As Europcar left the start ramp, the TV graphic demonstrated why all-caps is a mistake or else the team could do with a new directeur-sportif without the surname "Flickinger".
The next drama arose as Saxo-Tinkoff dropped a bleeding rider and a close-up showed disturbing evidence. Could there have been a fight -- or worse -- among the team mates? Paul was unsure but informed us of the bleeding obvious anyway: "We have no idea what has happened there... but he's certainly got some blood on his hands." With no sign of a murder weapon, nor victim for that matter with neither Julia nor Kevin in sight, we'll just have to await the outcome of investigations after the stage, I guess.
It was very late in the stage when Paul told us for the first time about drafting. I wish I had known this before: "If you get a good ride in the slipstream you can save up to 35% of the energy that the rider in front of you is dispensing." He didn't explain how you caught all that energy which must be rushing past at speed. It'd be hard and it's probably why you lose 65% of it.
OGE put in another solid effort today but Paul wasn't willing to give them the stage too soon. "But, you know, this is not a bad ride here by Team Radioshack. They're challenging the first five or six positions" (Yeah, that sounds like a winning formula, Paul) as the graphic showed them plummeting to 9th position at the first and only checkpoint on-course.
The all-purpose adjective had its regular outing soon afterwards as the team of the maillot jaune appeared to take a bend on a less-than-optimal line. "As I've said, these bikes are not built for manoeuvrability, they are built for aerodynamics and they are very precarious and dangerous to move around corners sometimes..." Probably best to ride them around then, eh?
Radioshack isn't going to challenge OGE's time -- that's two stage wins in two days for our boys -- and the new maillot jaune is... Gerrrrrro!!!
"It's the Tour for Aussies at the moment. It doesn't get much better, does it?" was Tommo's insightful summation afterwards. No, only a lot, but we've dealt with that. "Yes, Simon Gerrans has proved many people wrong but he's silenced those critics." Who said he was useless? According to Tommo a minute later, Gerro "is one of the most consistent Australians to ply their trade as professional cyclists ... the rewards have finally arrived." Perhaps Tommo thinks he wasn't one of those critics, despite his performance with Matt Goss at the end of the 2012 Tour, since he hasn't yet been silenced. I thought he and Gerry Ryan were going to tear up at the end talking about all the critics out there putting pressure on the team...
It was a short day at the Tour but a great one for Gerrrrrro!!!, for OGE, and for Paul, who beat Phil 6-love in today's set, wearing the commentators' maillot jaune with what seems an unassailable lead even this early in the event, but... there's still a long way to go.
Stage 5 Hey, what's with the OGE team car? The driver drives while the front-seat passenger yells into the microphone and does all the things to direct the team that drivers shouldn't be doing while driving. Is that actually allowed in the Tour? After last years MADiot et al efforts, I thought it must be illegal for drivers to concentrate on their most important task.
In their intro, Tommo and Phil scored with some metaphorical exaggeration and inaccuracy in their discussion of yesterday's result: "I love the cover of the respected daily French newspaper, L'Equipe," said Tommo, apparently unaware, as an old TV-man, that newspapers have front pages, "It's got a picture of Orica GreenEdge with the words 'T G V'." (Er, those would be letters, Mike) "That's how fast they went, almost." "That's right..." (Phil never disagrees with whatever gaffe the other commentator makes, just carries on and helps them dig the hole deeper) "...the headline on the French paper was 'From the bus to the TGV', the train à grand vitesse, a very apt headline." "Yeah, they flew across the course, didn't they?" Tommo offered, hopefully. Sorry, no. That would have resulted in a headline like 'From the bus to the Concorde', surely?
Tommo changed the subject slightly in order to mangle another metaphor. "You can see the emotion from the nine riders. Of course, not all of them are Australians but they band as brothers, Phil." Or did he mean "brothers are banned"? I dunno.
Phil waxed lyrical about another Phil he knows well, Phil "Skippy" Anderson, although he referred to him as "The Kangaroo" for his "habit of jumping away from the field". "He will be the happiest man in Australia... although I think he is here on the race somewhere but, you know, it's so big we never see anybody, do we?" A bit like not seeing the forest for the trees?
Musing on Aussies who could wear the maillot jaune in the future, Phil nominated Sky rider, Richie Porte, currently "handicapped a little bit by Chris Froome". That sounded nasty and had me wondering if it was why one of the riders yesterday had "blood on their hands", before Tommo and Phil combined to make the most laboured throw everrr to Gabriel "Gateau" Gaté.
Thank heavens there was some cycling after that. It gave Matt Keenan a brief but lucrative scoring opportunity as riders passed a war memorial with plaques for "all the bodies which were unfound." Does that mean some could still be lying around? An unattractive image.
But Paul was soon leading the team, again, immediately suggesting: "Well, it's going to be very precarious for Simon Gerrans..." Aargh! He soon moved on to describing the feeding station as "precarious" as if it were teetering on the edge of a cliff rather than being nestled securely near a neat little French village. Then he launched into one of his technical explanations, this time about the road surface, and quickly ended up confusing himself as well as his less technically-minded audience, I suspect. "The roads are what we call in cycling, uh, 'heavy roads'. They've got a lot of gravel stuck onto the surface of the road which really reduces your rolling resistance." So a 'heavy road' is actually a good road, is it? We never found out because Phil changed the subject. At least these heavy roads aren't "precarious".
After Paul had a slight "senior moment", misreading the Département number for Brignoles (nothing an adjustment to his spectacles' prescription wouldn't fix), Phil decided to rub it in by bringing up Paul's bad back, perhaps caused by his fall on that stage into Pontarlier all those years ago, and having a good chuckle about it. That'll get Paul really fired up to outscore the old man, I bet.
Sure enough, Paul soon diverted to give a geology lesson as we flew with the helicopter over La Montagne de la Loube. "Well, in fact, these are very similar in geology to the Dolomites, in fact this is dolomitic rye... rock, which is why that it has eroded the way that it has done." Thanks Paul, most enlightening, as usual.
Then poor Geraint Thomas, he of the fractured pelvis riding in "a world of pain", had a flat. But what does he have against the Tour? Paul didn't have time to explain why the two-time Olympic medallist "forgot... forgoe... forgave the Tour de France last year..." He'll have to try to get behind one of the cars for a tow back to the bunch, Phil reckoned, and Paul concurred, giving viewers full benefit of his experience by intoning: "it's always very, very precarious" back there.
As the helicopter hovered over a spectacular coastline, Paul made a venture into natural history, in his own incomprehensible, un-, sorry, inimitable fashion. "This ... er ... long section of coves, or calanques, as they call them in French, ... is one of France's most famous national parks and this kind of national park, the same kind of fauna and flora you've got here is only really replicated in Cape Town in South Africa and in Sydney in Australia." Did I see some Seth-Efricken-eccented kangaroos hopping amongst the eucalypts down there? Phil wanted to be sure we knew that the stone missing from all the cliffs had been used to make the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York City by telling us twice. Both agreed that, for their liking, the rock was a bit soft for climbing on, so it's a good thing the race stuck to the roads -- perhaps the cliffs would be too "heavy" or even "grippy", another of Paul's favourite incomprehensible terms.
Back to the race and Paul cranked up the metaphorical-cliché-exaggeration beyond mere "turbos whistling". Cavendish will be "seeing if the afterburners can be turned on". Later Paul alliterated delightfully: "This may be one false-flat too far for this leading group of four" as the "pressure is really starting to bite." Pressure has teeth, now? Anyway, "they really are now starting to put the hammer down". "Ohhhh, there's a crash," they each exclaimed, surprisedly, in unison. Hardly unexpected, surely, with all those afterburners, hammers and pressure in the pack? "And that crash, actually Phil, happened very close to the front end of the main field and normally you would not expect that to happen but it's just the nervousness..." But Paul, there were at least 30 riders ahead of the first one to crash so it was entirely their own fault for not all staying in the first 20 or 30 riders. Phil said they fell like a pack of cards but Paul corrected that; to like a bunch of dominoes. Phil could only blame "rider or pilot error, down there" but Paul had found several more suspects, attributing it definitively to "rider error combined with a little bit of fatigue starting to creep in after five days of racing and a lot of travelling as well to boot ... but also the nervousness.." It's a wonder any rider stays upright at all.
Back to the "big V8 turbo diesel" metaphor for Paul as the riders accelerated, slowly, to reach speeds of 50 miles-an-hour on the next downhill. Will Cav's turbo whistle or will his afterburners cut in? Not yet. "We are in the marshalling yard now and the trains are lining up in the front of that peloton," said Phil sticking his green transport colours firmly to the metaphorical ship's mast, before almost completely losing it in the headlong rush for the line (still 5km away), "because we've got Peter Sagan's lime-green bore... er, green born on men of Cannonbore... of, uh, Cannondale, you've got Mark Cavendish's blue jerseys of Omega-Pharma-QuickStop" (especially if they crash, eh?) "er, QuickStep... André Greipel's team as well, they are all forming their individual lines..." Paul took pity for once and made a clever play on words about Cannondale becoming a cannonball and firing a salvo on the line, or was he just trying to suggest that the old man is past it? There's a lot of nervousness and pressure, if not hammers, in the commentary box, for sure.
Phil continued to score right to the end of the stage with: "Is this the future of pro racing because, the number of teams mixing it in the old days, it was one or two" (not much of a mix with only one team competing, you'd think) "now there's five or six..." In the end, it was neither Cav's whistling V8 turbo nor his afterburners which took him to the win. He was rocket-powered "because you never stop the missile when you've fired him this close to the line," said Phil. But Paul was sticking to his metaphorical guns. Cav had multiple turbos whistling in the sprint finish today, he suggested over the replayed images.
It was another long stage but there's still many a kilometre still to go and many more great commentary moments in prospect.
Roll on tomorrow.
Stage 6 I wonder how long it took Tommo to come up with his opening lines today, delivered to camera with head-bowing deferentiality. "He's a super-man, he's a super cyc-alist, he's super Cav." A pause for breath and some house-keeping before the accolades continued: "...the greatest sprinter in the history of the Tour de France, ...he is British ... he is the fastest ever cyclist on two wheels." (Hang on, Tommo, does that mean someone on one wheel has gone faster? Certainly people have ridden pedal-powered vehicles with both two and three wheels faster than Cav can go but, I suppose, that doesn't count since the keeper of the holy book, the UCI, doesn't recognise such "super-human" feats.)
Is Stuey O'Grady the new Dr Evil? Someone at SBS must think so given the pictures they put over Paul's remarks: "...he's been there, he's done it, he's seen everything" as Stuey warms up on the stationary bike, his eyes flicking from side to side beneath beetled brows such that I expected to hear him muttering: "Heeheehee mwahaha.." Eeevil, I tells ya!
Tommo still hadn't finished singing Cav's praises."He is the man of the moment. He is a living legend." Enough, Tommo. You wouldn't want Cav to get confused about his own true identity, that of a mild-mannered Manx-man. He knows where he is from, at least, unlike Robbie McEwen, "the man from nowhere", we heard. Aussies might be heard to "harrumph" at that one.
Tommo hadn't finished scoring yet. Setting the scene for Gateau's day he managed some typical French-mangulation: "We are in Mont-pelly-air. It's the Lang-we-dock region..." Sigh. I wish Gabriel would intro his own segment with that oh-so-Fronsh aczent of his. Oh, he did and without any irony: "Bonjour from the beautiful city of Mon-pel-yay ... Many students from all over the world, including Australians, come here, to learn French, naturellement " (Hint, hint, Tommo) as pictures show two young people kissing passionately in the nearby square.
But Tommo still hadn't finished his scoring streak, next venturing into the ridiculous: "The yellow jersey sits firmly on the shoulders of Simon Gerrans..." while every other commentator has been emphasising how tenuous (or even "precarious") a hold he has on it with two of his own team mates on exactly the same time as his, and numerous other-team riders within single-digit seconds and still 15 stages to go. The first coherent words from Matt Keenan emphasised how uncertain Gerrans' hold is on the yellow. Well, I guess, at least, no-one is likely to take the jersey from him before today's finish.
Does Philippe Gilbert remind anyone else of a younger Jean-Claude Van Damme? Or is it just me? Perhaps all Belgian men look like JCVD? No comment from our team who focussed on the Languedoc scenery featuring remnants of ancient chateaux and the tooth-like range of the limestone Alpilles mountains "through this beautiful part of France", unlike every other part of France, eh Phil? Soon, there was a crash, but it was minor, a "chute sans gravité" according to Paul. It looked like gravité was involved to me and to the embarrassed rider concerned. Then someone beat Supermanx in a sprint. Our commentators took it in their stride. Apparently Cav is more motivated to win on the stage finish line.
Back to the scenery around Les Baux de Provence. That's really why we're here, after all. Paul was prattling about a "tricky descent with a couple of nasty little hairpin bends" while Phil was looking at the bigger picture: "The best way to view this seems to be by our helicopter ... Uphill, all of the moment, then the plunge starts down below," before continuing even more bizarrely, "a very nice incursion into the throat of Provence this." Meanwhile, the unfortunate Nacer Bouhanni, closely haunted by the voiture balai, or the "broom wagon" sweep vehicle, was "staring into the face of elimination". It looked, for a time, more like he was staring at a rabid Queensland rugby-league fan threatening to knock him from his bike as he ran unsteadily alongside, State-of-Origin-banner aloft. But Paul had moved on and spotted a local windmill responsible for who-knows-how-many deaths. "In fact, this windmill was built in 1814 as "the Windmill of Alphonse Daudet. It used to grind wheat for almost a century up until 1915" (Um, that's more than a century, Paul) "and, during the Great War, most of the workers were actually conscripted and had to move away and that really sounded the death tell... er, the death toll for this mill."
Next, Paul noted that the Mistral wind was making the peloton nervous. What doesn't make the peloton nervous, then? Perhaps the famous white and rosé wines and the famous local olives, drooled Phil. The serious riders will need to stay in the front 20 or 30 positions now, (did you know?), because the day has become "precarious", according to Paul. Cadel Evans popped into view as Paul observed that he was "esconced in the middle there". The peloton had just passed the feeding zone and I pictured Cadel enjoying jam and cream with his esconces. Mmmmm. [Better take a break for something to eat, NA.]
It's nice to hear about Stuey O'Grady but isn't there some other story the commentators could tell us besides that this is his 17th Tour and he wants to go for the record, 18, next year? "Stuart is up for it all of the time... and to be part of that team-time-trial-winning team on Tuesday was, for him, extremely special" said Phil, rivalling Paul for economy-of-words-failure. Phil followed up with yesterday's story about Phil "The Kangaroo" Anderson, being "in town, meaning somewhere-in-France at the moment" who was an early mentor to "Simon Evans... er, Gerrans" and then proceeded almost to confuse Gerrrrro!!! with Geraint Thomas, though he neatly stopped himself almost as quickly as "Team QuickStop" can. Actually, later on Paul did have a good, new story about Stuey being a great tutor in how to crash. Well, maybe that's not what he meant. "Cam Meyer said yesterday he learnt so much in one day of racing from Stuart O'Grady it was like having a crash course at the University of Cycling." Sounds painful. As was Phil, again repeating the tale about how many times O'Grady has ridden the Tour.
Paul gave us another of his special technical explanations, this time of race-craft: "You see the hands coming off the handlebars every now and then. That's to indicate to the guys behind how the, er, race is going, which way it's going to move and just to make sure that everybody works together safe and soundly." It's amazing how expressive those hands can be. But it's the wind and its direction that are critical to the mood of the race. "They've had a tail wind now and they are going to start to circumnavigate so they'll get even more nervous as they start to move away from Saint-Gilles because, having picked up the tail wind they are gonna turn around to a very westerly direction -- that means they will have a cross-tail wind -- and that's when it will start to get that little bit more nervous." Thanks, Paul, that is very clear. Just one question. When will they start becoming nervous? I thought they were already. Oh, never mind, "it's a good safe run into the finish today." Not "precarious" at all, eh? Thank heavens. But "those riders at the back are really under pressure. It's got to happen sooner or later when the elastic really will snap at this pace" observed Phil, adding another few points to his cliché tally.
Ooh, cows! No, those were the famous, wild, black Camargue bulls, the commentators assured us, perhaps disappointing all vaches fans. They did this a second time, just in case some vaches fans had come in late, and just prior to us seeing Peter Sagan, resplendent in nauseatingly-bright-green knicks with "BULL" in large type across his buttocks, riding back to the peloton after a wheel change. Surprisingly, neither Phil nor Paul tried to make anything of this coincidence. Disappointing. But Phil had spotted some equine wildlife: "Now, what are those, Camargue ponies or donkeys?" "Well, the ones at the front are ponies, the one at the back is a donkey," Paul responded knowledgeably. Those long ears are a giveaway, I thought, reminded for some reason, of Bugs Bunny.
"Grippy" had become Paul's all-purpose word-of-the-day. Too bad no-one has a clue what it means. Choose your own meaning, I guess. "Shortly they'll move out towards the outskirts of the Camargue and the open plains where there is not much shelter from the wind and that's where it will start to get a little bit grippy..."
So when will the field crack? When will someone have a crack? Both Phil and Paul expected a crack soon. "I am sure they will crack this peloton," said Phil while Paul agreed it was "very, very grippy". But with 50km to go, not a crack to be seen, but the speed is now "rather grippy" to Paul.
Phil wanted us to know how dangerous it is at the back of the field. "You gotta believe how dangerous it is," he begged listeners. "And the cars need eyes in the backs of their heads" (cars have heads, now?) "to see where these riders are coming from." Paul explained what was happening up in front: "This operation they're doing here is to keep Alberto Contador near the front end of the pointy part of the race this afternoon. " Gee, I love it when Paul gets all technical! Meanwhile, Phil realised he was confused: "They've really been impressionan... impressionate... impressive today -- I keep confusing the French with the English." But Phil, it's not that hard. The French are the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys", the English -- your countrymen -- are the favourites in the Tour de France.
Montpellier's roads were declared "precarious" by Paul and "very narrow" by Phil as the riders rode down a wide dual-carriageway avenue into the city, But it had been "a day of great nervous energy being dispensed", according to Paul. Energy is now routinely "dispensed" in Paul's Tour, it seems, rather than "spent", in the Tour of an actual English speaker.
The end was thrilling and didn't go to Phil's script because Supermanx failed to dominate a second sprint today. The kryptonite infusing Sagan's team kit must have weakened Cav because he sat up before the line and Greipel (the man Paul says he has nicknamed "The Griller") took "his desserts". I bet Cav hates missing out on dessert.
The last outing into the ridiculous for the day was Tommo's, commenting that Greipel, Paul's "Griller", was "cooked" on this blazing hot day. Mmmm, barbecue!
Stage 7 Tommo lurched straight into point scoring today with an entry in the "bleeding obvious" category. He scores extra for repeating the other commentators' oft-repeated themes. "Crashes have always been a major feature of the Tour de France ... of course there are lots of nerves, the main priority for the riders is to stay upright."
Phil didn't muck around for too long in the intro, describing Mark "Supermanx" Cavendish as a "slim, little greyhound" -- who's won 23 Tour stages, he continued, compared to the Greipel "gorilla" on only five. It's a good thing the super-greyhound was out of earshot because Phil was short-changing him one win, and that was as recently as the previous stage. Tommo kept schtum on that before throwing up over to "Gateau" Gaté (he still can't get the segment-name right) for a lesson on ... what else, but pigeon breeding. It's a broad church, the Tour de France.
Next, the "OGE Insider"... I just don't wanna go here. Gerrrrrro!!!, commented on his room-mate taking the yellow jersey: "Well, we are sleeping pretty close together in these rooms but ahh... so you never know what he may have done to me in my sleep" while they both kept big toothy smiles on their faces.
Soon Matt "No Nickname Just Yet" Keenan was explaining the proper German pronunciation of Jens "Shut Up Legs" Voigt's surname. I'm not sure why he cared, given his inability to pronounce correctly anyone else's name or that of any geographical feature or town the race visits. Keeno (Oh, there it is!) was struggling with English words as it was. Having stumbled over Supermanx's name, calling him "Cas-vendish", he commented on "Aussie" Arthur Vichot's massive load of water bottles and suggested he should "disload" them on the climb.
After Gerrrrrro!!!'s admissions, my mind fairly boggled at what could be the eating habits of Sylvain Chavanel which earned him a SFr100 fine for bringing the image of cycling into disrepute.
Phil and Paul, when they eventually appeared, began steady if unspectacular scoring with their usual economy-of-words fails and redundancies, particularly on the "descent down" whatever hill riders crested. Paul grabbed my attention with his thoughts on the brilliance of one team's strategising: "Omega Pharma-QuickStep... they also probably figured out that they had an idea what was going to happen here this afternoon". Figuring out that you have an idea is half the battle in planning a bike race, I am sure. Phil was warming to this theme as well: "It's a great tactic by Cannondale. They've pre-planned this for sure." Yep, no other team would have thought of planning anything beforehand.
Paul predicted, incomprehensibly, that "it's going to be a huge trace" with two teams working together, and then said it again, in case we hadn't understood the first time, before moving on to the theme of how excited the race referees were: "They are getting very, very excited", with 90km or more still to go, moving the team cars out from between the separate groups on the road. Meanwhile "Cannondale now, uh, have put their cards on the table...", not easy to do while "riding like men possessed". "It will be a chase all the way to the finish. It just depends who has the most firepower..." My money would be on the "Cannonball" team in the firepower stakes and Paul seemed to concur: "It could also be setting them up to lay down some serious foundations for Peter Sagan to win the Points competition." He'll have to work hard to outscore Paul, I thought.
Sure enough, Paul soon made another great foray into the incomprehensible: "You need a strong team if you want to perform at the top end of the sport of professional cycling. You need a team to sacrifice yourself sometimes so that an individual can take the glory." I don't need a team that will sacrifice me. Then Phil was on about elastic, again, "going twang" this time, instead of snapping, before coining a new verb: "...the proximity of Orica-GreenEdge, they're slowly filtrating through now..." Kind of infiltrating while filtering, I guess. Nice. But was all well with OGE? "They are now desperately concerned," Phil continued. "The secret, as Paul Sherwen always tells me, is not to panic at this stage of the race..." OK, be desperate, but DON'T PANIC and, as Douglas Adams would further suggest, always carry a towel.
Next, Paul spotted a castle half-submerged in the dammed river. It was more visible, apparently, in 2011, because of the drought conditions, when "the waters seceded a little bit". Hmmm, so the waters didn't want to be part of France, but only slightly ? Meanwhile, Phil thought the pace of the race must have dropped significantly as he noted that "Orica-GreenEdge are winning the day slowly". But the average speed for the fourth hour of the day was 46km/h, leading Paul to comment bizarrely on "how heavy the race has been this afternoon". I guess that could slow things down.
The leading riders were lucky to avoid some "traffic furniture", Paul's favourite term for things like median strips, left lying untidily in the middle of the road on an intersection. Phil wanted us to know how time zones work to ensure we understood that South Africans would be able to watch live pictures of Daryl Impey at the same time of day which was coming up to 5pm. It would be almost intolerable to have to watch live pictures at any other time of day, of course, as we Aussies staying up half the night would know. (Well, I wouldn't, of course).
Suddenly, drama! Damned traffic furniture again, I bet: "...Ooooh, a little bit... there's a little bit of a... problem going 'round the corner there. They took a nasty little line but now they've managed to straighten themselves up," and Paul sighed with relief. Phil explained that the riders had "got themselves confused completely and nearly touched the back wheel of their own team mate" as they negotiated the roundabout, sorry, "traffic circle". I wish the French roads people would stop leaving these things lying where they can catch people out.
What qualifications does new-boy Scott McGrory bring to the SBS broadcast? In the outro, as Tommo stumbled incoherently over the significance of the maillot jaune to South Africa and the condition of Nelson Mandela, I realised I haven't heard Scotty say anything less than perfectly sensible this whole tour. He'd better be careful he isn't dropped on the next stage as we go into the mountains.
TdF 2013 Great Moments in Commentary © Neil Alexander 2013