2013 TdF Recap: Stuck Buses, Fear of Speed, and the Irish Stake a Corner...

I am skipping the Monday Blues this week in order to present my Tour de France recap, some of my more memorable moments from the three weeks. Of course since the Tour is now done for another year, we go through our annual Tour withdrawl, and for the time being, I suppose that makes me blue. As you would expect for any three weeks-long event, the 2013 Tour de France was absolutely bursting with stuff - stuff that took place during and in the race, stuff that took place on the sidelines, and stuff that took place in the quieter moments between the action. For me, some of the more memorable moments were, in no particular order:

The Orica - Green Edge team bus becoming stuck beneath the scaffolding at the finish line of the very first stage and as the race, with great rapidity closed in along the final kilometers. Shortening the stage, and then reverting to the original finish caused all kinds of confusion for the teams and riders, and likely led to a massive pileup limiting the number of racers contesting the sprint. Through it all I found myself commiserating with the driver, sitting in his seat, face buried in his hands in utter disbelief, embarrassment, anguish - pick an emotion, I am sure they all flashed through his mind at one point or another, until finally being able to move clear of the cameras and the attention.

The count was twenty-one years, a lengthy drought by any measure, since an Irish racer had won a stage of the Tour. Working fluidly with his breakaway companion, Jakob Fuglsang until the final kilometer, Daniel Martin ended the drought with a superb finish kick to claim the stage 9 victory at Bagneres de Bigorre in the Pyrenees. Martin may have claimed the victory, but he was quick to credit his teammates for their part as well, "it was a great team effort all day, the guys went on the attack from the start and I had to finish it off in the end."

Speaking of twenty year gaps, the other Irishman in the race, Nicolas Roche, helped to put another dubious streak to rest. It had been that long since a racer from the Emerald Isle stood atop the G.C. podium in Paris on the final day. Roche did so as a member of the Saxo-Tinkoff Team which won the Team Classification.

During the stage 11 time trial to Mont Saint Michel, a spectator along the course doused sprinter Mark Cavendish with urine. Disgusting and a dark mark for sportsmanship. One of the more intriguing aspects of the Tour (and cycling in general) is the close proximity between competitor and spectator. Some people just don't deserve it.

Chris Froome on Mont Ventoux during stage 16. If Froome's dominating exclamation of a win atop the Monster of Provence didn't win the Tour on this day, it certainly showed who everyone else would be chasing. The win also, however, presented a bit of a conundrum; following the Tour last year I said I would be surprised if Froome was not leading a team this year. This proved to be true. So, let me now wonder whether Richie Porte will be leading a team come the 101st edition of le Grande Boucle next year. If Froome finished off the stage, it was Porte who set it up. 

The withdrawal of Thibaut Pinot. A sentimental favorite last year, turned national hope this year, Pinot pulled out of the race before the beginning of stage 16. Some sources, including his team, initially cited illness for the inability to continue, but Pinot himself admitted that a mental problem was the cause saying, "some people are afraid of spiders or snakes. I'm afraid of speed. It's a phobia." Pinot noted that his inability to descend at speed was hampering his ability to participate in the race. Though I find it surprising that someone at this high level would be stricken with this fear, I can relate and have written about it in the past. It is a shame, Pinot is a young racer with much talent, and I hope he can sort things out.

Stage 17 was a mountain time trial between Embrun and Chorges. While on an early morning reconnaissance of the course, Jean-Christophe Peraud crashed heavily, fracturing his right clavicle. With an enviable display of grit and determination, Peraud had the doctors tape him up as best they could, and got on with the race at hand. Considering all, he posted up respectable times throughout the course, until with two kilometers remaining he crashed hard on his right side once again and, in what must surely have been unimaginable pain and  despair, was forced to withdraw:

The same mountain time trial revealed a gal in a bikini cheering the racers along. I don't think a moto-camera ever failed to capture a rider passing her bend in the road. Perhaps the still photographers were more focused on the racing action, and that is why I have not been able to find a photograph (there is, however, this video which plays in a few second loop on Youtube).

I continue to be amazed by the sheer volume of spectators who swarm the mountainsides when ever the Tour tackles Alpe d'Huez. The so-called Dutch Corner has long been a staple feature during these years, and the many cycling fans from that nation turn that bit of roadway into a veritable sea of orange, parting only momentarily when a rider struggles upward against the tide. Since they can't see the roadway, I sometimes think the only thing that keeps the racers headed in the right direction is the tilt of the pavement. Anyway, this year Irish fans decided they were going to stake out their own piece of the Alpe - Corner #10 along the switchbacks to the top; they did a respectable job, the Irish tricolor was flying everywhere, the multitudes were dressed in green, and I am sure the roar was appreciably louder. Even so, they have a ways to go before they match the sheer spectacle of the Dutch Corner:

ASO/B Bade photo

Didi Senft. The most famous devil in cycling lore, and a roadside attraction in his own right, Didi the Devil missed last year's Tour due to surgery. He was back again this year though, right where you expect him to be in July. He didn't seem to have the same speed of stride as he ran up the Alpe, but he can still get some pretty good hang time from his trademark leaps:

Reuters: Eric Gaillard (full image)

Will Adam Hanson be the next Jens Voigt? On a day when Jens made his own daring-do attack on the way to Alpe d'Huez Hanson, who has become quite the popular rouleur anyway, endeared himself to many fans by accepting a beer hand up. There might be some stodgy old-timers (notice I am differentiating between being a traditionalist and being stodgy, and am not sure where the line dividing the two lies) who have something to say about professional conduct, but you have to like the light-hearted moment at the end of a long, physically and mentally, draining day.

One more memorable moment from Alpe d'Huez - Tejay van Garderen did not have the Tour he might have hoped for, so when he rode away from his breakaway companions and built up a healthy lead it looked like he was going to have his day. Alas it just was not to be, Christophe Riblon, from somewhere deep inside (and after sliding off the road into a watery ditch earlier in the day), found a second wind, slowly reeled Tejay in and sank the hook with two kilometers remaining. Van Garderen had no response, putting all he had on the road below, and Riblon took the win. It was France's first stage win of this year's Tour, and I am sure that must have been inspiration pushing Riblon to the top.

Marcel Kittel - I doubt I am far from alone in having watched with interest as the German sprinter has progressed over the past few years, taking on the competition at increasingly challenging races. Not two, not three, but four stage wins at this year's Tour, including the grand finale on the Champs Elysees confirm that his potential has arrived.

Nairo Quintana Rojas, Movistar's Colombian climbing specialist had about as successful a Tour debut as anyone could hope for. With a stage win, Mountains Classification and the Young Rider Classification, he clearly possesses more than just potential. 

Speaking of Quintana, I was going to disparage the "pure" climbers this year for their lack of attacking style a-la Pantani, Chiappucci, Claveyrolat, and others of their ilk. But then I thought of Rui Costa's two solo stage wins done with grand style, and realized that the mountains sort things out, sometimes from a long way out, other times from within the final kilometer. Either way can be exciting.

Finally, Chris Froome. Though I am sure many of us tried to disbelieve it, I think we all had a nagging little thought that the Tour was all but over following his dominating win at Mont Ventoux. With that showing I couldn't imagine anyone putting enough time into him to make any difference in the mountains, and the time trials, well, they would just help to extend his lead. Rarely did Froome seem to not be in control; it was quite a display of both physical prowess and tactical savy, picking his moments and doing what was necessary, when it was necessary to win. Chapeau!

Oops, I had to add this one in. Everyone's favorite Aussie racer, Stuart O'Grady, rode his 17th, and final, Tour de France this year. O'Grady noted that due in part to a successful Tour during which he was a valuable part of the Orica-Green Edge team which gathered stage wins and the yellow jersey during the first half of the race, made this as good a time as any to call it quits. One of my favorites for his determination, O'Grady is probably best known for his win at Paris-Roubaix in 2007. Beyond that though, there is much in his palmares to be proud of, both on the road and on the track. Happy retirement, Stuey.

grand old men of the bunch, O'Grady with Jens Voigt