Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tour de France - decisive moments

Seeing the prologue live in London rekindled my interest in cycling. It had somewhat subsided after the great riders I knew and admired (Pantani, Indurain, Ullrich, Virenque) had either quit, got caught using doping and/or died.

But, if you want to enjoy this great sports event, just snap on the NOS video feed, and in case you aren't fluent in Dutch get the commentary in English (other languages also available) from Eurosport, then switch on the live GPS tracking, and also the gap monitoring and commentary , pick your rider and monitor the telemetry with his heart rate, cadence, speed and position, and you're pretty much ready to go. All the classifications and rider bios are of course at the TdF website.

With all this information available, you'll know more about what's going on than almost anyone following the race live on location. Nothing beats the buzz of going to see it live, though. This year I got to see the prologue, next year perhaps one of the mountain stages?

Le Tour has now hit the Pyrenees, and the winner will very probably be decided in the coming couple of days, on the mountains. The mountain stages and the individual time trials are the places where the leading riders can get some distance between each other. On the flatter stages the teams will make sure that the leading riders stay close together.

The tactics and the thinking behind all this is fascinating, and rather complicated, as well. It already helps to know that different riders have very different roles in the team, and that only a handful of riders are even interested in the yellow jersey and winning the general classification. Most of them, like Finland's Kjell Carlström are there as domestiques, helping others in the team. They do the work in front of the peloton and catch those breakaway groups that have gone off too far and threaten the lead of their captain; they help their sprinters to get into good positions in the front of the pack before a sprint finish; they drop back to tow the captain back to the peloton after a fall or flat tire. And on the longer, flatter stages, they might try their luck on a breakaway and win a stage. And for that to work, it actually helps to be sufficiently low down in the GC, as then no team has the incentive to hunt down your breakaway group.

(Pic: Part of one of the great cycling photos by Graham Watson, who covers all the étapes.)

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