“The ideal Tour would be a Tour in which only one rider survives the ordeal.”
Henri Desgrange (father of the TdF)

  July 2006


By Graham Jones
CyclingRevealed Historian

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CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '06

Stage 6, July 7th, Lisieux to Vitre, 189 km

The Art of Crashing!

Every year the first week of the Tour is characterized by frequent crashes. Long flat stages, fresh legs, inattentiveness and a bunch of nearly 200 riders create a volatile concoction guaranteed to wreak havoc. The formula is made even more potent by collective nervousness and an intense battle to lay claim to the Green point's jersey. If you watch the video replays of many crash incidents you will not only see the sad aftermath of riders hitting the road but also world class bike handling. On Stage 4 with just 200m to go, and with the sprint in full cry, Julian Dean bumped into the rider beside him and 'decked it' . The Quick.Step rider beside him leaned to one side and with acrobatic precision stayed upright while pulling over to the empty side of the road to his right. The riders behind Dean switched sharply to avoid him but also taking care to avoid hitting someone else.

Yesterday we saw Eloi Martinez suddenly go down in the middle of the bunch; out on the open road, a moment's hesitation, a touch of wheels and bang. Like water streaming around the bow of a ship, those around him in the tightly packed bunch deftly avoided the fallen rider. With Martinez and so many other crashes note how the riders close by will move well out to the left and right of the road to both avoid getting themselves and other riders tangled in the incident. As professional riders they are mostly expert bike handlers. The rule of the peloton is self preservation and the care of everyone else. Taking someone out can cause their loss of income and often ruin a whole season.

Theorizing how to handle crash situations is fine on paper but in practice it comes down to split second thinking. Imagine what is required to survive the cobbled roads of a Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix. Anyone who has raced in Belgium or the Netherlands will know that bike handling is very much part of the amateur school of racing. Unlike amateur racers who generally panic and make poorly executed moves, pros usually remain cool and are capable of beautifully nimble maneuvers. Unfortunately crashes are an everyday reality and in the high tension atmosphere of a race like the Tour it is a lucky rider who can get through the three week race without crashing at least once.

Once again today the Tour was heading across a region steeped in WW2 history. The ‘Falaise Gap' was the final major battle for Normandy . Named after the town just to the south of Caen , the ‘Falaise Gap' was a large area containing a substantial portion of the German army. By August 1944 approximately 150,000 German troops including some very powerful Panzer divisions were under attack from the north by the British and the south by the Americans. Hitler refused to allow a retreat until it was very clear that his entire army could be lost. Mid-August the Germans managed to escape east over the River Seine but left 10,000 dead and another 50,000 taken prisoner. The defeat ranks alongside their catastrophic failure at Stalingrad .

A key feature to cause much carnage during WW2 was the local Norman road system which includes extensive stretches of bocage. Translated from French, bocage means a terrain of mixed woodland and pasture, with tortuous side-roads and lanes bounded on both sides by banks surmounted with high thick hedgerows limiting visibility. It was along these roads that tanks, armoured vehicles and infantry could move without being seen. Unexpected encounters between both sides created some of the most horrendous fighting of the war.

Again it is very hard as we watch the Tour to imagined the horrors that took place here just over 60 years ago. But once again the bocage will play an important role for any break to quickly disappear from sight. With the all important time trial tomorrow, escape artists would be looking for a stage win while the sprinters planned on another mass charge to the finish line.

An early break of 18 riders created shock waves throughout the peloton because none other than the Yellow Jersey of Tom Boonen was one of the escapees. The bunch was having none of that and the break was quickly brought to heel. But out of that group Magnus Backstedt, Florent Brard and Anthony Geslin slipped away just before the bunch latched on. These three riders stayed away from km 74 until their inevitable submission to the power of the peloton with just 4kms to go. Advantage sprinters.

The race had to pass through the narrow medieval streets of Vitré before reaching the finishing straight on the other side of town. Moving at warp speed, Lampre led the charge and happily the entire peloton negotiated the course through the center of Vitré without incident. En masse they displayed the real art of the crash – and that is not to crash!

The King of Green

A crazy sprint ensued but if you watched closely McEwen was tucked in neatly behind his lead-out man Gert Steegmans as Tom Boonen was making a mess of getting through the traffic chaos. With perfect timing Steegmans switched away and McEwen burst through to take another very clear win. With three stage wins he now has a very solid hold on the Green Jersey. For Boonen the consolation prize was third place and retaining his Yellow Jersey. For Lampre who had driven the sprint through town their man Danielle Bennati managed to get second to the irrepressible McEwen.

Tomorrow : A very important stage! We will start the real shake-out for the final GC. Saint Gregoire to Rennes, 52 km ITT. Come back to CyclingRevealed.com for our daily impression.



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