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Monday, 20 July 2015

TOUR DE FRANCE 2015 - WEEK 2

 Stage 10 
The first week is always very unpredictable, as the GC guys normally just ride through it and form is not at its peak. For those reasons many riders have been caught out by the pace and hard parcours. The Pyrenees would be a better test for many riders and stage 10 became a nuclear test!
Nothing happened much until the final climb of the day, a 20km climb with over 1,200 metres of altitude gain. By the time Froome attacked with his trademark Speedy Gonzales impression on the pedals, Nibali and Contador had started to lose ground in a very unlikely fashion. Froome would go on to win by a big margin over teammate Porte and rival Quintana. Geraint Thomas proved once more to be an invaluable domestique and showed much improved climbing prowess.

Adam Yates did better than most and crossed the line in 7th position, dropping riders like Van Garderen, Contador (who lost nearly 3 mins), Nibali (4:25 behind Froome). Rodriguez popped big time and lost a mighty 6 mins. Sky were accused of doping, while forgetting that the other contenders were dropped by many others, not just Froome. They were simply not in good shape.

 Stage 11 
Tinkoff Saxo's hopes for an overall victory over, it was left to Majka to rescue some dignity for the yellow/camouflaged team. And he succeed, attacking from the breakaway and win a hard mountainous stage that included the imposing Tourmalet. Nothing much happened in GC, no major attacks, just Nibali losing yet more time.

 Stage 12 
Rodriguez, Fuglsang, Bardet. The Spaniard attacked and crossed the line a minute ahead in torrential rain. The rest rolled in nearly 7 minutes later. This tough stage saw several climbs and long descents, some of it in the rain, worrying riders, teams and fans alike. Nobody in the top ten managed an attack to challenge Team Sky as the pace was kept fairly high and in check by the British team.

 Stage 13 
There was a feeling of dejection in the peloton, as the fate for the top spot in Paris seemed, barring crashes/illnesses, all but sealed. Stage 13, a transition between the Pyrenees and the Alps, was on paper an easier day, but the higher speed and closeness between riders in a bunched up peloton, made it dangerous and unpredictable. A few riders attempted the feat but once they were caught, it came to the rise to the finish line to decide the stage victor. BMC's Van Avermaet attacked in the last few hundred metres with the gradient hurting fellow riders' legs. Sagan followed his wheel to jump him for the the sprint, but after trying on the wrong side and struggling to match the Belgian's power, the Slovak collected another second place and told interviewer afterwards he was "pissed"... eloquently put.

 Stage 14 
Mandela Day. MTN Qhubeka had a rousing speech on the team bus prior to the start. It worked.
The day unfolded slowly with a sizeable breakaway group full of strong riders. It all came down to the final climb, a short but steep 3 km climb with a middle section upwards of 10% in gradient. It had all the hallmarks of a climbers' finish and right on cue, Bardet launched an attack, closely followed by Pinot. Other riders slowly dropped away, including Uran, Sagan and Simon Yates. Cummings seemed finished also but he steadily kept sight of the two Frenchmen. When the top of the rise loomed, Cummings changed gears, sprinted past them and kept them at bay to gift MTN their first Tour de France win. More drama happened 4 minutes later when the GC contenders, namely Quintana and Froome broke away and fought a sprint won by the Sky rider, fuelled by anger at the constant doubts and suspicions thrown at them (including punches, urine etc).

 Stage 15 
Another sprinters' stage, another big breakaway while the yellow jersey's group rolled in waiting for the big stages in the Alps. Cavendish was feeling ill after staying up with stomach troubles and had to miss out on the last chance of a sprint before Paris. Greipel took matters into own hands and won another sprint, his third of this Grand Tour, while Sagan consolidated his Green jersey with yet more points for 4th place and intermediate pickings.

 Stage 16 
On Colombia Day and with two 2 category climbs, the eyes were on....who am I kidding! It was Sagan again who joined the 24 strong breakaway and took the intermediate sprint. Several attempts were made to the lead up to the last climb and on its slopes, the main ones by Hansen, later by Plaza Molina. The latter crested the top first and set in motion a searing chase by the ever present Sagan who, although he came down as if on board a bullet, left it once again too late and stamped his Tour passport with another number 2. Scary moment for Geraint Thomas who was hit out of the road by a reckless Barguil, and went over the side, knocking his head on a pylon for good measure. Luckily no lasting damage as he rejoined the race and was paced back by a teammate.

Other news 
Good news from Italy as Ivan Basso has a successful operation.
Former cyclist, now French commentator Laurent Jalabert makes veiled accusations about Froome on television and is confronted by British journalist/writer Matt Rendell. He denied everything... even though it had been aired.
Van Avermaet abandons the Tour to see the birth of his son, while Peter Kennaugh retires from the race due to illness. The Briton had not shown his full potential possibly for that reason and although his contract runs out at the end of this season, he has not committed to renewing yet.
Tinkoff Saxo's Sport Director Sean Yates gets a one-day suspension following a spat with a camera mororbike who got in the way of a change of bikes for Sagan. Yates shouted repeatedly to the motorbikes to get out of the way and a mechanic finally throws a bottle at the cameraman. \
Serial cheater Lance Armstrong makes an appearance while riding to raise money for charity, and disgraced Danish rider Rasmussen draws attention while visiting the Tour. They both say something, didn't pay attention, don't care.

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