This year, as in every year, I briefly thought I would watch the Tour de France casually. I would not become obsessed and thus avoid the highs and lows of cycling in July and the gutted feeling when it is over and forgo getting up at 5:30 a.m. PST.
Then I got this email.
I bought the NBC Sports Gold pass for cycling during the Tour of California in May. It did not include the Giro but it will include the Tour de France. I watch on my computer, follow VeloNews and the @letour on Twitter and watch every episode of Orica Scott Backstage Pass on YouTube.
The favorites are Chris Froome (Sky), RIchie Porte (BMC), or Nairo Quintana (Movistar) for the overall General Classification or yellow jersey. The race begins on July 1 with a time trial in Dusseldorf, Germany. Will my favorite Tony Martin win on home turf? Will Germans Marcel Kittel or Andre Greipel turn themselves out to win a stage at home? Will Mark Cavendish be healthy enough to compete? Will best rider in the world Peter Sagan win the green jersey again? We’ll know when Le Tour finishes in Paris on July 23rd.
If you like listening to podcasts. My cycling favorite is The 3 Domestiques. I listen on the Stitcher app to Matt Keenan, Sam Edmunds and Dan Jones discuss pro-cycling with great interviews.
So set your alarm and don’t miss the drama, the athleticism, and the tradition.
As a cycling fan, the time invested often rewards you in a special way. Such is Stage 9 of La Vuelta in Spain. I first met David de la Cruz when he asked Sarah and me for directions on the American River Parkway. He was preparing for the time trial in Folsom in 2014 and we had a short conversation with him and his Net App Endura teammates. Then I had a brief conversation with him at this year’s Giro outside the Etixx-Quick-Step bus as he stopped to sign my flag. He’s just 27 and he signed a contract extension just three days ago with Etixx-Quick-Step (one of cycling’s most competitive teams). He had yet to win any stages in a major tour.
Today’s stage had a steep descent in the middle and then ended “lumpy”. The series of steep hills at the end allowed about 11 riders to survive in the break away and stay away. David de la Cruz with Etixx-Quick-step cycling team was able to keep up and ultimately attacked on the final climb and left all but one rider behind–Dries Devenyns (IAM Cycling). He shook him off with 700 meters to go and rode hard to the finish in the hopes of also winning the red jersey for the overall lead. Once the group that had red jersey Nairo Quintana came in it was official–he won just about every prize today–the stage, most aggressive, the combo jersey and the overall leader’s red jersey. His grin on the podium was about a mile wide. He earned his joy.
I am watching la Vuelta bike race every morning on NBC Sports Gold app. I startled Lulu this morning with my enthusiasm for de la Cruz’s achievement. Someday I may be able to travel to Spain to watch the third grand tour. It is always 3 weeks in August, and because it follows the Giro and Tour de France it often gets green riders who need grand tour experience or stars who are a bit tired from the Tour de France and this year the Olympics. Alberto Contador is back after injuries forced him to abandon the Tour de France. Chris Froome is contending even though he’s been almost around the world competing.
When I was on the Giro I appreciated how relaxed and less formal the race was as compared to the Tour de France. People kept saying, “Then you’d love the Vuelta.” One thing I do love is the good behavior of the fans. They appear to be there for the cycling and not so much to appear on television or to harass the cyclists (as in the Tour de France). There are also many more policeman only the side of the road and they appear to be much more willing to blow their whistle and remind people to stay back.
We are barely into the second week and I am looking forward to much more world class cycling.
I pedaled to the Avid Reader in Sacramento–the only bookstore left between Arden Fair Mall and Elk Grove where new books and magazines are sold. I was looking for a specific book and browsing for new fiction to read this summer. Much to my surprise and delight the Velo Tour de France 2015 Official Guide was on the newsstand!
I read this issue from cover to cover every year. The Velo Guide cover traditionally features the winner from the previous year. Vincenzo Nibali dominated and ultimately won the 2014 Tour de France. The reporters had an irritating habit last year of saying “Nibali retains the yellow jersey…” and then adding “after Froome and Contador crashed out.” Ignoring that Nibali wore yellow before they crashed out. And that not crashing is one of the objectives of the race, essential to winning.
This year the sportswriters are salivating because Froome, Contador, and Nibali are all starting this year. I am excited because Nairo Quintana returns after a year off. He took the 2013 Tour de France by surprise placing second overall. His team Movistar bet on Alejandro Valverde last year and sent Quintana to win the Giro and was on his way to winning the Vuelta when he crashed out. It should be an exciting battle.
The Velo editors rank their favorites for the Tour each year. The magazine is written several months ago so it does not reflect the spring season. They rank the leaders in the following order: 1. Alberto Contador, 2. Chris Froome, 3. Vincenzo Nibali, 3. Nairo Quintana, 4. Thibaut Pinot, 5. Tejay Van Garderen, 6. Andrew Talansky. Contador just won the Giro. How will that impact his performance at Le Tour?
This issue also features profiles of each of the teams. For the first time, there will be an international team from Africa: MTN-QHUBEKA. It is helpful to track the changes in names as familiar teams change names as sponsors change. My favorite team is much easier to call out as their name is shorter: Etixx-Quick-Step.
They spend much less time handicapping the other jerseys. I was disappointed with the feature on the green jersey. At one time the green jersey point system made it the sprinter’s jersey. Then they changed the scoring system with more emphasis on intermediate sprints that perfectly suited new rider Peter Sagan. I love watching this exciting cyclist. He has completely dominated the green jersey in the last three years. The writers did not have the advantage of seeing Sagan win the Tour of California before they wrote this article and they cast a shadow on his chances. The bigger miss though was a clear explanation of how the green jersey point system has changed to reward sprinters more.
“The changes favour stage winners and will only be in place for the nine flat stages of the race. The winner of the stage will score 50 points, 20 more than the second placed rider, who will score 30 points, boosting the stage winner’s points total and rewarding stage winners more than rider who place consistently.
The first 15 riders to cross the finish line to be rewarded with 50, 30, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 points respectively on the nine flat stages. The remaining 12 stages will continue to award points in the same distribution from 2012 to 2014 when the classification was last changed with 45, 35, 30, 26, 22, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 points to the first 15 riders across the line.”
I will be interested to watch how this changes the competition for this jersey. And I will be watching the continuing evolution of major talent Peter Sagan as a racer.
The issue also features a stage by stage description of the race. It changes ever year. This year it moves counter-clockwise around France after a time trial in Utrecht and a second stage in the Netherlands. If you look at the profiles of some of the stages you might think the Tour is not as hard as its reputation. Exhibit A. It is not the challenge of any one stage, it is the relentless pounding day after day, kilometer after kilometer. With hundreds of other nervous riders. On narrow European roads including cobblestones. Exhibit B. The mountains–Pyrenees and Alps. Just ask Secretary of State John Kerry who recently broke his leg riding one of the Tour de France routes.
As the Grand Depart draws closer (Saturday July 5) and my own departure is next Tuesday (July 1). While most people are caught up in FIFA World Cup drama, I have been reading memoirs by George Hincapie and Mark Cavendish, histories of Tour de France, and predictions of this year’s race.
Bicycling Magazine recently tweeted their 10 contenders to watch, including:
1 Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank)
2. Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida)
3. Chris Froome (Team Sky) Defending Champion
4. Michal Kwiatkpwski (Omega Pharma Quick Step)
5. Bauke Mollena (Belkin)
6. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
7. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ)
8. Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharpe) USA
9. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Beisal)
10. Tejay van Garderen (BMC) USA
Velo News has a more complicated rating system in their Tour de France 2014 Official Guide. To summarize:
PTS RIDER (TEAM)
39/40 Chris Froome (Team Sky)
38/40 Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank)
37/40 Vincenzo Nibali
33/40 Tejay van Garderen (BMC)
33/40 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
32/40 Bauke Mollema (Belkin)
31/40 Jurgen Van der Broeck (Lotto-Belisol)
31/40 Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp)
Reading through the route highlights, there are unique challenges to almost every one of the 21 stages. Yorkshire is hilly though the finish at Harrogate will give Mark Cavendish an opportunity to win Stage 1 and the yellow jersey in his home country. Stage 3 will be an exciting finish in London. Stage 5 has cobbles. There are two uphill finishes, and 2 Alpine mountaintop finishes. This is a tour for climbers and only one time trial. I feel bad that Movistar sent Nairo Quintana to Giro D’Italia instead of giving him a chance to move up the podium from second to first. Other fans are disappointed that Froome was chosen over Bradley Wiggins on Team Sky.
This week the Trek Racing Team announced their team for the 2014 Tour de France. It includes my favorite rider Jens Voigt starting his 17th tour (tying George Hincapie’s record). I hope I get to meet him and the other team members (Fabian Cancellara!) in Yorkshire.