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.

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