Monday, 11 July 2011

Repos Review

The 98th edition of the Tour de France was designed to shake up traditional thinking and force the teams to think laterally. With a break from the traditional prologue, 10 flat stages, six high mountain stages, 4 summit finishes, 3 medium mountain stages a Team Time Trial in the first week and an Individual Time Trial in the final week, the Tour, on paper at least, was certain to provide some interesting cycling.

Little did anyone know that “interesting cycling” would involve the carnage that the first week of the Tour has seen. With riders slipping on wet tarmac, crashing into ditches and breaking collar bones, you could be forgiven for thinking this is just par for the course on the TdF. However no one ever envisioned the catastrophic turn of events that have befallen the main GC contenders and the biggest names in current cycling.

The first to suffer was Alberto Contador. A minor crash on stage one after a slight touch of wheels saw the pre-Tour favourite lose a significant amount of time. Crashing again on stage 5, the pressure seemed to be taking its toll on the Spanish rider. However the crashes would soon get worse. Later on the stage RadioShack rider Brajkovic was forced to make a swift exit via ambulance. Sustaining a fractured collarbone and concussion as the result of a crash, he would prove to be the first of many to depart in such a manner.

With Team Sky riding high on cloud nine after a win on stage 6, they came crashing down to earth as Wiggins became the first of the true GC hopefuls to join the casualty list. Hitting the deck as the road almost imperceptibly narrowed at around 50kmp it was apparent almost immediately how severe his injuries were. Unable to stand, let alone get back on his bike, he too excited to the nearest hospital for xrays that would confirm he also had a fractured collar bone. Quick Step rider Boonen was also forced to depart on stage 7 having crashed two days before and suffering from concussion found he was unable to physically continue.

Agony following ecstasy was to become a repeating pattern. With Vinokurov making an impressive mark on stage 8 with a strong ride to bridge the gap between the peloton and the breakaway, he missed out on a long hoped for stage victory in what was set to be his last Tour. No doubt sure that this is the Tour and there would be another day, he too had little idea of what fate had in store for him on stage 9.

The eve of the rest day, stage 9 would prove to be the worst of the first week of the Tour. It what Garmin –Cervelo rider Millar called the worst crash he had ever witnessed, Vinokurov, Zabriske and van de Broek were involved in a crash that saw the Kazakhstan rider crash into some trees forcing his exit to hospital for surgery on a complex femur fracture and left Dutch rider van de Broek in intensive care. The peloton called a temporary truce to allow riders to come back into the fold; a move that would cost Thor Hushovd the yellow jersey he had worn since Team Time Trial of Stage 2.

Giving the breakaway a lead of 7 minutes over the main bunch a victory was sure to come from within this group. Fate however also had a hand ready to deal this select bunch in the form of a French tv car which was to clip Juan Antonio Flecha and send Dutch rider Hoogerland flying into a barbed wire fence. The remains of the breakaway sped on with Sanchez taking the stage and Voeckler the yellow jersey, Hoogerland himself fought bravely on to finish the stage, gratefully and tearfully accepting the King of the Mountains Jersey and being given along with Flecha the IG Markets Rider of the Day accolade for their strong come back.

Never before have the words “rest day” seemed so sweet to the riders. With 2 flat stages to ease them back into the action before the Pyrenees, where the race will begin in earnest, the riders have some time to recover and lick their wounds. Once they head into the high mountains the peloton will fracture as the grimpeurs set about testing each other while the sprinters form their grupetto their aim simple: survival.

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