Deep into the third week of the tour and there is no chance to rest. Stage 18 sees the riders ascend Alpe D’Huez not once, but twice. And with rain forecast, it may be made even more challenging, especially the tricky and untested (at the TDF) descent from the Col de Sareene. Froome will be put under serious stress by the other teams on this descent and anything could happen, but the precarious descent is some 40km from the finish and is followed immediately by the second climb back up the Alpe. So, barring a catastrophic crash by the Sky Team rider, his form to date suggests he will finish with or in front of his GC rivals.
*Photo courtesy of www.socialvelo.com
Stage 17 and the second Individual Time Trial (ITT) marks the start of four days of very hard racing. Very hard not only for the GC riders trying to move into a podium position and the overall victory but also for the rouleurs and the sprinters, the latter trying desperately not to be eliminated by the time cut-off. It will also be a couple of hard days viewing for the fans on the roadside and viewing at home, so much to see, so much to take in!
The profile for this time trial is well balanced with two solid climbs of over 6%. But while both climbs are relatively short at 6.4kms and 6.9kms respectively, the pace of the 32km time trial will be frantic. The GC riders will really need to power-up to place well and the likes of Alberto Contador should excel.
*Photo of Chorges courtesy of www.mairie-chorges.fr
It would seem that with a lead of over 4 minutes, Chris Froome’s Tour win may almost be guaranteed. But with still a week’s racing ahead of them, it seems he shouldn’t be too confident yet. Shortly after his win on Mont Ventoux, Saxo-Tinkoff’s directeur sportif Fabrizio Guidi stated that the winner is yet to be decided. “There are still opportunities in this race and we’re highly motivated” said the Italian. “Froome shouldn’t rest assure of the overall win just yet.” Saxo-Tinkoff’s confidence could be well-founded with Alberto Contador and Roman Kreuziger still able to hold their own in the Alpes, but will it be enough?
The reduced numbers in Team Sky (now down to seven) have certainly weakened their team but they still remain very strong and most importantly have the strongest rider in the peloton in Chris Froome. The support of team mates Richie Porte and Peter Kennaugh will be critical in the final week. Froome is the only rider who hasn’t had a bad day since the Tour began, will his form and run of luck continue?
Another exciting week of racing has gone by and we’ve seen the usual suspects shine in their race to Paris. As expected, Chris Froome is in the lead and Peter Sagan holds the points for the green jersey title.
The most exciting racing was perhaps yesterday’s stage as Chris Froome cemented his dominance in the battle to the top of Mont Ventoux with his lead over his nearest rival, Bauke Mollema now extending to 4’14’’.
And let’s not forget Stage 13 and the echelons that formed in the cross winds on the road to Saint-Amand-Montrond. Bauke Mollema (Belkin) and Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) were able to put more than a minute into Chris Froome’s (Team Sky) overall lead. This was cycling at it’s best.
Alberto Contador’s tour has gone well in his comeback after suspension holding 3rd place in the overall standings, showing that he is back in form.
The majestic views of Mont St Michele were the backdrop to the Stage 11 finish in which Tony Martin dominated this Individual Time Trial Event. A nail-biting wait saw him watching till the last competitor crossed the line to seal his victory. Waiting for Chris Froome to cross the line must’ve been the longest moments of Martin’s life!
Stage 12 saw another exciting sprint to the finish line. What we are seeing this year is a survival sprint at the end of a lot of stages as riders fight to stay upright amid crashes right near the line.
*Photo courtesy of www.letour.fr
After a few days’ rest for the Velobrand writing team, we are back to report on what we have loved about this first week of racing. As the riders take their rest day we gear up for more action and, hopefully, catch up on some sleep!
Not only has the magnificent scenery failed to disappoint but the action on the road has kept us on the edge of our couches. Aussie Simon Gerrans did his team and country proud with his 2nd Tour stage win and subsequent wearing of the maillot jaune. Holding it for 2 stages his generous character shone through as he gladly passed it onto his South African team mate Daryl Impey in thanks for his support in getting Gerrans into the lead. Being the first South African to ever wear the yellow jersey, Impey’s pride and gratitude was evident, let’s hope this catapults African cycling into the big time and inspires a generation of young Africans to take up the sport.
As we moved from Corsica to the Mediterranean and then into the Pyrenees, the racing heated up with Chris Froome demonstrating exactly what he is here for; GC honours. Taking both the stage and the maillot jaune on stage 8 and hanging tough on stage 9, it was clear that his team’s focus and hard work was paying off. But have they peaked too early? The Sky team, looked unbeatable all the way to Paris after stage 8, and every post stage interview focused on the same question, could anyone stop Sky’s dominance, the unequivocal answer was “no”. But less than 24 hours later aggressive riding by Movistar, Garmin-Sharp and others changed the complexion of the race, showing that Sky was beatable and Froome could be isolated. A point to note here is the fact that riders appear to be having good days and bad days, something we haven’t seen in the Tour for almost a generation and is surely a sign of cleaner and more inspiring sport.
The race for the maillot vert has been unfolding at a frantic pace, with Sagan in the box seat, by virtue of his efforts to claim points at both the intermediate sprints and the stage finishes. While Cavendish, Greipel, Kittel and Sagan, have been shown they are the fastest sprinters at this year’s Tour, the much hyped shootout between these riders has not quite eventuated on any one day, thanks to a series of crashes and misfortune.
Pierre Rolland has raced to a solid lead in the mountain classification topping off a great week for Team Europcar, who made their way into break-aways on every stage since the stage 5.
We look forward to seeing how it all unfolds as we move into the second week of the Grande Boucle where two of the Velobrand team’s favourite stages will take place; the individual time trial against the magnificent backdrop of Mont-Saint-Michel; and the gruelling 20km climb up the mythical landscape of Mont Ventoux. Let’s hope the good weather, sportsmanship and quality racing continue!
*Photo courtesy of www.fontaines-escot.com
Cagnes-sur-Mer – Marseille 219km
Only for the second time in Tour history is a stage finishing in Marseille. The only other time was stage 12 back in 1967, won by Frenchman Raymond Riotte. With four categorised climbs, plus the Col de Gineste just 7km from the finish, the sprinters will be trying desperately to hang on over the final climb should the peloton still be all together, however the day lends itself to a small breakaway.
Artist Auguste Renoir spent the last years of his life in Cagnes-sur-Mer and there is a museum in his honour at his house. Featuring the artist’s painting room where he would work from his wheelchair during his last years, the Museum depicts the life of the painter in the early 20th Century. Though crippled with arthritis, Renoir would still sculpt and paint with the help of assistants and have his paintbrushes strapped to his hands so he could still use them to create during those last years; just as the riders overcome pain and suffering to pursue their dream of glory in this great race.
*photo courtesy of www.cotedazur-tourism.com
Nice – Nice 25km Team Time Trial
The beautiful and vibrant Mediterranean city of Nice hosts the Team Time Trial today in what promises to be an exciting dual between the Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Sky teams. Starting at 4 minute intervals, all teams will fight for time and professional pride as they race through the streets and outskirts of Nice.
With its hot, Mediterranean climate and beautiful beaches, it is no wonder that the city of Nice is known for its love of local seafood; so much so that it has given birth to the proverb “fish are born in the sea and die in oil”!
With this in mind, we went searching for an authentic Salade Nicoise recipe and found one by David Lebotvitz which hits the spot for this classic, tasty salad. The vitamin hit from the raw vegetables, the high protein from tuna and eggs and healthy fats from olive oil make this a well-rounded meal or snack. We like to team it with crusty bread for some carbs.
Classic Salade Niçoise
Makes 2 salads
- 2 large, ripe tomatoes
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
- 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced
- 2 spring onions, or 1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup (90g) peeled fava beans
- 1/3 cup (55g) small black olives, preferably Niçoise olives
- 1/2 head of lettuce, torn or shredded
- 3 hard-cooked eggs (see below)
- 6 tablespoons (90ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or flat-leaf parsley
- freshly ground black pepper
- 3-4 anchovy filets, cut into thin strips lengthwise, or a 6 ounces (180g) tin of tuna
1. Rub the clove of garlic all over the insides of a wooden salad bowl.
2. Cut the tomatoes into wedges and put them in a colander. Sprinkle them with salt, and let them drain for a few minutes while you finish the salad.
3. Add the cucumber, onions, fava beans, olives, and lettuce to the bowl.
4. Peel and cut the eggs into wedges.
5. Mix the olive oil with the herbs and a bit of salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes to the bowl and toss most of the dressing with the salad, reserving a bit to drizzle over the eggs. (If using tuna, toss that with the salad as well.) Season with additional salt, if necessary.
6. Place the eggs on top of the salad and drape the anchovy strips over the eggs. Pour the remaining dressing over the eggs.
To make hard-cooked eggs: Begin with room temperature large eggs. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and gently lower the eggs in. Let cook for 9 minutes. Remove the eggs from the water and plunk them into a bowl of ice water, cracking the shells a bit after a few minutes, which aids in peeling.
Ajaccio – Calvi 145km
Arguably the most beautiful city on the island of Corsica, the peloton arrives in Calvi today to complete the Grand Departe.
Said to be the birthplace of Christopher Columbus and known for its beautiful beaches, Calvi attracts many visitors during the summer months for those looking for relaxation and excellent restaurants.
Given the island’s mountainous, rugged beauty it’s no wonder there are excellent cycling opportunities to be found. The roads can be narrow and steep and a little crowded, but the climbs offer breathtaking views once you reach the top.
Photo courtesy of www.corsica.co.uk
Bastia – Ajaccio 154km
Stage 2 has been described as “a real roller-coaster ride” by the Tour’s Director of Competition, Jean-Francois Pescheux. And it’s easy to see why! With steep climbs, including the mountain climb up Col de Vizzavona at the 95.5km mark, followed by an arduous descent into Ajaccio, an anxious peloton will test the nerves of those fighting for yellow.
One of those looking to grab hold of the yellow jersey today is Chris Froome.
After 154km, the riders will arrive in the port city of Ajaccio, birthplace of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Can the climbers showcase their King of the Mountain credentials? Or will they surrender, just as Napoleon in Waterloo?
*Photo courtesy of www.ciclismoclassico.com