All to Play For as the Pyrenees Beckon

So, no cycling today – just the ITV highlights programme as Ned and crew savour the rest-day delights of Carcassonne and the survivors get ready for the final week. Since the race left the Alps the GC men haven’t had much to do. Roglic clawed back a few seconds on the finishing ramp to Mende, and yesterday Dan Martin attempted to undo the damage done to his chances after a late puncture on Saturday, only to be recaptured by the Sky train. The rest of the week will be somewhat more animated. The next three days in the Pyrenees are crucial for Geraint Thomas to hold on to, or even extend, his not insubstantial lead, ahead of the time trial on Saturday where Tom Dumoulin can be expected to blast back into contention, if he hasn’t already. Not that Thomas is a bad time trialist. Then there’s Froome. Everything is still to play for.

The same could be said of the Armchairtifosi.com Intermediate Sprints Competition – or, at least the individual rankings, as Direct Energie seem to have “done a Sagan” and settled the Teams competition with a week to go.

Points for De Gendt

On Friday stage 13 tumbled down from Bourg D’Oisans and rolled past the chateaux and vineyards of the Massif Central to finish at Valence in the Ardeche. With most of the top-drawer sprinters eliminated or abandoning in the Alps, Peter Sagan didn’t look unduly troubled as he swept past Demare and held off Kristoff and Degenkolb in a drag race to the line.  A bunch sprint had looked inevitable long before the peloton had reeled in the last survivor of the day’s 4 man break. Surprisingly that last survivor was Michael Schar (BMC) and not the man who had instigated the break hours before, Lotto Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt. It was equally surprising that it had taken 13 stages for De Gendt to get in a break as he has already collected stage wins in this year’s Tours of Romandie and Catalunya, spending more time alone than Greta Garbo. De Gendt won a Tour stage in 2016 but he will always be remembered for his epic solo win at the Passo dello Stelvio in the 2012 Giro d’Italia, when he took 3rd overall. Back then he looked like being that rare beast – a genuine Belgian Grand Tour contender – but he has since settled into the role of a freewheeling (forgive the pun) knight errant; even his name makes him sound like he belongs in the pages of Medieval history not the modern professional peloton (one day I’ll write a blog post, or a Ph.D. thesis, on the similarities between the Age of Chivalry and the code of the peloton. You have been warned). On the road to Valence the Belgian took his share  of KoM points, plus the official intermediate sprint, and he rolled across the Armchairtifosi line in the little town of Beauvoir-en-Royans ahead of Schar and E.F. Drapac’s Kiwi Tom Scully.

Direct Energie Save Energy?

On Saturday’s stage to Mende a group of 31 riders (the best placed of whom was 39 minutes behind Thomas) was allowed a huge lead – Direct Energie got 5 of their team into the escape but somehow managed to avoid scoring any points as Spanish National Champion Gorka Izaguirre (Bahrain Merida) led Jesper Stuyven (Trek Segafredo) and Tom Jelte Slagter (Dimension Data) over the imaginary line, halfway up the delightfully named 4th cat climb of the Col du Pont Sans Eau. Izaguirre added 3 more points to the solitary one picked up by his team-mate and brother Jon before the Alps – brought to the race with the aim of helping Vincenzo Nibali in the Mountains, their leader’s untimely departure has left them free to try for stage wins, and Jon came close on Sunday, when 2nd in the 3 up sprint to Magnus Cort Neilsen.

Grellier Deposes Chavanel at the Top of the Rankings

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New Armchairtifosi.com Intermediate Sprints Leader Fabien Grellier (Direct Energie)

Sunday’s stage from Millau to Carcassonne was a fantastic advert for cycling – as far as the overall picture goes it was a complete irrelevance, as another big break of riders with no GC hopes  went clear, but it produced a brilliant race like a one-day classic, with lone breaks and counter-attacks  before Neilsen predictably outsprinted Izagirre and Bauke Mollema. The Armchairtifosi.com points were awarded with 50km to go, as the break began the ascent of the 1st Cat Pic de Nore, a climb which, incredibly, had never before featured in a TdF stage. The riders had just passed through the feed zone in the town of Mazamet, birthplace of 90s French legend Laurent Jalabert (after whom the climb to Mende on Saturday is named). It was all change on the leader board as Direct Energie’s Fabien Grellier got the 3 points to move ahead of team-mate Sylvain Chavanel. Grellier had gone clear with Trek’s Julien Bernard, son of another 90s French hero Jean-Francois Bernard, while another of Bahrain’s newly-underemployed climbers Domenico Pozzovivo led the rest of the break in 3rd place.  23 year old Grellier has spent the whole of his pro career at Direct Energie – his best placing so far was 2nd in the Fleche du Sud in 2015; like Geraint Thomas, he will have a nervous 3 days in his quest to hold on to a jersey and, also like Thomas, the most likely rider to wrest it from his back will be a team-mate.

ARMCHAIRTIFOSI.COM INTERMEDIATE SPRINTS COMPETITION – Standings after 15 stages

1st- FABIEN GRELLIER (FR)(Direct Energie) 7pts; 2nd-Sylvain Chavanel (FR)(Direct Energie) 6 pts; 3rd- Yoann Offredo(FR)(Wanty Groupe- Goubert) 5pts; 4th-Jerome Cousin(FR)(direct Energie) 4 pts

TEAMS  – DIRECT ENERGIE 21pts; 2nd-Fortuneo Samsic 12pts; 3rd-Wanty Groupe- Goubert 11pts

Thomas Leads, Froome Follows

It’s been all change at Le Tour. Last week it was the flatlands of the Vendée and the cobbles of Roubaix. This week it’s been the drama of 3 stages in the Alps which sees Britain’s Geraint Thomas in a clear lead, ahead of ostensible team leader Chris Froome. Will it be the same story when the race reaches Paris on 29th July? Who will be left to challenge the Team Sky duo, now that Nibali has joined Porte on the sidelines, Uran has had to quit the race and Quintana has lost too much time to be a credible challenger? Even Bardet and Dumoulin look to be playing for places.

Dutch Duo Serve Up Spectacular Appetiser in La Course

The Alpine dramas were preceded by a truly epic race for La Course, the women’s race, this year run as a 1-day event over much of the same route as the men’s race from Annecy to Le-Grand Bornand and featuring the last 2  category 1 climbs. The selection was made on the concluding Col de la Colombière and it was Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen who took a 10 second lead over the top, ahead of her compatriot and recent Giro Donna winner Annamiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott). The gap changed little on the long descent and Van der Breggen looked sure to hold on in the uphill run to the line, but she faltered in the closing metres, allowing van Vleuten one last chance to use her time-trialing skills to reel her in for a famous victory. The pair were 1-22 clear of 3rd-placed Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio.

The 4th Musketeer?

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Julian Alaphilippe wins at Le Grand Bornand, his 1st stage victory in Le Tour

The men’s race was won in emphatic style by Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step Floors) who went clear with over 30kms to go, claiming his first Tour stage victory (to add to his win in this April’s Flèche Wallonne) and securing a lead in the King of the Mountains jersey which he will take to the Pyrenees. Alaphilippe looks like a Musketeer, especially if you imagine him wearing a floppy felt hat with a big white feather instead of a casquette, something which D’Artagnan would have no doubt tossed aside with a Gallic shrug of disdain. With his active, attacking style he rides like a Musketeer too, or how I imagine a Musketeer would have ridden if the bicycle had been invented 200 years earlier. He had been one of the first riders to get into a break which eventually swelled to 21 and included none other than the wearer of the maillot jaune, Greg van Avermaet. The Belgian’s determination to go down fighting before the bigger climbs even extended to him taking 1st place in the Armchairtifosi.com Intermediate Sprint, which was decided on the gravel road that crossed the Plateau de Gilères, at the point where events of 1944 were being re-enacted in period costume (though this presumably did not include the Nazis’ slaughter of Resistance fighters). Van Avermaet led over the imaginary line, just ahead of Tony Gallopin (Ag2R) and Jon Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida)

Fortuneo’s Fortunes Improve

Shortly after the “Sprint” Direct Energie’s Rein Taaramae came to the front in a badly- judged tactical blunder, that, if it had been better-timed, would have seen him become the 6th member of his team to score points in the competition. After dominating proceedings in the 1st week, Direct Energie have since failed to score a single point and it was fellow Pro-Continental “Wild Card” team Fortuneo-Samsic who clawed back some of their deficit to Direct Energie and Wanty Groupe-Goubert on stage 11.

This was yet another frustrating example of the prestigious Armchairtifosi.com competition being subject to the vagaries of live TV. I had designated the sprint point to be halfway up the Col du Pre (half-distance of the stage) but, at that moment, the cameras had switched back to the peloton where Valverde was launching an attack. When they went back to the break the 3 riders from Fortuneo were massed at the front, à la Team Sky, with Elie Gesbert leading Amael Moinard and Warren Barguil – the commentators wrongly assumed it had something to do with protecting Barguil in his bid for KoM points, but we know differently; Fortuneo moved up to 2nd in the team standings for my competition.

So to today’s dramatic stage to Alpe d’Huez which saw the likeable Geraint Thomas, who always manages to give the impression of being a bloke who just enjoys being out on his bike, extend his overall lead in gutsy style. He became the first-ever rider to win at the Alpe in yellow and he deserves the chance to become GB’s 3rd individual TdF winner, a prospect which would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago. With Wiggins’s win in  2012, and Froome’s 4-timer, it is only Vincenzo Nibali (2014) who has broken the recent  British domination of the race, so it was particularly galling to see him crash out after a collision with a police motorbike in the last 4km. How he was able to chase back to within 20s of Froome, Thomas et al, when he was later diagnosed to have suffered a cracked vertebra is, frankly, mind-boggling, especially when considered alongside the play-acting antics of the footballers at the World Cup.

Rolland Takes the Points at Les Lacets

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Les Lacets de Montvernier –  can you look at this picture and not imagine riding up it?

The Armchairtifosi.com Intermediate Sprint on stage 12 honoured the inclusion of the spectacular Lacets de Montvernier, the stunningly scenic 3.4km climb that threads its way up a mountain in the middle of nowhere and looks like a theme-park ride. It was Pierre Rolland (EF Drapac-Cannondale), former lieutenant to Tommy Voeckler at Europcar (now Direct Energie) and one-time next-great-hope of French cycling, who led the way. He was clear of Alaphilippe, one of the current hopes (with Bardet and the side-lined Pinot) who have been saddled with that title, and all that goes with it as France struggles to find the next winner of its own great race; Les Bleus have lifted the World Cup twice since Bernard Hinault’s 5th and final Tour win in 1985.

ARMCHAIRTIFOSI.COM INTERMEDIATE SPRINTS STANDINGS AFTER STAGE 12

1st-SYLVAIN CHAVANEL(FR)(Direct Energie) 6 pts; 2nd-Yoann Offredo(FR)(WAnty Groupe-Goubert) 5pts;  eq.3rd- Jerome Cousin(FR) and Fabien Grellier(FR) (both Direct Energie) 4 pts; 7 riders equal 5th on 3 pts

TEAMS – DIRECT ENERGIE 18pts; 2nd-Fortuneo Samsic 12pts; 3rd- Wanty Groupe- Goubert 11 pts; 4th-Quick Step Floors 5 pts

Kruijswijk gets close at Alpe d’Huez…but not close enough

Today’s dramatic stage that finished atop Alpe d’Huez saw a fantastic win for Britain’s Geraint Thomas, the first rider to win this stage in the maillot jaune. He extended his overall lead and left the question as to who is really leading Team Sky unanswered. It may not be answered until after next week’s stages in the Pyrenees and the time trial.

The iconic climb to the ski resort of Alpe d’Huez, with its 21 hairpin bends, was first included in the Tour in 1952, when the stage was won by the legendary Fausto Coppi. The fastest (possibly chemically-enhanced) ascent of the climb was by Marco Pantani, who clocked 37m 35s in 1997.

 

 

Think of Coppi and Pantani and you think of Bianchi – the oldest bike brand in the world and, with their distinctive celeste frames, perhaps the most easily recognisable. Today Bianchi supply bikes to the Dutch-based Lotto N.L.-Jumbo team who scored two stage wins last week thanks to their sprint sensation Dylan van Groenewegen. He was forced to abandon the race after sustaining injuries in Sunday’s stage over the cobbles to Roubaix, his badly broken Bianchi a sorry sight to anyone with aesthetic sensibilities.

For much of today’s stage, it looked as if there would be another rider winning on the Italian brand, as Lotto’s team leader, Steven Kruisjwijk struck out from the original breakaway group with fully 60km to go. He took a 6 minute lead onto the Alpe – Kruijswijk is a proper climber, whose prowess in the mountains saw him leading the2016 Giro d’Italia until the final weekend, and for more than half the 15km climb it looked like it would be not only enough for him to win the stage, but also take the overall lead from Thomas. It was not to be. Kruijswijk began to tire as Bernal led Thomas and Froome back after attacks by Bardet and Quintana, and he was caught with just over 3 km to go. An honourable defeat and at least he had the honour of leading through “Dutch Corner”, the bend near the church where the Dutch fans congregate (rumours are that some of them arrive and start on the Heineken in April) to noisily greet their heroes, though it has been 29 years since  a Dutch rider won at the Alpe.

Arras to Roubaix: C’est Magnifique Mais Ce N’est Pas Le Tour

“Now the real racing can begin,” said Chris Froome in a rest-day interview for ITV4 – he was referring to the impending 3 tough days in the Alps, which are certain to reshuffle the GC standings after the traditional 1st week of long flat stages and sprint finishes, rather than decrying the quirky mini Paris-Roubaix that was Sunday’s 9th stage. This stage, with more cobbled kilometres than ever before, had been feared by the teams, eagerly anticipated by the fans and built up by the media as the race’s first real showdown. In the end its significance was minimal, apart from the abandonment of Richie Porte, whose crash came well before the first secteur of pavé. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t a gripping spectacle, with more fallers than the Grand National, leading riders having to chase back after getting delayed in the mayhem, and Romain Bardet suffering more punctures than most riders get in a year. But the bad luck was pretty evenly distributed and, apart from Rigoberto Uran, who lost 1m28s, all the GC hopes finished within a few seconds of each other. It was a bit like a glorious 5 day Test match,  with double-century scoring batsmen and hat-trick-taking bowlers, that ends in an honourable draw.

Degenkolb’s Emotional Return to the Podium

Once Greg van Avermaet, Yves Lampaert and John Degenkolb had built an unassailable lead in the closing 10kms the pressure was off. Van Avermaet stretched his overall advantage to 43 seconds, but he will surely lose all that, and more besides, as soon as the Alps are tackled. Credit must be given to Degenkolb – a previous winner of the Paris-Roubaix and long seen as Germany’s successor to Greipel and Kittel, this was his first win in a World Tour event since taking a stage of the 2015 Vuelta, and his career had looked finished after that horrendous training crash in Spain in Jan 2016 when a driver took out his whole team and he nearly lost a finger.

Should There be Cobbles at Le Tour?

The day was a terrific spectacle but is there really a place for cobbles in Le Tour? The potential for disaster is ever-present, putting not only the team leaders at risk, but also meaning that they could lose the services of key domestiques. When the peloton is stretched into a long line by the cobbles, team cars are delayed and the damage that could be done to a rider’s GC aspirations is potentially huge. In the Paris-Roubaix itself a rider who punctures and can’t get back to the front knows that his day is over, but that’s all it is – one day – whereas in a Grand Tour it’s all about limiting time loss. Luck plays its part in the Tour, as in all cycling and all sport, but it should not be the deciding factor.

Direct Energie’s Domination Continues

Tour de France
Direct Energie to the fore as the break tackles yet another secteur of  pave

I am beginning to suspect that Direct Energie are targeting the Armchairtifosi.com Intermediate Sprints Competition – perhaps Jean-Rene Bernardeau is a follower of this blog. 3 of their riders infiltrated the 10 man break that stayed clear for about as long as expected and points scorers Lilian Calmejane and Damien Gaudin (separated by Sunweb’s Chad Haga) were the 4th & 5th members of the squad to notch up points. As the cameras switched back to the peloton where Moscon and Froome did synchronised falling and Van Avermaet demonstrated the cyclo-cross skills that all Belgians are born with, it was Gaudin who led the break off the cobbles at the end of secteur 8 (and then went on ahead with Janse van Rensburg). 

Tour de France
Damien Gaudin is interviewed at the start in Arras

Gaudin: A for Effort

Gaudin is a 31yo native of Maine-et-Loire who has spent most of his career at Direct Energie or its predecessors. He had attracted my attention, and gained my sympathy, when a luckless 3rd in Le Samyn, run in the horrendous weather two days before “the Beast from the East” swept in from Siberia. He was in a 3 man break, but his companions were Quick Step’s Gilbert and Terpstra, who took it in turns to attack and then sit on as he chased them down. It was like watching those old gangster movies where one baddie holds the good guy by his arms and the other one beats him up. Undaunted, Gaudin picked himself off the floor and a few weeks later headed off to Brittany to defend his title in the Tro Bro Leon, a race run over farm tracks. He was repeatedly dropped from the lead group but plugged on and set off in a valiant, but ultimately fruitless, pursuit of solo winner Christophe Laporte. He is clearly at home on the roster of Direct Energie.  On 18 pts they lead Wanty Groupe-Goubert by 7 pts in the team standings, while Sylvain Chavanel retains the Chateau D’Ax jersey – it would not be a stretch of the imagination to see him (or Calmejane) going on a long-range offensive in the Alps to score more points.

Tour de France Shake-Up?

cobbles

Today will be the day when the Tour de France is shaken into action. Literally. After a week of long, flat, group rides through Brittany and Normandy, today’s stage heads from Arras to Roubaix. To all non-cyclists Roubaix is an unremarkable, grotty post-industrial town near Lille. To the cognoscenti it is a place of pilgrimage – its old-fashioned concrete velodrome hosting the finish of the Paris-Roubaix every April, welcoming the survivors of the pavé…. cobbles, but not the regular, smooth sort you see in urban shopping centres; these are big, rough lumps of rock, the size of loaves of bread. The roads are little more than farm tracks – left to crumble since the days of Napoleon, or in some cases, deliberately un-maintained to reach that state. It’s degrading.

A day when the race might not be won, but could be lost

Today’s stage takes in nearly 22km of the pavé, spread over 15 secteurs. If it’s dry, the riders will be caked in dust. If it’s wet the likelihood of crashes increases tenfold. Either way it is not a nice place to be on a bike – TV super slow-motion shows the slipping tyres, the jumping chains and the juddering muscles of the riders’ arms, even with extra, padded handlebar tape. It won’t bother riders like Peter Sagan and Greg van Avermaet (what odds for the finish being fought out between les maillots vert et jaune?), but for the slightly-built climbers like Quintana, the day will be more about limiting time losses. There will be crashes, punctures and mechanical issues. Team cars will be delayed behind the fractured groups. In short, there will be an unavoidable element of luck, a perfect example of a day when the Tour may not be won, but it could well be lost. The Armchairtifosi.com Intermediate sprint will be at the end of secteur 8 – Mons-en-Pévèle – a regular feature of the Paris-Roubaix. It’s 45km from the finish; the break may still be clear, or we could see Sagan, Van Avermaet, Fuglsang and Nibali notching their first points in the competition.

The cure for Pelotonitis?

I apologise to the hordes of fans who must be wondering what has happened in the fight for the non-existent Chateau D’Ax jersey in the past 3 days – I can only say that I have been too busy to blog. Perhaps it would have been easier to take 3 weeks’ holiday and hire a camper van. Admittedly, “busy” has included going out on my bike, but doing so after watching the Tour on TV is never a good move; held up in traffic in Cambridge I used an old lady in a hatchback as my imaginary team-car to draft me back to the peloton, but her passenger looked somewhat bemused when I pulled alongside and requested a bidon. It was a classic case of acute pelotonitis, Doctors Predict Pelotonitis Epidemic but I found the cure when watching the excellent “Time Trial” at the cinema a couple of days later. I recommend this brilliant film to anyone, tifosi or not. It’s a fly-on-the-wall documentary following David Millar’s last season as a pro and the footage of him struggling with his mac and gloves on a rain-lashed Milano-San Remo is enough to put anyone off going for a bike ride, let alone yearning for a life in the peloton (see review at http://www.eyeforfilm.co.uk )

Gothic Cathedrals, Doomed Breakaways and Direct Energie

And so to the updates of the last 3 stages. On Thursday’s stage 6 I was all set to award the points at the 100km to go mark, as the leading group of 5 rolled along past anonymous fields of wheat in the middle of western Brittany. But the cameras suddenly switched back to the peloton where Quick Step had attacked in the crosswinds, hoping to break the race into echelons and putting Quintana and Roglic under pressure, until they fought back and the pace slowed. When attentions switched back to the break I paused the TV and gave the points to the riders in the order they were in – no-one ever said this was scientific. Fortuneo’s Laurent Pichon led Fabien Grellier (more points for Direct Energie) and Dion Smith (Wanty- Groupe Goubert). Grellier admirably rode on alone until caught on the 1st ascent of the Mur de Bretagne.

Friday’s sprint, in the little town of Mamers (near Le Mans) was the first not to feature participation by Direct Energie. Yoann Offredo (Wanty), who’d picked up 2 pts on stage 1, moved into 2nd place as he rode on in a solo break, as admirable as it was doomed. For reasons unknown the head of the peloton became briefly swamped with GC hopes, so it was Richie Porte (BMC) and Robert Gesink (Trek) who picked up the minor points. Offredo was recaptured long before the race rolled into Chartres but it was good to see him enjoying himself – he was attacked by a lunatic with a knife and a baseball bat while training last year.

Normal service resumed yesterday on the stage to Amiens, whose cathedral is perhaps equally as impressive as Chartres. A two man break had gone clear and, with 100km to go, Wanty’s Marco Minnaard was ahead of Fabien Grellier, while, several minutes later, the peloton was led through by Lotto NL’s diminutive climbing domestique Antwan Toelhoek, who looks so young that he has only just learned to ride without stabilisers.

ARMCHAIRTIFOSI.COM INTERMEDIATE SPRINTS STANDINGS (after 8 stages)

1st-SYLVAIN CHAVANEL(FR)(DIRECT ENERGIE) 6pts; 2nd-YOANN OFFREDO(FR) (WANTY- GROUPE GOUBERT) 5 pts; eq. 3rd- JEROME COUSIN(FR) and FABIEN GRELLIER(FR) (both DIrect Energie) 4 pts

TEAMS- DIRECT ENERGIE 14 pts; 2nd-Wanty-Groupe Goubert 11 pts; 3rd- Fortuneo-Samsic 6 pts

Direct Energie Domination

After the “rest day” in the Armchairtifosi.com Intermediate Sprints Competition, enforced by the delights of the Team Time Trial, hostilities resumed on Stage 4.  It was somewhat annoying to see that ASO had decided to have the official Intermediate Sprint at the exact halfway point of the stage, clearly copying my idea. I was forced to move my deciding point back to the village of Vay (122km to go) and as the 4 breakaway riders rolled past the church of Notre Dame (Brittany seems to share with East Anglia the phenomenon of tiny villages being dominated by massive churches) it was Direct Energie’s Jerome Cousin who scooped the 3 pts. Added to his 1 pt for 3rd place on stage 1, this made him the new leader and stretched his team’s lead too.  Mention must be made of Team Cofidis’s appalling tactics – with 2 riders in the break they could have played the old one-two and collected the win, but neither Dimitri Claes or Anthony Perez seemed interested in contesting the sprint. To be fair, neither did Cousin nor 2nd placed Guillaume van Keirsbulck (Wanty Groupe Goubert) but it was good to see Cousin doing more than his share of pace-setting, unlike his memorable Paris-Nice stage win in France, when he treated Katusha’s Nils Pollitt to a masterclass in wheel-sucking before nutting him on the line.

Direct Energie’s domination continued on stage 5, with the evergreen Sylvain Chavanel notching up his second win and taking a clear lead in the competition, while his team moved on to a grand total of 10 pts. Just to mix things up a bit I had combined my sprint point with the summit of the day’s first categorised climb, the Cat 4 Cote de Kaliforn, and the 7 man break who’d led from the opening kilometres were surprised when Chavanel jumped clear on the gentle slopes to open up a twenty-five second lead at the top. He forged on alone until recaptured with about 60 km to go – he hadn’t scored enough points to take the polka dot jersey, but the Chateau D’Ax (virtual) jersey will be his for several days.

ARMCHAIRTIFOSI.COM INTERMEDIATE SPRINTS STANDINGS AFTER STAGE 5 –

1st- SYLVAIN CHAVANEL(FR)(Direct Energie) 6pts; 2nd-Jerome Cousin(FR)(Direct Energie) 4pts; 3rd-Kevin Ledanois(FR)(Fortuneo Samsic) 3pts

TEAMS- DIRECT ENERGIE 10pts; 2nd-Wanty Groupe- Goubert 4 pts; 3rd- Fortuneo-Samsic and Quick Step Floors 3 pts

“Chapeau, Sylvain!”

There is a new leader in the Armchairtifosi.com Intermediate Sprints Competition (not sponsored by Chateau D’Ax). Sylvain Chavanel of Direct Energie rolled past the massive church that dominates the village of Saint-Andre-Treize-Voies in splendid isolation, four minutes clear of a peloton powered along by Quick Step Floors, with work-horse Tim Declerq and Niki Terpstra collecting the minor placings points. Though on level points with stage 1 scorer Kevin Ledanois, it is Chavanel who can pretend to haul on the Chateau D’Ax jersey by virtue of holding the higher ranking on GC;  Chavanel had been part of the early 3 man break and rode on alone for nearly 130km, mopping up the 3 bonus Bonification seconds 15 km from the finish. That was enough to move him up to 5th overall behind stage winner and new leader Peter Sagan.

sylvain

Veteran Chavanel’s career is too well known to need recounting here. At 39 he is the 3rd oldest rider in this year’s race ( Franco Pellizotti and Matt Heyman have already become eligible for membership of the VTTA) and is almost old enough to have raced alongside the Chateau D’Ax team [come on, lads, that’s 3 mentions in one post – I must deserve at least a reclining armchair]. By competing in this year’s TdF he has set a new record of lining up in 18 editions of the race – that’s 18 consecutive years, with only 2 DNFs and he has won 3 stages.

Once Chavanel had been mopped up by the peloton, a bunch sprint looked inevitable, only for another crash to seriously deplete the numbers in contention. Peter Sagan held off Sonny Colbrelli and Arnaud Demare to record his 9th TdF stage win – interestingly, the last time a stage finished in La Roche sur Yon (1938) it was also won by the wearer of the rainbow jersey, Belgian Eloi Meulenberg.

Before the dramas of the finale the early skirmishes of the day had seen plenty of crashes (including a DNF for Luis Leon Sanchez, who broke 4 ribs and an elbow but still attempted to get back on his bike), a failed audition by Janse Van Rensburg for the part of Monty Python’s Bicycle Repair Man as he tussled unsuccessfully with a jammed chain, and an hilarious exchange between Ned Bolting and David Millar that should have been broadcast after the 9pm watershed; Peter Sagan had stopped for a mechanical issue but combined it with a “comfort break” – was there really any need to say that one of the Bora staff was holding Sagan’s helmet? Oooh-er, missus.

Tomorrow is the team time trial, which means a day off from intermediate sprints. I’m not a fan of them – it’s a risky enough sport without the hazards of crashing into teammates and, when they’re longer than 20km (tomorrow’s is 35km) the time differences can be comparatively huge, penalising the GC riders who don’t have a team of strong time-trialists. There was one Italian stage race (the Coppi e Bartali?) where the teams were split into 2 squads of 4 – that would be an interesting innovation in a Grand Tour, setting a dilemma for DSs – do you put all your strong riders in the A team, or split them up? What would Movistar’s Eusebio Unzue do?

ARMCHAIRTIFOSI SPRINTS STANDINGS –  1.SYLVAIN CHAVANEL (FR)(DIrect Energie) 3 pts;  2.Kevin Ledanois (FR)(Fortuneo) 3 pts;  3.Yoann Offredo (FR) (Wanty – Groupe Goubert) 2 pts

TEAMS- Direct Energie lead on 4 pts