TdF 2016 – Stage 21

They think it’s all over….it is now. The Tour de France for 2016 is done and dusted. Chris Froome won his third Tour and surely a Knighthood awaits. Team Sky have now won four Tours in five years, which is a phenomenal achievement. I’m not sure what they give Sir Dave Brailsford now – a Damehood to complete the set?! Adam (yeah) Yates won the white jersey for the best young rider and has grown into a confident GC contender over the last three weeks. Peter Sagan inevitably won the green points jersey yet again. If he keeps this up ASO will have to rename it the Peter Sagan jersey. Rafal Majka won the  Polka-dot jersey after the departure of Contador gave him the chance to contest the King of the Mountains competition.

So, shall we do some hugging and learning now?

1. Kellan Froome is ADORABLE, even when teething and grumpy. Michelle – I have been there and I feel your pain. It gets easier. In about three years’ time.

2. Never, EVER write off Mark Cavendish. He’s a phenomenon and I’m so glad he’s ‘ours’.

3. I’m sad that we won’t get to see Lovely Tom Dumoulin in Rio. His duel with Chris Froome in the time trial would have been great to watch. Lovely Tom might just win a Grand Tour one day

4. As might Adam Yates

5. As might Super Wout Poels. Did I mention that he’s my favourite? I’ve been very quiet about it. Almost stealth. *whispers* he’s awesome.

6. I will never, ever forget the sight of Chris Froome running up Mont Ventoux. Accompanied by Ned Boulting’s now iconic commentary. “The yellow jersey is RUNNING up MONT VENTOUX!” It was utterly surreal.

7. Despite finishing on the podium, Nairo Quintana never really looked like a contender.

8. It would be interesting to see what Romain Bardet could do in a different team. Somewhere like Orica, perhaps.

9. Chris Froome. What else can be said? He’s a unique human being. One day, if we’re very lucky, we’ll look back and fully appreciate what he’s done.

10. Dan Martin managed to be nice about Sky. I nearly fell over. Perhaps he’s drunk?

11. The Tour is The Tour.

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Fin. Almost.

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Fin.

 

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TdF 2016 – Stage 20

….and with an Mmm-Bop it’s (nearly) gone. With an Mmm-Bop it’s (nearly) not there. Today was the last ‘proper’ TdF stage before the hugging, champagne and cigar processional on the outskirts of Paris prior to the sprint on the Champs Elysees tomorrow.

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Barring anything untoward happening Chris Froome will win his third (and Team Sky’s fourth) Tour de France tomorrow. The anti-Sky brigade have been less vocal this year, or maybe I haven’t been seeking them out so much. They undoubtedly still exist and nothing will convince them that Froome is clean. I understand adopting a questioning attitude to outstanding sporting performance – it’s right that we shouldn’t necessarily accept what we see at face value – but if there is doubt, there has to be a basis in fact for it, not just a gut feeling or some difficult to contextualise raw data.

Also, what do the doubters actually win if they’re proved right? Will they endlessly, victoriously retweet their HE MUST BE DOPING missives from 1,2,5,10,20 years ago if/when the time comes? No-one comes out of this scenario particularly well, although I suppose they get to feel all vindicated and warm and fuzzy inside. It’s all a bit THEY GOT ME LAST TIME BUT THOSE PESKY KIDS WON’T FOOL ME AGAIN! SUCKERS!

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Over the years I’ve seem some sporting performances that I simply did not believe. I’ve been right about some, probably along the right lines with others although they’ve not – yet – been proven one way or the other. I was at the Anniversary Games today with Team FtW. The two junior members of Team FtW are very taken with Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and Renaud Lavillenie. At their age I remember watching the men’s 100 metres final at the 1988 Olympics on TV. Although I didn’t understand what it all meant at the time, I broadly understood that sprinting was a discipline in which people cheated. It’s too simplistic to say that Ben Johnson et al made me cynical, but they made me question what I saw back then and what I see now. At the moment, Junior FtW believe that the performances they see are real. We have tried to be honest with them about how athletes cheat and what that means, but we haven’t (yet) had to go through the process of explaining that a sporting achievement they watched was actually a lie. I’d like them to swerve that particular right of passage really, but it’s highly unrealistic.

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Back to cycling, the thing I really don’t like though (and the thing that stopped me seeking out certain people the first place) is when the super-cynics start retweeting or quoting tweets from Sky superfans in order to belittle their belief and laugh at their stupidity. If attempting to make a devoted harmless grandmother feel silly is your way of having fun, you probably need to have a good look at yourself. Let them be. They aren’t harming you. Fight your battles somewhere else.

I’m quite wary about making bold statements on who I think is – and isn’t – clean. I believe it’s reasonable to have hope that the performances I’ve witnessed are achieved without resorting to illegal measures. Equally, it’s sensible to keep some scepticism in reserve. Broadly, performances in cycling are still slower today than they were during the EPO era. Chris Froome isn’t riding away from his fellow GC contenders in the mountains every day.

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I’d hate to think that Team Sky sit on the team bus after every stage wired up to God knows what, pissing themselves laughing at the idiots that believe in them. Frankly they’d have to be pretty bloody stupid to be doing that now. Surely in an age of smartphones with cameras and recording equipment built into them where people constantly over share about their lives on social media, they couldn’t contemplate indulging in such risky, reputation-shattering behaviour? It’s like the Moon landings. How could they have been faked when thousands of people were involved in making them happen? Someone would have talked eventually.

Maybe I’m just another dickhead, but I choose to believe that 90% of what I now see is real. Tomorrow I’ll enjoy the celebrations in all of their end of Star Wars glory.

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I’m not sure which one Chris Froome is in this gif. Maybe C-3PO? 

 

TdF 2016 – Stage 19

OH GOD. The rain! The slippery, sketchy roads. The potential for ‘Doing a Gove’ was extremely strong.

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It was inevitable that Chris Froome would Gove today. Like dominoes, once one rider went down, he was a dead cert to have his own oopsy-daisy moment. Fortunately  for him, Sky had a plan for such an eventuality (of course they bloody did) and Geraint Thomas handed over his bike to his team leader. However, the Sky team car couldn’t make it up to Froome to swap the borrowed bike for one of his own. Fear not! Super Wout came to the rescue (YET AGAIN) and he did everything he could apart from give Froome a backie to the line. I don’t know how much Sky are paying Wout Poels, but it’s quite clearly not enough. Oh Sky, please build a team around Wout and let him loose in the Giro or Vuelta next year.

Oh and their little arms around each other at the end was totes adorbz. So adorbz, in fact, that I’m busting this little gif out:

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It wasn’t a great day for the other Dutch cyclists though. Bauke Mollema lost a lot of time and tumbled down the GC and out of contention. Lovely Tom Dumoulin fractured his wrist doing a Gove and is now a doubt for the Olympics. *sadface* Here’s Gloria again:

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So, there’s one more Alpine stage for Super Wout to nurse Froome through and then he can have a nice day out in Paris on Sunday.

Oh! Geraint Thomas has been doing daily Gifs to express his feelings on the day’s stage. I see you G&T. I. See. You.

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TdF 2016 – Stage 16

One day, if we don’t have to endure 10-15 years of confessions, recriminations and tell (mostly) all books, we’ll look back and reflect fondly on what an excellent generation of cyclists we had in the 2010s. Star names abound: Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome, Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen, Tony Martin…I could go on. I won’t.

Today was a Tony Martin day. He didn’t win the stage – Sagan did (of course) – but he was in a two man breakaway with Julian Alaphilippe for most of the day. Unlike other cyclists, Tony doesn’t attempt to hide his suffering. When he’s on it, the bottom lip sticks out, drool and snot trail down his face and drip off his chin, and his eyes are those of a man who has been to many, many raves and doesn’t remember a single second of any of them. I look fairly similar when I get to the end of a 20 mile training run. It isn’t pretty, but it is bloody effective. Well it is for him. I’m just a whole heap of mess and hurt.

Today was relatively quiet for the GC contenders. It meant that their domestiques a got a bit of a day off too. Or so it seemed. It probably didn’t feel like much of a rest to them. 

Over the last few days I have been hugely impressed with Wout Poels. He became one of my top 5 favourite cyclists during last year’s tour and now I think he might just have hit the top spot. He’s a bit unsung, which seems slightly unfair as he won Liege-Bastogne-Liege earlier in the year. Oddly, Team Sky didn’t really seem to give the achievement the fanfare it deserved. He only gave them their first Monument victory after all. I know they prize the Tour over everything, but some riders and team base their whole existence on a single monument win. In contrast, Vasil Kiryienka won the world time trial championships last year and Sky mention it aaaaaallllll the time. Dan Martin won L-B-L for Garmin a few years ago and he’s only *just* stopped wanging on about it. Then there’s Wout, hauling back errant breakaway riders seemingly at will in the high mountains at the behest of his team leader and dicking about adorably on the team bus and no-one really mentions how great he is. It’s the Team Sky first would problem of an embarrassment of riches I guess. See also: Mikel Landa, Michal Kwiatkowski, Segio Henao, Mikel Nieve, Geraint Thomas, etc etc etc.

Side note: after an unfortunate mishearing last year, Mr FollowingtheWheels calls Wout Poels ‘Wagbo’ (the Harry Hill character.) Don’t ask. No really.

Tomorrow is an actual rest day.

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Wagbo. Not a cyclist.

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Wout Poels. Definitely a cyclist.

TdF 2016 – Stage 12

 

So it turns out that everything is insane everywhere, not just in the UK right now.

1. Richie Porte versus the motorbike reminded me of this:

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Poor Richie.

2. Chris Froome running up Mont Ventoux reminded me of this:

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And this:

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3. Wout Poels hurting himself in the service of Froome on Ventoux made me feel like this:

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All Of Teh Feels.

How on EARTH do their partners feel when they do this to themselves? When random stuff happens to them? I’m going nuts watching it all and I don’t know any of them. Ultimately the sensible thing was done and Froome and Porte didn’t suffer, jersey or time-wise.

Tomorrow’s time trial will feel like a rest day in comparison.

 

TdF 2016 -Stage 5

Two things:

1. Team Sky are definitely making an effort to come across as more ‘human’ during this Tour. The little videos on the bus (Wout!), Nico Portal (fresh off the set of Peaky Blinders) doing little previews and reviews of each stage, and Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas wishing the Welsh football team luck for their semi-final game in the Euros. I don’t think we’ll be seeing Chris Froome doing a karaoke version of The Final Countdown any time soon, but it’s an improvement on the whole Men in Black automaton schtick.

2. The use of the word ‘final’ as an abbreviation of the word ‘finale’, or as shorthand for ‘final moments/kilometre(s)/end/closing stages’. Is that a cycling thing or is it just a lazy habit that commentators and journalists have got into? It sounds wrong to me, like using the word ‘medal’ as a verb e.g. “It’s the first time Great Britain have medalled at that event”. Goodness knows. I’m still struggling with the word ‘Bonifications’ which is used as a substitute for ‘time bonuses’ though.

Here’s Nico Portal/Tommy Shelby preparing to deliver a hot take on Sky’s chances on tomorrow’s stage:

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TdF 2016 – Stage 2

Oh Peter Sagan! I really shouldn’t like him as much as I do. He’s the weird kid from school who does nothing except be odd for five years before discovering skiffle one summer, learning to play the guitar, cultivating his hair into a quiff and suddenly becoming the sort of boy that one of your mates decides she quite fancies, leading the rest of the group to shout at her “YOU CANNOT FANCY HIM! HIS GUITAR PLAYING IS EXCELLENT BUT HE’S STILL WEIRD!”

It’s very hard to dislike Peter Sagan but I probably shouldn’t like him at all. He first came to my attention when he pinched a podium girls’ bottom and I was incredibly scathing of his inappropriateness. However, he seemed genuinely sorry for his actions   and has done nothing since to trouble my angry feminist radar. I’m now of the opinion that if Sagan didn’t exist, cycling would have to invent him. I love his silliness, the way he rides a bike, the little giggle he does in interviews, the Grease video, the weird celebrations and the wheelies. I can even forgive him the Wolverine phase and the green hair. He’s still the weird kid from school at heart, but is now really rich, successful and brilliant at winning bike races.

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I’m SO smug that I tipped Sagan to win today’s stage last night and he duly delivered. Thanks for the fantasy league points, Peter.

What Peter Sagan hath given my fantasy team, Richie Porte hath taken away.

Porte is the perfect example of a ‘heart over head’ choice for my fantasy TdF team. I want him to do well, but….it’s complicated. He’s been such an integral part of Sky since I started watching cycling that it’s been quite hard for me to see him in BMC colours this year. The balance of my cycling universe feels wrong. I really dithered about including him in the Indecent Minority but my head was overruled.

It was gutting to watch Porte getting a wheel change from neutral service today at a crucial point in the stage. A small voice in my head speculated that if the same had happened when he was at Sky, Henao would have swapped bikes with him thus limiting the time damage. BMC seem to be operating a dual team leader policy, which I’m not sure is what Porte signed up for. I wonder what would have happened if Van Garderen had the same problem today. I could go full tinfoil hat on this and continue writing absolute conspiracy theory bollocks for daaaays, so I won’t.

Stage 3 is one for the sprinters, so I’d like to see another straight fight between Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish s’il vous plait. Bonne nuit.

 

Giro d’Italia 2016 – week three

The Giro is over for another year and I’m feeling quite sad about it. I really, desperately wanted Esteban Chaves to win. He was one of my ‘Ones to watch’ at the start and unlike Tom Dumoulin (remember him?) and Ryder Hesjedal (nope) he was still in there at the end. I had brief hopes that he would win the Maglia Rosa, but it was not to be. Vincenzo Nibali had a very bad day on Thursday and it looked like all was lost, but he rose again over the last couple of days and entered today’s processional final stage as the winner. Nibali won the Giro for the head, but Chaves has emerged as the winner for those who love heart. The images of Chaves’ parents congratulating Nibali after yesterday’s stage spoke volumes about their family ethos and explained so much about their son. When Rigoberto Uran, riding for Cannondale, crashed today, Chaves was there to help his compatriot up. Chaves always thanks his Orica team-mates for their help. They in turn look genuinely happy to be working for him.

I’m an unashamed fan of Geraint Thomas. When the rumours started swirling that a British rider had failed a doping test last month, before it was confirmed that Simon Yates, a number of people on social media were concerned that it might be Thomas and seemed to be genuinely upset at the thought that he might be one of the bad ones.  I felt extremely unsettled. I believe that Thomas is clean and he’d be one of the very few that I would feel personally let down by if it emerged that he was anything else. I feel the same way about Esteban Chaves. I think he’s terrific and would love to see him win a Grand Tour one day. His day will surely come.

Of my other ones to watch, Adam Hansen finished his fourteenth Grand Tour in a row and will surely have his sights on the Tour. Joe Dombrowski came of age, appearing in many of the right moves in the last week and coming very close to a stage win. His fury at being called back by Cannondale to help Uran indicated that he believed he was capable of so much more. We believe it, too. Ian Boswell did stirlimg domestique work for Team Sky, helping Mikel Nieve to win the overall King of the Mountains classification. Sky will regard this as a good return, bearing in mind that they lost their team leader to illness very early on.

Every year the Giro intensifies my love affair with Italy and refuels my desire to go back there one day. I very much hope that at some point in the future I’ll be standing on the Dolomites roaring Geraint Thomas or Esteban Chaves on their way to overall victory. The Tour might be The Tour, but after this Giro it has an awful lot to live up to.

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Giro d’Italia 2016 – Stage 13

Finally! After two weeks of messing about with sprint stages and time trials, the Giro organisers jacked the road up and sent the riders up some proper mountains. Not the Dolomites. Not yet. The roads definitely went uphill today in quite a serious manner though.

The peloton was BLOWN TO PIECES (Millar!) early on and we were treated to extended footage of spectators in ill-advised costumes chasing cyclists up steep climbs. Joe Dombrowski was given carte blanche by Cannondale to go up the road and fight for the stage win. For a little while we watched his beanpole frame tower over the comparatively diminutive Mikel Nieve. The height disparities between cyclists never fails to childishly amuse me. Nieve is one of Sky’s ‘Embarrassment of riches’ riders. In any other team he’d be given more chances but he’s such a brilliant little mountain goat that he’s become the ultimate domestique (Side note: if I ever become a superstar DJ my name will be Superdomestique. All one word.)

Vincenzo Nibali continues to be there or there abouts, circling like a….you get the idea. I simply cannot take him seriously any more thanks to Daniel Friebe’s nightly readings from Nibali’s autobiography on The Cycling Podcast. The snippets have been chosen to emphasise the worst, most lavicious bits of course, but he comes across as a man who uses his (ahem) libido as a spiritual guide. Nibali that is. Not Friebe. I have no idea about his libido.

I’m really please to see Team Sky giving it a proper go and chasing stage wins. I tend to get a bit frustrated with Sky when their Plan A doesn’t work out, the computer says no, the numbers can’t be crunched and they don’t appear to have an alternative strategy. I have noticed a certain loosening up of their self-imposed constraints this year, which is pleasing. Of course, losing Landa has rather forced their hand but it does Sky no harm to loosen the shackles of their worker bees from time to time. Nieve’s stage win today is evidence of that.

Andrey Amador (Movistar) moved into the Maglia Rosa, the first rider (ever?) from Costa Rica to do so. I hope Valverde is grumbling like Muttley (vasher-smashed-vas her) in a hotel room at the foot of the Dolomites this evening as a result.

Tomorrow the race moves to the Dolomites properly and I finally get to write DOL-O-MI-TEE-HEE. Hurrah!

Wtw has been a gif-free zone for a couple of days (it’s hard to top crying Dawson) but as I’m about to watch the Tour of California, appropos of nothing, here’s Seth Cohen from The OC!

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