Schleck, Riis, Armstrong, Punto, Putin, McEwen
Schleck shocks Fignon…again
As regular readers of our dispatches know, France 2 co-commentator Laurent Fignon's pearls of wisdom have enlightened us more than once on this Tour. None-too-impressed with Andy Schleck's descending in the Alps last week, Fignon was dumbfounded today when the current maillot jaune fetched his own food and drinks from the Saxo Bank team car high on the Port de Pailhères.
"I've never, ever seen a captain do that when they've had a teammate in the group. He's playing with fire!" the 1983 and 1984 Tour champion gasped.
Quote of the day
"It's another Riis!" - Fignon, later in the stage, on seeing Andy Schleck skulking at the back of the lead group, and casting his mind back to a certain Dane's infamous, insolent performance at Hautacam in 1996.
Insert footnote NOT rhyming with "Free rope lot" here.
Armstrong eyes alternative triathlon
Asked by France 2's Lionel Chamouleau tonight whether a return to triathlon figured in his latest retirement plans, Lance Armstrong smiled ruefully. "You ask me about difficult things like that now! All I want to think about at the moment is having a beer, my family and the beach…"
Many of us remember Armstrong saying very similar things on his first retirement, in 2005. So does that mean he'll be back again in 2015, perhaps with a pair of stabilizers this time?
Spirito di Punto
You can pretty much guarantee that you're going to enjoy a good meal when you sit down in a restaurant and notice that La Repubblica's Gianni Mura is already perusing the menu. Consequently, when Procycling's peckish journos sat down in a lovely little auberge in a village close to Revel and noticed Mura a couple of tables away, we knew that the cassoulet that was the speciality of the house was going to be something special.
The doyen of Italian cycling journalists, Mura is one of the press room's great characters. Known as "Punto" by the British press, Mura is the only journalist at the Tour - and probably at any other major sporting event - who still taps out his copy on a vintage typewriter. Once completed, the burly Italian dictates his words to a copy-taker in Rome, ending each sentence with a very precise "Punto!" - full stop. After half a bottle of red and a bottle of fizz, Mura looked very pleased with his evening's work, and we can confirm that cassoulet certainly passed the Procycling taste test.
Peloton politics to play in Contador's favour
Joaquim Rodriguez's easy ride on Alberto Contador's coattails in the closing kilometres of stage 12 has prompted talk of a possible Katusha-Astana alliance in the Pyrenees. The theory seems plausible for two reasons: one, Rodriguez admitted in his post-race press conference that he and Contador are friends, and, two, the threat posed by the Catalan on GC won't worry the defending champ unduly.
Another consideration is how political interests might come into play. Katusha and Astana have strong government backing in Russia and Kazakhstan respectively, and diplomatic and economic links between the two ex-Soviet states are currently pretty cosy. The fanciful but appealing conclusion may be that Andy Schleck's biggest enemy over the coming days will turn out to be not Alberto Contador or Joaquin Rodriguez but…Vladimir Putin.
Robbie McEwen's nightmare run
If you're a sprinter, it's been a bloody tough Tour so far. Triple stage winner Mark Cavendish didn't find his mojo till the end of the first week. Edvald Boasson Hagen has yet to find his. Tyler Farrar, battered and bruised after a mass pile-up on Stage 2, called it quits after 12 stages, having limped through 10 of them.
And Robbie McEwen, also a victim of the second stage crash-derby, has been struggling just to hang onto the laughing group. "Being in the gruppetto?" he asked rhetorically. "[On Stage 12 to Mende] I was with one other bloke – that's not a gruppetto. F***king alone every day, I've hardly been in the gruppetto. [Stage 12], it was me and Bert Grabsch for 120k, just two of us.
"I've had two bad crashes, lost a lot of blood in the first one because I severed a small artery – the UCI anti-doping people said they could see it in my blood profile that I'd lost a hell of a lot of blood. After that, I was given a tetanus vaccination at the hospital which I told them I didn't need; they slid it in there without me knowing, which gave me fever for four days, so I'm absolutely f***king terrible just as I started to feel better.
"That dickhead jumped out in front of me and ran into me after Stage 6 – that's when I hurt my back. Since then, it's just been suffering day after day, trying to make the time limit. When it's flat, I've been trying to sprint, but maybe sprinting at 70, 75 percent because my whole right side's blocked; my hip, my leg and my back are all black and blue. So it's been far from enjoyable."
Can he make it through the Pyrenées? "Who knows?" McEwen answered. "I'm trying not to think about it at the moment."
And Armstrong thought he was having a tough time...
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