Yesterday looked like it was going to be a routine flat stage, but then it all went a bit pear-shaped at the end. We had the usual scene of a breakaway going clear and then the peloton chasing it down, but for once the break showed a little life and – helped by a crash on the run-in – it almost succeeded in staying away from the bunch, just being overwhelmed as they came into the final kilometre. We also had the spectacle of Mark Cavendish’s team riding in line at the front to chase down the breakaway, though Sky worked the chase differently to the old HighRoad method.
Their tactics, of course, were as much about keeping Wiggins safe and away from crashes as they were about delivering a rider to the line. One interesting difference was in the level of effort being put in – HighRoad riders would expend themselves and then drop out the back of the peloton, not worrying about their stage time. Sky’s riders – especially Wiggins and Froome – were doing a stint, but then staying high up in the bunch, not wanting to lose any time for obvious reasons.
But when it came down to it, the combination of an uphill finish, a poor start and a rampaging Andre Greipel meant Cavendish has to wait another day for victory number twenty two.
In other news, Lance Armstrong continues to cast a shadow over the Tour with a Dutch newspaper revealing that several of his former team mates will be testifying against him in the USADA case on whether or not he doped. It’s interesting, though, that it didn’t dominate the day in the way old drug scandals like Operacion Puerto or the Festina affair did. There is a feeling that the sport has moved on from the doped era, even though no one wants to talk about it that openly. As I’ve said before, compare the speeds they’re riding at to the ones they were managing 10-15 years ago and you’ll find that they’re now 10% slower than they were then, despite the advances in bike technology. The nature of racing has changed – one of the reasons Andy Schleck’s one man charge up the Galibier was so exciting last year was that you don’t see huge breaks like that any more because riders just don’t hve the energy for them – and even when something like that does come off, the time gains are small compared to what used to happen.
Maybe cycling needs it’s version of a truth and reconciliation commission? Offer an amnesty – and the chance to have old results remain in the record books – to riders who are willing to come forward and testify about the doping process. There’d be the catharsis of finally opening up about the issue, coupled with the benefits of finding out just how people managed to trick the system into thinking they were clean.
Today, it’s the last flat stage for a while, so expect a lot of action from the sprinters’ teams as they struggle for one bit of glory before they grit their teeth and seek to make it through the mountains. There’s one category four bump on the way, but otherwise should be a routine stage. Orica-GreenEdge could be worth watching today – they’ve put a lot of effort in, but still haven’t got their first stage win, despite Matthew Goss lying second in the green jersey standings. They want to break their duck (and cricket-based metaphors are fine for an Australian team) and if they don’t manage it today, there could be a lot of pressure on Gerrans or Albasini to attempt a break in the hilly stages.
Marcel Kittel’s gone home, but the rest of the main sprinters are still there, so if they’re not caught up in a crash, they’ll all be going for glory today. Sky will likely be at the front of the peloton today, partly because it worked for them yesterday, but also because they’ll remember what happened on the first Friday of last year’s race: