Lee’s Tour Lowdown: Germany Calling!
The first five days of the 2015 Tour de France are behind us, as are the cobbles of Belgium. Lee Rodgers has been keeping a keen eye on all the happenings so far: Why so many crashes, is there a boss of the peloton and who is looking good for the final overall prize? Those and many other questions answered. So here is his first Tour Lowdown of the year.
The sight of Tony Martin in Yellow thanks to his storming finish on Stage 4 cheered many folk up, and I am sure seeing Andre Greipel smashing his way to win his second stage has done precisely the same.
The finale of Stage 5 was a nerve shredder of a finish, with that narrow road almost begging for a mass pile-up. Thankfully, we avoided that this time. The Gorilla has yet to win the green jersey at the Tour but he seems determined to see that set right here, becoming the most-winning German ever at the Tour with this win.
Intriguingly, Mark Cavendish (write him off at your peril) has the better lead out team, but he seems to be ever so slightly over-dependent upon his men at the moment. On the last sprint stage he more or less laid the loss at the feet of Mark Renshaw – will he find a fall guy for this one?
Tony Martin surged into the second to last corner brilliantly to lead the Etixx – Quick-Step men into it, but after that they seemed unable to regain the lead once it had been snaffled by the Giant train. Cavendish was the guy who didn’t need a team when he rode for Sky and he might have lost a little of the edge of his cunning since moving to the Belgian team. Greipel is the most powerful sprinter out there though, that much is obvious, and his raw pace gained him this win with quite a bit to spare.
One rider having a stinker of a Tour this time round is the Great French Hope, Thibaut Pinot. Today again he fell, though with none of the histrionics of Stage 4. It has not slipped past the Sponsor Police that it was not in fact a flat tire that was the source of Thibaut Pinot’s monstrous hissy fit but a failing Shimano Di2 lever. Pro teams are of course sponsored by various brands and it’s rare that you hear a rider or team complaining publicly about their equipment, but the word on the avenue is that yep, it was the lever.
Racers being bike geeks, most of them, there is often a bit of bike envy going on in the peloton that the fan will never hear of. Top quality bikes are fairly alike these days – or it might be fairer to say there are few bad ones in the bunch – but some are more equal than others and certain brands do have a greater cachet than others.
I do remember one pro on the UCI Asia circuit who was benched by his team after he posted a photo of a broken rear chain stay with the bike logo on full display on Facebook. That was in March. He never raced again that year.
Whatever the cause of Pinot’s troubles, the strop that followed it was the kind of amateur dramatics you see in professional soccer. His teammates apparently were less than enthused by it all and there were fierce words exchanged later on in the team bus. One reaps what one sows, someone should tell Monsieur Pinot, and if the support is less than forthcoming next time he needs help he may not have to wonder too much why that is the case.
Not content to be left out, Europcar’s bus driver almost had a punch-up with the drivers of Sky’s support vehicles in their hotel car park. The Europcar driver was less than impressed when he rolled in to find Sky vehicles had taken over more than their fair share of space, and they were in no mood for shifting. Good thing they left the caravan at home then or they’d might have had to leave it parked on the road.
The crashes to date in this Tour – and we have not even got through the first week – have been rather epic in terms of damage done and also with regard to how many guys are going down. Could it be the lack of a patron that is the cause? The cut back in the full-on use of the old wonder drugs forcing a more leveled playing field? Or just nerves? Whatever it is, there’s no doubt that the peloton is a scary place at the moment. The weather of course hasn’t helped, with strong winds and wet roads in places.
The big loser on Stage 5 was Cofidis’ Nacer Bouhanni, who must have been tempted to head straight back down the road to the hotel he’d just left after he crashed out just 12km into the stage. I’m sure we all wish him well, but seeing him and his teammates squirming their way the previous day through the halted riders to get a spot near the front was not too impressive. Some will say ‘well it’s the nature of the pro-cyclist-beast’ but personally I consider that kind of stuff a little nasty.
The lack of a patron and also of a truly dominant team is definitely contributing to the phenomenon of four and sometime even five trains spread across the road whenever a crosswind emerges. Perhaps my memory is deserting me but I can’t remember seeing this sight so regularly five or ten years ago.
Nothing changed at the top of the GC, with Froome and Contador, the two main favorites, all safe. An interview with Contador that aired during the live action was very interesting, revealing that the day he decided to go for the Giro-Tour double was the day he won the Vuelta. “When I started the Vuelta I decided that if I could win such a hard Vuelta then I would go for the Giro-Tour double, even though I didn’t know the course,” he said. “I’ve arrived at the moment in my career which winning the Tour won’t change anything but winning the double will last in people’s memory.”
Three Grand Tours on the run will be quite an achievement, though the Spaniard looked like he had no answer when Froome and Rodriguez took off on the Mur de Huy on Stage 3. I’m still thinking it is debatable that he’d have won the Giro had Astana’s Landa not lost 4 minutes on the ITT and then being shackled to let Aru have his day in the sun.
Either way, it’s in the past. The Tour is no respecter of reputation, as it is already showing us that yet again.
Lee Rodgers is a former professional road racer on the UCI Asia Tour circuit now racing MTB professionally around the world. His day job combines freelance journalism, coaching cyclists, event organizing and consulting work. You can keep up with his daily scribblings over at www.crankpunk.com.