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The 2016 Tour de France is likely to be defined by Stage 12, which stopped just short of the iconic Mont Ventoux and saw Chris Froome running to the finish as he awaited a new bike.

Running up that hill

The intense crowds near the finish line caused a television motorbike to brake suddenly. Richie Porte (BMC Racing) slammed into it, followed by Froome (Team Sky) and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo). Then, a second motorbike ran into Froome, breaking the frame of his bike.

What do you do?

Mollema was able to get back on his and continue to the finish.

Froome decided to start running up the hill so he had less distance to cover when his replacement bike arrived. Running in bike shoes is not easy. The neutral service car arrived with the replacement bike, but Froome found it ill-fitting. He struggled and made it to the finish in 25th place.

Thomas de Gendt (Lotto Soudal) won the stage with Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data) coming in two seconds later, followed by Daniel Navarro Garcia (Cofidis).

Deliberation took place afterwards about the riders in the general classification, Froome having been leader for most of the Tour. The Telegraph explained this dramatic Bastille Day stage, soon to be overshadowed by the terrorist attack in Nice later that evening:

Froome lost around a minute and a half on the road and slipped to sixth on the provisional general classification, 53 seconds behind fellow Briton Adam Yates, before the race jury intervened.

They ruled that Porte and Froome should receive the same time as Mollema after the Dutchman got back on his bike and stayed clear of the chasing rivals.

A grateful Froome said:

Ventoux is full of surprises. With about 1.2km to go, the motorbike slammed on its brakes – the road was blocked in front – the three of us just ran into the motorbike and another motorbike ploughed into me, breaking my frame. I just started running. I knew the car was stuck and was five minutes behind.

I think it was a fair decision, and I want to thank the jury and the organisation. It was the right decision.

We agree, although millions of Frenchmen would not.

Froome has received bad press for the second year running, certainly in Le Monde‘s En Danseuse blog, which has also commented on the dominance of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ (English-speaking) riders in the top of the GC and stage wins.

Incidentally, Bernard Hinault was the last Frenchman to win a Tour. That was in … 1985.

The French do not say anything critical about Peter Sagan’s (Tinkoff) dominance of the green jersey for the points competition, however. And not a peep about Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), previously banned for doping, who had to drop out part way through this year’s Tour because of a crash.

Froome rightly

questioned why he faces more scrutiny that other previous Grand Tour winners.

“I wouldn’t say they need more scrutiny but I’ve got to admit it’s frustrating to an extent that if you look at last five Grand Tour winners, there’s not the same outcry for data and numbers. We didn’t see it with Contador, we didn’t see the same level of questioning. I don’t really understand why it seems to be such a hot topic in the Tour de France because I won a mountain stage (to La Pierre-Saint-Martin in the Pyrenees) by 59 seconds. It just seems strange to me.”


Another first — collapsing flamme rouge

As riders were approaching the finish line of Stage 7, the inflatable flamme rouge collapsed.

In addition with a rider running up a hill, this was another first. For years, I’ve been wondering when one of the flammes would collapse. Cycling News has the full story and photos of the incident.

A spectator caught his belt on one of the cables keeping the flamme upright.

Britain’s Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) took the brunt of the collapse. He required four stitches on his chin and sustained other cuts as well as bruises.

Best wishes to Adam for the remainder of the Tour. This is his first one and he has been wearing the Best Young Rider shirt for several stages now. As I write, he is also third in the general classification!

Mark Cavendish

The Isle of Man’s Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) continued to dazzle, taking four stage wins this year before he left the race to prepare for the Rio Olympics.

His 30 stage wins put him second between two Tour de France legends — Eddy Merckx with 34 and Bernard Hinault with 28.

Hinault was at the podium presentations every day. One couldn’t help but wonder what Hinault thought of Cav’s surpassing him.

Team Sky

ITV4 has been fortunate in being able to interview Sir Dave Brailsford of Team Sky a few times during the Tour this year.

He said that Froome was not only an amazing rider but also a well-balanced individual. Although Froome is highly competitive, he takes a measured approach to each stage.

In one of the ITV4 interviews, Brailsford said that the team are coached to remain calm: never do anything out of emotion. Those are wise words all of us should consider.

Brailsford said that team members are carefully evaluated and continually coached so that they can deliver the best for themselves and the team. Each rider’s talents are considered as to where they can best be placed.

It sounds obvious, but careful, cautious initial planning yields better and more consistent results than chopping and changing every so often.

Team Sky are a smooth running machine. Long may it continue.

More ‘Anglo-Saxon’ inspiration

Although the French are livid at the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ mastery of cycling on their home territory, the coach of the England Rugby team, Eddie Jones, spent Stage 9 in the Orica-BikeExchange’s team car in order to study their strategy.

Jones was also interested in the riders’ preparation and recovery.

Stage 9 took place in the Pyrenees, which riders either love or hate. Even Mark Cavendish said this year that he ‘hates the Pyrenees’.

Jones hopes to take lessons back to the rugbymen. The Express had the story (emphases mine):

The 56-year-old, who has won nine out of nine with England, is still not satisfied after their 3-0 series win over Australia and reckons his side can learn a lot from the cyclists.

Jones, who was at Lord’s with the England cricketers yesterday, said: “It was just the professionalism of the preparation, really good individually before the ride, during the ride the information that each rider gets and post the ride the debriefing they did.

“Also the way that they set up, the preparation, it just shows that we’ve done some good things in rugby but there’s still a long way to go.

“There is almost a race behind the bike race as the cars with the head coaches drive behind the bikes giving instructions and water. It’s quite incredible – just the toughness of the riders and what they do.

“They’ve done that nine days in a row and they were talking about their recovery, so they had recovery Monday and they’ll ride for an hour and half to recover. That’s professional.”

Jones is right. Tour de France riders are indeed incredible. I’ve been watching ITV4’s live afternoon coverage in earnest for several years and have been more amazed with each passing Tour. This truly is the king of endurance sports.

Stamina also needed for publicity staff

Just as much stamina is often needed for drivers of publicity vehicles as well as the staff.

I wrote about the sausage and snacks company Cochonou in 2014. Just as riders making the Tour find it a coveted position, so do those hired to work for this company — and others — in handing out free goodies to spectators. My 2014 post described what Cochonou looks for in staff. It’s not an easy brief to fulfil nearly every day for three weeks’ running. You have to be smiling and cheerful even with the most obnoxious customers, even when they spit or urinate on you. Yes, it happens.

Being an official sponsor of the Tour de France benefits them enormously. In fact, it is ‘indispensable’.

Thanks to their Twitter feed, we can see what the company’s publicity caravan was up to on July 14 in a film from La Provence newspaper:

Teisseire is another official sponsor. They make fruit flavoured syrups and ready mixed juice drinks.

They began recruiting for the Tour in February. Their exacting and demanding brief for staff is very much the same as Cochonou’s.

Teisseire’s distribution staff must represent the company properly at all times, including when they are off-duty. Other characteristics which must be exhibited at all times are conviviality, good humour, participation in a close-knit group, proactivity and, of course, smiling. The same is expected of vehicle drivers, who must also keep the vehicles immaculately clean at all times.

It all sounds quite exhausting.

Here’s a short video of Teisseire‘s publicity parade:

Tour de France vocabulary

This year, it seems that the official Tour handbook given to journalists and broadcasters is covering a lot of rider vocabulary.

A new term comes out every day or so and previous ones are reinforced when appropriate on subsequent stages.

As the Tour does not end until Sunday, July 24 in Paris, it is possible that one or more of the following might be heard in commentary:

allumer la chaudière (to light the furnace): be on performance-related dope

descendre comme un fer à repasser (to descend like a clothes iron): to have a not-so-smooth, hesitant or rough descent

être en chasse-patate (to be in a potato chase): idiom for expending a lot of energy on nothing, as a rider does when caught between two groups hoping to reach the one in front and can’t

saler la soupe (to salt the soup): be on performance-related dope

sprinter comme un fer à repasser (to sprint like a clothes iron): to have a less-than-smooth or hesitant sprint

Abelard’s France Zone has many more — including English, Spanish and Italian cycling expressions.

The yellow jersey lion

And finally, in case anyone is wondering if they can order a yellow jersey lion online: no, they cannot.

Those lions are only for the rider in the yellow jersey. Chris Froome is building up quite a collection.

The lions are part of the LCL — Le Crédit Lyonnais — yellow jersey sponsorship agreement which began in 1987, although the bank has been a commercial partner of the Tour since 1981.

Although Lyon’s name in Latin was Lugdunum, implying no connection with a lion, the king of the jungle has been on the city’s crest for centuries and might have had some bearing on the later name of Lyon.

Sports magazine Outside explains the reason for the toy, which the bank has been providing the Tour since 1987:

the lion was actually the mascot of longtime Tour de France title sponsor Crédit Lyonnais.

‘Was’. Outside notes that it no longer is because LCL considered it ‘too aggressive’ a symbol. Executives discussed whether to discontinue the toy lions but decided not to, fortunately.

The lion supply is closely guarded on the Tour.

As LCL’s sponsorship continues to 2018, they will be around for a few more years.

Thanks, ITV4

In closing, millions of Britons would like to thank ITV4 for another year of fine coverage and commentary.

The live coverage has been a joy to watch once again, especially the extended time at the weekends.

David Millar’s commentary has also provided viewers with new, updated information. He knows many of the riders and understands the strategies, augmented by team radios and the latest bike technology.

Jens Voigt’s Tour insight has also been a treat. He sees a few stages ahead and his predictions are bang on the money.

We’ll be sorry to see it come to a close on Sunday. The riders, on the other hand, will be relieved!

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