Stage 20: Tony Martin Wins Time Trial!

Today is Stage 20: the one and only time trial. I have been following Tony Martin’s career since he rode for Columbia HTC.  He has mastered the discipline of the time trial where the best in the business maintain their focus and wattage for a solid 50 to 70 minutes.

Tony Martin, 3 time world time trial champion, crushed it! 

This year Tony was put on the spot at the pre-Tour Team Presentation when they asked him how Mark Cavendish is as a leader. He froze. You could imagine the thought balloons above his head as he fished for something to say that would please the home crowd. Mark just leaned across the bikes and grinned at him. It reinforced the image some may have of a reserved Germanic machine.

Waiting outside the Omega Pharma Quick Step team bus yesterday at the departure, I saw the other side of Tony Martin. He has a charming smile and he has charisma. He also speaks English well and is very patient and polite with fans.

Bike camera installed on Tony Martin's bicycle.
Bike camera installed on Tony Martin’s bicycle.

Yesterday the mechanics outfitted his bike with the on-bike camera. (They were going to upload the film to the OPQS website depending on how the race went; did not see anything on site). 

Davide of OPQSI started the tour without a “favorite team” as I admire riders on BMC, Trek and other teams. Then standing at OPQS team area waiting for riders to wrap up their team meeting, I chatted with Davide Bramati, the sport director, and began to realize how many of their riders I admire. Of course there is Mark Cavendish. This video of Mark Cavendish in team car with Davide Bramati is fun. 

Mark’s early departure meant that his teammates were freed up from recreating the lead train on possible sprint finishes and Matteo Trentin won stage 7 and Tony Martin won stage 9 and now stage 20.

This is the team where Brian Holm is also a sports director. I enjoyed watching him in the Tour movie Chasing Legends. Plus they have “Prince Harry” or Mark Renshaw.Mark Renshaw

In the first week, back in Yorkshire, (that feels like a million years ago) one of my Trek Travel teammates really like OPQS and now I can say they are my favorite team too.

Stage 7: Never Give Up

Oh my spirits flagged midday. I had a successful shopping excursion to get warmer clothes for the Alps. Just as I gave up on France having sunshine it popped out for bit this afternoon. Since I packed for the weather I experienced in Europe last July, I have plenty of sundresses and not enough long pants and layers. Thanks to a big sale at Go Sports I have a ski jacket and a hideous pink turtleneck (both will go to Goodwill in Paris before I fly home). I also received kind help from a couple from Perth in the pharmacy who recommended the Strepsil for my throat and shared their around the world travel plans. 

When I got to the train station I learned that I had 2 trains and a bus to get to Nancy. I took a deep breath and dove in and it all worked like clockwork. I checked into a better hotel and turned on the television for my daily ritual of “how many kilometers to go?” I waivered for a bit in my room. I could not figure out what day it was, what stage. I looked out the window and wondered, “Why am I doing this?” And then I started out and I met a lovely couple from South Africa also staying at my hotel and walking to the Tour finish line. 

With about 3 hours to wait, there was already 2-4 people deep along the barricades before and after the finish. I picked a spot just 20 feet after the finish with only 2 people deep. I set up my REI chair and did some knitting. Now that I have seen the caravan a few times it is easy to just relax and enjoy the atmosphere and not stress over catching stuff. Interestingly they do not toss swag near the finish line. I guess even though there is an hour or more before the racers arrive, they do not want to have any hazards on the course.  

I love being small and slipping through the crowd to get to the finish in the first place, and then my height is a disadvantage. Once the crowd starts to squeeze in I wish I were as tall as my brother Dean (+12″) and as broad shouldered so I could hold my ground. Ah well, crowd behavior is similar the world over. The finish was so close everyone around me called it for Peter Sagan. He is a favorite with fans and even has his own hard core fan club. (In fact they were so noisy with the air horns during the awards presentations that the gendarmes hustled them out of the VIP section.)

Even the actual winner Matteo Trentin thought Sagan must have won. Until the officials told him he won. The photo finish is my inspiration for today. Never give up. 

I stopped for a bite to eat on my way back to the hotel and I realized that whatever day it is, tomorrow I am headed to Mulhouse and will see Harriet and Brian and Grace and Nora. I am loved and they are adored. I am getting my second wind. Life is great. 

Watch this video for one of the most thrilling 1 kilometer of the Tour 2014: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x21awbk_en-the-flamme-rouge-the-last-kilometre-stage-7-epernay-nancy_sport

Viewing a Tour de France Finish: Lyon, 2013

I began taking an interest in the Tour de France when Greg LeMond won his first of three Tour de France races in 1986. He was from the Sacramento area and the Sacramento Bee dedicated lots of column inches to his racing. After a few years I began watching it from morning till night–each stage several times–on Versus cable channel. In the fall of 2012, the 100th Tour de France route was announced and I realized that I had the means to see it in person. I called a friend who knows France and determined to focus on a City that offered a finish and a start and settled on Lyon. And that is how I found myself in Lyon France on July 13 to witness the finish of Stage 14.

It was thrilling! We walked a couple of kilometers towards the finish line near the Stade de Gerland (soccer stadium). We were only 1.5 hours before the expected arrival of cyclists. We spent the morning seeing historic Lyon and watched the middle of the race on television. The race route in Lyon was a challenge with one section that looked like Lombard Street in San Francisco, and several hard turns into the last kilometer.  When we left the television we knew there was a breakaway (a group of riders that rides away from the Peleton or the main group of riders), but we did not know if they would be caught. In anticipation of a possible sprint, we picked a spot at the 1 kilometer marker where sprints often get serious and began our vigil.

I learned later from some seasoned Tour followers from Canada, to see the finish near the finish you need to camp out at about 8 a.m. and wait. We missed a lot of the parade (goes by about 2 hours before the finish). The announcers spoke in French, of course. Our neighbor at the barrier spoke a little English and translated. Then we learned he was from Bulgaria and spoke only a little French as well. Still better than our limited vocabulary.

Our Bulgarian friend said that the announcer was mainly telling us to keep our arms and bags behind the barrier and other safety warnings.  Gradually the announcer became more excited and began shouting his announcements with the name “Julien Simon” repeated frequently.  The official cars stopped roaring by and we began to only see gendarmes, then photographers, then we could hear the crowd roar let us know that they were seconds away.

The breakaway was still away! The first couple of riders came on our side of the street and periously close to us. Then there were a few stragglers (still going VERY fast) including American Teejay Van Garderen of BMC.  Several minutes passed and then the crowd roar sounded again and we say the police motor bikes and suddenly, boom: the peleton led by Team Sky and the yellow jersey on Chris Froome. Wow.

I did not learn the actual winner until we got back to the hotel.  Matteo Trentin of Omega Pharma-Quickstep (Mark Cavendish’s team) won the stage.  Julien Simon was close and said in an interview that if there had been a few more turns in the course it might have been a different result. Meanwhile all of the other standings remained the same.

If you are not familiar with the classifications: Overall leader of the Tour with the lowest time wears the Yellow jersey and is currently Chris Froome with a 2’35” lead; the sprinters compete for the green jersey and because there are points along the route and not just for top finishing, Peter Sagan is in green; the King of the Mountains wears red polkadots on a white jersey and Pierre Rolland is KofM; the best young rider, Michal Kwiatkowski of Omega Pharma-Quickstep, must be under 23 and wears white.

After the excitement of the peleton, we walked to the actual finish line to see the set up. I bought souvenirs. My son Tevis had work to do so he peeled back to the hotel. I walked back along the course and stopped for a cold Diet Coke. I relaxed at an outside table and enjoyed a interesting conversation with a couple from Britain who earn a living transporting bicycles for tour groups and follow le Tour on their motorbikes.

I was hooked and wanted more Tour, so when I got back to the hotel I figured out the options for taking the train to Givors in the morning to view the start of Stage 15.

Post Script: Velo reported in the September issue: “It was Trentin’s first win of the Tour –the fourth for OPQS, following Cav’s pair of sprint wins and Martin’s TT victory– and his first win, period, since 2008. Trentin was considering going back to university, but instead opted to race for another year; it turns out he secured a different education, this one at the Tour.’

“When you work alongside a rider like Cavendish, you learn a thing or two,” Trentin said, “I just waited patiently and unleashed my sprint with 100 (meters) to go.”