more. It was grim, it was so, so grim at the top, it got really hard, my saddle was going further and further up my ass (laughs) and when I got over, it was a case of there wasn’t time to recover on the descent because we were full-gas chasing, but you know, we did it and it was nice.