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 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).

Tour de France: Versus Theme Music, 2010

Update (7/25/2010): The tune Versus used on its closing credits for this year’s Tour de France was “Kings and Queens,” by the band 30 Seconds to Mars. You can play the song (and buy the MP3) through iLike and MySpace here: 30 Seconds to Mars/”Kings and Queens”. The lyrics are here.

2009 Versus TdF theme music.

2008 Versus TdF theme music.

Original 2010 post: The last couple of years, the Versus broadcasts of the Tour de France have featured interesting theme tunes (I refer not to the rather generic, orchestrated title intro music, but to the popular music the network has used as part of its overall theme. In 2008, it was Paul Weller’s “Brand New Start,” by Paul Weller. The song was supposed to carry a message: the Tour, and Versus, were done with the dark days of doping. In 2009, it was Explosion in the Sky’s ethereal, driving but ultimately message-less “First Breath After Coma.”

This year, the featured tune appears to be “Kings and Queens” by the band 30 Seconds to Mars. I say “seems to be” because it’s been used as the audio for quick montages of the day’s racing action during the first couple of stages. In fact, the montage is accompanied by an MTV-style video credit for the tune. You can play the song (and buy the MP3) through iLike and MySpace here: 30 Seconds to Mars/”Kings and Queens”. The lyrics are here.

Tour de France Aftermath: Shut Up and Ride

Before the Tour has vanishes entirely from memory, I just want to set down an impression or two. But not before a detour to take notice of the “war of words” between the winner, Alberto Contador, and his teammate, Lance Armstrong. To boil the thing down, Contador said he respects Armstrong the champion and the racer, but doesn’t like or admire Armstrong as a person and never has. Armstrong responded Tweet-wise, unloading pearls like “there’s no ‘I’ in team.” Pretty mild stuff, really, but it must delight the organizers of the Tour, who now have a grudge match to promote as next year’s premier attraction.

But back to this year’s race. Yeah, there was a little drama on the road, what with Contador unable to rein in his urge to show he’s the best and Armstrong and Team Astana clinging to the flimsy public fiction that leadership of the team was unsettled. That was always bull, and here’s why: Johan Bruyneel, like his riders, lives to win. For him, that meant an Astana rider in yellow on the Champs-Elysees as the Tour rolled across the finish line. He had one horse, and only one horse, who would get him there: Contador. Bruyneel was never coy about who he thought his strongest rider was, and Armstrong, after Contador’s decisive attack on the Verbier in Stage 15, conceded the point.

Yeah, you can talk about Contador’s ill-timed attack on Stage 17 that dropped teammate Andreas Klöden, a move that later prompted Phil “Pot Calls Kettle Black” Liggett to question whether Contador was intelligent enough to win on another team. But look again at what happened. Contador sat up as soon as he realized he and Andy and Frank Schleck had gapped Klöden. By then, though, the Schlecks had seen Klöden fall off and taken the initiative, and Contador had no choice but to follow them. There was a lot of talk that Contador’s move had cost Astana a one-two-three overall placing. Maybe. But that argument assumes the Schlecks would never have attacked themselves or would have done it too late to create the time gaps that relegated Klöden to a lower placing. They certainly showed they had the ability to attack in that moment: their pace finished Klöden, and their descent to the finish, with Contador as passenger, gained them even more time on all the chasers. The favor Contador did the Schlecks was to remove the need to decide for themselves when to jump. How much damage they would have done to Astana without Contador’s move–and, presuming they weren’t content to let Astana dictate pace all the way to the finish, they would have done some–we’ll never know.

But back to that impression.

It comes from Stage 16, a mountain stage on which Armstrong had become separated from the leaders’ group. He made a long solo attack from a trailing group to rejoin the leaders. And for several minutes, there he was, the Lance we remembered from all those years of dominating the race. Standing, accelerating, holding a high pace forever. It was thrilling, it was beautiful, as he passed one rider after another and gained on the official cars convoying the leaders to the top of the climb. On the team radio, Bruyneel sounded almost as surprised and excited as the people in the cafe where I was watching the race: “Lance is coming! Lance is coming alone!”

Not a race-winning move, to be sure, but a flash of strength that reminded you of how stirring this race and this racer have been.

The Tour on TV


I know plenty of people who have seen a stage or two of the Tour de France or, better, who have gone over and ridden Tour stages — some just hours before the race came up the road. Me–I’ve never gotten closer than what I can see on cable television. Not to complain: the view is pretty darned good most of the time. Of course, there are commercials. For whatever reason, Versus sported lots and lots and lots of ads for Extenze–a “natural” “male enhancement” substance *and* lots and lots of ads for guys who have an unconquerable urge to take a leak right now (those are the symptoms above). I find the juxtaposition a little odd. I mean, the sweet spot for Versus is the young guy demographic, 18 to 30-some year olds that a) don’t need much male enhancement and b) still have a pretty healthy urinary life. Maybe the network knows something we don’t: that the audience watching pro cycling on TV needs help in the bedroom and bathroom. Could be because of prolonged bike-seat use.

Tour de France Aftermath: Jens Voigt’s ‘Horror-Crash’

[Earlier post: Jens Voigt: ‘I Was Very Lucky‘]

Trying to find updates on the condition of Jens Voigt, the tough German rider who left the Tour after crashing in the Alps, all links seem to lead to German media coverage. And that’s led to the discovery of a German usage I’d never seen before (OK, maybe that’s not surprising: I don’t read German, really, and I don’t spend a lot of time poring over German media). I see Voigt’s crash referred to in Bild and other websites as a “Horror-Sturz” — horror-fall. And as it happens, there have been two gnarly crashes in Formula 1 auto racing lately, both described as “Horror-Crash.” The former example creates a compound by welding an English word onto a German one; the latter forms a compound by smushing two English words together in a way that wouldn’t quite work outside of headlinese. End of linguistic note.

So the latest on Voigt: He’s recovering after his Horror-Sturz. And actually, that’s not a bad term for it. He was descending an alpine road at about 50 mph when he hits a rut or hole in the pavement and instantaneously lost control of the bike. He plunged face first to the road and slid with his bike for a long way. The worst part, for me: when he stopped sliding, he simply lay there. The crash was, indeed, horrifying.

(Earlier, Bild had supplied this tidbit: That Voigt’s wife Stephanie saw the crash on TV while at a birthday party; it also published a brief interview with the wheel-star’s Frau about her initial reaction to the Horror-Sturz. The Google machine translations of those stories, entertaining in their own way, are here and here).

But back to Voigt himself: He continues to recuperate from his injuries, which included a concusssion, shattered cheekbone, and multiple abrasions and lacerations. As all the Bild photos show–the pictures are uniformly gruesome–he is much the worse for his head-on meeting with the pavement. According to a Bild story over the weekend (translation), he doesn’t have a clear memory of the crash and has no fear of returning to racing. He’s already declared his intention to ride in next year’s Tour. Here’s one quote:

Seinen Sturz sah er später im Krankenbett im Fernsehen: „Ich bin noch nicht ganz klar im Kopf. Es ist schon komisch. Ich sehe den Sturz, wie das Rad Funken sprüht, aber es berührt mich nicht, weil ich keine Erinnerung daran habe. Ich habe deshalb auch keine Angst, wieder aufs Rad zu steigen. Vielleicht mache ich das noch in diesem Jahr.”

(“He saw his fall later on television from his hospital bed. ‘I’m not entirely clear in my head. It’s funny. I see the fall, how the wheel sprayed sparks. But it doesn’t bother me because I have no memory of it. So I also have no fear about climbing back on the bike. Maybe I’ll do it later this year.’ “)

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.

Journal of Self-Promotion

Contributing to my lack of rest this week was a small radio story I did on locals watching the Tour de France. Through Yelp!, someone at KQED steered me to a little place in Richmond called Catahoula Coffee Company. Originally part of the draw was the news that the cafe opened at 1 a.m. so that people could come watch the Tour. The truth was that it actually opens at 7 — with the Tour playing in mid-stage. Earlier this week I went up there and the owner gave me the run of the place for one morning and part of another. Three minutes of thrilling (and I hope entertaining) audio ensued and aired on KQED’s California Report Magazine this afternoon. Here’s the link to the story page (where the audio will eventually be posted, I think):

And for anyone who’s impatient, who doesn’t want to go to the beautiful California Report site and comment, you can play the story right here: