Friday, July 10, 2009
Slip Slidin’ Away
Mick Rogers (Columbia-HTC) can’t catch a break at the Tour de France, can he? Two years ago, Rogers, riding for T-Mobile, was leader on the road, and riding strongly in the key break of the day on the big mountain trip from Le Grand Bornand to Tignes. But when fellow breakaway David Arroyo (Caisse d’ Epargne) overcooked a turn and went over the guardrail on the high-speed descent of the Cormet de Roselend, Rogers followed, hitting the rail that Arroyo managed to avoid. Though he initially rejoined the lead group, he later abandoned from the pain of a dislocated shoulder.
The loss of Rogers that day was just one element in a disastrous day for the new-look T-Mobile squad that would morph into Columbia the next year. On the road to Tignes, the team also lost then-budding sprinter Mark Cavendish, as well as strongman Marcus Burghardt, completing a striking three-man reduction of forces in a single day. Adding insult to injury, the team’s young German hope Linus Gerdemann surrendered his yellow jersey to Michael Rassmussen (then Rabobank), who also took the stage win in Tignes.
Yesterday, riding his first grand tour since that day, Rogers again hit the deck, ending his GC chances as he finished some 13:14 down on the lead group containing all the major GC contenders. Rogers’ fall this year was certainly less spectacular, coming in a pileup on a greasy roundabout 30 kilometers from the Stage 6 finish in Barcelona.
Though it likely won’t be much consolation to Rogers right now, compared to that day in 2007, things are looking far better, if a little sore, for Bob Stapleton’s team. First and foremost, Rogers completed the stage, and took the start of the stage to Andorra Arcalis this morning. If he can ride out the Pyrenees and heal up a bit, Rogers could still manage to do something for himself later in the race, perhaps in a break on a transitional day.
More likely, however, he’ll be put back to work helping Cavendish preserve his green jersey to Paris. After Thor Hushovd’s (Cervelo) win in yesterday’s uphill sprint on the Montjuic climb, where Cavendish finished 16th, the Norwegian now sits just one point behind the Manxman in the points competition. While Cavendish undoubtedly has the quicker kick in pure fast finishes, Hushovd has experience on his side, having won green in 2005. He's diligent in picking up intermediate points, and also proved he has the resilience to win on the far side of the Tour’s mountains by winning the Champs Elysees stage in 2006. Cavendish may well have that ability as well – it’s just unproven at this point. Either way, though, Cavendish will need the help of his team to either win or eat up intermediate points and keep them out of the hands of the savvy Hushovd.
To that end, compared to the Stage 8 meltdown in 2007, the team has done well to survive a dangerous day with all nine of its men in the race. That’s important for Cavendish’s chances at green in Paris. However, it’s also important to note that, of those nine, there’s not a one of them who isn’t capable of winning a stage, particularly after the GC battle shakes out a little bit more after the first few days in the mountains.
Until Stage 6, it had been a dream Tour for Columbia-HTC, with two stage wins, a good lead in the green jersey competition, the white jersey on Tony Martin, and a stunning show of strength on Stage 3. Now, with their first remotely bad day behind them, it will be interesting to see where they go from here.
- It’s irrelevant, but looking at yesterday’s finish, I couldn’t help but think that it was tailor-made for an Alejandro Valverde stage win on Spanish soil. Of course, Hushovd winning might indicate that the climb was a little bit too easy for that to have happened, but I guess we’ll never know, will we?
- I noted a few weeks ago that Garmin has reached the point in its developmental timeline where scrappy near misses weren’t going to cut it anymore. After David Miller’s (Garmin) solo ride into Barcelona yesterday, I may have to scale that thought back a bit, though I’m not going to retract it entirely. Sure, the move came to nothing, as many such moves do, but Miller had the guts to take the reins pretty far out and kept the race interesting. If he’d been eaten up with his former breakaway companions, those kilometers between the last climb and the finish hill would have been just another run-in. Well, except for all the crashing, of course.
- I wonder if Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) is starting to wish he’d lost that court ruling that let him start the Tour this year. He took another tumble on the way into Barcelona, and while he hasn’t experienced anything catastrophic, the number of small incidents must be wearing on him. So far, Boonen must feel like he's been getting shot with one of those beanbag guns the police use. Yeah, it doesn’t kill you, but it’ll sure piss you off and make you wish you’d just stayed home.
- Boonen’s crash held up another of the Tour’s hard luck men, Denis Menchov (Rabobank), who tossed another 1:02 into the wind by day's end. I doubt that really matters to Menchov though – to be stuck behind that crash, he would have to have been riding pretty far back, like you would if, you know, you didn’t give a shit about your chances. Right now, his only chance at Tour glory is to drop enough time that he’ll be released for a stage win in the final week. And in that respect, he’s doing a bang-up job.
- Did you see those crowds? From at least 15 kilometers out, it was at least one or two people deep on both sides of the road, and thicker on the corners and final climb. Stages outside of France always seem to do better in that respect – more of a novelty I suppose, and the locals know there’s a slim chance of the race returning any time soon. Of course, it also helps to have native sons of note in the race, as Spain does with Contador and Sastre. The Germans always turned out for Ullrich and Zabel as well.