"After seven days of racing, we've finally hit the mountains," Tommo continued, doing a quick head check behind to make sure they were still where they had been when they'd set up this camera shot. Yep. And also surprisingly, "Paul Sherwen is right beside me." Check. Paul was there as well, about 3cm away. Gosh, it's good that he tells us these things because how else would we ever know? Oh, wait, did Paul say there was still a long way to go? Hmmm, almost: "Let's not forget there's still two very hard weeks of the Tour de France to go."
Next it was a cheerful Kate Bates getting a brief scoring opportunity on the 2001m Col de Pailhères. She didn't waste the chance. "It's the first horse-cat climb in this year's Tour de France." So, if you thought dogs wandering onto the roads were a problem for the riders, just watch out for the animals up here!
Then it was over to Macka near the finish line so he could murder some more French pronunciation. Among his useful gems, we learned that this is the first mountain stage, it would be the first indication of who is "putting their hand up to win", that there are cable cars behind (Quick head check. Yep, still there.) and that lots of the campers turn up "hours in advance". Insightful, original, ground-breaking TV.
At last, it's Keeno with some racing. He seemed to be channelling Tom Waterhouse, giving us the lowdown on who was favourite, unbackable or otherwise, who was the wild card and who was "in the mix". Odds were against the Colombian, Quintana, however, who "has had a number of crashes, though; that could hurt." Indeed, I have never had one that didn't. Just to confirm he is an integral part of the the team, Keeno indulged in some ritual abuse of the French language before handing over to Phil and Paul.
Paul decided, as the polka-dot rider had "a moment" with some debris on the road, that it was time, again, to mention how dangerous the Tour is. "Any...time, any...kilometre, any metre of the Tour de France there can always be a strange little bit of danger which is thrown up at you." Or it can just be lying there. Waiting.
As the riders traversed the spectacular Gorges de Saint-Georges, Paul went for the riders-as-engines analogy again, without the V8 turbo this time, laying down foundations for a phrase-of-the-day which seemed to be "laying down foundations", as in for victory on the mountain roads. Meanwhile, Phil saw the non-metric TV helicopter in a deep cave: "Nice view from the helicopter there, 'round about 1500 feet... 2000 feet below the peloton..." before proving himself colour blind. Over a shot of dozens of spectators decked out head-to-toe in alternating red and yellow garments, Phil described the scene as "a little bit of red and white; you can bet your life these people have all come across the border from Spain..." where the national colours are totally red and white. NOT. Probably illegal migrants, then. Or Poms.
Phil and Paul had entertaining turns of phrase to describe the riders being shed by the peloton on the tough climb. "They really are sorting out the men from the boys. This is Rein Taaramae, the champion of Estonia, who is also being despatched backwards," according to Phil. "Well, this is a serious decanting that is going on now as riders are being popped off the back one at a time," said Paul. "... the former national champion of Russia there, slipping backwards." But at the front of the field, surely there was some cheating going on. "This is Christophe Riblon; he's uh, doing a phenomenal job ... as soon as he got to the foot of the climb ... he said 'I don't wanna have these sandbags in my hot-air balloon here any more this afternoon', so he threw the hand... the sandbags out and now he's riding a lighter right now..." A "lighter what right now" we never found out because Paul tired of his story about the airborne leader and left off mid-sentence to talk about someone else who could "really put the cat among the pigeons". Pigeons were yesterday, Paul. I think it's cats among horses today, at least on this climb, according to Kate earlier.
"Well, this is tremendous riding by Quintana," the Colombian, judged Phil. "They're naturally-born climbers. He was born at 3,000 feet and look at him go." Paul disagreed, apparently thinking N.A. (Great initials, eh?) Quintana was MacDuff. "He was not naturally born as a climber, Phil, because when he was born, there was a curse in the region ... they believe if a mother has been in contact with somebody who dies they pass on the curse of death to the child..." So was N.A. "from his mother's womb untimely ripp'd"? "Accursed be that tongue that tells me so", I thought as Paul prattled on with the rider's whole sorry medical history. At least he recovered, like those guys with testicular cancer. What a story! And it got better as the altitude of his birth became 3000 metres. No wonder NASA crashed that probe on Mars because the scientists confused their imperials with their metrics. Good thing cycling commentary is not rocket surgery, eh P and P?
I woke up as murder became a theme for Paul: "They set a steady tempo which stops them asphyxiating themselves but the idea is to try and hopefully asphyxiate the climbers." I think they would get caught if using that tactic with this many witnesses, Paul. Besides, where would "they" (I missed who "they" were) find the pillows to put over the climbers' faces?
Phil gave his "corridor of noise" another outing as N.A. approached the top of the col to grab the 5,000 Euro prize. (Your humble diarist, NA, was there in 1999, carrying many sandbags and no prize.) Paul wanted to give us another of his insights into the skills required in a successful pro cyclist. "Going downhill is another part of winning the Tour de France which is extremely important. It is a technique that you can either learn or you'll never pick up. And it's a question of having a, uh, first of all, a good position on the bike..." Sadly we never found out what the other "questions" are in this technique because Paul was distracted by a shiny thing and went off at a tangent. Meanwhile Phil had noticed something significant about mountains and this one in particular. "It's a long way down this mountain. We lose height continually..."
Tommo and Tanny "weren't disappointed" at the end of the stage, despite how they both looked. Tanny did another of those head checks to make sure the "mighty Pyrenean mountains" were still behind them, then pronounced them both in their "thrall", as the peloton is "in thrall to Team Sky and Chris Froome". What poetry!
This first stage in the mountains certainly produced a lot of "high-perbole" and, with the commentary team so revved up (V8 turbos whistling, afterburners ready to be engaged, blue touchpaper lit, etc), except for Tommo who looks to be on the verge of falling down, who knows what they will produce tomorrow with four cat-one mountains on the course.
Stage 9 Starting the day with some traditional ritual dismemberment of French, a bored-sounding Tommo quickly moved on to destroying what remains of the English language. His incomprehensible "...and the riders, I am sure, will be looking forward to tomorrow's rest day when the day is all over this afternoon" seemed to sum up where his mind is at this stage of the Tour – all over the place.
After a visit to la stèle Fabio Casartelli
, marking the death (surely you can't say he "passed away", Keeno?) of the 1992 Olympic road champion in a high-speed crash during the 1995 Tour on the Col de Portet d'Aspet, we briefly saw the peloton cresting two other picturesque, iconic Pyrenean passes early in the stage, which Tommo had identified as Deemen-tay
LEFT: A winged wheel; Fabio Casartelli's memorial on Col de Portet d'Aspet
Suddenly, an Aussie was starring on the next climb. "He's really come out of this pack with a vengeance," gushed Paul. Hmmm, I thought, maybe Clarkey does look a bit like a young Bruce Willis.
Phil wasn't quite sure what was going on with Clarkey but he knew it was probably good: "What a ride he has done, if that is what is happening, and it looks like it is." But, there was really no doubt. Clarkey was riding. Paul attributed some tactics to one team which I doubted would succeed but, hey, Paul is the expert commentator, not I: "Movistar are assassinating themselves this afternoon. They are doing everything they can to blow this race apart..." Uh, hang on, in which order are the guys planning to do this? Not content with killing themselves, they are then going to try to kill everyone else?
Paul was going downhill fast again. "It's a long descent down from that final climb of the day down towards the finish line ... and it's nearly all downhill." Who would have believed that these descents down are nearly all downhill? It's for insights like these that Paul earns the big bikkies. He also had some insights into the AIS cloning program which produces Aussie cyclists: "Just looking here at Simon Clarke, Phil, this is the atypical Aussie performance. This man was developed by the Australian Institute of Sport Under-23 Program..." So, is it "atypical" for Aussies to do well, or to do badly? No information. Soon afterwards he reminded us again that there is still a long way to go... Groan.
On the descent and in the next town, the breakaway had some cornering dramas, prompting Paul's inner-Frenchman to pop out: "Oooh la la, that was a little bit of a tricky corner, they weren't expecting that when they came around the corner... it was a bit precarious." Another one of those "tricky" and "precarious" things that you never know "is going to be around a corner. You've got to hold off a fraction to be able to change your line just exactly as those riders did as they got part way 'round that corner..." So, why was it a drama then?
Phil got a surprise with Freudian overtones when Bardot appeared, though I am not sure whether he saw the AA (actress/activist
) or the GG (girl group
). "Well, this is another surprise in the Tour de France, as Bardot... er, Bardet," he quickly corrected, " ... has shot away." Soon the "heads of state" put in an appearance, possibly for the first time, at least in my hearing. "They're bringing the race all together with the heads of state, and remember Alberto Contador is still here, so too is Cadel Evans, and Chris Froome has his hands full." Certainly, one head in each hand would be a couple of handsful for Froomy but might make bike control "precarious".
Phil, clearly overwhelmed by all Paul's downward descending, had a go himself with: "There's a false-flat on the way down. They do climb a little bit as they start the descent..." Ah, so this would be one of those rare descents up. It was good to see my Colombian relative, Nairo Alexander, having another go, too, on one of these upward descents.
Paul was on about there being a long way to go, again. "We haven't even reached half-distance in mileage..." (not that those redundant miles are even how distance is measured en France, Paul). "...as we've got to go right the way across France, flying up to the north of France tonight, right the way across down through the middle and then into the Alps down towards the end ... this race is going to be a battle right the way up until the final day..." Across down through the middle, eh? It's going to be exhausting for the viewers, too, if we have to listen to that long, convoluted story again. It was time for another quick outing of the "heads of state" but Paul wasn't letting go of how far there was to go: "...because this race is a three week race" (No? Really??) "and we've only covered the first week" before giving us more detail on what mountains are still to come, including "the mountains of the Mont Ventoux in Provence", which is just one mountain, albeit a very nasty little big mountain, but who's counting?
So, is Movistar in a good position to produce a winner? "You haf to remember you've got to still be fresh in the last week of this bike race if you want to win it overall and Movistar today have proved to themselves that they are strong." I still dunno. Movistar is/are probably still unsure as well.
As Paul referred to the riders' "energy banks", I at last realised from whence come his metaphorical "bank accounts of energy" and their complementary "overdraft" facilities. I guess I am just slow – everyone else probably already had made that connection or, perhaps, my brain has just been dulled by all the repetitive, cliche-ridden commentary of this first week... and there is still a long way to go. Aaaargh!
There was some hard, physical labour underway out on the road, Phil noted, but it didn't seem to be cycling-related: "Five kilometres togo and it's still Fool-sang piledriving at the moment..." I hope he's not damaging the road surface. The final sprint would be critical, said Paul: "He's got to try and surprise him with the first initial jump" because the second initial jump won't be a surprise, I guess. And so it transpired.
Tommo, still bored by the race apparently, didn't want us to miss the highlight of the day: "The rapids are flowing here behind us and you'll see some of those rapids in the highlights program later on tonight at 6-o'clock on SBS..." I can hardly wait. In the words of the classic SBS-promo-spoof "I'll be nailing my buttocks to the couch for that one". I can then use the rest day to recover from nailed-@rse syndrome
Just when I thought the day's great moments were over, Tommo treated us to a replay of the early part of the stage. I was drifting off until I heard Phil say: "He's surrounded by an armada of Spanish riders..." That sounded ominous. After all, everyone knows that "No-one expects the Spanish Armada", or something like that.
During the siesta break until Stage 10, check out this awesomely fantastic OGE vid. ("Oh, siesta – leetle sleep. Iza same ina Spanish!" Zzzzzzzzz.)
Good old Froomy. He has the yellow jersey and he's not prepared to lose it, Tommo suggested. But he gets really p!ssed off when people ask him if he is doping. (Froomy, I mean. Tommo seemed to be on the uppers, today.) Enough of that cycling stuff. What does Gateau have for us, Tommo, now that "we are on the English Channel coast here"? Trouble is, it's France, remember? It's the coast of La Manche. Duzzen matta; carry on with the laboured intro to the foodie segment despite not knowing its name either...
Eventually, the people who do know stuff, Phil and Paul, turned up to give us their usual deep and meaningful insights. "This is a beautiful part of France" Paul had noticed. Though it would be more noteworthy if he'd said "This is a really ugly part of France." But: "I have to say, Phil, we are lucky that the sun is shining and the sky is blue here this afternoon because, the fact of the matter is..." I braced for the news that otherwise this would be a really ugly part of France, only to have my expectations dashed. "...Brittany is probably one of the wettest departments of France." Rats! The only thing wrong with that statement is that Brittany is a region, not one département, but I must not be pedantic, must I? Except that later, Paul was referring to individual départements as regions. It's all so difficult, eh? Just like that damned metric system invented by the damned French.
As the riders launched themselves over speed bumps, Paul moved on to his "traffic furniture" theme and how it slows down the races. "There's sooo much traffic furniture that's been thrown down to improve the motor vehicle movements around these towns..." Strange, I thought things like speed bumps were meant to slow down motor vehicles, not to improve their travel experience.
Suddenly, through the haze fogging my mind something else penetrated... Had someone mentioned "Voldemort", he whose name we dare not say? "...And don't forget Lance a lot," Phil was saying. But everyone is trying to forget Lance, very much a lot, I thought, only to hear Phil continue: "...before he became a knight of the Round Table." Phew, "Lancelot", he'd said. Yes, of course, a much more likely topic of commentary in the Tour.
Back to racing. Wind would be a problem today, Paul summed up in one of his inimitable economy-of-words failures. "The riders are picking up a slight crosswind from the right... uh, on their right-hand shoulders at around about 30 kilometres an hour. It's not so bad out here, Phil, in this part of the course because with a very much sheltered bart" (Eh?) "from the trees but once we get right up to the coast towards the end, it's going to be very tricky and..." (Would it be...?) "...precarious" (Yes, it would!). Phil wanted a piece of this long-winded action. "The Welsh flags flying outside our commentary box are bending double." Flags, being so inflexible, rarely bend double, so this was certainly remarkable. Not. But what Phil did not explain was why only the Welsh flags were bending. He went on instead to explain the mysteries of time trials: "Yeah, time trial tomorrow; a chance for everybody to win or lose time" which certainly sets these stages apart from every ordinary stage where no-one ever has a chance to win or lose time.
After imparting that important information, the pair was able to move on, irrelevantly but entertainingly, at least, to a lesson in distinguishing "pirates" from "privateers". "Of course," Paul asked, "You know the difference, don't you, between a pirate and a privateer." "Oh, yeah, one freelances" Phil replied, confidently, cracking them both up. "Correct," chuckled Paul. "One has in fact got the permission of the king-gh to go out and take foreign ships." All well and good, guys, but which is which? And which king is giving this carte-blanche these days? We never found out because Cadel appeared on the screen and the subject went back, temporarily, to relevant matters. At least until Phil noticed that "they are getting ready to crop the corn here, the wheat..." It was something growing in a field, anyway.
Soon there was lots of nervousness on narrow roads and elastic being stretched and "little bits" of this and that. Soon we would see "a different bike race" because riders would have "the enemy of the wind". Lots of stretching was still happening but elastic suddenly went out the window. "The bunch is stretching like a piece of chewing gum now," Phil noticed. Paul had noticed some other important aspects of the race: "It really has been a day of chateaus here this afternoon ... Lots of history on the roads of the Tour this afternoon. Again, there's the famous camping cars..." Yes, those are very historic things which clutter the roads all over France as they follow the Tour, aren't they? No further information on that, though, because "we can see the chaos of the main field as they now start to organise themselves." Nice to know that the peloton can organise some good chaos.
Then Paul noticed the breakaway doing some significant organisation of its own. "So, these are the five men. Now, uh, they seem to be actually lifting up the pace, they've changed their impetus, they've changed the, um, the style and the pace that they're starting to move up and I think that really is an indication that they're now going to try and throw down the gauntlet..." Would this make the peloton nervous? Apparently not. Paul thinks other things worry the peloton: "So, just looking down..." [long pause as the helicopter shot lingers over a very compact, composed main field] "...this really is becoming a little bit nervous now. The campers over to the right hand side and the speed starts to come up," as the bunch continued steadily past massed, stationary camping cars. Cyclists know, after all, that a parked camping car is harmless. It is only moving ones which are bloody dangerous and which you need to get nervous about.
Phil had spotted the coast where the course would swing left and the wind blow from the right. That's where the speed will start to come up, predicted Paul. Well, it finally has to happen somewhere. "As we get up to the coastline there, Phil, you will start to see a major acceleration coming in the peloton and there will be a lot of riders, uh, trying to find their postion as much as they can." Probably using their GPS computers, I guess. "Everybody else is queuing up behind them, waiting for the moment when they really start to open up the gas..." (So, there will be a major acceleration after the major acceleration?) "...with this cross wind we could see the main field splitting over the next 15 to 20 kilometres." I had lost track of what order things were going to happen but probably one of those scenarios was likely. There weren't many other possibilities.
Paul detected lots more organisation happening. "As it gets a little bit closer to the finish, the pace in the main field will have to be organised and we'll have to see a pretty sturdy chase now as these guys [a shot of the breakaway riding steadily as before], all of a sudden, are a lot more organised in their desire to stay off the front end of the pack." I must be missing lots of the little nuances. Meanwhile Phil had detected movement in the wind. Or lack thereof, perhaps. "That flag looks as though it's almost dropped down to a canter, a drift, but it hasn't, for sure." Well, that's definitive. Anyway, "once we get on to that coastline, we have a different bike race on our hands," Phil assured us again. Deciding to be just as definitive in his commentary as Phil can be, Paul disagreed and then agreed: "No, we certainly do." And just to ensure everyone understood the race situation (whether of the Tour de France or of the "different bike race" we will soon be watching I wasn't sure): "It will get very, very grippy, I would have to say..." Did you really have to say that, Paul? It always adds so much to our understanding I would have to not say. Yes, he thought he did and said it again, word for word, shortly afterwards.
Dave "Macka" MacKenzie suddenly popped up in a little on-screen window, standing in the middle of the road at the finish line, to give us the breaking news that the finish was going to be "a nervous one". I was more nervous about his own likely imminent finish – under the wheels of the constant stream of passing Tour traffic.
"Oh, there's a crash" we heard for the first time today, "and it was fairly close to the front end of the peloton..." although at least 40 riders had gone into the guilty roundabout before the first one fell. "That's because everybody is concerned about what's coming up shortly," said Paul. So, not the traffic furniture's fault, then? "No, that's the very reason why the leaders of the Tour are riding at the front," began Phil as I cringed, waiting for the usual bit about everyone having to ride in the first 20 or 30 places, almost missing the irony of leaders being at the front.
"Everything being thrown to the wall now, four kilometres to go," intoned Phil. Ordinarily there would be a hail of bidons being despatched to the walls, and everywhere else, at this juncture but there was nothing to support Phil's contention. At three to go, Paul misidentified his traffic furniture, describing a median as "a nasty little traffic circle" as it split the peloton dramatically. This must be the nervousness they've been talking about coming to the fore, but it's in the comm box rather than on the road. Phil thought he'd better emphasise the difficulty riders still faced ahead: "Remember, this is not a simple last kilometre. They've got a turn, a very slight turn, just before they hit the finishing line." Cripes, that sounds like it could cause chaos.
Perhaps it did because a rider, amazingly only one, crashed: "...right in the middle there ... it may have been Deck-enkolb", an appropriate name for crashing, at least. "The crash went down there," said Paul, looking at the replay, "Somebody taking too many risks at this moment." To me the risk seemed to be in riding there at all and certainly in being too close to a frustrated Supermanx, who had clearly, deliberately shouldered the victim into the bitumen. Not very sportsmanlike, surely? "The judges might have something to say about that even if it wasn't intentional," suggested Phil, though he was almost drowned out by the loud yell of "Hah!!" from the room in which I was sitting... by myself.
"Yeah, the sprints are always hectic, ha ha. Wonderful racing, very fast..." said Tommo, nudge-nudge-wink-winking his way around the controversy. "You know what they're like, Scotty. You're an ex-pro racer and, uh, well, today was... was quite 'busy' out there, wasn't it?" Scotty called a spade a spade. He reckoned Cav might be relegated for his indiscretion.
Yes, it was quite "busy" out there today. Some might even say "biz-ay". What will tomorrow bring? The only way to know is to tune-in again back here.
SBS seems to be doing my job for me by collecting P and P clichés to lead in to the day's stage. "You ride against the clock. You ride against yourself. You gotta turn yourself inside out." I'm just not convinced that Paul's would be an effective strategy, but he's been there so should know. Meantime, someone seems to have given Tommo a French lesson. He managed to pronounce "Mont Saint-Michel" passably well, twice by the end, and even managed to translate it. Thank heavens, because I'm sure 99% of viewers had no clue what it meant otherwise.
LEFT: Evening light on a distant Mont Saint-Michel
Matt Keenan was enjoying his few moments in front of the camera and in front of the Mont. (No head checks to make sure it was still there from either presenter today. Both confidently assumed it would be.) Keeno made no effort to rush off to his commentary box when Tommo dismissed him, remaining with a fixed grin, looking like a younger, taller, skinnier Paul Sherwen. So, over to "Ler Taste of ler Tour". More lessons required, Tommo. Gateau could probably do with some English tuition, speaking as he does of "sheep grazing on salt marches" but there can be no criticism of someone with such a gorgeous aczent.
Keeno, not content with wanting to beat P and P to the commentary finish, and looking like Paul, is stealing the latter's material. His inspired theory is that what makes Tony Martin's bike so fast is the engine on top of it. No "V8 turbo diesel" though. Yet. Apparently, though, Keeno has seen the OGE video-tribute
to AC/DC "which has already had more than three hundred
hits on Youtube". That many in only three days? Geez, it's gone viral!
Paul had some inspired theorising of his own: "I think the last week of this year's Tour de France is going to be a very, very difficult event. There's some naaasty
climbs..." Gosh. No other last week of the Tour would ever have been difficult, I bet. On to yesterday's controversy: "...Mark Cavendish who was third across the line yesterday and led to an awful lot of discussions as to whether or not that was a dangerous sprint..." No debate at all about that I would have thought. "...and, er, neither rider wanting to admit they were in the wrong." Though Cav was
acting rather guilty, needed to change his bullsh!t story
, and the replays showed him taking the Argos rider out quite deliberately. Anyone else would have been out of the race. P and P might just be adopting a little bit
of a parochial view here.
Paul should book a French lesson himself, annoyingly persisting, as he does year after year, in describing the French colours, bleu, blanc, rouge as red, white and blue. If only he would adopt his time-trial tactic of turning himself inside out he might get it right.
I was beginning to think that P and P were not giving me much material today when Paul began to describe some of the features which make a TT-bike so go-fast. "Get a chance here to see the... uh... very, very aerodynamic machine that he's got. You've got a large, big... built-up area" (What? He's riding a town?) "at the bottom... by the bottom-bracket and that's to make his machine almost at one with the back wheel and that reduces the turbulence at the back end of the bike." Wow, that's envelope-pushing design. I hope the UCI doesn't ban such a radical development.
It's always nice to see Kate "Horse-Kat" Bates but surely she can be given more to do than just to pop up for a minute to pass on the bleedin' obvious breaking news that Cadel won't be getting the yellow jersey today but he may be able to "claw back some time".
"The time trial is a very violent discipline," Paul reckoned. At least it is a non-contact sport and not as violent as the finishing sprint can be when certain riders get frustrated by not being able to win and take it out on other teams' lead out men. (Yes, I do think Cav deserved sanctioning after yesterday's stage.)
Contador "is going into this race, Phil, with a little bit of a psychological deficit over Froome." Hmmm, not enough psychologies in the bank account, eh. Serious problem. At least "he's as aerodynamic as possible". At least "he's as aerodynamic as possible". Well, Paul thought it important enough to say twice.
H-K's next contribution seemingly only warranted a quarter of the screen which distracted me so much I forgot to listen to what she said. She sounded earnest and authoritative though, so surely a bit more of the picture could be devoted to her input.
Then we watched Cadel on the full screen finishing his effort. "Now it looks as if he may well have improved," Paul surmised, "as he still has a long way to go there" despite having crossed the finish line. No wonder he is having a tough race if he has to ride a long way farther than everyone else. A.Schleck was not having a good day at all, Phil reported. "Andy just exploded all over Normandy ... this is an absolute disaster." Cripes, I hope no-one else was injured.
"You can visibly see how fast this man is moving," Phil said as we visibly watched Froomy and audibly heard the sound of his wheels on the bitumen. Paul told us he was using a tri-spoke front wheel "to make the bike that little bit more aerodynamic". Cunning, and it seemed to be working. But no mention of the big elliptical chainring. Is Paul slipping? Soon we learned from Paul that this is a three-week race... New material needed, I'd say.
Phil seemed to be having trouble comprehending the on-screen graphics. Having mis-read the top three positions after the second time check, he commented that Laurens Ten Dam, finishing 19th best, had beaten Cadel Evans, whose time was then 18th best. I guess LTD's number was higher, so maybe that is what counts? Phil was also having pronunciation problems with Roman Kreuziger's name, coming out with at least four versions, none of which agreed with Paul's version which was at least consistent, and perhaps even correct.
Tommo seemed to be really impressed by Tony Martin winning after his serious crash early in the Tour. "He must have been in a lot of pain. He didn't show it. Although," he suddenly remembered, "he did collapse at the finish line." And the blood on him was a bit of a giveaway, too.
Tanny managed a late scoring lunge by coining the term "anglophisation" in reference to the increased numbers of English-speaking riders in the Tour. A great word. I'll be trying to use that myself.
Maybe as soon as tomorrow. Possibly right here. Don't miss it!
"The question, Phil, is can they [the Germans, who are having such a great Tour (WGAF?)] beat Mark Cavendish, today?," Tommo wanted to know. Cavendish? Is he still in the race? I thought he would have been DQed, but no, the other guy was in the wrong for having collided with the Supermanx elbow. Surprisingly, the other guy wasn't DQed either. Are their rules in this knife fight, er, bike race?
Tommo, however, had found another incident Cav could be blamed for. "...Of course, the shoulder-charge incident from two days ago and then there was the urine incident from yesterday..." No wonder Cav is p!ssed off and frustrated, eh? Phil nodded sagely at everything Tommo said: "What happened in that incident in the time trial was absolutely disgraceful. It shocked the Tour de France down to the core." Oh, so it's OK, Phil, for a British rider to deliberately deck a Dutchman at 60km/h but a bit of a spray of bodily fluid from the sidelines is "shocking". What a crock of bodily solid. (Makes me glad I chose to watch the cricket live instead. History made by an unusually mature 19-year-old debutant number-11 Aussie batsman who displayed incredible composure, dignity and bravery and didn't throw a tanty when he was finally dismissed just two short of what would have been an unprecedented century at a run-a-ball (98 was unprecedented, too). Now that's sport. Remember the name of the ash-tonishing Ashton Agar.)
H-K and Macka were doing a double act in "For-jairs" at the stage start. Asked how he would approach the “dangerous” finish in "Two-ers", Macka channelled Paul " You've gotta ride in the top 20, top 30 all day..." That'll be something different to watch, then. What else might be unusual on this stage? Kate summed up: "So I think we'll see the sprinters' teams looking for a sprint finish but also the GC teams looking to keep their riders safe." Tell me again why we need P and P when we have such Aussie talent to keep us in touch with the bleedin' obvious.
Back to Tommo for an overview of today's course. "The riders will start to dissect their way across the country..." Eh? Has Tommo been carrying out experiments on frogs, or just eating too many of them? "...But there's a lot of kilometres to be covered before the climb ... on Sunday ... to the legendary Mont Ventoux. It's a course for the sprinters." What is? Ventoux?? Why are you talking about a course three days away? Get mind back to today, Tommo.
Immediately, as Phil and Paul took over, "Now they've had a crash here..." Spectacular but minor. An AG2R rider's bike had flipped, shedding him onto the road, and bouncing a metre or more off its rear wheel, forcing a passing rider to duck to avoid being hit in the head by the bike's rearing front end. Impressive reflexes.
Phil spotted a rider “still hanging near the back of the race. No, he’s come back up to the tail of the peloton now…” which, of course, isn’t anywhere near the back of the race.
Wind would be a problem again today, Phil reckoned: “When we get into the last 500 metres … we’ll actually be finishing into a very full-on tail wind.” Yep, and no cyclist likes a full-on tailwind. Then “the peloton are having to, by definition, fly through the roads of the Loire today.” Is they? And by whose definition? No information but they had soon landed again because “it’s Cavendish’s team … who are driving this peloton.”
Later, after more discussion about the utter innocence of Supermanx and how “wrong” it is that he has been un-invited to a Dutch criterium after the Tour, Phil couldn’t quite read the message of love to Mark Cavendish, “Oui, Oui, Monsieur Cavendish, Wee love you”, written on a bedsheet at the roadside. Must have been taken from the bed of some witty Dutch fans. Shocking.
As the riders took bottles from the team cars, Paul had to note that, rather than “drink”, they “keep themselves hydrated”. Why use one word when three will do? Actually, that really is economy of words from Paul. Then it was on to fairy tales and how the owner of the “Sleeping Beauty chateau” has to live in Belgium because he can’t afford French taxes. “Now I believe everything,” said Phil, no doubt thinking about his own tax situation.
Paul had noticed something about the sprinters’ helmets. Some of them had put “the full-on aerodynamic helmets on for the sprint down to the line”. Are sprinters’ heads so much bigger that the extra wind drag slows them down significantly otherwise? No doubt they just want to be that “little bit more aerodynamic”.
“Amazing. This is a beautiful part of France that we are going through.” It certainly is amazing, and not just how often you say this, Paul, given how hard it is to find beauty in la belle France. Not content with that, Paul went on to muse on the fight amongst the sprinters: “…because these guys know they really are the fastest men in the world and, today, there’s a point to be proven between one of them.” And, I reckon, that one may prove the point. Phil stuck his neck out to suggest that one might be Gossy, given “it’s a rough man’s finish”. We’re pretty common and not very sophisticated down here in the Antipodes but, hell, we can ride bikes. Must be all that investment in infrastructure by our governments, eh?
There’s no shortage of dangers on the route. Even dust can bring disaster: ”Ooh, there’s been a crash” as an OGE rider, right at the front of the peloton, slides across the road on a roundabout. “And he fell of his own volition there,” decided Phil. Hmmm, "/vəˈliSHən/, Noun: The faculty or power of using one's will." So, he wanted to crash? Never mind. “…he leans over, hits a spot of dust maybe, and slides away safely.” I’m glad he crashed safely. A shame if it was Gerrrro!!! who hasn’t been seen much lately. Fortunately it turns out it wasn't. He can return to anonymity.
Suddenly, “there’s a massive pile-up!” Sure enough there’s a tangle of bikes and riders on the side of the road and it was “right near the front end of the field”. Again. Must be because everyone is “a little bit nervous”, eh Paul? “A very, very nasty crash there…” but fortunately the folding chair is OK: “That gentleman is doing well to move his seat out of the way.” He wasn’t doing anything to help get the riders at the bottom of the stack untangled from the bikes, though.
“Well, a little bit of disorganisation” seemed to be the result, summarised Paul. On the line, “and at this point as Cavendish looks across, he knows he’s lost it,” observed Phil. Oh, no, Cav's "lost it" again? At least it was probably too late for the not-so-Super-manx to take out anyone else.
Tommo had coined a nickname for the stage winner: “Yeah, the ‘lightning bolt’, his name is Marcel Kittel.” I’ll have to stop thinking of him as ‘Kitty’ then, despite his oh-so-cutesy name. Tommo had also noticed something significant: “He’s beaten Mark Cavendish.” Looks like Gossy, Phil’s pick for victory, had more bad luck but Tommo didn’t want to put pressure on him, although he pointed out that Gossy had basically done nuthin’ in this Tour and the last. I am looking forward to Tommo interviewing Gossy at the end of the race in Paris. I doubt Gossy will be pulling his punches this time. Meanwhile, Scotty McG was giving Tommo some tips on how to defend himself against Gossy: “You’re better off to really drop the shoulder or put the elbow into the rider beside you.” So, if he is not expecting this because the attack is totally unprovoked, he will most likely be eating dirt. Good advice. Great TV.
Don't mention The Ashes, Tommo and I won't mention "anglophisation". Oh, you just did after saying you wouldn't. But you didn't, after all. Not say it, that is. Clear?
How did I miss Phil’s ‘famous last words’ prediction on the finish line yesterday that “you’ll never catch Cavendish at this stage of the race” just as Marcel ‘Kitty’ ‘Lightning Bolt’ Kittel caught him, and passed him, to win? Well, I caught it on the intro segment today. I wonder if karma is catching Cav, too.
Froomy doesn’t need karma on his side to win the Tour. He can psych people out with just his mental powers. According to Phil, he is sending “subliminal messages” about his superiority by saying that he is looking forward to the mountains. Paul asked whether he should mention that it is still a long way to go to Paris but Phil, sensibly, told him: “No, no, keep it to yourself”. But he’d managed to get it out there, subliminally, before returning to a favourite cliché, describing the wind, incomprehensibly, as “grippy”.
The terrain was apparently affecting the riders, as well. “As you can see, this rolllls… this road rolls gently. They’re naaasty little stabby climbs before you go down very quickly,” Phil noticed. That’s why I hate gentle hills, too. They’re so nasty. And they were “stretching the elastic” again today, already.
“He’s so strong, his team’s getting disorientated here,” observed Phil. Must have been the dizzying chase Valverde was forced to make to get back to the peloton. “A bit of panic on board the Movistar Express here this afternoon,” was Paul’s take on the crisis. How hard was the pursuit, Phil? “This is a very, very, very hard pursuit just now.”
“The other thing this will do, Phil, is that this will also, uh, prevent the riders taking on board drinks from their team cars … so you’ve gotta make sure you take on board bottles at the feeding station a few kilometres ago.” Right, simple then; just go back there and take on board, er, get, some drinks. “There’s no team cars allowed with them because the gap is too fragile,” explained Phil. The gap might break? Perhaps shatter?? Explode all over the countryside??? Dunno. ”Well, that’s a big problem…” Paul, at least, agreed.
Then, Paul told us, the Dutch rider was “trying to explain to the Spanish riders ‘We need to ride in a circle.’“ I thought this was a ploy and the Dutch guy was trying to trick the others so he could make a break for it. After all, those Spanish guys were probably from Barcelona.
“Forty-eight-point-seven kilometres to go now. That will probably be covered in around about the one minute,” said Paul, indicating just how serious was the lead group's pace. No wonder it was causing consternation amongst the chasers. “This is a real, real race,” judged Paul. “A race like we had years and years ago.” Exactly how real and many years ago, Paul? When the riders were all doped to the eyeballs and bicycle speeds like 2,922 km/h wouldn’t raise an eyebrow?
“I had thought that the armada was going to come from the Spanish Movistar squad, Phil.” Paul had failed to correctly expect the Spanish Armada, again. Fair enough, I thought, as everyone knows, no-one expects the Spanish 'Armada'. But suddenly it was Contador’s team splitting the yellow jersey group and leaving Froomy dangling in the breeze. “What they did was light the blue touch paper and blow the Tour de France to smithereens,” hyperbolised Phil. Finally, they had exploded all over the countryside. “They’ve gotta keep the hammer right down…” said Paul, taking advantage of any opportunity to slip in another favourite cliché. “This is a serious Christmas present this afternoon,” he reckoned. And I had been thinking they only did the Christmas-in-July thing in the Blue Mountains.
The race may have exploded but Sky was “imploding”, according to Phil. Perhaps they would create a black hole and suck in all the other riders. But, said Paul, it was really “all about whether Cavendish can survive.” Funny, I wasn’t worried about that one little bit. “Look at Cavendish there, locked into the wheel of Peter Sagan,” Paul dramatised. “Yes, they’re going to just follow each other…” Hmmm, but Phil, if they do that they’ve fallen for that old Dutch trick and will end up riding in circles. Cav was too smart for that, though. Supermanx was back, karma nowhere in sight.
Tommo opined “This day will be remembered as …uh,” a pause as he desperately tried to remember what he was remembering, “the stage where…” still trying… ah, got it, “the rider who was in second place at the start just tumbled out of the top ten. What an occasion!” Perhaps if Tommo’s memory stretched back longer than a goldfish’s, he might have recalled that this was the second occasion, at least, in this Tour alone, that this has happened. The first time it was an Aussie taking the dive. Time for Tommo to garble a team name: “Well Saxoff-Tinkoff… Alberto Contador said … that this was the strongest team that he’s ever been linked to.” Perhaps if he keeps performing so well, and keeps off the Spanish beef to which he was also unfortunately linked once, they might even let Bertie join the team. Tommo’s memory had really gone west: “It’s great news. Chris Froome leads the Tour.” Hasn’t he been leading the Tour for days, or is it my memory that’s shot? Nope, for once it ain’t. ‘Great news’ would be if an Aussie was leading the Tour. Again. At least Tommo can remember “it’s a long way to Paris, I can tell you.” But do you need to tell us?
Stage 13, unlucky for some. (No wonder Froomy is subliminally looking forward to mountains.) Who is wearing that number, anyway? Did they not have it pinned on upside down? We must try to find out… tomorrow.
Tommo started scoring early. “The events of the last 24 hours justifies the fact that this race is never over.” What, we’re gonna be here forever? “It’s never over anthill they cross the finish line in Paris.” Oh, so it will be over when it’s over, and we might need some insect repellent? “And that’s still more than a week away.” So still a long way to go then? Quelle surprise. Time for more team-name mangling: “Despite the support of his Moe-vista teammates”, Valverde had a bad day yesterday, but another Spanish rider profited when his team “put the hammer down”. I’m glad we didn’t have to wait long for a Sherwen-cliché even if Tommo had to deliver it.
After getting Phil to agree that the race would be over when it’s over, it was time again for the throw to Gateau. “We are in the city of Lyon, Phil,” which Phil confirmed, to Tommo’s relief. “Lyon is the gastronomical capital of… “ (sudden look of confusion from Tommo as he pauses, wondering where he was going with this) “…Europe, at least.” If not the universe, really. Gateau was a little less hyperbolic and slightly less polysyllabic: “Lyon … is known as the gastronomic capital of France.” He went on to do his own cheese-shop sketch, fortunately actually finding some cheese to taste in the finest cheese shop in the district.
Did I hear Paul say that the Kenyan-born, South African-educated, supposedly English bloke leading the Tour was "discussing tactics with Peter Kenya from the Isle of Man"? So we have Kenya-manx and Supermanx now? Ohhh, Peter Kennaugh. D@mn those non-phonetic Manx spellers.
Otherwise, P and P offered little new material for most of the day. Strangely, no-one seemed to be nervous, until 20km to go, and nothing was “precarious”, though there was a “tunnel of noise”. We heard the Johnny Hoogerland barbed-wire-fence story, twice, and the story about how many departments France is divided into, where the arrière du poule-e-ton is, and how the colours of just about every national champion seem to be red, white and blue, “or bleu, blanc, rouge as they say in France”. Now that last was a bit of a surprise; I thought Paul had no idea on that score. Fortunately, Phil spotted a spectator on top of a tower of a roadside chateau. Unable to tell if she was waving to the riders or to the helicopter for assistance, he decided she must be a damsel in distress. We never learned if her name was Rapunzel.
Tommo had an exciting topic to discuss after the finish, something he had been waiting for for a long, long time. We had to wait rather a long time more. “Let’s talk about, uh, ler mon, the, uh, mon too, er, Ventoux, I should say, the vol, the Mount Ventoux, Mont Ventoux, ummm…” Unfortunately, by the time he had managed to introduce the topic, and Scotty McG had stopped laughing, the time for the telecast had just about run out, though Tommo still found time to mangle poor old Roman Kreuziger’s name in two different ways before reminding us again that “tomorrow the race goes to, arrr, the… Mont… Ventoux” as a worried Scotty’s eyes quickly flicked across to see if Tommo was ever finally going to get that name out.
TdF 2013: Great Moments in Commentary continues over here.
TdF 2013 Great Moments in Commentary © Neil Alexander 2013