Lanterne Rouge by Max Leonard – Book Review

Finishing last in professional sport is not usually a cause for celebration. The aim is to win, to conquer, to vanquish. To the victor the spoils and all that. It’s a pretty Darwinian landscape out there. Thrive and survive or falter and fade. But even in Nature occasionally something unusual happens. The weakling persists; the unsuited somehow clings on, the underdog has his day.

Grand Tour cycling is unusual too. Unusually long, unusually hard, unusually constructed. Just finishing the gruelling three-week stage race is entry to an exclusive club; one that automatically carries the mark of a survivor. Seen through some eyes there are no losers at all. “I’m not last.” insisted Iker Flores when he was in just that position at the 2005 Tour de France, “Make no mistake. 200 came here. I am 120th. In another race I might be last. But not here.”

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The Tour de France in particular has a long rich history of celebrating the man who arrives in Paris last. Founder Henry Desgrange’s publicly-stated aim that “The ideal Tour would be one in which only one rider survives the ordeal” makes every finisher a winner in some sense and Max Leonard’s engaging book Lanterne Rouge – The Last Man in the Tour de France (Yellow Jersey Press. RRP £16.99 Hardcover, £6.99 Kindle) on the history and mindsets of these “Lanterne Rouges” is just that; a celebration. He examines the reasons behind the longevity of and affection for this most historical of ‘wooden spoons’, talks with numerous Lanternes to see how they view their ‘achievement’, and ponders what place such an accolade has in their (and our) lives.

For some the reasoning is quite plain. In past decades the ‘fame’ that accompanied being last-placed in the Tour made it a much more lucrative option than finishing tenth from last – or even tenth overall – and so, for some, it became a goal in its own right. Being Lanterne Rouge (named after the red light that was traditionally hing form the last train carriage to help station masters know that none had become unhooked) guaranteed exposure for the rider’s sponsors and invites to the all-important post Tour exhibition criteriums for the rider himself. For some the goal of finishing last became a positive aim rather than just the consolation prize it began its life as, and throughout the book Leonard recounts tales of riders using all their racing guile, experience and tactical inventiveness in order to make the fine judgement between losing bundles of time and finishing within the time-cut. 

In looking for the essence of the Lanterne Leonard inevitably unearths a few of the characters of the sport. The Lanterne who battled through through early sickness and then managed a stage win over the great Eddy Merckx later in the same race; the exotic North-African who reckoned he was poisoned and then expertly spun his own PR in order to stay in the headlines; the brothers were both Lanterne Rouge during the reign of Lance Armstrong. With chapters covering almost every decade since the race’s inception in 1903, the book also acts as an historical mirror to the privations of those who undertook La Grande Boucle. The tale of Jules Nempon – the sole surviving ‘unsupported’ rider of 1919 – is particularly illuminating. He tracks some of the surviving Lanternes down – men like triple Lanterne Wim Vansevenant, epic baradour Sandy Casar and the man who probably fought ‘hardest’ of all to be Lanterne Rouge, Gerhard Schönbacher but others escape him – most notably Philippe Gaumont – but again, this just adds to the story as it is understandable that some might not cherish their award as dearly as others. 

Leonard’s own battles on the bike also feature in the book. His writing style is both engaging and engaged. His journey along the road of discovery is a much a part of the book as the reminisces of the pro riders who suffered so mightily to finish dead-last. His trials and tribulations interviewing the Lanternes is his own Grand Tour with good days and bad days. I heard Max talk about the book at the Rapha Tempest Festival back in July and found his enthusiasm for the subject quite captivating. As we saw in Yorkshire, the Tour is a huge beast these days with the gaze often relentlessly focussed on teh winning and the winners but these little sideways looks at the sport – like Charly Wegelius’ excellent ‘Domestique‘ - offer a new persepctive and understanding to the races that we often feel that we know so well.

Today’s Lanterne Rouges – more comfortably paid and looked after than their predecessors – do not need the limelight in same the way that their earlier counterparts did and enjoy relative anonymity these days. This summer Giant Shimano’s Ji Cheng was the most recent to join the roll-call of Lanternes. Quite fittingly, he will not be the last.

Lanterne Rouge – The Last Man in the Tour de France

Bonne Anniversaire – Robert Millar

Happy Birthday Robert Millar
TdF King of the Mountains 1984

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Until the arrival of Sky, Wiggins and Froome, Robert Millar’s 1984 King of the Mountains title and 4th place overall was Britain’s best Tour de France finish. Cruelly robbed of a win in the 1985 Vuelta and often over-raced by his teams, Millar never flew so high again.

An enigmatic character on and off the bike Millar ploughed a lonely furrow through his early life and disappeared into relative obscurity once his career ended, prompting a book by Richard Moore to go “In Search Of Rober Millar”. He now writes a column for cycling news and is seen at occasional events.

In honour of his birthday I’ll be riding in full Peugeot kit today.

La Vuelta 2014 – The Rest Day Round-up. #2

Apologies for lack of pictures this week but I’m writing this on the road (rail actually). Will add some later.

For a week which included what is being widely touted at the “Most Boring Grand Tour Stage in the History of the World. Ever”, we’ve actually been treated to a hugely enjoyable set of races in the last seven days. We’ve had high’s, lows, slows and blows as the race has taken a more solid formation ahead of the final week.

First up was the ‘up and down’ Individual Time Trial that saw race leader Nairo Quintana crash in spectacular fashion. After cresting the mid-point climb he began adjusting his rather unique, shin height overshoes as he picked up speed on the downhill. Whether it was taking his eyes off the road for a moment is uncertain but he took the wrong line into a corner and a worse one out of it and met the roadside barrier with sickening force. The cameras initially picked him lying flat on his back and the thought was his race was over. He managed to get up and finish some three minutes down and, though I had said that the Vuelta would not end in smiles for one of Quintana and Valverde, this was not what I had envisaged. Worse was to come though for the Giro champion the following day when he would be involved in an early mid-peloton tumble and suffer a similar fate to Froome and Contador did in the Tour. He climbed into an ambulance and was spirited away for an operation on a broken shoulder.

The expected TT charge by Chris Froome failed to materialise, lending more weight to the theory that he is not riding at 100%, with the Team Sky leader coming home way down in 11th place, beaten by people including his team mate Vasily Kiryienka. Tony Martin (OPQS) won of course but a great ride by Alberto Contador put him into the race lead and a surprising second overall for Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) suggested that he would be a force to be reckoned with as the race headed towards the mountains of the North.

The Stage 11 summit finish was won by Italian youngster Fabian Aru (AST) but the real talking point was what had gone on behind the main bunch of GC contenders rather than off the front. TeamSky had approached the final climb with their standard operating procedure of high tempo, massed ranks pulling hard. Only difference today was that Froome was off the back and apparently falling away. As the gap increased it became apparent that, unable to follow the initial attacks, he was riding his own race and hoping that an even tempo would get him to the top in roughly the same time. Time and time again he slowly reeled the leaders in, only to be distanced again. With what looked like a race-defining effort he caught them once more and finished alongside them.

Then we had the aforementioned stage from hell. A purgatorius eight-lap circumnavigation of a town called Logorno. It wasn’t so much a case that John Degenkolb (GIA) won but that everyone else, including the viewers, lost..

The following day the Vuelta organisers took everyone to the zoo – presumably to make amends for the boring city tour of the day before. I’m surprised that the riders weren’t given an ice-cream each as well to appease them a little more. With a sharp climb right at the end of the stage, which finished in a nature reserve complete with elephants and (hopefully caged) lions and tigers and bears, it looked like the kind of profile that would suit Dan Martin or Alejandro Valverde. Valverde did manage fourth on the stage and Martin ninth with the same time but Spaniard Daniel Navarro, riding for the French Cofidis team took the win with a well timed attack. Most of the GC contenders had held station, knowing that there were tougher days coming ahead. Three massive mountain days beckoned and the stunning Asturian outcrops provided the rocky background against which the riders would have to smash themselves.

Stage 14 to Le Camperona saw a repeat of the Chris Froome tempo show. Again he was left, apparently for dead, on the lower reaches of the incredibly steep Vallee de Sabeo climb and again he arose, Lazarus-like, to come back to the fore in the latter stages. Indeed he broke away in the final metres to eek a few seconds over Contador, Valverde and Rodriguez, who were all consolidating their top four places. Froome had been moving up place by place and now lay third as Uran shipped time on the first of a number of bad days. Ryder Hesjedal (GRS) won the stage from the break, either heartbreakingly overtaking Oliver Zaugg (TKS) just 100m from the line, or expertly judging his effort depending on your point of view.

By now it was clear that Froome’s antics were a pre-defined tactic; designed to limit his underprepared body from debilitating effort and to allow him to race himself into fitness and form whilst maintaining a strong GC position. The tactic was again on show in the second of the three mountain stages of this middle week, though with slightly less success than the days before, Again he hung back as Contador, Valverde and Rodriguez forged ahead and again he came back to them in the final kilometre of the famed Covadonga climb. Contador had repeatedly looked back for him throughout the climb, using every switchback to measure the distance between himself and the dogged Team SKy rider, making it obvious he views Froome as his main rival and threat. But this time the three Spaniards had the measure of the Briton and a Valverde attack a couple of hundred metres from the line – after he had contributed his usual little to the pacemaking – won him 5 seconds over Contador and a second place bonus whilst it cost Froome 7 seconds over the race leader when he couldn’t match the finishing pace. Przemyslaw Niemiec (LAM) just held out for the win, giving Lampre a second stage win of the Vuelta.

And so dawned the Queen Stage. Contador leading Valverde by 31seconds, and both Froome and Rodriguez by 1:20. The race winner would certainly now come form these four men and probably the podium too. Aru lay a distant 5th at 2.22.. I had thought that this would be the day for Froome to attack the Possum/Phoenix tactics of the week were becoming played out and his strength and confidence were visibly growing. Pundits were noting that there seemed to be no love lost between the three Spaniards and that there was none of the collusion that the race has seen in the past. With four Cat 1 climbs (including the summit finish) and a Cat 2 in a short 150km stage it seemed certain that the pattern would have to change. Again Team Sky drilled to the front on the approach but this time Froome was firmly in position and attacked a good 5km out. Only Contador could go with him and the pair raced up the climb, quickly mopping up the breakaway riders and look to contest the stage win. Contador never looked in trouble but the question remained whether Froome would have a second kick. When Contador attacked in the final kilometre it was obvious that the answer was no but he stayed well clear of the chasers to end within three seconds of Valverde’s second place.

We’ve seen a different side of Chris Froome this week. We should know that he is a fighter, a sufferer, a grinder when it is needed. He has not really had the chance to show it to date. If he wins this Vuelta – and I’m afraid I don’t think he can overcome Contador from here – it could just stand the test of time to be his greatest of his career.

In other Vuelta news we had worrying reports and sights of riders plunging over the edges of steep descents. Whilst Quintana luckily managed to stay on the Tarmac side during his acrobatic brush with barrier, Garmin’s Dan Martin and Movistar’s Jose Herrada both had to extricate themselves from the trees during treacherous descents. Both were able to continue with Martin coming in not far off the leaders. Not so Uran, who completed a miserable post TT week with a 15minute plus deficit on Stage 16 alone.

Not able to complete Stage 16 were Tinkoff’s Ivan Rovny and OPQS’s Gianluca Brambilla who brushed with each other on stage 16. The pair exchanged blows during the latter stages and as Brambilla went ahead in the break he was summarily ejected from the race by the commissars who, in the certainty that they would have done so after the stage, were worried that he would have a major bearing on the days outcome. Rovny was then subjected to the same public ejection in order to balance the books.

Fighting in the peloton has a long and varied history – we saw some quality ‘handbags’ earlier in the year and there was a bit and to and fro between Niki Terpstra and Maarten Wynants in the Eneco Tour – but it is usually confined to a bit of elbowing/head butting/bottle throwing by the more het up of the sprinters. Hearing the following day Phillip Deignan accuse Joaquin Rodriguez of a similar full faced punch is worrying. As yet no action has been taken against the Spaniard who seems to have escaped by dint of being not caught on camera.

The final week lies now lies ahead of us with a massive pair of cycling shoes to fill. It’s not in Froome’s nature to settle for second – we know that all too well – but can he really take the fight to Contador and give us that dream showpiece – the final day Time Trial upset – that we foresaw before the race began??

 

GC Standings:
  • 1 CONTADOR, Alberto (TINKOFF-SAXO) 63:25:00
  • 2 VALVERDE, Alejandro (MOVISTAR) + 1.36
  • 3 FROOME, Chris (SKY) + 1.39
  • 4 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin (KATUSHA) + 2.29
  • 5 ARU, Fabio (ASTANA) + 3.38
  • 6 MARTIN, Dan (Garmin Sharp) +6.17
  • 7 GESINK, Robert (BELKIN) + 6.43
  • 8 SANCHEZ, Samuel (BMC) +6.55
  • 9 BARGUIL, Warren (GIANT-SHIMANO) + 8.37
  • 10 CARUSO, Damiano (Cannondale) +9.10
 

Picture These – Two Days in Yorkshire & Kings of Pain – Book Reviews

Bicycle racing is an eminently photogenic sport. The raw effort needed, the closeness of riders to each other and to the spectators, along with the relative lack of protective clothing, allow the athletes emotions to be readily captured. Add in the shifting backdrops that the best stage races offer (and the passion that some areas engender) and you have a rock solid recipe for stunning images.

As with the racing itself, changes in camera technologies have allowed new perspectives to be captured and new insights found in this century old sport. But the eternal truths of effort, ecstasy and despair remain constant. Two current books show that this is as true now as it was in the infancy of the Tour de France.

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Produced by organisers Welcome To Yorkshire, ‘Two Days in Yorkshire’ by Peter Cossins and Andrew Denton (£35.00, Hardcover) commemorates and celebrates the Tour’s recent 48 hour sojourn in the county for what has been unanimously described as the ‘Grandest Grand Depárt ever’. If we have already agreed that bike racing is photogenic, we also have to say that Yorkshire is very photogenic too and the marriage of the two produces some gorgeous images.

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The instantly famous picture of the massive crowd engulfing the riders atop Buttertubs on Stage 1 adorns the front cover but the empty vistas of Starbotton and the snaking roads of Holme Moss also stand out from the excellent offering. Featuring the work of Tim de Waele, Jered & Ashley Gruber and a host of others this is modern Tour photography of the highest order and the end result is a book that never feels as if the material is being stretched to fill a few more pages. Alongside more than 200 images of the race, the route, the riders and the fans’ short but memorable time in the cycling limelight is an insider’s diary by Jersey Pocket friend Andrew Denton who sheds an equally bright light on how the bid to host the Grand Depárt was won in the first place.

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Given that high speed film, lightweight cameras, helicopters and a hundred other inventions weren’t available to the early Tour de France snappers, it seems incredible that they managed to capture so much of that raw emotion as is found in Rapha’s repackaged reprint of Philippe Brunel’s ‘Masters and Convicts of the Road’. A fascinating photo and text loveletter to the golden ages of cycling, the retitling of the book to include ‘Kings of Pain’ (£40, Hardcover) – the collection of clothing produced in Rapha’s tenth anniversary – is the only change from the original. The black and white picture selection and (freshly translated) text remain the same. And what pictures! The two which grace the front and back cover – Ferdi Kubler brandishing a frame pump at some unseen tormentor and Louison Bobet calmly looking out the rear window of an ambulance – set the tone perfectly. This is the Tour de France seen from the inside.

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The thing which strikes the most throughout is the incredible access the unnamed photographers had to riders in those days. Bartali in pyjamas reading his route map in bed, Koblet in the bath- arms ravaged by crashes but with not a single hair out of place, Coppi reflecting on another tough day whilst soaking his feet in the bidet. There were no hiding places for the Convict; no tour bus to hide in; no sanctuary for a private moment of celebration or commiseration – everything is played out on the road and the ‘off-duty’ parts of the of the Tour are seen as part of the road too. Here they truly are prisoners of the Tour; caged animals to be stared at and marvelled over at every waking (and even occasionally sleeping) moment.

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The record of the road – all the way from Garin to Indurain – where mud-crusted legs, battered clothing, grimey faces with tired eyes are allied with the looks of general resignation that this is simply the Prisoner’s Fate. A picture of the more widely troubled Charley Gaul, his face partially obscured through a glass window (echoes of another prison, another cell) is haunting in the extreme. The Pain which the title speaks of is not just physical it would seem. It is also the pain of fame and the loss of privacy as well as the struggle of the mind to overcome and persevere in the face of insurmountable difficulty. Bravery, it seems, is eternal.

My extended family were at my house this weekend for a significant birthday celebration. All comers, all ages, cyclists and non-cyclists were drawn to both books and the many contrasting words and pictures to be found inside..

Two Days In Yorkshire is published mid September  | Kings of Pain is available now

Every Victory Counts – Davis Phinney & Connie Carpenter Special Editions by Rapha

“Every Victory Counts”

The motto of the Davis Phinney Foundation, which raises funds for research into Parkinson’s (a condition which affects around 4 million people worldwide), may initially sound like an overly simplified piece of marketing spiel but the more you listen to the necessarily slow, considered, hard-fought words of Davis Phinney in the quite wonderful film that Rapha has produced to accompany the two special edition jersey’s named after the all-conquering husband and wife pro-cyclisting duo who became America’s Darlings in the early Eighties, the more you come to realise that ‘Victory’ can encompass even the smallest, most mundane tasks if that is the limit of your ability.

It’s no understatement to say that Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter are cycling royalty. Quite apart from winning National, International and Olympic medals, they also contrived to conjure an heir to their majestic dynasty by raising ex-National champ and current professional road-racer Taylor Phinney. In 1984, at the LA Olympics, Connie came out of retirement to win the gold medal in the very first Women’s Olympic Road Race. Though Davis could not quite match her golden feat that day he was one of the brash Americans who stormed the bastions of Europe with the 7-Eleven team, laying the foundations for Greg Lemond’s later successes. Two stage wins in the Tour de France capped Davis’ long racing career as a sprinter. Rapha have chosen to honour the couples life-long partnership with two distinct Special Editions jersey’s. Fittingly Connie’s is the first Women’s specific Special edition that the company have produced.

Taking cues from Connie’s Team USA strips and Davis’ Coor’s Classic race wins, the jerseys are as bold and forthright as the pair were in their heyday. 10% of the cost-price is to be donated to the Davis Phinney Foundation, which was set up following Davis’ diagnosis in 1999. He talks about his battles with (and his small triumphs over) the disease towards the end of Ben Ingham’s glorious 15 minute film with incredible optimism and a tangible warmth that is rarely found in professional athletes. It is the most inspiring thing I have seen for a long, long time..

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Connie Carpenter Special Edition Jersey

 

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Davis Phinney Special Edition Jersey

Both jerseys are £165 from rapha.cc

La Vuelta 2014 – The Rest Day Round-up. #1

The 2014 Vuelta could have got off to a real ‘flying start’ if the organisers had had the sense to switch the Prologue Team Time Trial with the showpiece Stage 3 beginning – which took place on the deck of the Spanish aircraft carrier LHD ‘Juan Carlos I’. Despite this obviously missed opportunity the Grand Tour’s take-off salvo was reasonably impressive none-the-less as local lads Movistar jetted across the 12.6km course in the best time and Cannondale upset the expected order by coming in second ahead of more favoured teams such as Orica-Greenedge and Team Sky, who suffered yet another ignominous day in the saddle to only manage 11th.

-Stage 3’s village départ was fairly spectacular.

 
The Movistar team looked united throughout with Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana both coming across the line in the time-setting group. It fell to Jonathan Castroviejo to claim the first leaders’ jersey though as he led the seven intact riders home. Judging by what we have seen since, this might have been the first and last show of unity within the team. Valverde got on the wrong side of a seven second split on the aforementioned Stage 3 and since then he has appeared to be looking to initially regain parity with his younger team mate and then push on beyond him.. It’s unlikely to be the spectacular enmity of the 1986 Tour all over again but it will be interesting to see if he commits to supporting Quintana or just doing his own thing. On Stage 4 he attacked on the final downhill and, though only ever gaining a maximum 14 second gap, forced teams to chase him. Tellingly, Quintana brought the rest of the team to help the chase. It was becoming apparent that nothing in this Vuelta was going to be straightforward.
 
Before those fireworks in the GC battle got started, the sprinters in the race had a couple of days in the sun. And what sun! Temperatures soared as high as the bearded vultures of the Iberian peninsula and also looked to pick off any under-hydrated riders. Teams fought the conditions just as much as each other in the opening stages. Trek Factory Racing’s Fabian Cancellara shed 4kg on one stage alone and whose bronzed thighs must have been like well-roasted crackling by the days end with the combined effects of heat and salt from all the sweat. Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) showed he thrives in the heat as he took the first sprint win with a strong finish but it was Valverde who ended the first open-racing day in red by dint of coming in ahead of Castroviejo. His podium appearance in the leader’s jersey may have set something off in his mind about ‘letting the road decide’ who was the Movistar team leader.
 
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I can’t see this Vuelta ending in smiles for both Valverde and Quintana
 
Alejandro is another who is said to thrive in hot conditions but he couldn’t repeat the trick the following day when, on a finish that looked well suited to his old Liege-Bastogne-Liege winning skills, he got caught in that split which cost him seven seconds. Michael Matthews (OGE) showed great strength and even greater timing to overhaul another favourite for the day Dan Martin (GRS) to sneak the win and, thanks to those time bonuses, the leader’s jersey as well. Matthews is becoming something of a first week leaders jersey specialist having worn pink for six days in May during the Giro and now holding onto red for three days in Spain. Giant-Shimano took the stage win reins next as they looked to remind the cycling world that they don’t necessarily need Marcel Kittel to win Grand Tour sprints. Kittel’s fellow German John Degenkolb took two wins on the bounce to first challenge and then overtake Matthews in the green jersey competition.
 
The usual hustle of the GC contenders to get to the front of the pack in order to avoid the chances of being held up in a crash at the end of each days racing provided some early indication about how much credence we should be giving to Alberto Contador’s words about only challenging in the final week. ‘Not much’ would seem be the answer as the Spaniard was well to the fore in every stage and marshalled his troops to ensure that he was always in contention. He looked far more competitive from the off than Quintana whose usual first week impression of an invisible man was particularly impressive this time around. So good in fact that when he had transponder issues on Stage 7 and didn’t show up in the final standings, the general consensus was that he had been dropped and lost a whole bunch of time. In fact he had finished 12th but no-one had noticed. Neat trick.
 
Chris Froome was having a more visible first week than the man who was being touted as his main rival for the overall. He too was often at the head of affairs and, after the disappointment of the TTT, Team Sky performed much more like we would expect them to. Having crashed (yet again) earlier in the day and had to chase back for 15km, Froome powered away in the final metres of that same Stage 7 finale to grab a couple of seconds back over the others but he and Valverde had done more damage the day before when they broke free from a stellar five strong group also containing Quintana, Contador and Joaquin Rodriguez (KAT) on the final metres of the 1st Cat Alto Cumbres Verdes to contest the victory. Valverde edged out the Briton, reclaimed the red jersey and leapfrogged Quintana on GC with same blow. It was a riveting finish to an intriguing stage but one which, in the end, asked more questions than it answered. What are Valverde’s intentions exactly? How bad was Contador’s Tour injury really? Will Froome fade and Quintana bloom towards the end of the race?
 
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Froome, Valverde, Contador and Rodriguez made time on the Alto Cumbres Verdes
 
The answers were supposed to be put on ice for Stage 8 with a flat day that had ‘bunch sprint’ written all over it in store. But as we have seen before those pesky crosswinds put paid to the idea of a relatively calm approach to the line for the sprinters to frenetically contest. Echelons exploded across the peloton with around 15km to run and, although the first group initially contained all the favourites, Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo put the hammer down again and split the still large group again. This time Quintana was found wanting and it required the worried Giant-Shimano team, desperate to deliver Degenkolb back up to the front, to bring him back into contention. This time it was he, rather than Valverde, who was isolated and without the support of his team. Nacer Bouhanni won the ensuing sprint – albeit with an almighty wobble at the very end that seemed to put Matthews off his own effort and which divided the race jury 2-2 as to whether he should be punished for a irregularity. It was pretty ironic given that Bouhanni had made a great noise of complaining about Degenkolb’s line a couple of days earlier.
 
Someone making a conspicuous lack of noise has been Peter Sagan (CAN). Inevitably touted as a strong contender for the green jersey and with some early stage profiles suiting his all-round explosive style, finding him languishing down in 25th with only 17 points by Saturday (Degenkolb led with 87 at that stage) would prove a mystery to most onlookers. ‘Slightly overweight and ‘totally uninterested’ has been the professional pundits’ verdict; the cause of which has been assumed to be mainly his now-confirmed switch to Tinkoff for next season. Perhaps he is acting ‘honourably’ by not wanting to earn any more World Tour points this season as they will only benefit his new team. Or perhaps he just can’t be arsed.
 
The Stage 9 showdown – ahead of the rest day and the first individual time trial – proved to be as thrilling a finish as Stage 6. With a large break ahead for most of the rain-sodden day, the selection process on the approach to and up the final climb of Aramòn Valdelinares played out in two places almost simultaneously. As the magnificently monikered Lampre-Merida rider Winner Anacona struck out from the disintegrated break in an attempt to snatch the stage win from Bob Jungels (TFR) and then Javier Moreno (MOV) and the overall race lead with a bold solo ascent, Dan Martin was lighting the peloton’s touchpaper after more solid work from TeamSky to half the break’s advantage from over six minutes to hover around the point where Anacona – lying 2′ 50″ back at the start of the day – would take the red jersey. Martin could not make his attack stick but his initial foray goaded the others into action and when a visibly bouyant Contador shot past the Katusha riders who had ferried Rodriguez et al back up to Martin, few could follow. Valverde and Froome certainly could not bridge the gap and immediately went into damage limitation mode. Sky’s dominance of just a few minutes earlier when Kennaugh, Deignan, Nieve and Cataldo were all making good on the usual mammoth stint from Kiriyenka was washed away with the standing water coursing across the mountain road. As Quintana and Rodriguez battled their way back towards the dancing Contador the race for the GC lead was inexorably clawed away from Anacona, who had already crossed the line as stage winner, to whether Contador could hold off Quintana for the three seconds he would need to leapfrog him. As remnants of the break still staggered over the finish, the Colombian Giro d’Italia winner, aided by Rodriguez, caught Contador on the line to secure the same time and deny El Pistelero the leader’s jersey. Sadly in doing so he also denied a fair few cycling sub-editors the chance to dust off their ABBA puns and declare that “The Winner Takes It All”.
 
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But it was Quintana who finished the first week in the leader’s red jersey
 
Froome and Valverde toiled in a further 23 seconds back with both trying to sound positive afterwards. Froome looked towards Tuesday’s 36.5km trial trial as a place to recover his 28 second deficit time whilst Valverde – though acknowledging it was good that the lead had stayed within the team – still only trailed by eight seconds and made statements about the road deciding who will lead “Team” Movistar. With the top six within 30 seconds of each other and five summit finishes included in the next block of racing after the time trial we really do seem set for the ding-dong battle that we have all been wishing for.. This ‘Spanish Feast’ does keep on delivering.
 
GC Standings:
  • 1 QUINTANA, Nairo (MOVISTAR) 35:58:05
  • 2 CONTADOR, Alberto (TINKOFF-SAXO) + 3
  • 3 VALVERDE, Alejandro (MOVISTAR) + 8
  • 4 ANACONA, Winner (LAMPRE – MERIDA) + 9
  • 5 FROOME, Chris (SKY) + 28
  • 6 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin (KATUSHA) + 30
  • 7 ARU, Fabio (ASTANA) + 1:06
  • 8 GESINK, Robert (BELKIN) + 1:19
  • 9 URAN, Rigoberto (OMEGA PHARMA – QUICK-STEP) + 1:26
  • 10 BARGUIL, Warren (GIANT-SHIMANO)
 

 

The Mavericks – Jens Voigt – Never Say Die

There aren’t many pro-riders out there with a catchphrase. There are nicknames aplenty and a select few coureurs have a trademark winning celebration. There are also those whose on-the-record words have come back to haunt them in later years but if you are looking for a rider who can be totally summed up by something he once said, look no further than the man who has just retired after 16 years of no-holds-barred, never say die racing, whose inward rallying call became outward shorthand for his whole outlook on life. For most cycling fans you don’t need to say Jens Voigt. Like him you just say, “Shut Up Legs”.

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