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.

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