Monday, July 27, 2015

Stage 21 Sèvres - Grand Paris Seine Ouest / Paris Champs-Élysées - Le Tour Comes Home

Stage 21 and after three hard weeks in the saddle the Tour finally came home to Paris. This year the Tour celebrated the fortieth anniversary of finishes on the Champs-Élysées, but before the racing got underway a car crashed into one of the race barriers at Place de la Concorde and shots were fired by police. Geez, you’d want to be careful doing a runner on a booze bus then.

Being the final day of the Tour Gabs wanted to prepare a special treat so he cooked up a cherry and almond tart. At 60 g of butter that was a pretty good kick to the finish line for the Buerremetric counter. However, I’d been crunching the numbers on the buerremetric counter since records began in 2013 and 2015 fell well short. 2013 recorded 634 g. In 2014 it was a thumping 1.12 kg. This year it was just a measly 310g. That’s not enough for my toast! So yes, buttergate was a real thing.

But forget Buttergate, did anyone see any sunflowers at this year's Tour?

The women’s race La Course by Le Tour de France, now in its second year,  got underway on the Champs and these conditions were far from ideal for racing. Rain combined with gunk on the road and the slippery cobble surface was a recipe for crashes and punctures. This didn’t bode well for the men who were to arrive later that afternoon and the rain got heavier.

On the final lap commentator Ant McCrossan watched as the riders emerged from the ‘Merc in the tunnel’ and I’m wondering if that was still a bit too soon?

On the final kick for the line Anna van der Breggen soloed to victory. Hats off to Anna for surviving the rough conditions.

After the women’s race Tommo and Robbo caught up with Australia’s greatest cyclist Cadel Evans. I must admit it was bit strange to see him on the spectator’s side of the barrier. As it turned out he was there to watch the Tour Caravan sprint on the Champs.

Ohhh, it's a touch of wheels in the Tour caravan sprint!

Finally, we had some pictures of the Sunday coffee ride into Paris. As is the tradition it’s a time for the riders to relax and even have some bubbles on the road. Another tradition is a team photo. The Skybots linked up for their shot and there was a bit of a wobble from Richie Froome. It'd have been really embarrassing crashing during the team embrace vanity shot at that moment.

Meanwhile, Phil and Paul were compering their sightseeing tour of Paris. They’re getting pretty good at it, and why not since they’ve been doing it for a long time but can anyone explain to me Paul’s obsession with concrete? Needless to say no final day of the Tour would be complete with Paul’s Jardin de Tuileries lecture.

As the peloton got closer to the Champs the riders passed la Tour Eiffel. The Tour passing the Tour, how meta! Paul thought any one up the tower would have the best seat in the house. Sorry Paul, it’s always the vultures that have the best seat in the house.

The riders nervously hit the Champs and fortunately for Froome race referees stopped the official time at the first crossing of the finish line in case Porte got into another  hands free wobble.

The riders started on the loop of the Champs up the famous boulevard and around the back of the Arc de Triomphe and in a face palm moment from Phil the ’tomb of the unknown shoulder’.

The weather cleared and the race wasn’t marred by crashes  we saw in La Course but at just 2.2 km to go int the final lap a protester in a sheet appeared on the course and was nearly taken out by the riders. Bloody hell, who gave Peter Hore a passport?

Disaster was avoided and ‘The Griller’ Andre Greipel crossed the line to make it win number four and what a fantastic Tour he’s had. He’ll be cooking up a storm for the team tonight!

Chris Froome arrived safely to officially claim the golden fleece as champion of Le Tour de France for the second time and Nairo Quintana was runner up, just like in 2013.

For the record books:

Golden Fleece: Chris Porte
Polka: Chris Porte
Green:  Peter Sagan (again)
White: Nairo Quintana
Team:  Moviestar
Super-Combative:  Romain Bardet

Once again I’d to thank you for taking interest in Le Wrap, it’s a labour of love and your interest is what keeps me going.

Before I go I’d like to leave you with one thought; despite his injuries, did we ever doubt Adam Hansen would make it to the end the Tour?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Stage 20 Modane Valfréjus / Alpe d’Huez - Alpe d'Crazyaz

Stage 20 and the Tour reached the penultimate stage. At 110.5 km the course was relatively short but this would be no easy day in the saddle with two big horse category climbs up the Col de la Croix de Fer and the legendary Alpe d’Huez.

Gabs had been out foraging all morning and came across plenty of wild alpine blueberries. Quicker than you can say ‘blueberry pie’, Gabs had whipped up a delicious blueberry mousse. No butter in the recipe and the buerremetric counter sits on 250g. I’m wondering if Gabs has left the butter for final charge to the line in Paris?

The peloton was well and truly underway when we caught up with Phil and Paul. To Paul this was ‘just a Saturday afternoon bike ride’. Yeah, after three weeks of hard racing and up a freaking mountain.

By the way, I finally got the definitive translation on that NAB ad that’s been running throughout the Tour on SBS. You know the one, it looks like Prince William and his sister (if he had one) are sitting in a lovely restaurant with a magnificent view. The woman asks, "It’s a great business you have here, what’s your secret?" To which the owner replies, “Well, I'm being paid a shitload of money by NAB to use my restaurant in this ad". Fair answer.

Back to the race and the riders were on the first big climb the Col de la Croix de Fer, although Phil got a little ahead of himself and called it the Alpe d’Huez. Great, I can see the Ps are getting their cols mixed up already. All we needed to wait for was a Col de Col Porter.

Froometana was tapping out a rhythm with Richie Porte and Wout Poels, who was checking his lucky numbers. Three kilometres from the summit of whatever mountain they were on ‘Quinfroome’ suddenly sprouted wings and took off with fellow Moviestar Alejandro Valverde.

Over the summit Froome and Quintana were back together but it was clear Quintana was seriously going to try and rip the yellow jersey from the shoulders of Froome. But with the help of trusty lieutenant ‘Richie Froome’ (yes, Phil actually said that, again) Quintana was going to have a hard task ahead of him.

Hehe, Richie Froome. A classic but I still reckon ‘Dean Martin’ from The Jensie is the best name mix up of the Tour.

Finally it was time for Tomo to usher in viewers from Western Australia. He mentioned that the tour was a three week endurance test. Yes, it sure is an endurance test for Aussie Tour fans Tomo, but as you know, we love every moment of it.

Troll DJ chimed in with the Clash’s ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ Should we go? Heck no, don't go now, the best is yet to come on the Alpe d'Huez!

Orange flares on Dutch Corner

On the approach to the Alpe d’Huez the riders passed an impressively large body of water. Large bodies of water are on my drinking game list, don’t ask me why. That impressively large body of water was held back by an equally impressive dam and did I spot a fish ladder at the side of that wall?

Meanwhile breakies Alexandre Geniez, Thibaut Pinot, Winner Anacona, Ryder Hesjedal, Pierre Rolland, Ruben Plaza and José Serpa reached the start of the mythical Alpe d’Huez. The riders were ‘tapping on their pedals’. They have an ever expanding repertoire but on a climb like this you don’t want to be caught square dancing on the pedals.

The climb to the top of the Alpe dHuez is horrendous, but is it the 13.8 km at 8.1 per cent average gradient that makes it so awful?


Is it the steep ramps on the 21 hairpin bends that the riders dread?


It’s the rabid fans at ‘Dutch Corner’ that make this climb such an ordeal.

The breakies were the first to run the gauntlet of roadside random central station with orange flares going off and the corridor of noise was going insane. To top it off a streaker ran up the road. Oh my God, this climb IS horrendous.

Phil spotted 'Thibaut Pierre' (now we’ve heard everything) launch a solo attack at 6 km to go.

Further back Quintana was on the attack and Froome found himself in trouble– “it’s a white dress with gold bands. It’s a white dress with gold bands”. Hurls kitchen sink, “Take that you pillock!”

Meanwhile Thibaut Pierre soloed up the road first across the line at Alpe d’Huez. After a horrendous first week winning here for the Frenchman at Alpe d’Huez was the icing on the cake.

Not long after Chris Porte crossed the line and Richie Froome came in seventh with a big smile. We we can all agree he put in a great ride to be able to survive the ordeal of Dutch Corner.

It was a great ride from Quintana to finish second and put a sizable dent in the yellow jersey lead but bloody well done Chris Froome who had the measure of the GC contenders for the whole Tour.

As Froome accepted yet another yellow jersey on the podium there was a little shake of the head. Not sure if that was in relief or directed at the booers. Whether you love him or hate him, Chris Froome has copped a lot of flack at this Tour and it's undeserved in my opinion.

Who would have imagined three weeks ago we’d be here today and now it's just the parade and the crit race in the heart of Paris to go.

My, how the time flies when you’re having fun.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Stage 19 Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne / La Toussuire - Les Sybelles – The Day the Robots Became Human

Stage 19 and it was another day of hard climbing in the breathtaking French Alps.

Gabs prepared a Beaufort omelette for the rider’s musettes which was going to be a little awkward to eat out on the road. The Beaufort in the omelette refers to a semi hard cheese, not the wind scale for measuring the after effects of a big feed of cassoulet.

Two teaspoons or about 10g of butter are in the recipe taking the buerremetric counter to 250g. There had been rumblings in the peloton about ‘butter gate’. In a tweeted video statement Gabs apologised for the lack of butter in the recipes this year. WELL, IT’S ABOUT TIME GABS! However, we got an exclusive sneak preview to what’s in store for next year’s Tour and he promises it will be ‘the year of the butter’.

Being a big mountain stage and the holidays the fans were out in force. On the roadside we spotted what looked like Obelix but it turned out it was just Gerard Depardieu on a bender.

Asterix has got Gerard's lunch sorted

‘The Shark of Messina’ Vincenzo Nibali, who happens to be one of the best descenders in the peloton if you haven’t heard, was looking like a shark on the hunt for a stage victory.

Romain Bardet was in a hunt of his own for the poker dot jersey and he wasn’t letting a broken front derailleur derail his chances; a quick bike swap and he was on his way.  It must have been one of those moments Paul would class as a good time to have a mechanical because you don’t want a badly timed mechanical or badly timed crash ruining the party.

The riders hit the final 16 km climb to La Toussuire. Paul could attest to how difficult this climb would be because he’d driven the car all the way to the top stuck in second gear. Hmm, I thought that’s how he always drove.

On the final climb Pierre Rolland had held the wheel of Nibali and suddenly The Shark of Messina was off and Rolland couldn’t answer. There was no stopping Nibs now. The reigning Tour champion had a less than brilliant tilt at defending his title and now a stage win and possible third on podium is all he can salvage. Plus he was helped by the fact Mick Fanning was made to sit on a surfboard at the finish line to draw him in.

A little further down the road Nairo Quintana was sitting on the wheel of Chris Froome when Quintana ‘sprouted wings’ and was charging away at 5 km to go. Froome had to react. Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde were left in his wake.

This was the showdown between Quintana and Froome we’d waited nearly three weeks to see in the ongoing blue and black / white and gold dress feud.

For the first time Froome had to get out of the saddle. Phil sensed he was ‘squeezing out an already dry sponge’. And was that a pain face we saw on Quintana? Surely not. Froome was clearly under pressure and to Phil this was,"the day the robots became human".

Nibs crossed the finish line in a well deserved victory. Froome held on to yellow with a slight dent in his margin. That’s what you’d call a hard day in the office for Froome, and nobody wants that on a Friday.

Needless to say now Quintana's discovered the robot is actually human he’s going to be throwing everything including the kitchen sink at Froome on the Alpe d'Huez.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Stage 18 Gap / Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne – Bardet goes all the way

Stage 18 and it’s the Tour’s second day in jaw dropping majesty of the French Alps.

When Gabs is down this way he never forgets to pack a rod for a relaxing spot of trout fishing in the many icy streams of the Alps. With a little help from Phil he’d soon bagged his legal daily quota of trout but it wasn’t enough to feed the peloton and the entire Tour caravan. JC Peraud was enlisted to help and miraculously there was plenty of fish to feed the multitude. Short on pain for breakfast? Not a problem with JC around.

So baked trout with Gruyere cheese was on the menu and the two tablespoons of butter in the recipe have finally moved the buerremetric counter from 200 to 240g. It’s also triple the dairy with cream and cheese.

Jakob Fuglsang found himself in an inexplicable uphill crash on the Col du Glandon. We’re not quite sure what happened as he was off camera to the left when suddenly we saw his rear wheel flick into the air. It’s kind of heartening to know even the pros are prone to silly crashes like that - it makes lesser mortals like me feel a little better about myself when I do something idiotic on a bike.

Romain Bardet was first over the top of the Col du Glandon and Phil was wondering if, “Bardet’s laying down a foundation, can he build a house?” At high speed on a bike? He’ll have your new home built to lock up stage in no time.

Samuel Sanchez was spotted on the descent but where were his golden shoes? Must have left them in Gap for resoling.

Romain Bardet ascends the Lacets de Montvernier

Bardet was still out front when he reached the amazing Lacets de Montvernier, a climb 3km long packed in to 400 metres on a narrow road with 17 hairpin bends up a cliff face. To some it looked like the entrails left behind after the vultures had been there. To me it looked more like a fish ladder to guide the pilot fish in the peloton to the top of the climb. Each bend had ‘Yates you can’ painted on the road but we didn’t know for which one.

For some in the peloton the course looked a little too much like the lay out of ‘Donkey Kong’ and the peloton was keen to get over the top before Andre Greipel got there and started hurling barrels down the road. In hindsight it was probably a good thing Rui Costa’s brother Mario is not at this Tour.

We watched as Bardet pedalled up the Lacets which prompted Paul to say, “this makes you want to jump out of your telly and give the man a push”, which was about the most sense we’d heard from him all day.

Bardet got to the top of the Lacets with a 40 second lead over the chasers and as he got his turbo whistling for the run to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, Paul’s Sherliggettism turbo was whistling to the point of blowing up. At one stage Paul compared Bardet discarding his bidon to ‘throwing out the sand bags like a hot air balloon to get more height’ even though he was actually going down hill.

Bardet had ditched the gloves too – which was not so much as having thrown down the gauntlet but completely throwing it away. The young Frenchman notched up his first Tour win and Pierre Rolland put in great ride to make it a French one - two finish, which will probably be remembered like that other one - two victory at Bathurst ’77.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Stage 17 Digne-les-Bains / Pra Loup – This is not a Strava ride

Stage 17 and the Tour hit the Alps proper after the rest day on a carbon copy of stage 5 in the Tour warm up Criterium du Dauphine.

Over to the kitchen and Gabs cooked up a delicious chicken and capsicum casserole with olives. The riders looked at the forecast for yet another hot day and again there were questions about the wisdom of being served up a winter dish. Gabs insisted they were going to need a hearty feed for the remaining days in the Alps.

No butter in the recipe and despite the flying start in the first week of the Tour, the buerremetric counter hasn’t budged from 200g for days now.

Out on the road Bertie was having a fairly good day doing some damage in the peloton. Not such a great day for Tejay van Garderen who had started the day in third and had been battling a splitting headache until finally he abandoned, looking shattered, at 70 km to go. It was a sad end to a highly successful Tour.

The temperature climbed to 30 degrees and Phil forecast that it would rain ‘torrentiary’ at around 4.15 in the afternoon. In the absence of any cows, let alone seated cows, there was no real reference point to confirm this so Phil was forced to consult an unreliable forecast provided by Météo-France.

Troll DJ was happily laying down the tunes and played Tour standard ‘Bicycle Race’ by Queen. OK the title is a bit obvious (bicycle race, duh) but listen closely and the references in the song lyrics are pure genius:

You say black I say white – MTN-Qhubeka jersey
You say bark I say bite –  Froome Dog
You say shark I say hey man – Nibs ‘The Shark of Messina’
Jaws was never my scene – after Sunday I don’t think it’s Mick Fanning’s either.

John Degenkolb was on the move riding like he’s got some serious shampoo sales targets to hit before the end of the Tour. The peloton skirted the old border of the Savoie region whose culinary delights are known as Savoie fare…

‘Simon Gesture’ - Geschke to the rest of us - was leading the race at around 27 km to go in the rarefied air of the Alps on the climb of the Col d’Allos. Paul was a little concerned with dark clouds and how it would affect the descent.

The Jensie reported that he expected ‘open fire works’ between Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana on the climb which is a relief because the concealed ones really burn when they go off.

Pinot in action at Bathurst

Paul mentioned Thibaut Pinot’s previous psychological problems with mountain descents and noted he had special training on a racetrack. The only mountain racetrack I can think of is Mt Panorama at Bathurst NSW.

Paul is rather enamoured with the all this GPS tracking bizzo on the bikes which would come in handy if someone tried to pinch it. He’s thinking of getting one of those Strava thingies for himself. But this is the Tour, this is not a Strava ride Paul.

The downhill run from Col d’Allos loomed and it’s pretty scary. One would hope the riders had a fresh pair of knicks in their suitcase of courage because they were going to need it.

Pinot made his way over the summit and a little chute on a left-hander would give anyone the yips but he had the composure to get straight back on and did a pretty good job off the ride down. Looks like that Bathurst training is really paying off.

The heads of state started to make their moves and as Paul would say they were ‘going for the juggler’.

The sky was looking angry, in the air and on the ground as Chris Froome wouldn’t let anyone take a second off him. He looked composed as you don’t want to lose it all in the Alps and the gels don’t stay down well on the dizzy descent of the Col d’Allos.

Simon Gesture kept his lead as he ascended the final climb to Pra Loup and nearly took out a team car in the process.

Back up the road Alberto Contador crashed and Peter Sagan was right there to help. Bertie sustained some damage to his knicks but the real damage had been done to his time losing more than two minutes by the end of the day.

Simon Geschke soloed to the line for his first Tour stage finish and there was no hiding the emotion of winning a big mountain stage.

Quintana and Froome came in across the line and there was talk from German commentary a rider went over the side of the mountain. Fortunately there was no substance to the rumour and the only thing that looked like it went over the side of a mountain was Bertie’s chance of a place on the podium in Paris.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Stage 16 Bourg-de-Péage / Gap – Mind the Gap

Stage 16 and the Tour has arrived at the foot of the Alps.

The weather has been particularly hot at this Tour. A good trick to cool down is the tried and true ‘ice sock’ a rider can wear on their neck out on the road. An even better way to cool down is with some delicious ice cream and Gabs prepared nougat ice cream with pistachios and glacé fruits.

I’m starting to get a little concerned with the lack of butter in the recent recipes. Ok, there is cream, maybe Gabs is going a bit heavy on the glacé fruits but I’m sure the riders will appreciate a few scoops of ice cream after a hot day in the saddle.

The heat was so much of a concern that Tour officials hosed down the road on the descent from the Col de Manse to the finish before the tarmac turned to taffy.

Before the race got started stage 13 winner Greg van Avermaet got the call from his pregnant wife to come home. For Greg baby comes before bike and we wish Greg and his wife all the best. Awww.

Right from the start the breakies got the jump including a very determined Peter Sagan. The peloton was mostly happy to sit back and let the breakies knock themselves out in the heat. The time gap widened so much that we were in for a double feature picture show.

Rafal Majka had a slow speed crash on a climb that left him hopping around on one leg. Paul noted that often low speed crashes can be nastier than the  high speed ones because you tend to hit the ground heavily. They’re also quite embarrassing. Still, that comment from Paul about high speed crashes being somehow ‘better’ than low speed crashes is up there with ‘a good time to puncture’.

The breakies had around a twenty minute lead over the main field, and after the climb of the Col de Manse the riders had to tackle a very technical 11 km hair-raising descent to the finish in Gap.

On the final climb a couple of classic ‘Sherliggettisms bubbled up to the top of the pot. We heard our first, “out of the saddle fighting with his machine” from Paul and after two weeks of hearing ‘The Big Four’, ‘The Fantastic Four’ and ‘The Furious Five’, Phil finally broke through with ‘The Heads of State’.

One of the more dubious Sherliggettisms was Phil’s comment, “they're the best riders at the moment and you could throw a blanket over them". I don’t think that’s very safe Phil.

Back to the race and the breakies were jostling for position. There was a psychological move from Thomas Voeckler, in other words he got on everyone’s tits. However Martin, sorry, Ruben Plaza managed to escape from Peter Sagan who’d worked his guts out all day.

The descent of the Col de Manse was fast and furious and according to The Jensie, “it’s all or nothing, it’s the hospital or the podium”.

There was no catching Plaza who soloed across the line. You could sense the frustration with Peter Sagan who came in fifth across the line. The green jersey is firmly on his shoulders but he’s desperate for a stage win and he may have to wait until Paris for his next shot.

Plaza was safely over the line but the second half of the double feature was being played out on the Col de Manse. Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali fired some warning shots at Chris Froome ahead of the big battles in the Alps.

Geraint Thomas spectacularly overshot the runway on the descent of the Col de Manse and nearly took out a spectator and a telephone pole with his head. Incredibly he was straight back on the bike and chased the yellow jersey group. Hats off to Geraint Thomas, the crash looked terrible but he rode on like it never happened.

After the race Nairo Quintana and Froome were cooling down on spin bikes in what looked like an animated discussion between the two. Were they discussing tactics or was it a bit of old fashioned sledging? No, as it turned out it was a continuation of the white and gold or blue and black dress debate.

Some people just never let things go.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Stage 15 Mende / Valence - Griller Hot to Trot

Stage 15 and the Tour headed for the lovely Rhone Valley as the days in the high mountains of the Alps rapidly approach.

Being a Sunday Gabs decided to treat the riders to a delicious dessert of chocolate cream with glacé chestnuts and raspberries. No butter in the recipe so the buerremetric counter is still on 200g. But heck who needs butter when you’ve got chocolate? Milk and cream do represent the dairy but chocolate!

The riders hit the road and Daniel Teklehaimanot, whose surname still gets my tongue tied in knots, was the first to go on the attack and a sizable bunch of breakies went with him.

The damage was done to the Manx Missile Mark Cavendish on the first climb leaving ‘Group Cavendish’ dangling out the back.

Jean-Christophe Peraud gallantly rode on with his arms bandaged up like a mummy and a reinforced pair of knicks.

As the race wore on and the chase for the breakies continued, news came in over race radio that surfer Mick Fanning punched a great white shark at a surfing comp in South Africa. No, not ‘The Great White Shark’ golfer Greg Norman, but a real life one with some really sharp teeth. Fanning had a lucky escape and that’s one lesson in how to deal with feral fans who get far too close or want to throw cups of urine at you.

Speaking of the fans, did anyone get a glimpse of that group of people perched very precariously on a limestone outcrop? Maybe they were fledgling vultures, I’m not sure.

It's goodnight from me and it's goodnight from him

We’re familiar with the competitions for the jerseys in the Tour but did you know there are lesser known but as equally important contests? Paul noted,“there’s a competition among riders for the best full set beard”. Did they get permission from the captain Paul? As we know, to grow a full set beard in the navy you have to get permission from the captain, which in the context of a bike race makes no sense at all.

Katusha took charge of the chase for the breakies that included Peter Sagan, with flying mullet, Thibaut Pinot, Michael Rogers, Lars Bak, Simon Geschke, one of the Yates twins (couldn’t tell which), Ryder Hesjedal, Michal Kwiatkowski and Matteo Trentin.

With the climbs come the descents and although not technical in the bike sense of the word they were twisty enough to be a lot of fun. The only technical challenges posed were by the traffic furniture and Kwiatkowski pulled off a brilliant move bunny hopping over a lane divider at very high speed. You have to take your hat off to bike handling skills like that.

At one point Sagan stopped to what looked like a swap of a broken bike for a less broken bike. As it turned out it was a planned bike change from one that wasn’t broken to one that would go faster.

All the breakies were gradually caught by the peloton and at about 30km to go Trentin and Hesjedal were swallowed up with a, “and it’s goodnight from me and it’s goodnight from him”.

Then at 3km to go Zdenek Stybar took off. We told him he was dreaming but refused to listen and was reeled in with 1km to go.

In the end ‘The Griller’ Andre Greipel was too good for John Degenkolb, Alexander Kristoff and Peter Sagan, and notched up win number three.

Despite Greipel’s big win, Peter Sagan accepted yet another green jersey on the podium. It’s clear he’s very popular in his home country Slovenia and his fans were out in force. A female fan caught the attention of Tomo who thought added, “a bit of colour from the Slovakian supporters”. Tomo, we hadn’t a clue what you meant.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Stage 14 Rodez / Mende – Who Listens to the Race Radio?

Stage 14 took the peloton on a sightseeing tour through the gorgeous gorges of the River Tarn on a 178.5 km route where the riders landed on an airfield of all places at the finish.

Over in the kitchen Gabs kicked back a little on a Saturday afternoon with some slow cooking. Beef stew with olives and fennel was on the menu which had the peloton wondering why they were being served a winter dish in the middle of summer. For Gabs anytime is a good excuse for a stew.

No butter and the buerremetric counter sits on 200g but there’s some Pernod and a reasonable slug of red wine that goes into the pot. It was going to take hours to cook and now the cork was out of the bottle Gabs wasn’t going to have the wine turn to vinegar by the time the stew was ready to serve.

As the peloton took in the sights Paul remarked that the gorge is known for its ‘cave dwelling fauna’ and we weren’t quite sure if he was referring to the 23 species of bat that live in the caves or Phil.

The area is also renowned for its vultures and quite a few were spotted today, so many in fact I think I'm going to start a special vulture classification competition ‘Le Vautour de Tour’, subject to Les Vaches du Tour approval of course as I can see a problem already with the acronym.

Some very adventurous or just plain crazy people perfectly timed a bungee jump for the Tour chopper cameras from a platform hanging precariously over the gorge. That was some elastic band eh Phil? Good thing it didn’t snap.

No, not that Sports band

Paul spotted the French President François Hollande who’d come down to watch the race. Paul tried listening in to what he was chatting about with Tour race director Christian Prudhomme. Nothing about the potential of a Grexit or local politics, just how the top blokes in the GC were going. Well, how about that, a head of state discussing the ‘heads of state’.

Hollande was seen getting into the big red car guiding the Tour. Paul thought the French President had the best seat in the house. Phil would disagree because with him it’s always the vultures that have the best seat in the house.

As the race started heating up there was talk of Alberto Contador changing bikes for one with lighter tyres. I’ve witnessed mountain bikers changing tyre pressure mid race but this is getting ridiculous. And what were the tyres filled with, helium?

This may have made sense back in the days when riders raced on steel framed brutes but on today’s light as a feather carbon fibre machines the gains, at best, would be extremely marginal.

There’s also one drawback to consider - a lighter tyre, according to Paul, is more likely to explode. I’m figuring that’s more to do with tyre pressure than the hoops suddenly bursting into flames. And besides, helium isn’t flammable.

A sizable bunch of breakies had been chased by the peloton all day. Mikal Golas, or ‘Goulash’ to Phil and Paul, attacked at around 27km to go. FDJ had being a doing a job of work to get Thibaut Pinot ready for the final tough 3km climb to the airfield.

Pinot joined forces with Romain Bardet but the duo were caught by Stephen Cummings, no not that Stephen Cummings from Aussie band TheSports, but the British guy who rides for MTN-Qhubeka. Cummings rode away to victory as the first rider of an African registered team to have won a stage at the Tour de France and to cap it off on Mandela Day.

Meanwhile further down the road the ‘Furious Five’ were duking it out. Froome held off the other four but Nairo Quintana managed to haul himself up to second place in the GC behind Froome.

The airfield finish was a nice touch. The hard working Tour choppers were able to attend the jersey presos for once!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Stage 13 Muret / Rodez - Like a Carrot out the Front of a Donkey

Stage 13 and it was going to be a blistering hot day in the sun out in the fields of southern France on the 198.5 km route to Rodez.

Over to the kitchen and everyone thought Gabs had lost his marbles slaving over a cauldron of creamy celeriac and Roquefort soup. He was working on the theory that having something hot will cool the riders down. That’s our Gabs, the peloton always comes first. But I’m intrigued by the addition of Roquefort, wasn’t that a TV series from the 70s?

How slack was it of me not posting the buerremetric counter last time we met? There wasn’t any butter in the lamb stew so no biggy but there’s 20g of butter in the soup which takes the buerremetric counter to 200g!

Right from the start the breakies were on the move with Alexandre Geniez, Thomas De Gendt and musicians Cyril Gotye and Wilco Kelderman. Aussie Nathan Hass and Pierre-Luc Périchon, who are not musicians but cyclists joined the group.

The chase was on lead by the Giant-Alpecin team who were hoping to catch the breakies to see if they could flog some of their shampoo to them.

Co-starring Oleg Tinkov, as himself

Then at 64km to go Jean – Christophe Peraud had a nasty crash and a wafer thin layer of breathable fabric offers little protection against a cheese grater rough road. He got up, badly bleeding, knicks shredded and got back on his bike whilst the mobile medics taped up his arms.

What a trooper, he even got back to bottle duty collecting bidons from the team car. Must have been really hot out there, those bottles weren’t just sticky they were literally melting to his hand. Hmmm, but who could really blame him after leaving skin and part of his knicks on the road?

Oh yes, what we also learned from that crash is just what a pro-cyclist wears under his knicks, which is pretty much the same as what a Scotsman ‘wears’ under his kilt.

As the day wore on the temperature kept climbing. Bidons, tyres, riders, everything was melting out there except the nasty little climbs. Paul spotted one climb ‘that doesn’t have a descent’ which we presume keeps on going forever out past Pluto.

Still the breakies lead the chase ,’like a carrot out the front of a donkey’. What, Euskaltel Euskadi is back Paul?

Haas went on the attack at 24 km to go and De Gendt and musicians Gotye and Wilco were all swallowed up by the pack just short of the line. It was good to see OGE Michael ‘Bling’ Matthews working up front after that horrible crash in the first week.

Greg van Avermaet and Peter Sagan surged on the charge for the line and van Avermaet was just too good and it was yet another second place finish for Sagan.

Chris Froome held his lead and with a bit over a week of racing to go it looks like he’ll be wearing yellow all the way to Paris.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Stage 12 Lannemezan / Plateau de Beille - Hail Purito

Stage 12 and it was the final day in the Pyrenees Mountains on a tough 195km ride to Plateau de Beille.

As we know Gabs is the consummate locavore meaning he’ll often go foraging for food items at hand in the regions visited by the Tour. Curiously he went with a stew from Normandy, lamb navarin with mushroom and peas. Out of character for Gabs but the peloton appreciated the hearty feed after three tough days in the Pyrenees.

The day started out stinking hot but it was a different story at Plateau de Beille where buckets of rain and hailstones awaited. The Pyrenees appeared to have taken a leaf from the Melbourne weather book and delivered four seasons in day.

Thor really put the hammer down at the finish and a storm caused the power to out and grounded the Tour choppers.

Phil and Paul dashed outside to try to get the old diesel generator going. Usually a tap with hammer does the trick but not today. Probably would have paid to check it had fuel in it.

There was a big cheer after the lights came on when a quick thinking Jensie pulled out a bicycle powered generator and started pedalling like a man possessed. He’s not as fit since he retired from racing and was soon to be heard muttering under laboured breath, “shut up legs”.

After power was restored Tomo and Robbie reported they were alive and well, although Tomo is still assessing the damage to his hair. Don’t worry Tomo, have a word with John Degenkolb, he might be able to give you a special discount on shampoo.

The peloton managed to avoid the tempest at the finish but soon the rain started. Despite this the riders settled into a steady tempo and some riders even adopted time trialling poses. Michal Kwiatkowski, according to Phil, adopted a ‘relaxed fish position’. Did I really hear that? Not sure if I’m starting to suffer aural hallucinations, but you never can tell listening to Phil.

Movistar's away jersey

It was in the final 16 km climb on 7.9% average gradient that the race started to get really interesting. Kwiatkowski abandoned the relaxed fish position dropping Sep Vanmarke at 14 km to go. Romain Bardet had a better day but cracked a little as Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriquez took off after Kwiatkowski.
Purito caught Kwiatkowski at 7.5km to go and grimaced all the way in the driving rain to the finish.

Meanwhile Chris Froome was under attack from the remaining fantastic four. First it was Alberto Contador’s move. Then Nibs did something apart from dangle out the back. The team with the ‘big Ms on the jersey’ held back until Alejandro Valverde launched Nairo Quintana.

The Skybots aided by Chris’s mate Richie Froo...Porte fought off the concerted attack with Valverde picking up only one second. Jakob Fuglsang and Romain Bardet tried to catch up with Rodriguez but had to settle for second and third.

Another cigar for Purito who took his second stage at this Tour but chapeau to Romain Bardet who looked really crook with heatstroke the day before.

Post race there was talk of Asstana giving Nibali the arse. That may have been Asstana team owner Vino’s position before the stage but changed his tune after Nibali’s performance today.

As Rodriguez climbed the podium Tomo named Purito ‘Minister for Funny Faces’. Tomo, no one, but no one gurns like Thomas Voeckler.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Stage 11 Pau / Cauterets - Vallée de Saint-Savin - Vaches Slalom Tests Tour on the Tourmalet

Stage 11 and the Tour spent a second day in the Pyrenees from Pau to Cauterets - Vallée de Saint-Savin.

Meanwhile Gabs had been nicking peaches from trees hanging over fences in the pretty Pyrenean towns on the way to Cauterets and  turned them into a lovely upside-down peach tart. I don’t quite get when a cake or desert is described as ‘upside-down’, which in my case means having dropped it on the floor. The recipe calls for 50g of butter which brings the buerremetric counter to 180g.

The peloton set off to another hot day in the Pyrenees and Romain Bardet was clearly in trouble struggling with heat stress and rode with an icepack on the back of his neck to try and cool down. Things weren’t helped by the breakies who made their escape from the get go forcing the peloton to chase all day.

The Pyrenean vultures were soaring above the valleys on the thermals and Paul spotted one that he thought was checking out how the Skybots were going. No signs of weakness there and really Paul, I think that vulture was more interested in road kill than the cycling to be honest.

Back on the ground and the ‘Birdman of Alpe d’Huez’ was perched on a camping car flapping his white wings. He seems to have grown more feathers and is looking more vulture like than the last time we saw him.

Nice feathers!

On the climb to the summit of the giant Col de  Tourmalet the peloton made its way through the ski lodges of La Mongie and a little further up the road passed an all-you-can-eat megaliner of a 'chalet' that looked like Falls Creek on steroids. I wouldn’t want to be caught there indoors in winter during a major gastro outbreak.

Rafal Majka soloed up the Tourmalet and from there no one could catch him. After Majka summited Warren Barguil was in the chase trying to bridge the gap when some vaches of the Pyrenees wandered off the slopes and onto the road. He must have pushing 100km/h but successfully negotiated the impromptu ‘vaches slalom.’

Normally you’d expect to find a 50kg Pyrenean mountain dog in the middle of the road up here and theories abounded as to why the cows staged the Peter Hore like pitch invasion. Was it revenge after an elephant and a stuffed bear upstaged them at last year’s Tour? Perhaps they were jealous the vultures were getting all the attention.

Paul thought the cow Barguil narrowly avoided was “almost a hamburger”. I can tell you if he had hit the cow Barguil would have most certainly been cactus.

There wasn’t much anyone could do to stop the herd from blocking the road but the ‘steaks’ are high at that the Tour and maybe officials ought to have a look at ‘beefing up’ security.

Vaches or no vaches these roads are tricky on the descent and I could have sworn I heard a  moto cameraman say “holy fuck” on one of the tighter corners.

As the race made the final climb of the day up the crazy zig-zag Magic Majka was well out in front and needed no assistance from a ‘sticky moto aerial.’ Nibs found himself dangling out the back, again, and a moto aerial would have sure come in handy.

Majka crossed the line and Dean, sorry, Dan Martin put in a sterling effort to finish a minute later in second.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Stage 10 Tarbes / La Pierre-Saint-Martin - Froome Vroom

Stage 10 and after the rest day in Pau the Tour headed skyward in the first of the mountain stages in the Pyrenees in southern France.

The rest day offered respite from a difficult first week and riders chose to spend the day in a variety of ways. For some there’s no let up and go out for a hard training ride to keep the motor ticking over. For others it may be a leisurely coffee ride or a chance for some binge watching of illegal downloads of their favourite series.

The bombshell of the day was Tinkoff-Saxo rider Ivan Basso’s announcement he was quitting the Tour after revealing he had testicular cancer. There was a huge outpouring of support for Basso and we wish him a successful recovery.

In the kitchen Gabs looked at the forecast for a rather warm day in the Pyrenees and didn’t fancy having to slave over a hot stove. Cold cuts and salad seemed a bit too boring and thought salmon tartare would be the perfect summery dish. No butter in the recipe but a bit of crème fraîche is delightful with the fish. The buerremetric counter sits on 130g.

The peloton set off on the gentle rolling roads that would be perfect for a delightful cycling holiday in the French countryside. Not much in the way of the fancy looking chateaux of the north, just one of your more typical fortified castles you see in the south of France were you’d expect a medieval soldier with an outrageous French accent to appear on the wall and hurl insults at the English.

I throw a gauntlet in your general direction

The riders went though some pretty towns through the valleys of the Basque country. One town, Paul noted, not only produced Basque linen but also umbrellas because it rains a lot.

Meanwhile eagle-eyed Phil spotted a Pyrenean vulture soaring above the valley, looking for signs of weakness in the peloton. He thought the vulture had the, “best place in the house of a view of the Tour de France and if they fall off he may well land and help himself”.  Lucky Lars Boom didn’t start, a fever put paid to that.

As the peloton headed skyward for the 15km climb to the finish, Paul delivered his standard rest day lecture about how the body can react in a ‘strange way’ after coming out of the starting blocks off the back of a rest day. In the heat a few bodies were reacting strangely and that was just the roadside randoms.

Eyes were on Frenchman Thibaut Pinot on Bastille Day but it seems at this year’s Tour he can’t take a trick and cracked early - boom, boom out go the lights, as Paul likes to say.

Nibs was the first of the ‘fabulous four’ to crack and was dangling out the back at about 10km to go. Phil said Nairo Quintana was up there in the front group, “but he’s so small we can’t see him.” An ‘Adams twin’ was there too, but we weren’t sure which.

Alejandro Valverde launched a short lived attack with a brutal burst of acceleration throwing a gauntlet in the general direction of the Skybots.

Alberto Contador started to crack at 6.5 km to go and Bertie looked like he was square dancing on the pedals. That was the moment Chris Froome decided to put the hammer down and pedalled away with a cadence that would put most of us to shame on the flat.

Quintana was barely able to hold Froome’s wheel when Froomey’s roomey Richie Porte closed in on the Columbian and overtook him to finish second. What was that about? It wasn’t as if Froome needed any help. All I can think of is Porte auditioning for a leading role with BMC.

Paul’s right about a ‘strange reaction’ after a rest day but none of us were prepared for Froome’s complete destroyation of all the riders on the way to La Pierre-Saint-Martin.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Stage 9 Vannes / Plumelec – The Fifth Man

Stage 9 and it was time for the time trial trial (TTT) on an undulating 28 km course before the Tour takes a well earned rest day. Two things made this TTT unique – it happened relatively late in the Tour and the uphill finish on the 1.7km Cote de Cadoudal in Plumelec.

Since this was the last stage before the rest day Gabs prepared a special dinner of pan-fried scallops with cauliflower. Another 10g of butter in this recipe, the buerremetric counter now sits on 130g.

Looks like from the small amounts of butter added day by day, Gabs has taken a leaf from the Skybot’s book and implemented a marginal gains strategy.

Out on the course the teams assembled at the start which was more of a start speed hump than a start house.

A much depleted Orica-GreenEDGE was the first to go. If they’d had the full complement of riders they would have been favourites to win the stage but with three out due to injury and a badly battered Bling on the team the aim was to finish with their chins up – or down I should say because you want to be sitting as low as possible to get the maximum aerodynamic advantage on a TT bike.

Paul noted the similarity in times of OGEs Yates twins at this Tour. Well Paul, since natural cloning hasn't been banned by the UCI it's no real surprise there's only a small time gap between Simon and Adam.

Asstana started out strong with some textbook paceline 101 but by the time the team reached the ‘tunnel of noise’ their performance had turned into one big scrappy mess with Nibs dangling off the back. Still they managed to clock a pretty good time and even got to sit on the barbecue hot seat.

The tunnel of noise, which is the new corridor of noise in Phil and Paul speak, seemed to cause problems for the riders who had trouble yelling out instructions to team mates over the fans.

Back in the caravan of noise Paul was stuck on repeat; “the finish time is taken on the fifth man.” Check. “Brittany is the epicentre of French cycling.” Check. I swear all this ‘fifth man’ talk would make great material for the Twelfth Man, although their gig is cricket.

Tejay after his ride

The noise from the fans caused some real bother for the Moviestars who in an attempt to use hand signals looked to be drowning not waving. Despite this they managed to knock off Asstana by 31 seconds and finished third. It came down to one man, Alejandro Valverde, who according to Paul, “doesn’t have a V8 engine or even a V12 engine, he’s a Ferrari.”

Clearly Paul was taken by Valverde and noted, "If you're the strongest man it's fantastic, you're having a bit of a floater." Er, thanks Paul.

An under-strength Katusha finished back in nineteenth place and did their best to stay away from the white lines. Tinko Soxo Saxo put in a workman like effort to finish in fourth.

Then it was down to the last teams, the Skybots v BMC. Sky’s riding high with Chris Froome in yellow with a solid squad around him. BMC aimed not just to win the stage but to try and snatch the golden fleece for Tejay van Garderen as well.

Reigning world TTT champions BMC rode hard to post the best time of the day. As the riders came in across the line Phil noticed van Garderen had worked really hard and his “mouth was opening and closing like a gold fish.”

Then it was down to the last team of the day, the Skybots. They looked dangerous at the time checks but fell just one second short to BMC. Froome managed to hold a 12 second lead over van Garderen.

There was a bit of a hold up with Froome’s podium preso with talk of officials going through bikes like shit through a goose checking for hidden motors again. Spare me.

Post race Tomo and Macka caught up with Tasmanian Richie Porte who spilled the beans on the worst kept secret in cycling history – that Porte would be leaving the Skybots. Seems he doesn’t want to be Froomey’s roomey no more. Where to next, BMC, the OGEs? Watch this space.

Looking back over the week this certainly was no easy start to the Tour. Some riders may be thinking that after the mayhem of the first week the mountains will be a relief.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Stage 8 Rennes / Mûr-de-Bretagne - Merde Britannia

Stage 8 of the Tour and it was a Saturday night in Australia. I finally got to see a stage including the pre-match entertainment as opposed to rushing in during the week only to see Matthew Keenan get caught by the Ps.

Part of the pre-match entertainment for the night on SBS was Monty Python’s Best Bits. I can’t think of a more appropriate segue into the Tour.

Off to the kitchen and no visit to Brittany would be complete without crêpes so Gabs treated the riders to Brittany crêpes with strawberries. The recipe calls for double cream in a strawberries and cream reference to Wimbledon going on across the Channel. I saw what you did there Gabs!

There’s 2 teaspoons or about 10g of butter so the buerremetric counter edges up to 120g.

Phil and Paul gave us a rare up close and personal look at the commentary caravan. I see they’re still using the 486s held together with duct tape. I know budgets are tight at SBS but come on, lap tops and tablets are pretty cheap these days.

The commentary caravan looked like it had a bit of a tidy up and noticed the cassoulet bowls had been well hidden.

Team Katusha Rockets started the day one man down after Luca Paolini tested positive for cocaine. A very cheeky Troll DJ couldn’t help him/herself and had to play ‘White Lines’ by Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mell. Anymore positive tests for illicit substances Troll DJ will need to pull out the Del-Lords ‘When the DrugsKick In.'

Early on in the race breakaways Bartosz Huzarski, Sylvain Chavanel, Romain Sicard (this time on Oooropcar TV duty) and Pierre-Luc Périchon made their escape. The hunt was on and 17 riders went on the chase after the intermediate sprint. They were caught at 69 km to go when Huzarski escaped again with Lars Bak and Michal Golas.

Huzarski eventually surrendered and the last two breakies Bak and Golas were swallowed up by the hungry pack at 8 km to go.

The moment the breakies realise they've been caught

I always wonder about the motivation of a breakaway - dare to dream or TV time for the team sponsor? Probably a bit of both really.

The field art award of the day went to the hay bale bike construction with moving horsie wheels. Nice nod to the racing industry even though PMU isn’t sponsoring the green jersey anymore.

Just like with the Mur de Huy Paul was having trouble with the pronunciation of Mûr-de-Bretagne, the final climb to the finish. He settled on ‘Manure-de-Britannia.’ I’m also hoping Phil pulls himself up the next time he calls Brittany ‘Britannia’ with a “Oops!...I did it again.”

It wasn’t just pronunciation that caused problems. Phil spotted Tony Greipel in the pack. OK, fair enough Martin and Greipel are German. The Jensie got tangled up in a Jensieism of his own and called Dan Martin ‘Dean Martin.’

I must confess I do have difficulties with riders who share the same first name but also have a first name as a surname with an ‘s’ on the end. Yes, I’m looking at you Roger Matthews and Matthew Michaels.

No such problems with the Yates twins Simon and Adam. They look the same, ride on the same team, the first names are interchangeable really.

Down at the business end of the day R2D2 C3PO La Mondiale’s Alexis Vuillermoz made his intentions known on the climb of the Mûr-de-Bretagne, but Chris Froome wasn’t having any of that leaving Nibs in his wake. Dean Martin left his attack a little too late and the former mountain biker Vuillermoz rode away to take his first Tour victory and a win for France.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Stage 7 Livarot / Fougères - Yawn Fest Breaks Cavendish Drought

Stage 7 and the Tour departed Normandy for beautiful Brittany on a flat 190.5 km route from Livarot to Fougères.

Back in the kitchen Gabs prepared a lovely stew – veal blanquette with vegetables. The recipe doubles up on the dairy with 10g of butter and half a cup of crème fraîche. The arteries just hardened and the buerremetric counter goes up to 110g. Nice one.

The riders headed off on another beautiful day in Normandy, sadly without Panzerwagen Tony Martin who’s resting up in hospital after doctors put his collarbone back together.

The stage was, well, a bit ho-hum to be honest. Sensing this Troll DJ pulled out the classic Movin’ Right along. The Les Vaches du Tour team officially declared this was the first time we’d heard the Muppets this Tour but in my opinion we’d been listening to them since the Grand Depart in Utrecht...

Speaking of Phil and Paul 'undulating' was the word of the day and may become the word of the Tour as we approach the end of the first week; undulating roads, undulating values in biological passports, undulating coke level tests.

Back to the race Phil kept seeing people flying the flag for ‘Britannia’ and we were not sure if he meant Brittany – today’s Tour destination – or if he really meant for all the British riders today.

Paul couldn’t help himself with a ‘fooding station’ lecture for the we-don’t-know-how-many-eth time. We know, riders zig-zag around looking for their musette bags and happy meals.

As the day wore on Phil and Paul caught a glimpse of the famous Le Mont Saint Michel monastery which led them to recall their trip when the Tour arrived there back in 2013. The Ps decided to pay the monks a visit but found they were locked out because the monks were on strike. At least that’s what they were told...

Moutons leave Le Mont Saint Michel due to a strike by the monks...or so they're told

Just what is it monks would go on strike for anyway? Certainly not for a pay rise, they’re supposed to live in poverty and humility. As for strike action do they boycott vespers, or break the vow of silence?

Back to the race the early breakkies, including Daniel Teklehaimanot in the polka dot jersey who hoovered up some more KOM points along the way, were eventually reeled in by the peloton.

As the pace started picking up on the approach to Fougères a large amount of smoke was seen billowing from the side of the road. It was someone burning chops. Andre Greipel, ‘The Griller’ as Paul calls him, stopped to give some barbecuing tips but got back on his bike when he realised there was a race to finish.

Perhaps Phil was right about the flag being flown for Britannia. In a sprint royale with cheese to the finish Mark Cavendish, this time with a perfectly timed lead out from pilot-fish Mark Renshaw, finally bagged a win ending a two year Tour stage win drought for the Manx Missile.

It’s been a long week with plenty of thrills and spills. Not surprisingly we saw a few early abandonments from some pretty tough die hard Tour fans during the stage, but I'm sure it's smart tactics to get ready for another weekend of cycling action.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Stage 6 Abbeville / Le Havre - Le Tour Storms Normandy

Stage 6 and the riders got another taste of sea air as they skirted the Norman coastline on the 191.5 km route from Abbeville to Le Havre.

In contrast to the battlefields of The Somme, the cycling Godz of Normandy turned on a magnificent summer’s day and plenty of cows came out to enjoy the sunshine and the cycling action. Some were seated and Phil cautioned that when the cows are sitting down it’s usually a sign of rain. You can’t get more of a classic Sherliggettism from Phil and hearing that is almost as good as Troll DJ busting out the first Muppets tune of the Tour.

After accusations Gabs was trying to do a Pete Evans on the peloton, he conceded that salad and kale smoothies were probably not a good choice for a hungry bunch of riders. However, he made up for that faux pas with blue eye with oysters in a creamy cider sauce. That’s more like it and although the 10g of butter is a marginal gain it’s enough to push up the buerremetric counter to 100g.

It must have had something to do with the weather but Phil and Paul were in jolly good spirits and Paul was up for a few jokes.

Paul recalled a tweet from Adam Hansen about his plastered shoulder and how it eased the pain just a little bit ‘but I have ‘pain’ for breakfast…’ Crickets from Phil, that one sailed right over the top of his head.

Ornithological humour is more Phil’s cup of tea. As the riders approached the breathtaking Alabaster Coast of Normandy Phil was busy checking out the birds flying around the cliffs. Paul quipped that “although we are looking at the birds, one or two of the riders will be puffin on the way to the finish”. Phil nearly lost it.

Such wit! The phone will be jumping off the hook from the scenic river cruise companies wanting to hire Paul as a comic entertainer.

The Tour choppers brought us more stunning pictures of the beautiful limestone formations on the coast which reminded Phil of the ‘Sisters’ on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. I bet he’d be impressed by the Three Apostles in the Blue Mountains too…

The Grand Canyon, Normandy

It wasn’t just birds and limestone formations that caught Phil and Paul’s interest. A couple of blokes in yellow were spotted on high voltage lines on special ‘cable bikes’ which Phil thought were flying Teletubbies. Beats the flying dinghy spotted in stage 2 at the 2013 Tour, but only just.

After many hours in the saddle at some stage nature calls and out on the back roads of rural France the restrooms of service stations and a well known hamburger chain are few and far between. When you gotta go, you gotta go and the only option is by the road side.

Phil and Paul caught Alejandro Valverde during a ‘besoin naturel’ and noticed he’d ‘had an accident’ slipping on gravel. I don’t know what euphemism to read into that.

Speaking of water works, Paul was very impressed with the fine chateaux of the region and spotted one with a ‘water hammer’ for operating the fountains in the garden. Great if you can afford it, a water hammer in my ‘chateau’ usually means getting in a plumber and a second job to pay the bill.

Back to the race and Perrig Quémeneur, Daniel Teklehaimanot and Kenneth van Bilsen were out front most of the day in the breakaway. Eritrean rider Teklehaimanot made cycling history securing enough points in the King of the Mountains competition to become the first African to wear the polka dot jersey.

At 42 km to go Thomas Voeckler, who loves a good breakaway, tried to bridge the gap and got some TV time for team sponsor Oooropcar. Makes me wonder if there’s a clause in Voeckler’s contract that he has to give x amount of time in front of the cameras each Tour.

The breakies were eventually reeled in by the peloton in the final 10 kilometres and the riders got themselves organised for the uphill charge toward the finish line.

Then disaster struck for the man in yellow Tony Martin, who appeared to have clipped Vincenzo Nibali who went down along with Chris Froome. Martin was down on the ground for some time but with the help of some Etixx-Quick Step teammates rode to the line with a broken collarbone. Sadly, that was the end of Panzerwagen’s Tour.

But it wasn’t all bad news for Martin’s team; the man who ‘prefers roads with no surface’, Zdenek Stybar, avoided the crash to win the stage.

After the race confusion reigned as to who caused it. Nibs blamed Froome and threw a bidon at him.* Froome took the unusual step to meet Nibs at the Asstana team bus. Word quickly spread to chants of “Fight! Fight! Fight!” and riders came rushing from all directions. Froome entered the bus and Nibs apologised after watching the video replay and offered a cold one from the mini bar as a peace offering and the two GC men get to ride another day.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Stage 5 Arras Communauté Urbaine / Amiens Métropole - Battle on The Somme

Stage 5 and the Tour route took the riders through the First World War battlefields of The Somme on a day, as they say in the classics, that was ‘one for the sprinters.’

Gabs thought he’d been spoiling the peloton a little too much in the first few days of the Tour with treats like Belgian fries and crème brûlée. Time to get healthy, so Gabs threw together  a baby beetroot and walnut salad. Knowing not everybody likes beetroot Gabs put up a sans beetroot option, which happened to be just plain walnuts. No beer either, it was strictly ghastly kale smoothies today.

Butter was a definite no, no and after a terrific start in the first stages the Buerremetric counter has been left sitting on 90g.

The riders set off to dark skies that matched the sombre mood of the day. The rain and wind made conditions a little more uncomfortable for the riders, many who might have thought this would have been an easy day in the saddle after surviving the cobbles of stage 4.

From the start Phil and Paul detected nervousness in the peloton and if their commentary could be heard by the riders on race radio this talk of nervousness would soon have turned to annoyance. Also guys, we’re well versed in the dangers of the feed zone but a feed zone lecture twice in the space of ten minutes? I guess they don’t want us to miss anything.

Only 11km into the race and a crash claimed French sprint hopeful Nacer Bouhanni who was taken away in an ambulance. Later a crash forced Jack Bauer (the Kiwi rider, not the bloke from 24) out of the race.

FDJ's performance has Tomo worried

It wasn’t only the riders who crashed. A motorcycle cop escorting the race from, according to Paul, the ‘presidential guard’ managed to hit the lip of the tarmac and fell to the side of the road. The rider seemed all right but was obviously an ex-carrot from the now defunct Euskaltel-Euskadi team who had a tendency to crash all the time.

The SBS Troll DJ couldn’t help him/herself seeing the motorcycle chute and chimed in with ‘Sound of Da Police’ from KRS One.

As the race settled down the route was a sobering reminder of the real carnage that took place on the World War I battlefields of The Somme 100 years ago as the peloton rode by monuments and cemetery after cemetery of war dead. Such a shocking waste of young lives.

Troll DJ brought us back to the race from an ad break with David Bowie’s ‘Wild is the Wind’ and we caught the end of a phone conversation between Keeno and guest commentator the Jensie. What was that about? Intrigue? Plot? Phil and Paul will want to keep a very close eye on those two.

Poor Thibaut Pinot had another shocker of a day with a crash about 24 km from the finish. Last year’s third place getter and one of France’s best hopes could not bridge the 6 minute 30 second gap.

No such worries for the Gorilla who looks like he’s getting used to wearing green. In the battle for the line all the big guns were there – Alexander Kristoff, John Degenkolb, the ‘Manx Missile’ Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel.

Seemingly out of no where Peter Sagan surged to the line to finish just behind the Gorilla. ‘Panzerwagen’ Tony Martin hung on to the golden fleece 12 seconds ahead of Chris Froome.

Meanwhile Henk Vogels found his way back to Amiens for the post-race analysis after he was picked up by a farmer in a tractor on the cobbles. Tomo was wondering what was going on with Pinot and his FDJ team urging Henk to come out and say they were soft.

Whether Henk thought FDJ is as soft as camembert cheese we’ll never know but if FDJ wants to remain even within cooee of the podium in Paris they’ll need to HTFU quick smart.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Stage 4 Seraing / Cambrai - Follow the Yellow Cobble Road

Stage 4 and the Tour crossed the border from Belgium into France on the longest stage from Seraing to Cambrai. Like last year Tour organisers threw in some cobbles from the famous one-day Paris-Roubaix just to shake up the race a bit.

To celebrate the peloton’s arrival back in France, Gabs prepared the classic French dessert crème brûlée but with a peppermint twist. Gabs prefers fresh peppermint but if none’s available crème de menthe will do the trick but for God sakes don’t overdo it!

Meanwhile SBS sent commentator Henk Vogels to do a Tony Greig style pitch report from the cobbles. Trying to find a smooth path on the cobbles is a bit like trying to find the smooth end on a pineapple. The middle of the cobbles is where you want to be according to Henk. But Henk, what about the keys to test the cracks in the surface? Where’s the ‘weather wall? ‘

Henk has been somewhat animated in his post stage analysis wraps with Tomo. I recall the late Tony Greig once lost a key in the pitch at the WACA. I’m starting to worry Henk will loose his marbles by the end of the first week. I put it down to either the excitement of being at the Tour or maybe it’s all that sugar in the crème brûlée.

As the peloton raced to the cobbles there was a lot of chat from Paul about the special designs on the bikes adapted for the rough cobbles.

There’s a lot more suspension on these bikes than we’ve seen in the past but it’s rather discrete compared to a full suspension mountain bike which is more like a pogo stick on wheels.

Among the clever innovations Paul noticed a ‘strange polymer insert’ on one of Asstana’s S-Works bikes, which had us guessing if it was a seat post without a saddle.

Phil was more concerned about the forecast for rain and what it might do to the cobbles. He said wet cobbles were like riding on ice. Er, I don’t think WADA would allow that Phil.

A section of cobbles

By the way want to know a Froome fact? According to Phil Chris Froome was born at 6,000ft in Kenya. That’s a long way to drop, perhaps he was on a full suspension mountain bike to cushion the landing.

During the ad breaks Marcel Kittel has been popping up on the telly flogging that ‘German engineered’ Alpecin caffeine shampoo. Fair enough, he needs something to do whilst he’s out of this year’s Tour.

The shampoo is one of those two-in-one jobs, so I presume you can wash your hair and drink it so you get your morning caffeine hit before leaving the shower. What a time saver! Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? Clever Germans.

John Degenkolb is doing Alpecin ads as well. Now what I don’t understand is if Degenkolb is out on his bike, how can he be in the ads at the same time? Another thing I don’t understand is how his hair is really short but has a healthy looking beard. Does he use the shampoo on his head or his face?

Back to the race and by the time the riders hit the first of the seven cobble sectors the ‘Big Four’ Froome, Quintana, Contador and Nibali were well up front with Nibs leading the charge for a good part of the way. Again the ‘Shark from Messina’ proved what a great rider on the cobbles he is. He really should give Paris-Roubaix a crack next spring.

Cyclo-cross ace Zdenek Stybar was taking the cobbles in his stride. According to Phil he ‘likes roads with no surface’, which either means Stybar prefers sailing through thin air or it was FUBAR commentary from Phil.

It wasn’t a good day for last year’s Tour third place getter Thibaut Pinot. He punctured at about 20km to go and looked like he was losing his cool. A few minutes later he was forced to stop due to a mechanical. He was filthy and we almost saw a bike discus. From there he couldn’t get his head back into the race and one of France’s big hopes ending up finishing 6 minutes 30 seconds behind.

After three days of knocking at the door of the maillot juane, Panzerwagen Tony Martin won the stage with Degenkolb in second, and took the golden fleece off the shoulders of Froome.

Henk Vogels was conspicuously absent from the day’s post-race wrap up. Did the SBS crew ‘accidentally’ leave him behind out in a field in Northern France?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Stage 3 Anvers / Huy - Hell in the North

Stage 3 and the Tour moved to Belgium for 159.5 km route from Anvers ( Antwerp) to Huy. The peloton set off with one thing in mind – the  finish at the top of the short but brutal Mur de Huy (literally Wall of Huy), the traditional hill finish of the one-day Spring classic La Fleche Wallonne.

The 1.3km climb doesn’t seem too hard on paper but in reality it’s a narrow twisting climb that kicks up very steeply on some of the corners. The other difficulty associated with the climb is how do you properly pronounce Mur de Huy? Is it ‘Murder Wee’, ‘Moody Wee’? I think we can settle on ‘Moo-do-Hooee’ as a bit of dairying goes on in the area.

Now that the Tour is in Belgium, Gabs thought the lads might be up for a serve of hot chips. Let’s face it, aren’t we all always up for a serve of hot chips? OK, maybe not for breakfast, that’s cold pizza, but you get the idea.

No butter in Gab’s recipe for Belgian fries, just sliced up spuds cooked in hot oil with some mayo to go with it. Anyway who cares about butter? They’re hot chips for goodness sake. The Buerremetric counter sits at 90g.

In contrast to the rain and wind of Zeeland, Belgium put on a lovely day in a part of the world more accustomed to gloomy skies and rain. The peloton looked relatively relaxed, probably with the relief of having survived a nasty day on the blustery Dutch coast.

Spartacus defiantly takes on the Mur de Huy

Just like over the border in Holland, Belgians are rather fond of their road furniture. So much so they took measures to protect it from the riders with tried and true hay bale safety barriers. Either that or they were expecting a large and hungry herd of livestock to follow the peloton.

It was also a lovely day for a bit of tractor field art. At the spring classics in Belgium we saw a lot of tractors at the roadside as part of a campaign by dairy farmers against the removal of EU milk quotas.

In some countries people take to bad street theatre whereas the Belgians seem to take to their tractors whenever they have a gripe against government. A spin off of this is a growing tractor field art movement and from what we saw the Belgians are getting quite good at it.

Phil and Paul discussed the various fashions of the peloton and couldn’t help but notice the change to the Tinkoff-Saxo kit. It’s certainly bright but can’t quite work out what’s the go with the camouflage pattern. Are the Tinkies part of Putin’s plans for an invasion of Ukraine?

Back to the race the peloton was setting a cracking pace when at around 55 km to go disaster struck where a touch of wheels sent riders crashing all over the road and into ditches.

White jersey leader Tom Dumoulin was the first to abandon with a shoulder injury. William Bonnet was out with a head injury.  OGE Simon Gerrans’ run of terrible luck continued with a broken wrist and teammate Daryl Impey also abandoned due a shoulder injury. This is huge blow for the OGEs who will go into the stage 9 team time trial with only seven riders.

The man in yellow Spartacus didn’t escape the mayhem either. He got up looking sore but got back on his bike and rode on - little did we know - with two broken vertebrae.

The crash resulted in the race being neutralised, then it was stopped for about ten minutes by officials as medics were dispatched to deal with the many wounded. Opinion was divided on whether the race should have been totally brought to a halt but given the amount of carnage out there it was probably the right decision.

The race was re-started and the riders were clearly shaken. The riders eventually settled down and the pace was back on. We could see Spartacus was hurting and he was going to hurt more climbing the Mur de Huy.

As the Mur de Huy loomed Phil saw riders ‘bubbling to the top of the pot’. I presume that’s the same as Matthew Keenan’s ‘cream rising to the top’.

On the climb up the Mur de Huy Chris Froome and Alberto Contador went head to head and then Joaquim Rodriguez bubbled over the top to pull away from Froome and ‘Purito’ (little cigar) was first across the line. No stage win cigar for Froome but he moved into yellow with a one second lead over Panzerwagen Tony Martin.

One by one the battered and grazed riders crossed the line and special applause was saved for Fabian Cancellara who was determined to finish the stage with a broken back rather than abandon on course. That’s Spartacus for you, always a fighter to the end.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Stage 2 Utrecht / Zélande – I do like to be by the zee-side

With the ITT out of the way stage 2 saw the peloton take to the road on another pancake flat course and you couldn’t get a stage profile flatter than this. In fact it was so flat that sometimes even the raised bits were flat. At just 6m at its ‘highest’ point the riders needed to bring their best climbing legs.

The riders set out from a sunny Utrecht to the heart of the Zeeland delta. An easy day in the saddle? HA! There was a lot of Dutch road furniture to negotiate, particularly on the outskirts of Rotterdam, home to one of the world’s busiest ports.

Race organisers did their best to tame the road furniture, and when it comes to traffic management the Netherlands is basically the Franco Cozzo of road furniture – in other words completely over the top.

Normally this road furniture serves the purpose of helping to keep cyclists nice and safe separated from cars. Great for commuters in a country where the bicycle is a main mode of transport but crap for racing when you’re trying to funnel a large peloton moving at high speed safely through a city.

It’s not just curbing and roundabouts to worry about. Road markings can become slippery when wet and Paul mentioned that ‘white lines are very precarious.’ Just ask the Gold Coast Suns, they know all about that.

Factor in the coastal crosswinds and nerves in the peloton and you’ve got a recipe for carnage. Did I mention the chance of the heavens opening up on the race?

Back in the Tour kitchen Gabs cooked up a storm with the mussels he collected from around the barrages protecting the low lying Zeeland polder from being swallowed up by the North Sea. The mussels with beer sabayon gratin were a hit with the riders washed down with Dutch beer after a hard day in the saddle.

The recipe contained 50g of butter. Gabs is off to a flying start this year pushing the Buerremetric counter to 90g.

Some magical kites in the sky

Out on the road sunshine turned to storm clouds and pretty soon the dreaded cross winds sprung up causing splits in the peloton. Along with the wind came the rain, and lots of it, making it hard to see.

As I watched the race, I was starting to think the beer was making the TV screen blurry but quickly realised it was only the rain. It soon dawned on me it was probably a good time to move the TV inside…

Crashes in the wet conditions were inevitable. Aussie workhorse Adam Hansen - who’s completed more Grand Tours than he’s had hot dinners - was ouching from a chute but got back on the bike.

Good thing there are mobile medics out on course. Paul spotted a rider having a ‘free consultation with the doctor. ‘ I dunno Paul, looked suspiciously like a free tow from a team car to me.

After crashes punctures became a bit of a problem.  Flat tyres in quick succession had us wondering if the douche that’s been laying tacks on Yarra Boulevard has gone abroad.

As we know the Netherlands is famous for its windmills which were used extensively for pumping and grinding. But with so many windmills I’m wondering if Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is planning a holiday there anytime soon since he declared wind farms to be ‘visually awful.’
Holland would have to be the holiday from hell for Tones. As the race neared the coast those ‘visually awful’ wind turbines loomed into view. Oh no, I hope Tony didn’t see that on the telly, he’ll be calling for heads to roll at SBS.

Despite the wind Phil spotted a windmill that wasn’t moving. He thought it was still because the engine had been turned off. There we go, just when we thought we were starting to get over the hidden motor conspiracy.

As the race drew to a close Phil caught sight of ‘the magical red kite in the sky’ causing us to question what meds he is on.

Andre Greipel, Mark Cavendish, Fabian Cancellara, Tony Martin and Peter Sagan battled for the line. Cavendish’s lead out catapult Mark Renshaw went just a little too early but Greipel’s  lead out timed it to perfection delivering  the stage and a green jersey for the Gorilla.

Rohan Dennis who'd dominated the ITT the day before surrendered the golden fleece to Fabian Cancellara whose surprising  finish in third and with time bonuses pushed him into first place in the GC.