Jul 7, 2005

tdf - stage 6

Another flat stage. Kind of boring right? I would argue they aren't (as you'll see). I've always felt these 'pauses' in the excitement make the Tour the best sport. It's almost like a play. There are important climaxes and finales but the quiet moments in between make you appreciate the rest of it. While I don't like baseball, I assume that's why some people like the pacing of that sport. Having Lance race a bunch of other riders straight to the top of a very tall mountain all in one day would accomplish the same thing but it just wouldn't be that exciting. I know when the Tour is over I'll wish that I had spent more time savoring each stage. And so I'm trying to enjoy these moments now. Besides something always happens. Always.

Lots of failed attacks today. I counted 6. Eventually one stuck for a while with 5 riders leading the peloton. A good size to launch an attack with. Lots of drafting with that many riders. Finally a big break. None of the riders were contenders. The closest was Gerosa who was 4'22" back from Armstrong. At one point they had a lead of around 8'30" meaning Gerosa was the virtual leader. Discovery did not push the pace because Gerosa isn't going to be an issue in the mountains. Eventually the sprinting teams stepped up and started to whittle down the lead. These are teams that have no hope of winning the general classification but they can win one of the other jerseys (see below). This is very good for Discovery. Less work means they are more fresh.

The lead was eventually whittled away at the end except for Mengin who broke off from the lead group of 5 in the last climb. The question was could he hold off the peloton before the end of the race? I was hoping a little data would help here. Below is a plot of his time ahead of the peloton in seconds versus kilometers to go in the stage. The early points made it look like it was going to intersect at the origin. In other words he would be caught at the finish line. The later points did nothing to dispel this. This was going to be a close one. Vino eventually went off the front of the peloton to catch Mengin. And then...
Mengin crashes!! Wow. It was wet and there were some nasty turns at the end. There was a pile up including the other sprinters like McEwen and Boonen. Holy crap. Vino makes it through but has to unclip to avoid the rider. But Lorenzo Bernucci (who?) avoids everything and comes around and beats Vino in the sprint to take the stage. Exciting stuff. The initial reports were sketchy but it looks like the major riders escaped without injury.

At first blush it looks like there were some minor differences to final times. Bernucci wins. Vino is 3" back and I believe this includes some time awarded as a bonus for being 2nd. Julich and Ullrich were 7" back. Totschnig 11" back. And Armstrong and others 19" back. That means Armstrong is still the leader but Vino is in 2nd, Julich is 3rd and Hincapie is 4th. This is provisional (I'll correct this if it changes). [CORRECTION] They did change it. Bernucci gets his time, Vino back 3" and all the other contenders were back 7". Hincapie is still in 2nd with Vino in 3rd. [/CORRECTION] Great stage.

Other interesting notes on the day:
  • The pace today was fast. Quite a few riders got dropped by the peloton going up the last climb. Voeckler was one of them. He's about the only French contender and a favorite to root for. Like I said, this is what happens when you hit the hills after long flats. Imagine what it's like when they hit a cat 1 or a HC hill?
  • Jeez Louise - tons of tire blowouts today. Tons. Some of them at really important sections for the sprinters. Calling Bridgestone...
Anyway back to those sprinting teams after the other jerseys. There are 4 main jerseys. The maillot jaune (yellow jersey) for the overall time leader. Clearly this is the one most people care about.

The maillot vert (green jersey) for the rider with the most sprint points. Sprint points are gained by the first, second,... riders past certain checkpoints. The number of points awarded depends on the stage (more points for flat stages).

The maillot à pois rouge jersey (polka dot) for the rider with the most mountain points. Mountain points are gained by the first, second, ... riders past checkpoints at the top of each climb. The number of points awarded depends on the difficulty of the climb. Difficulty is measured with a number - 1 (very difficult), 2, 3, 4, 5 (easiest) and finally a HC or Hors Categorie which is beyond classification or extremely difficult. HC always reminds me of the the Spinal Tap sketch. Why don't you just make 1 the most difficult?

And finally the maillot blanc (white jersey) for the best young rider (currently Popo on Team Discovery has this).

Some of the teams try to win these other jerseys. In particular there are at least 3 teams that have a big focus on the Green: Robbie McEwen w/ Davitamon-Lotto, Tom Boonen w/ QuickStep, Stuart O'Grady w/ Cofidis. If Discovery is lucky these teams will take over a lot of the peloton work for them like they did today and yesterday.

Color me surprised that no small group of riders has managed to go off the front and stay there. Contrast this with last year when a talented Voeckler (a relatively unknown and inexperienced Tour rider) shot off on stage 5 and had a 9 minute advantage over Armstrong. People weren't that worried about it but they were a little worried. How good is this Voeckler after all? I assumed there would be another Voeckler this year. Maybe there will be before stage 9.

Another interesting thing I decided to look up regarding the tour. The Tour has been around now since 1903. Out of the 91 races (WWI and WWII meant no tour those years), 57 were won by a rider who won more than once. That seems like a lot. It seems like with so many riders the odds of making it through more than one tour without a debilitating crash and/or debilitating fatigue and to be the absolute fastest rider would be very low.

There are 4 big riders who have won it 5 times - Jacques Anquetil, Eddie Merckx, Bernard Hinault, and Miguel Indurain. Lance has won it 6 times. 11 won it 2 times and 3 won it 3 times. So why is this so common? More than anything it should tell you that the importance of the team to this event is crucial. They weren't racing against 100+ riders. They were racing against 10+ teams. That increases the odds there. Also these guys had good teams. Lance's 6 teams were the best team their respective years. And that's with some heavy turnover each year. Same with the other winners. Somehow these multi-Tour winners are able to replicate these teams again and again. All those guys are good riders but without the teams they would be nothing.

Stage 7 tomorrow ends in Karlsruhe. Karlsruhe is famous for Karl Friedrich Drais von Sauerbronn's invention the "Laufmaschine" or "Running Machine"; a type of pre-bicycle. The steerable bicycle was made of wood and had no pedals. A rider would use their feet to push against the ground. It was first exhibited in Paris on April 6, 1818.

As you can see we're getting some bigger climbs now. One cat 3 climb but it ends flat. 229km will be a long tiring ride.

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