Sunday, August 9, 2015

Tour of Utah 2015 - a post with pictures, including several Tour de France veterans

I was able to watch Stage 5 (out of 7) of the 2015 Tour of Utah, and captured the following pictures:

Frank Schleck of Tour de France fame (red mark on helmet) and his Trek teammates on a warm-up ride before the start of the race.

The start, from behind the State Capitol building, and then turning onto Gravity Hill, heading north up City Creek and around Memory Grove.

A breakaway group of 8 riders escaped early in the first lap.

Here the peloton rounds the corner coming out of City Creek onto 11th Avenue. Notice the yellow jersey worn by Jure Kocjan (SmartStop) near right edge of photo. Also, Frank Schleck (Trek) near middle of photo.

The breakaway maintains its lead on the second lap, as they head into the city center on South Temple Street.

The peloton keeps the escapees close as they race up South Temple in hot pursuit.

In a flash, they have raced past my position as they near the next turn (State Street). Notice the Beneficial Office Tower in the background.

The gargoyles on the Cathedral of the Madeleine have the "best seat in the house."

As they approach the end of each lap, they must climb the insanely steep streets of the "Marmalade District." Did you recognize Frank Schleck again (left)?

The finish line is the green banner across the street in the distance, at the top of 500 North. At this point, the riders were about to finish the 5th of 7 laps.

Just prior to the start of the final 8-mile lap, Natnael Berhane (MTN Qhubeka), national champion from Eritrea, escaped the peloton for a daring solo attempt to win the stage. He built his lead to a maximum of 25 seconds, but was finally caught on the steep climb near the finish.

Michael Woods is shown here fighting to the finish line for the stage victory. With a 10-second bonus for first place, and his 5-second margin over Jure Kocjan, Woods captured the yellow jersey, which he will wear for Stage 6 on Saturday. It was an exciting race. And then, during the awards ceremony, a massive storm front roared through and blew down the finish line truss, sending one spectator to the hospital, and scattering everyone else.

The following day (Stage 6), Michael Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin) won the "Queen Stage" at the summit of Snowbird, and took over the Yellow Jersey, which he defended successfully in the final Stage 7 to Park City on Sunday.

Other notable cyclists in this year's Tour of Utah included Tayler Phinney, a crowd favorite because of his come back from serious injuries, and a veteran of the grand tours in Spain and Italy.

Janez Brajkovic TDF veteran climber (no photo available), and Matt Goss (MTN Qhubeka, No. 48), a veteran TDF sprinter and Green Jersey rival of Peter Sagan's:

Alex Howes (Cannondale Garmin), former World record holder for the one-hour speed record:

And finally, Chris Horner (Airgas Safeway No. 141), the patriarch of American Tour de France cyclists still competing.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Wrap-up for 2015 Tour de France

If you were holding your breath for my blog posts these last few days, I apologize.  I was out of town on a fun little road trip.  If you are serious about the Tour, you already know what happened.  But, just for the record, here is my report.

Three of the four mountain stages in the Alps were won by underdogs, and two of those by French cyclists.  Great for the French national morale!  French riders Romain Bardet (AG2R) and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) finished 1 & 2 in Stage 18.  Both had hoped for high GC placements, but suffered disappointments in the early weeks.  So, this was sweet redemption for both of them – especially for Bardet.

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) overcame three weeks of frustration by winning Stage 19 and making up almost 2 minutes of his deficit to Chris Froome (Sky).  This moved him from 7th place to 4th, and somewhat restored his wounded prestige as defending champion.  Nairo Quintana (Movistar) made up 30 seconds, but remained in 2nd place overall.

Another French hopeful, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) won the Stage 20 race to l’Alpe d’Huez, again bringing honor to France, and somewhat redeeming his frustrating Tour.  Quintana knocked off another 1:18 from his deficit to Froome, but still trailed the Yellow Jersey by more than a minute.

The ride to Paris for the final stage (No. 21) followed the normal pattern of being mostly ceremonial.  Because of rain on the course early, the judges stopped the clock on the first lap around the Champs Elysée, with everyone receiving the same time.  The only remaining drama would be the sprint for the stage win 7 or 8 laps later.  André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) powered to the line for his 4th stage win of this year’s Tour.  (And to think that I had accidentally reported him absent from the start of the Tour because of illness!  Could my blunder have acted as a reverse jinx?)  Greipel enjoyed the level of success I had predicted for Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quickstep) who only won one stage.

The major prize winners were:  Yellow Jersey (General Classification) Chris Froome (Sky), his second time as grand winner of the Tour.  2nd place Nairo Quintana (Movistar), at -1:12.  3rd Place Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), at -5:25 – didn’t I say to not overlook the “other Spaniard?”  4th Place Vncenzo Nibali (Astana), at -8:36 – defending champion from 2014.  5th Place Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), at -9:48 – tough Tour for one of the Big Four favorites.

White Jersey (Young Rider) Nairo Quintana.
Green Jersey (Sprinter Points) Peter Sagan (fourth year in a row!)
Polka-Dot Jersey (King of Mountains) Chris Froome – one mountain stage win, and several close finishes, and the points kept adding up.
Best Team: Movistar – Quintana and Valverde consistently finishing near the front, along with one or more of their domestiques.
Super Combative Romain Bardet (AG2R).
Lanterne Rouge (last place) Sébastien Chavenel (FDJ) – almost 5 hours cumulative behind the winning time of Chris Froome.

Where did Froome win the race?  I predicted that the time trials would not be decisive; and they were not.  However, those two stages did account for between 9 and 35 seconds of Froome’s advantage over the other four top riders.  The two most decisive stages for Froome were Stage 2 and Stage 10.  In Stage 2, crosswinds near the coast of Holland split the peloton and gave Froome a 1:28 advantage over Quintana, Valverde and Nibali.  (This should have been a flat stage for a sprint finish, and no time differentials for the GC boys.)  In Stage 10 – the first climbing stage in the Pyrénées – Froome, with a giant effort from his Team Sky helpers, attacked the peloton, won the stage, and scored time gains of between one and ten minutes on his four top rivals.  The gains on those two stages alone exceeded any gains by his rivals in all of the other stages.  There were nine stages (out of 21) where all of the top 5 finished with the same time.  In the other 12 stages the rivals mostly lost time (sometimes a little, sometimes a lot).  Quintana only gained time in two stages – a total of 1:50, not enough to overcome Froome’s gains just in Stages 2 and 10.  Valverde only gained time in two stages – a total of only 3 seconds.  Nibali gained time in 3 stages (including a stage win) – a total of 2:19, but he had already lost over 4 minutes just in Stage 10.  Contador often matched the time of Froome, but did not beat Froome’s time in even one stage.  You can’t win the Tour if you never have even one stage where you beat your top rival.  All in all, it was a very dominating win for Froome and Team Sky.

Au revoir tout le monde.  Et merci d’avoir visité mon blog.

Since the Tour de France always ends in Paris, here are some photos from there.  A different view than normal of the Eiffel Tower.

The Mona Lisa, inside the Louvre Museum.

Notre Dame Cathedral, taken from a bateau mouche floating up the Seine River.

Stage 20 included a pass through the small town of Bourg D'Oissans, at the base of the climb to l'Alpe d'Huez.  This is where we rented bikes when our family did our own version of the Tour de France in 2011.

About half-way up the climb to l'Alpe d'Huez, the road curves past the little church at "Dutch Corner" - so named because of all the crazy Dutch fans who commandeer this corner each year for the Tour de France.  Here we see our very own Matt Jensen climbing up out of Dutch Corner.  Half-way there Matt!  Keep on pumping!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Stage 17 – Another “Little Guy” Achieves Stage-Win Glory.

These mountain stages provide opportunities for the “little guys” in the Tour.  If they can join a breakaway, and then somehow execute an attack on their companions, they just might steal a stage victory and write their names into the history books.  This was the happy outcome today for German Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin).   For only his third professional stage win, and first time in a major tour, Geschke attacked the breakaway before the summit of the 2nd-to-last climb, and then held on to win high in the Alps.  He won a 5,000 Euro bonus at the top of the highest climb, and also captured the Most Aggressive prize for two additional bursts of glory.  American Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin) raced hard to erase Geschke’s 1:30 lead, but fell short by 32 seconds for second place. 

The GC boys felt no threat from the breakaway, and staged their own separate race as much as ten minutes behind the stage leaders.  First, came shocking news that Tejay Van Garderen had abandoned with 70 Km to go because of illness.  Turns out he has been nursing a cold which worsened during the rest day.  Today, he had headaches and no energy, and could not keep up with the pace of the peloton.  There goes his dream of a podium finish!

The rest of the GC hopefuls stayed with Froome, attacking without success.  Quintana beat Froome to the line, but gained no time.  All the others previously in the top ten lost up to 2 minutes.  Contador took a fall on a bumpy part of the last steep descent, and could not catch up to the Froome group to contest the finish.  Froome’s Yellow Jersey is looking more and more safe, with only three more mountain stages where he might be challenged, and with he and his team showing no signs of weakness.

Matthias Frank (IAM), part of the breakaway, gained more than 5 minutes and moved into 8th place, but is still almost 9 minutes behind Froome.  Talansky also moved up five places and gained almost 7 minutes, but is still only in 12th place with a deficit of over 16 minutes.

Peter Sagan again joined the breakaway and collected an additional 15 points to raise his Green Jersey lead to over 100 points.  In addition to the Yellow Jersey, Froome appears to have locked up the Polka-Dot Jersey (King of the Mountains) as well.  Quintana has an insurmountable lead for the White Jersey (Young Rider). 

With all the big prizes decided in advance, these final stages will be animated by the “little guys” trying to get a taste of glory.  So, the stages will be fun to watch, but there is no more suspense on the big prizes.

This is what these Tour de France climbs are like - long and steep!  Ashley Jensen climbs Mt. Ventoux (May 2011).

Aaron & Nan Kennard working to overtake two other riders on Mt. Venoux (May 2011).

Nan is having all together too much fun!  She is supposed to be suffering on this climb, but it doesn't even faze her!  (Mt. Ventoux, May 2011).

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Stage 16 – Climbing Towards the Alps.

As predicted, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) joined the breakaway again in Stage 16, and collected the maximum points (20) in the intermediate sprint, with André Greipel nowhere to be seen.  Then, for “something audacious,” Sagan led the breakaway group throughout the day in a determined search for  his first stage victory.  With no help from his breakaway companions, Sagan was forced to set the pace all day, and to lead the group in reeling in any and all attackers.  About 3 Km from the summit of the final climb Spaniard Ruben Plaza (Lampre) succeeded in surging ahead and forged a 55-second lead over the Sagan group at the summit.  Sagan recouped 25 seconds with a furious chase down the steep 12-Km descent to the finish, but again finished in second place – his fifth second in this Tour.  Plaza collected his first ever TDF stage win.

Sagan collected 25 more sprint points – 45 total for the day, and now leads Greipel for the Green Jersey by an insurmountable 89 points.  Sagan was also awarded the Most Combative prize for the second day in a row.  Team owner Oleg Tinkov was whining before the Tour started that he wanted to cut Sagan’s salary for not winning enough races earlier in the season.  (Apparently Sagan’s winning the overall plus a couple of stages in the Tour of California was not sufficient.)  Sagan has finished in the top 5 for ten of the sixteen stages so far this Tour, and has been one of the most exciting racers in the first two weeks.  I wonder if Mr. Tinkov feels like he is getting his money's worth yet?

Oh, by the way, there was another race going on at the back of Stage 16 – the Yellow Jersey competition and the rest of the peloton.  As usual, Chris Froome and his Team Sky posse maintained law and order, quelling any and all uprisings.  Only Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) scored any time gain with a late attack that netted 28 seconds, but left him still in 8th place with a deficit of 7:49.  Geraint Thomas (Sky) lost 38 seconds, because of a spectacular crash caused by Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin).  After head-butting a telephone pole and landing in the bushes, Thomas  miraculously re-mounted his bike and salvaged his 6th place position.  A bit of re-shuffling occurred in the bottom half of the top-ten, but nothing worthy of a headline.

Stage 16 climbed through the region known as the Drôme and passed not far from the village of Lus la Croix Haute, where we found this quaint old wagon.

This view shows the village of Lus la Croix Haute with the Alps in the background.  The Alps will host the next stages of the Tour de France.

Along the road to Gap (site of the Stage 16 finish) you will pass dozens of random villages, such as this one.

We even found the road to Beaumugne, made famous by Jean Giono's wonderful novel, "Un de Beaumugne."  I really wanted to visit the village, but the road quickly deteriorated to a narrow, un-paved track, and I agreed to turn around for the sake of saving our marriage.  Good decision!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Stage 15 – Predictable Sprinter Stage.

As predicted, the stage into Valence had an early breakaway group.  Peter Sagan animated the attack and took maximum points at the intermediate sprint, leaving André Greiple to fight for mop-up points.  15-point advantage to Sagan to pad his Green Jersey lead. 

Also, as predicted, the sprinters’ teams pushed the pace of the peloton, and captured the attackers well before the finish.  However, because the first part of the stage was hilly, Mark Cavendish fell behind the peloton, and therefore missed out on the sprint finale.

The usual suspects (minus Cavendish) lined up for the final sprint, and André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) stormed across the line for his third stage win in this year’s Tour.  John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) took 2nd, followed closely by Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) 3rd, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) 4th and Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka) 5th.  The peloton was so compact that 64 riders were given the same time as Greipel, including all the GC contenders.  So no change in the GC standings (again, as predicted). 

Sagan was awarded the Most Combative prize today for his efforts in the breakaway, and at the finish line.    

With premium points for the stage victory, Greipel outscored Sagan at the line, for a net gain on the day of 17 points.  This still leaves Sagan with a 44-point lead for the Green Jersey.  Sagan is much more likely than Greipel to score intermediate sprint points in the next five stages which all have substantial climbs before the sprint.  If Sagan is shepherding Contador near the end of any of those stages in the Alps, he could also harvest some points at the finish.  Greipel will be lucky to finish those stages at all.  Let’s assume Sagan can add another 27 points to his lead during the next five stages – not beyond possible.  That would mean that even if Greiple scored a 70-point shut-out over Sagan in the final stage to Paris (impossible!), Sagan would still win the Green Jersey.  Of course we can’t crown him King of Sprinters yet – he has to still finish the Tour – but Sagan in Green is now a foregone conclusion.  Yet, he’s still unsatisfied – he desperately wants a stage win.  He will be riding in support of Contador, all this coming week, but don’t be surprised if Sagan tries something audacious in the mountains to steal that elusive stage win.  

Here's an interesting question:  Would Sagan trade the Green Jersey for Greipel's three stage wins?

Today's stage finished in Valence, a city on the Rhône River south of Lyon.  This is the brand-new LDS (Mormon) chapel in Valence.  When I was there almost 50 years ago, the tiny branch met in a small converted store-front, with the missionaries' apartment in the back.  That little branch is now a vibrant, growing ward, part of the Lyon Stake.

Elisse and Ariel Davis, riding the Lyon public bicycles through the Croix Rousse tunnel.  November, 2014.

In anticipation of the climbing stages coming up this week, here are some photos of cyclists struggling up the very steep Second King during the recent Three Kings Cycling Event sponsored by North Salt Lake.  (June 2015.)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Stage 14 – Glory to the Underdogs!

As suggested in my previous post, Stage 14 presented an opportunity for a bit of glory for lesser-known riders and teams.  It also favored Peter Sagan in his quest for a fourth consecutive Green Jersey.  And finally, Chris Froome was indeed strong enough to counter any attacks by his nearest rivals.

Breakaway Succeeds:  A large breakaway formed early with non-GC riders from many teams.  Peter Sagan was the only top Green Jersey contender to make it into the lead pack.  He made sure to win the intermediate sprint (20) points to create more separation between himself and André Greipel for the Green Jersey.  Back in the main peloton, Team Sky set the pace with no concern for catching the breakaway, so the attackers approached the finish with a comfortable 5-minute lead.  The lead pack was paced most of the day by several FDJ riders hoping to set up Thibaut Pinot for the stage win.  He was a pre-tour favorite among French riders for GC glory, but had suffered bad luck on most of the early stages and was already about 35 minutes behind Froome.  A victory here would be solace and a bit of redemption for Pinot, even though it would not revive his GC hopes. 

As the leaders approached the finish, Michal Golas (Etixx-Quickstep) launched the first attack and held a promising lead until the final two climbs.  Then, on the climb he was caught by Kristijan Koren (Cannondale-Garmin).  They worked together in the lead until the final climb.  At that point, Romain Bardet (AG2R) – another pre-race French favorite with early-stage hard luck similar to Pinot’s – overtook them and led the race for the finish.  Golas & Koren ran out of gas and faded.  Pinot clawed his way back toward Bardet, as did Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quickstep).  Sagan had been unable to match the climbing speed of the leaders, but kept a strong and steady pace to remain near the front.  Just as they all neared the top of the final climb, Stephen Cummings (MTN-Qhubeka) came streaking up from the pack and overtook Pinot, Uran and Bardet.  He passed them without ever joining forces with them and accelerated down the flat airport runway 1.5 Km to the finish.  The others all sprinted in vain to catch him. 

So, the wild-card team MTN-Qhubeka snagged the Stage win and another day of glory for the “little guys.”  (Remember the emotional thrill for the team, for Africa and for Eritrea when Daniel Teklehaimanot wore the Polka-Dot Jersey several days for MTN-Qhubeka?)  The timing was perfect, because today is a day of special celebration in South Africa commemorating the birthday of the late national reconciliation hero Nelson Mandela. 

Even the also-rans had things to cheer about.  Bardet and Pinot each enjoyed a measure of redemption as they erased more than four minutes from their prior GC deficits, and moved up several spots on the GC standings.  They’re still too far back to contend for the top prize, but they restored their pride by showing strength and courage.  Peter Sagan was too far back (just 29 seconds) to contest the sprint for the stage win, but he added another 17 points to his Green Jersey total.  He now leads Greipel by 61 points. 

Yellow Jersey Peloton arrives at 4:15 behind.   Meanwhile back at the ranch (in the main peloton):  Chris Froome and Team Sky set the pace most of the day in the peloton.   On the final climb Nairo Quintana (Movistar) jumped ahead of Froome.  Foome stayed calm and kept a steady pace and gradually closed the gap.  Valverde and Contador tried to attack without success.  Van Garderen and Nibali at first kept pace with Froome, but eventually started to fall back.  Quintana needed a 17-second advantage in the stage in order to overtake Van Garderen for 2nd place, so he pressed on with his attack.  As they neared the top of the final climb, Froome caught Quintana, with a small separation behind him to Valverde and Contador, and then additional space back to Nibali and Van Garderen.  Quintana sprinted down the runway toward the finish with Froome on his wheel, until Froome swung out and accelerated the last 100 meters for a one-second advantage.  Froome had matched his attackers once again, and padded his lead by between one and 51 seconds over everyone in the GC top ten.  Quintana (2nd) switched places with Van Garderen (3rd); Contador (5th) switched with Geraint Thomas (6th); and Nibali (8th) switched with Gallopin (9th).  Only Bardet and Pinot (among top-20 GC boys) gained time on Froome, but they are still 13 and 30 minutes behind respectively.

Tomorrow’s Stage:  Tomorrow’s Stage 15 is hilly at the beginning, but downhill or flat for the final 57 Km.  Not likely any shakeup of the GC standings.  If the sprint teams have their way, it will end in a bunch sprint in Valence.  One of the last chances for Cavendish, Kristoff, and other sprinters for a stage win.  Greipel will be going for stage win number three.  Expect Sagan to be near the front for both the intermediate sprint and the finish.  He still wants to win his first TDF stage since 2013; and he will not want to see any erosion of his Green Jersey points lead.  The only fly in that ointment would be a successful breakaway.  All the “little guys” and their teams will be motivated to make the escape, but the sprinters’ teams will almost certainly chase them down.  The GC teams will not care about chasing the breakaway, but they will ride near the front of the peloton for safety, not for victory.

This is about what a bunch sprint looks like as they prepare to attack the finish line.  At 60 Km/hour, it's not for the faint-hearted!  (Tour of Utah 2010.)

Famous Tour de France TV commentator (and former TDF racer) Bob Roll, in the announcers' booth at the 2010 Tour of Utah.  He's as much a fan favorite as the riders are.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday Stage 13 Unlucky for Three Escapees

Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Cyril Gautier (Europcar) and Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) worked so hard to lead Stage 13 for 198 Km, only to be swamped in the last 300 meters by the wave of sprinters and GC favorites at the head of the peloton.  But Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) will always consider this as his “lucky day” as he out-sprinted Peter Sagan for the stage win – redeeming himself from a long string of near-misses.  Sagan continues his own frustrating string of close finishes at the Tour.  Despite winning the Green Jersey for three years in a row, his last stage win at the TDF was in 2013.  Still, Sagan’s 2nd place finish today increased his Green Jersey lead to 24 points over André Greipel. 

The top 10 GC contenders saw no change in their standings or their time gaps.  The next five lost more time, and two of them fell out of the top 15.

Tomorrow’s stage to Mende goes through a very remote part of France, including parts of the Cévennes wilderness.  (Memorialized by Robert Louis Stevenson in his “Travels With a Donkey,” in which he recounts his invention of the sleeping bag.)  It features four categorized climbs, including a 4.5-Km category 2 finish.  Probably not suitable for any of the sprinters – except maybe Sagan.  (Will he finally achieve his stage victory?)  It presents an opportunity for a successful breakaway – glory for lesser-known riders and teams.  It also offers attacking possibilities for GC contenders, but Team Sky and Froome should be strong enough to counter any such attacks.  We will see if this stage provides any fireworks – 4 days after Bastille Day.

Mende, the finishing town for Stage 14 is not far from the famous Pont du Gard - 2,000-year-old Roman aquaduct.  Well worth a visit if you're in the area.

Stage 14 will pass this Viaduct at Millau.  Will there be a crosswind?  Are you afraid of heights?  Luckily for the riders of the Tour, they won't have those issues to worry about - the course takes them under the viaduct, not over it.

Here is our own "Yellow Jersey" Jonah by the waterfall.  If you stretch your imagination, you can picture him in the Gorges du Tarn, along the route of tomorrow's Tour de France Stage 14.

Or here is our "Yellow Jersey" Jonah in the forests of the Cévennes.