With week one of the famous Tour de France now done, it is time to look at the many ups and downs of the 2012 running. There have been winners, losers, shrouded swipes, crowded collapses and at least one public outburst.
In the prologue stage of Le Tour, staged in the Belgian town of Liege, Swiss competitor Fabian Cancellara edged out pre-tour favorite Bradley Wiggins to claim the yellow jersey and draw first blood in one of many time trials.
Cancellara drew level with the record for prologue wins (four) as well as the record for holding the Yellow Jersey in the opening stage. More significant than this, however, was Wiggins pulling 10seconds away from last year’s winner, and current champion, Cadel Evans of Australia. This put him in front in the General Classification (GC) race.
Cancellara was also in the hunt during stage one, a ride between Liege and Seraing which ended in a sprint.
The ride ended with Cancellara and Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway trailing debutant Peter Sagan of Slovakia. Sagan impressed on his way to the opening stage win, but all eyes were still on Cancellara who held on to a 7second lead over Wiggins and retained the Yellow Jersey. Wiggins, in turn, finished alongside Evans to maintain his lead.
Stage two also finished in a sprint as Wiggins’ teammate at Sky, Mark Cavendish, streaked away from his own team and claimed a last kilometer victory over long-time rival Andre Greipel. Again Wiggins was a place behind Cancellara, and Evans behind him in turn, but all of the talk followed Cavendish.
The ‘Manx Missile’ was unsupported, but stuck to Greipel’s back wheel until he felt confident enough to mount a strike. Winning by half a tyre’s width, Cavendish claimed his 21st stage win and proved his worth.
In the post race conference Cavendish seemed to be delivering answers tinged with warning.
At the now defunct HTC Team Cavendish had a support group built around him. Their job was to win him the Green Jersey, the reward for amassing the most points for stage wins (flat stages, or sprints, are worth the most points, then ‘medium’ mountain stages, and so on), and he was used to being catered for. Now his job is to support Wiggins’ tilt at the GC title.
Not happy with carrying water, Cavendish, who is still very much a team player, sent a warning shot across Sky’s bow by pulling ahead without a train and taking the stage. Then he said, “It’s not possible to chase the Green Jersey alone so I’m just trying to get the stages and then see.”
Stage three saw Sagan win again, jocularly easing over the line to claim another victory which marked his march for the Green Jersey in Paris.
However, the stage involved a few minor crashes, and by the time stage four was done there were a few more. This time Greipel of Germany claimed the stage, with Sagan again just behind him. Cavendish missed the sprint following a fall of his own, but the GC remained as Cancellara heading Wiggins by 7seconds. Evans, meanwhile, seemed to have fallen away.
Stage five saw Greipel win again, taking his tally to two stages. Cavendish was blown away in this stage, finishing fifth and still recovering from landing heavily on his wrist the stage before, and Matt Goss of Australia and Orica GreenEdge did well to hold on to Greipel.
The GC stood the same way.
Then stage six happened…
On the way in to Metz –only 25k from the finish, in fact –David Vignano went down, causing an enormous pile-up.
There was talk of conditions and rain on the roads effecting previous stages, but Vignano’s fall whilst trying to remove his shoe covers was certainly the main contributing factor. The crash was responsible for 13 riders dropping out of Le Tour, with contenders like Ryder Hesjedal falling away with an injured hip.
Sagan survived to claim a third stage win, with Cancellara, Evans and Wiggins avoiding the pile-up.
Then stage seven saw the first climb, as contenders took to La Planche des Belles Filles. Some riders appeared to have taken the summit lightly, but with a final steep ascent –with gradients and percentages up for debate, but settling between 14% and 20% -Evans, Wiggins and his teammate Chris Froome leant towards the finish.
With Wiggins happy to sit on Evans back tyre, refusing to expend himself or even get off the saddle, Froome pounced. Blitzing away from Evans the Sky man took a stage win which landed himself in the polka-dot Jerseyy (King of the Mountains) and Wiggins in the Yellow Jersey.
By coming in at the same time as Evans, Wiggins maintained his 10second lead, and with Cancellara more than a 54seconds behind, the Brit topped the GC. Froome also climbed into the top 10.
Stage eight saw the French supporters go wild as the youngest man in the race, Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, won the descent between the towns of Belfort and Porrentruy.
Yet, whilst a Frenchman winning a stage and looking for the White Jersey (Best Young Rider) would normally gain all of the headlines, it was Bradley Wiggins who created the buzz. Despite keeping up his 10second lead over Evans he shocked journalists with an expletive filled rant.
Asked in a post stage interview about Twitter comments from anonymous sources that suggest a Tour de France victory is impossible without doping, the Englishman exploded.
“I’d say they are just f*****g w*****s,” the rider shot back.
“I can’t be dealing with people like that, it justifies their own bone idleness. Rather than getting off their a***s and doing something with their lives it’s easier for them to sit underneath a pseudonym on Twitter and write that sort of s**t…” he blurted, before storming out with an embattled look on his face.
Already his team, Sky, have rallied behind him. Team leader Dave Brailsford stating that, colourful language aside, the sentiment was “spot on.” Many journalists have been split, however, with some choosing to champion the rider and defend the honor of cycling, whilst others state that the question remains unanswered.
Either way, the rider is fired up and looks set to take on the time trial today. Evans may go for broke in this stage, but Wiggins has the equipment to hold him off and stay ahead in the Tour de France…