Off the Back: Five Thoughts on the Tour de France Today
Peter Sagan arose on Friday morning full of hope, tweeting: “Will today be THE DAY?” Stage 7, a 234.5-km (145.7-mile) slog from Nancy to Epernay – the second-longest day of this Tour – set up especially well for the Slovak’s skill set. Sagan, aka The Terminator, is a brilliant all-around rider. He can climb, though not with the true mountain goats. He can sprint, but can’t quite hang with the pure speedsters. Today’s mainly flat stage featured a couple of Category 4 (nuisance) climbs in the final 15 kilometers – nothing dramatic, but enough to dislodge the sprinters, making Sagan the alpha down the final stretch.
It almost worked. BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet complicated matters by attacking off the final climb. Sagan marked the move, but burned valuable matches to do it. Those two were soon overtaken, forcing Sagan, already depleted, to engage in a field sprint. It almost didn’t matter. In the final seconds he pulled even with Italian rider Matteo Trentin. There was the Tour’s website trumpeting the news: “The winner is … Peter Sagan.” Then, a minute later: “Correction: the winner is Matteo Trentin.”
In a photo finish. After riding 146 miles, Sagan lost by several centimeters. Or roughly 140 characters. Today was not the day.
Five Thoughts on the Tour So Far
1. The day’s biggest loser – through no fault of his own – was BMC leader Tejay van Garderen, who was taken down in a crash near the top of the penultimate climb. His bike trashed, TVG hopped on that of his teammate Peter Velits, and began the tortuous process of trying to catch the leaders. Leapfrogging and slingshotting himself through the convoy of team cars, riding in a paceline with teammates Peter Stetina and Michael Schar, he vainly tried to catch the lead group. Not helping in the least was Van Avermaet, whose attack at the front of the race – at precisely the same moment that his team leader was fighting not to lose the Tour – could not have been more poorly timed. TGV lost a little over a minute to race leader Vincenzo Nibali, dropping from 11th in the standings to 17th. There might be a few strained moments at BMC’ dinner table tonight.
Compounding their misery, van Garderen lost a teammate in the same crash that took him down. John Darwin Atapuma, a Colombian climbing specialist who would’ve shepherded TGV through the high mountains, abandoned shortly after that pileup. (The day’s most courageous rider may have been BMC’s Marcus Burghardt, who trashed a shoulder in a Stage 6 crash, and was given a 50-50 chance of taking the start today. He did, finishing 142nd out of 189 riders.)
Atapuma’s departure continues the curious pattern of climbing domestiques crashing before the race reaches the mountains. Abandoning yesterday were Team Sky’s Xabier Zandio and Jesus Fernandez of Tinkoff-Saxo, the latter leaving Alberto Contador without his most trusted lieutenant in the cols. Hernandez, significantly, is also Contador’s best friend – “a big problem,” NBC’s Phil Liggett pointed out during the horse latitudes of today’s broadcast, because the two were also roommates, leaving Contador with “no one to speak to at night, and that can be a serious problem when you want to unload your problems at the end of the day.” To the Spaniard’s list of challenges in this Tour – Nibali, Team Sky’s Richie Porte, Andrew Talansky of Garmin-Sharp – add this one: loneliness!
2. Yes, that was Talansky slamming the deck hard 400 or so meters shy of the finish line today. With the field sprint reaching full boil, the 25-year-old from Florida realized that maybe he didn’t need to be in the thick of things. As he looked right, drifting ever so slightly left, Australian Simon Gerrans swung right, just in front of him, hoping to grab a wheel and get in the mix. The Orica GreenEdge rider ran over the front wheel of Talansky, who executed a nifty tuck and roll into the barriers.
3. You gotta love Talansky, who despite his tender years marched up to the Orica team bus afterward, declaring: “I want a personal apology.” Orica sports director Julian Dean, himself a former sprinter, shook his head and replied, “You looked the wrong way.”
Gerrans, not surprisingly, was quick to forgive himself, telling Cycling Weekly, “I don’t think either of us really did too much wrong. It was just an unfortunate thing that happened under the circumstances.”
Talansky came away with nothing more serious than some deep abrasions. “He’s more pissed off about how the crash happened,” Garmin-Sharp manager Jonathan Vaughters told NBC. “The first thing he said to me was, ‘I want a personal apology from Gerrans.’”
“Do you think he’ll get it?” followed up NBC’s Steve Schlanger.
“No,” replied JV, with a laugh.
4. Schlanger, btw, is having an excellent Tour, extracting from his subjects multiple nuggets of gold, including one this afternoon from BMC’s Stetina, a terrific American talent riding his first Tour de France. Riffing on the subject of the frequent crashes and almost unbearable tension in the peloton, Stetina shared that male pattern baldness runs in his family. This first week of the Tour, he feared, was accelerating the inevitable for him. “I haven’t started going bald yet,” he said, “but I’m wondering if I need a T.U.E.” – a therapeutic use exemption from Tour doctors – “for Rogaine.”
5. Despite that tumble, Talansky bumped up from 9th to 7th in the general classification, while van Garderen dropped to 17th. Expect more comprehensive upheaval on Saturday. Stage 8 comes with a delightful sting in its tail: three categorized climbs in the final 30 kilometers. Watch for Contador, who trails Nibali by 2:37, to go on the attack.