Friday, July 11, 2014

Stage 6 Arras / Reims - The Turn of the Screw

After yesterday’s epic battle on the cobbles, the Tour continued to pay tribute to the centenary of the beginning of World War I with a 194km stage from Arras through the Plains of the Somme and on to one of the champagne production centres of the region Reims. The terrain is pancake flat with just 2 category 4 climbs and an intermediate sprint at the 119km mark.

Since the race was heading to the Champagne region Gabriel Gate had something special planned, Chicken with Champagne and Mushroom Sauce. Not too many wild chickens in the north of France, so Gabs did what any one else would do and filled up a trolley down at the local supermarché. No butter in this recipe, the only dairy to speak of is a half cup of cream. However, what it lacks in dairy is more than made up for in booze with a little cognac and half a bottle of champagne for the dish and the rest for chef. The Beurremetric Counter sits on a tipsy 375g.

This route was designed with the sprinter in mind but not the Tour fan. Let’s be honest, this was a pretty boring stage on mostly flat fields with not a lot to see. Phil and Paul did manage to occupy themselves with some occasional  chateau and medieval ruin spotting but quickly got tired of it. And you know Paul is really bored when he starts talking about fishing. There were no bird spotting opportunities for Phil either. At times like this you wish Tour organisers would keep a buzzard on standby to release just to keep him occupied.

Boredom can be the enemy of the rider too leading to inattention. Conditions were moist but there were a lot of silly crashes on good straight roads resulting in more race abandons than on the cobbles the day before. Paul put it down to reactions to ‘strange noises’ causing riders to touch on the brakes and skid on the road. And the source of these strange noises? Well, Troll DJ gave us a clue with the theme to ‘Blazing Saddles’.

Speaking of wind, the cross winds over the fields caused some havoc in the peloton. And if cross winds weren’t enough, there were nine sectors of roundabouts to deal with on the run in to Reims.

Mega Farmer-Quick Stop ‘put the hammer down and turned up the screws’ in the final kilometres. ‘Hammers down’, ‘screws turned up’, classic  Sherwenisms. However, if these expressions are indicative of Paul’s handyman skills there’s no way I’m letting him do work around my chateau.

Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) was highly fancied to win the stage and in the final sprint to the line punctured along with Trekie Danny Van Poppel, whose tyre, well, popped.  A repeat of stage 14’s ‘tackgate’ in 2012? No, it turns out the screws were turned up so high they fell out and ended up all over the road.

It was Andre Greipel’s (Lotto-Belisol) time to shine as he appeared out of nowhere to take the stage. Vincenzo Nibali (Asstana) hangs on to yellow and Peter Sagan (Cannonball) looked bored on the podium accepting another green jersey. Will we see him pop a wheelie on the line in Nancy?

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