The official line in Issoudun was that there was no protest, but the viewers won’t be fooled. The peloton dawdled towards the finish like a hoard of sulking children whose favourite toys had been taken away.
The main argument against ASO’s rule change today was that removing the means of communication endangers the safety of the riders in the race and even the spectators on the roadside. With earpiece radios riders can be kept appraised of upcoming obstacles, can check with each other to find out where their team-mates are. Without them, they’d have us believe, they’re in perilous danger.
There are some valid points. For example, when ‘chute’ is called over the official radio after a crash, the team manager can quickly check with his own riders whether any of them are down and need help. If all is well, the car has no need to go forwards to where the crash has happened. Without radio communication, every car is going to watch to rush to the scene of the accident to check whether their men need help.
In any case, the decision was made by the Tour de France organisers, and backed up by the UCI, to remove the radios for today’s stage.
This morning, everyone said there would be no protest, but the way the stage unfolded suggests very clearly there was a go-slow. According to the Tour’s official time schedule, the slowest projected average speed was 41 kph. The riders averaged 40.702kph, and that was with a decent tailwind for much of the stage.
Even if there was no protest, there was precious little action for the Bastille Day viewing public to enjoy.
Old school rules: Chalkboards revealed the time gaps
The way a breakaway works is that they attack, work hard to gain a gap, then settle into a rhythm that is roughly the same tempo that the bunch is setting, that way the gap stays constant. Then, as the chase hots up, the speed in the break rises and the job of reeling them in begins in earnest.
Today, the break ambled along because the bunch was not interested. It was only in the final 15 kilometres that the chase got going.
On reflection, the riders were clever. They avoided the shambolic protest that blighted the Milan stage of the Giro d’Italia, but demonstrated their point. Racing without radios is boring and slow.
We will wait to see how things pan out in the coming days, but the powers that be have only two options. Force the riders to do without their radios again and keep forcing the issue until they do race, or give in and accept that the technology is a valid part of modern cycling. On this issue, there is no middle ground.
Unfortunately, cycling lost again. It was Bastille Day, the French national holiday, and millions of people would have been off work, looking forward to some racing. In that way, it was a
Sectors of the public, already disengaged by years of doping scandals are going to have very little sympathy for the peloton’s plight. All they will have seen was a rest day on wheels.
But, of course, there was no protest. The riders were just doing what they needed to do to race safely without their earpiece radios.
CW understands moves are afoot to drop the experiment on Friday. After today’s showing, does anyone have the stomach to stand up to a sulking peloton on a matter which has such a debatable gain?
GREEN BATTLE TO BE DECIDED IN PARIS?
If he were to be starkly honest with himself, Thor Hushovd knows that he needs an extraordinary set of circumstances to beat Mark Cavendish in a head-to-head sprint.
Having driven the final kilometres of stage 10’s route into Issoudun, the finish looked more Thor than Cav. There were some tricky rises and it looked like it may equalise the advantage Cavendish has in terms of pure speed.
But the Columbia-HTC sprinter was fast enough to iron out the bumps and smooth the kinks in the road. Hushovd never even got level. It was easy.
Less straightforward is the battle for the green jersey. Cavendish slipped 12 points behind when the Norwegian escaped on the Port d’Envalira on Saturday and won two intermediate sprints.
Today’s victory gave Cavendish 35 more points, but Hushovd’s second place netted him 30, narrowing the gap to six.
So, Hushovd’s task is simple, for now. He must hang onto Cavendish’s back wheel, ensure that he is the best of the rest, then either seek to win more intermediate sprints or hope something goes awry and the Manxman finishes out of the points one day.
Cavendish’s third stage win wasn’t enough to unseat Hushovd at the top of the points table
Cavendish could have four more sprinting opportunities. Tomorrow (Wednesday) in Saint-Fargeau, Thursday in Vittel and Saturday in Besançon could all conceivably finish in a sprint. Then there is the Champs-Elysees in Paris on the final day.
If Hushovd keeps coming second to him, Cavendish can only make up five points a day, which could be ruled out by victory in just one intermediate sprint. But Cavendish can do no more than keep winning stages. He won’t be in the hunt for the bonus sprints unless there is a clear opportunity. One may present itself this week, if no break has gone clear by the time the first sprint comes round, but equally Columbia could try to mark Hushovd out of it and deny him the points themselves while saving Cavendish’s legs.
As for the rest, well, they continue to lose ground. Garmin’s Tyler Farrar isn’t going to make up ground finishing third, and Oscar Freire, who closed the gap a little with a third place finish in the Pyrenees conceded all that and more with today’s 15th.
If Cavendish wins in Saint-Fargeau tomorrow and Hushovd is second, the gap will be down to one point. The battle for the yellow jersey promises to go all the way to Mont Ventoux. The fight for green may go right to the line.
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