07 July 2015

Please watch Stage 4 of the Tour de France

Now that was bike racing!

Today's stage of the Tour de France was one of the most exciting entertaining races I can remember. It was pure bike racing. Without the gruesome crashes, we were instead treated to a constantly changing face of racing for the last 27 kilometers. It was simply great as the riders in the front changed position and the riders in the back chased. Everyone worked today and although Vincenzo Nibali was awarded the Most Aggressive jersey after the stage, I saw about twenty men who deserved that award today. Eight of them were on team Etixx-Quickstep.

History shows that time gaps in the first week of le tour reflect more than simply the top twenty riders (a perfect line up at present). Time gaps reflect the true strength and will of the top GC riders on the day, not the month, or the season - the day. This was a day when the Tour could have been lost. Time gaps also reflect the strength and determination of the men behind those top GC contenders - the team.

The present time gaps tell us who brought their game face to the stage start this morning and to the Tour de France in 2015. The faces that fought over every cobble in route to the finish line.

Today I liked these faces: Eddy and Tony!

Let's look at Team Etixx - Quickstep (EQS) (pronounced Et-ix), motto: #OurWay
Riders: 2 Polish, 1 German, 1 Brit, 1 Czech, 1 Belgian, 1 Aussie and 1 Italian 
CEO: Patrick Lafevere

#111 - Michal Kwiatkowski (current World Champion Road, in the rainbow jersey), he is from Poland, age 25, his name means "flower" in polish; this flower child can ride a bike. He is an Allrounder and is currently 7'29" behind Peter Sagan (in 6th place) for the Best Young Rider White Jersey, but Michael is wearing the #1 on his team, so he has bigger dreams of studying how GC is done.

Michal Kwiatkowski

#112 - Mark Cavendish (former World Champion and British Champion), he is from the Isle of Man. As fierce a competitor as they come, behind the scenes he is encouraging and focused on bike racing. On the road you can identify him easily in his trademark low crouched position to the line. Footage of the team celebrating after the finish is proof of how much Mark enjoys working for a teammate's win.

Mark Cavendish.  Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®

#113 - Michal Golas, lighter and leaner than Kwiatkowski, he comes from the same town of Torun, Poland where he runs a bicycle shop. A proven Allrounder, he is at the Tour as a teammate and was there to pace Tony Martin back into the main pack after the infamous bike steal.

Michal Golas

#114 - Tony Martin (multiple time World and German National Champion ITT and TTT), he was a dominant figure in the first week of last year's TDF as well. Chances are good that he is one of the first names on the team roster. Dependable, strong, moves the wind.

Tony Martin finds his Mom in the crowd after being awarded his yellow jersey. Tom Boonen greats him today after the stage win.

#115 - Mark Renshaw, the powerful Aussie. Renshaw raced with Martin and Cavendish on the old HTC squad. They know each other well when it comes to race outcomes of victory and defeat. Renshaw is a leadout specialist (that means he's a hauler of men), he is there for power and to add the odd bit of Aussie vocabulary. Why his nickname is Prince Harry I do not know (but I see a resemblance below).

Mark Renshaw  Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®

#116 - Zdenek Stybar (Zed-nick Stee-bar) makes every cyclocross fan out there sit up strait, he is a king of king when it comes to races over very difficult terrain in harsh conditions. He's not the kind of man to complain. You'd want this Czech on the bus because you know you could follow his wheel over anything.

Zdenek Stybar

#117 - Matteo Trentin - every good squad needs an Italian and Trentin is that guy. Yes he is Italian, but he is from Borgo Valsugana in the north, where the big mountains are. Matteo is the one who attacks off the front and then runs circles up and back making sure everyone is tended to, easily giving up his bike to Tony Martin who is 7cm taller, and commented after the race, "I was really uncomfortable on his bike." I was watching the stage thinking "I hope Tony didn't exchange bikes with Cav!"

#118 Rigoberto Uran Uran. Of course he is Colombian so we think climber pure and simple, yet on a tough stage like today he was 13th across the line; overall he is 7th on GC. Wow. We are going to see "Rigo" climb the GC rankings very quickly.

Rigoberto Uran

#119 Julien Vermote is from Kortrijk, Belgium. We can rightly surmize from that location that his childhood was filled with bikes and bike racing. Julien was there to pull Tony Martin back into the pack today together with teammate Michal Golas. His role is domestique, and he is a rider who deserves much more attention @julienvermote

Julien Vermote, born on a bike in Belgium

The highlight of the day for me was seeing a time trial specialist (who we might expect to be extremely picky about his bike) win on a bike that was not his own. Matteo Trentin sacrificed his bike to teammate Tony Martin who was already in strong contention for the yellow jersey (behind Froome by only 1 second). Martin jumped on the bike - which had a 1cm difference in saddle height and set up with opposite brakes - and rode it like he stole it (cuz' he did!) all the way to the finish line.

Now those of us who know that bike fitting can be a bunch of bunk, laughed along with him all the way to the line. How many times have we seen videos, or watched bus-side, as riders closely inspect their saddles, wheels, and brakes before a race as their mechanics stand nearby sweating buckets-full? Ha! Ha! All a racer really needs is the fear of God in him as he sees the lead pack pulling away, up, up the road. He'll ride anything to catch up if need be. And if suddenly that new bike fit feels okay because adrenaline and grit have taken over ... he might just take it all the way to the line.

What is your bet that Tony Martin adjusts his saddle height after today's stage? Damn the costly bike fits.

Happiness in the team car
Definitely do not try this at home; Brian Holm is questioning hands-free driving in the team car as the latest technology.
Stage 4 Results
  1. Tony Martin (Ger) Etixx - Quick-Step 5:28:58
  2. John Degenkolb (Ger) Team Giant-Alpecin 0:00:03
  3. Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff-Saxo
General Classification after Stage 4 - TDF 2015

1Tony Martin (Ger) Etixx - Quick-Step12:40:26
2Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky0:00:12
3Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team0:00:25
4Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal0:00:38
5Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff-Saxo0:00:39
6Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team0:00:40
7Rigoberto Uran (Col) Etixx - Quick-Step0:00:46
8Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo0:00:48
9Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky0:01:15
10Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Etixx - Quick-Step0:01:16
11Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Giant-Alpecin0:01:19
12Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek Factory Racing0:01:44
13Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team0:01:50
14Robert Gesink (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo0:01:51
15Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Tinkoff-Saxo0:02:03
16Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team
17Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team0:02:08
18Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha0:02:12
19Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:02:19
20Andrew Talansky (USA) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team0:02:51

July 8th in France

Tomorrow we travel through WWI history. Remember this post I wrote about the years the Tour de France did not happen because of war? Pedal Dancer®: The Missing Years.

Stage 5 Route
Stage 5 route map TDF 2015
Stage 5 Profile
Stage 5 profile map TDF 2015

Estimated stage finish: 17:12 CET (11:12 AM  EST, 9:12 AM MDT)