Sunday, July 10, 2011

Thrill Chill

Imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning at 0445 fully clothed on top of the bedspread. I don't remember falling asleep of course, but it was after the Giants victory, and after the package replay of Le Tour's Stage 9 from the French countryside.

The promised break in the Heat Wave finally arrived Saturday in earnest, and this morning the marine layer is overhead.

I got under the covers and tuned in the Tour while the French Roast brewed, and settled in for a day of total niche sports immersion...and a baseball game. Oh, I've got some chores to take up before the day's over, but mostly I get to be self-indulgent today. I settled in to see if race leader Thor Hushovd could hang onto the maillot jaune.

Today's Stage 9 is an up and down affair with no fewer than seven categorized climbs and an uphill finish. Of the seven climbs, three are Category 2, with three Category 3's and a 4. That's a lot of climbing, but not as severe as when they're in the Alps or Pyrénées, climbing the 1st Category and Hors Catégorie mountain passes! This is perfect terrain for breakaways to escape from the peleton and steal a stage win.

Sprinters like Hushovd as a rule are bigger men with huge legs, who struggle in the mountains when compared with the smaller lighter climbers. Hoshovd, reigning Road Race World Champion has impressed the peloton all week by holding the yellow jersey since the roads began to turn uphill in France's Massif Central.

I'm struck by how vivid the green grasses are in this year's France. It may be the rain that's been omnipresent so far. The riders aren't taking in the awesome scenery, they're too busy trying to keep their wheels under themselves on the rain-slick roads.

The first week of Le Tour has been marked by crashes as usual. Typically it's nervousness in the peloton coupled with narrow roads and brisk crosswinds in northern coastal France that causes all the trouble, but this year the field seems to be extra nervous due in part to crashes to race favorites compounding the fear for the teams of the "Heads Of State" as the contenders are known. Throw in wet roads too, and it's just the Devil's Arithmetic.

It started early today, 84km into the stage, when Defending Champion Alberto Contador tangled with another rider and veered off the road and into a spectator landing in a ditch on his butt before chasing back to the peloton, seeming none the worse for wear.

Early on, a six man breakaway escaped and ran their lead up to about five minutes. Three of the five were my fantasy riders. At 102km there was a horrific crash on a 70kph (43.4mph) descent that broke the peleton apart at the front. Four racers were injured badly enough to abandon including American Dave Zabriske of Team Garmin-Cervélo, who's another Team CorduroyPlanet fantasy racer. My fantasy teams are starting to resemble KirkVallus' fantasy football picks...on Injured Reserve...

The peleton kicked into Chivalry Mode, called a truce, and took it easy while those caught in and behind the mess got themselves sorted out and rejoined the peleton. At the front the break away was adding to their lead, as yet unaware of the carnage behind them.

Team CorduroyPlanet is looking good I thought as the news of the crash victims came trickling in. Normally, I'd be monitoring Twitter and Tumblr for up-to-the-second news from France, but I didn't want to find out the results of the British Grand Prix. The Fox TV Network is broadcasting the F1 race today, delayed for the American market. Normally, I'd be watching the GP LIVE, and avoiding the Tour de France results 'till I could catch the next replay, and I'd be unaware of the drama playing out in central France! There's nothing that takes the fun out of watching an F1 race like knowing the outcome!

The news from the crash scene was not good. Zabriske had a broken wrist. Alexander Vinokurov who challenged for yesterday's stage win, and stood 3rd on the podium in Paris in 2003, was the worst off suffering a broken pelvis (or femur) and a broken elbow.

Team Omega Pharma-Lotto teammates Jurgen Van den Broucke and Frederik Willems suffered a broken shoulder blade and a collarbone respectively. Also on the pavement were Team RadioShack/CorduroyPlanet's Andreas Klöden and Team Garmin-Cervélo/CorduroyPlanet's Christian Vande Velde, fortunately undamaged.

After some time, the shattered peleton reassembled itself and called off the truce and began chasing down the breakaway. Up at the front, another weird crash, this one in full view of the High Definition TV cameras. A French Television car bumped breakaway race leader (and Team CorduroyPlanet's) Juan Antonio Flecha at speed, causing him to hit the pavement and cause Johnny Hoogerland to somersault over a roadside ditch and into a barbed wire fence! Ouch!

Juan Antonio Flecha picks up the pieces
Flecha was back up and on his bike quickly before fading from the breakaway and getting caught by the chasing peleton. Hoogerland took quite a long time to get untangled from the barb wire, get bandaged up and slowly soldier on in disgust. Johnny Hoogerland finished dead last on the day. Either man could have gone on to win the stage if not for the fool holding the wheel in the TV Car.

The video is in Dutch, but you don't need a translator to get the gist of the commentary!

I gotta say all this carnage put quite the damper on my day. Thrills chilled, that's for sure.

Spoiler Alert! Stage 9 Results:
Oh, I almost forgot the bright side...Team Rabobank/CorduroyPlanet's Luis-Leon Sanchez won the stage, and is now in contention for the GC  ahead of Cadel Evans and Team RadioShack/CorduroyPlanet's Klöden. Frenchman Thomas Voeckler takes over the yellow jersey after racing in the breakaway all day. Much to my amazement, Team CorduroyPlanet has five riders in the Overall Top 20!

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