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Stage 11 Tour de France – some great riding and strategy!

By Jennifer Sage On July 13, 2012 Under Tour de France

I’ve been so busy preparing for the IDEA conference in San Diego I hadn’t had a chance to watch a stage of the Tour de France until this morning. And what a stage it was, this Queen Stage of this year’s tour! The Col de la Croix de Fer is the highest point in this year’s race. I’ve been up that monster (but from the other side of the Col du Glandon) and it’s quite a bear, but so beautiful.

Let’s take a look at what happened int he stage today. It might increase your understanding of some of the tactics and traditions of bike racing.

The previous day was the first big day in the mountains with one monster climb, the Col du Grand Colombier (not to be confused with the Col de la Colombiere, about 100km east). Thomas Voekler of Europecar won that stage. He is a rider I really enjoy watching for his incredible drive, passion, commitment and funny expressions (like hanging his tongue out when he’s over his limit). He isn’t that strong on consistency though, but he’s fun to watch!

Today was a collection of the biggest climbs of this year’s tour. The stage started out with numerous attacks and breaks. It ended with another Europcar rider, Pierre Rolland, with a solo performance at the finish. Rolland won the white jersey last year for best young rider and won his very first stage on Alpe d’Huez. He is most definitely a face to watch in the future. (More about Rolland in a moment, I LOVED his post-race interview).

But the strategy and intrigue all happened behind Rolland. Team Sky has one goal in this year’s Tour, and that is to deliver their leader Bradley Wiggins to the podium in Paris wearing yellow. Kind of standard TDF team hierarchy when there is a GC contender. Every rider knows their place in this pecking order… Or do they?

Chris Froome is a domestique for Team Sky, but it has become obvious that if given free rein, he could probably win this Tour. When he attacked on the final climb, Wiggins was unable to hold his wheel, and Froome was called back (twice) by his director on the team radio. So although Froome stood by the company line in interviews afterward, the rest of the cycling world is wondering if their tightly structured team is not so tightly structured. I’ll let you determine that in the stages ahead – it will probably become apparent in the Pyrenees. But here are a few telling articles to read:

Cycling News: Froome breaks from script at La Toussuire
Cycling Weekly: Froome explains his attack on La Toussuire

Interstingly, the battle wasn’t just taking place on the sinewy roads of France. It was also taking place amongst the Twitterati, and most notably, between the girlfriend of Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggin’s wife. Oh yes, it was getting to be like New Jersey Housewives on Twitter! Some were saying “Hmmm, gonna be an interesting party at Team Sky later on!” and “I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the Team Sky office after this!” Read about that battle here, along with some of the other comments that are taking place on Twitter.

Keep in mind that cyclists – the team managers, the pro cyclists and the fans – were all very early adopters to Twitter, probably helped by Lance Armstrong’s early addiction to it. I’ve been on Twitter with a large cycling following for almost four years so I’ve seen this transformation. It’s actually very cool, but you can see how it can get to be dangerous (from a PR standpoint if there are some loose cannons) as well.

Some other great tid-bits from today’s stage:

  • Did you hear Fabian Cancellara has dropped out because his wife is about to deliver their second child? While I don’t want to take anything away from the admiration I and many others have for him for putting his wife and child first, one has to admit that their timing couldn’t have been better planned. I mean, Cancellara might be one of the only riders rested up enough for the Olympics in three weeks! 😉 Just saying…
  • In the interview with Rolland after the stage, he was describing his pain the final few kilomters. This was very evident on TV – the grimace on his face showed how much he pushed himself beyond his limit. His mouth was moving and I could imagine him talking to himself, saying, “you must keep going; you cannot give in; hang on; bear the pain; you MUST do this, no matter what!” Well, apparently he was saying just that! His teammate Christophe Kern had set the pace on an early climb and Rolland had said it was too fast, but Kern said, “Trust me. Hang on.” Because of the work Kern had done for him, Rolland said in his interview that even though he was in immense pain, he “didn’t have the right” to back off! Because of the work that Kern did and because of the fans, he “didn’t have the right” to slow down, he could not let down everyone else who worked so hard for him! That just got me. What commitment. This is for me what makes cycling such an amazing sport!
  • It was such a grueling stage that the guys at the back of the peleton were worried about making the time cut. Here is Jen’s Voigt’s description of being at the back of the peleton (he had worked super hard the day before and was rewarded with the gift of not pushing too hard today). But not only is his description of the grupetto (the group at the very back) fun to read about, just about anything this man has to say is entertaining! If you don’t follow Jens Voigt, you should.
  • Enjoy these phenomenal photos of today’s stage on Steephill.tv.

Here are some Tweets to show you the athletes’ immediate responses following the stage and to show you how incredibly hard this monster stage actually was:

From Christian Vande Velde:

From Mark Cavendish (who was at the back with the grupetto)

From George Hincapie (his power files – wow! That was hard work!)

Someone quoting Frank Schleck, talking about when Froome had pulled away from Wiggins:

And this will break your heart – Mark Renshaw had to withdraw, and here are his heartfelt comments on how painful that was to do:

These were Jens Voigt’s tweets from the previous day, in which he almost won the stage. He really does say “Shut Up Legs”!

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