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A look at the school, the races and the future of this unique 'sport'
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Classic Colnago steel frame with gorgeous pantographed Campagnolo components
Welcome to the Tour de France 2011! We set off today on our journey of 3430.5km before ending up in Paris. Today is only the first step in a long and hard race.
Hello and welcome! The race kicks off an about 45 minutes, with a long neutralized section. Then the Tour de France 2011 really gets off!
We have 198 riders at the start today, from 22 teams. All ready to go for the glory of yellow – or simply hoping to survive until Paris.
Sunshine today! And 22°C to 15°C – sounds wonderful!
No prologue this year, we are starting off with a full-fledged stage. And the Tour is really getting off to a start this year – on the Passage du Gois, that narrow, often flooded, often muddy passage from the Ile de Noirmoutier and the mainland.
That is the neutralized part, by the way.
The race has started! Just the neutralized section, but we are underway!
Lots of people out today watching and cheering in the sunshine.
Lots of chit-chatting going on in the peloton. This is the "nice" part of the stage -- no pressure, just enjoy the atmosphere.
Ah, the Passage du Gois.
Has the Tour been here before? You betcha! Remember 1999? We bet that Alex Zulle and Michael Boogerd, among others, sure do. The Passage was covered with mud, and soon, also covered with crashing riders. Quite a number of them went down. 105 of the 178 riders on the stage ended up anywhere from 4:42 to 46.52 down on the stage, but we can't really say whether they all lost the time due to the Passage.
A BMC rider dashes in front of the lead car and looks back impishly. But he obediently falls back.
Now the BMC rider even holds on the car. Meanwhile, Philippe Gilbert feels the need for an early snack.
How can we describe the landscape that the Passage crosses? Well, mudflat is the only word that comes to mind.
And the Passage is lined with fans!
Crash! Andre Greipel hits the ground, for no particularly good reason. No harm done, and of course he is only a few metres behind the field.
That gives Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) the "honour" of first TdF 2011 crash.
And he has to go to the medical car to get his scraped and bleeding elbow tended to.
They are heading onto the Passage now!
It is a narrow road and lined with fans, many of whom feel the need to stand in the road..... this could be a very slow crossing!
Two riders didn't even finish the stage, here in 1999, with one of them being a rider with US Postal System, who suffered a facial injury severe enough to cause him to abandon. That rider is there again today – Jonathan Vaughters, in his capacity as manager of Garmin-Cervelo.
The road is nicely dry and clean today.
And now they stop, right in the middle of the mud and slop all around them. We will now have a ceremony to officially open the race.
We have just heard the stirring French national anthem.
Fabian Cancellara opens his jersey and adjusts things. He is looking very skinny.
The race has now officiailly started!
Well, drat, that wasn't the official start. Why hold a ceremony that is not the official start?
And we have our first attack, right from the get-go! A Europcar rider takes off, joined by a Vacansoleil and another.....
FdJ is the thrid team. Let's see if we can't catch some names.
Our three escapees are Jeremy Roy (FdJ), Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil) and Perrig Quemeneur of Europcar. The field is happy to let them go.
Yes indeed, they are letting them go. The gap is at 3:18
The rest of the field is still tightly bunched together.
Oopsie, the tracker is a new feature here and we obviously don't know what we are doing..... let's see if we can't get things cleared up!
Fabian Cancellara goes back to the team car for a chat. He looks quite natty in his Swiss national champs kit.
How can we describe today's course? It starts out flat, and we mean flat. Towards the end it gets a little less flat, and in fact, they were able to scrape up a cat. 4 climb, and that at the finish! We don't really think we want to call this a mountain-top finish though.
The stage is more or less U-shaped. Once it hits the mainland, it follows the Atlantic Coast southwards to les Sables-d'Olonne, where it turns eastward and then north to the finish atop the Mont des Alouettes.
The gap has jumped, all the way up to 6:37 now. That's enough for some in the peloton, as they pick up the pace.
Astana has a lot of riders near the front. Wouldn't Alexandre Vinokourov love to win today and take the first yellow jersey in this his last Tour?
Lots of traffic circles here, or roundabouts, if you'd rather.....
What can we expect today? Wind. Lots of wind. And that means echelons. And crashes. But we don't like those.
Yes, the field has definitely picked up its speed. Garmin-Cervelo, HTC-HIghroad and Omega Pharma-Lotto are amongst those leading things.
Guess you have to have a hyphen....
It is going to take us a while to get used to the new white Garmin-Cervelo kit.....
The chase seems to be working, as the gap is dropping by a few seconds.
A Katusha rider is back at the team car, getting some bike work done.
A crash! two Europcars and two Movistars. We think everyone is ok.
Haven't we just had week of rumour and innuendo and doping talk? What would a Tour be without all of that? (Actually it would be lovely, but we doubt it will ever happen.)
Omega Pharma-Lotto was the first to have their name sullied, when VIP escort and former rider Wim Vansevenant was caught with alleged doping product from Australia. He is, of course, since that news broke, no longer a VIP escort.
That was Wednesday's story.
Apparently there were more riders involved in the crash than we were aware of. Nicolas Roche, for example, is only now being brought back up to the peloton. Well, actually he has just arrived there.
We understand that Movistar's Andrey Amador was one of those who crashed. He is the first Costa Rican to start the Tour.
Thursday's story was that part-time BMC soigneur Sven S. had received a large shipment of EPO – in October 2009. For which he was arrested this week. He, too, is no longer with the team.
Lots and lots and lots of people out along the road.
And the gap is now at 5:13.
If that wasn't enough, we had another one Friday night, although no one is actually coming right out and saying it was doping-related. The police seized and searched the Quick Step team bus, but according to team manager Wilfried Peeters, it was just a normal control.
The gap is now under five minutes. Today's one and only intermediate sprint is at km 104. Remember, they have changed the points system for such things this year, so the peloton may well try to catch this group before then, so that the top sprinters can duke it out for the first points.
Enough of that doping stuff! What other news is out there? Who is thinking what about the Tour?
For example: Chris Horner of RadioShack thinks he can not only crack the top five, but also maybe end up on the podium in Paris.
Omega Pharma-Lotto at the head of the field. And judging by the bandage on the elbow, it could be Greipel himself.
A number of riders are pulling over for a "nature break". We shall avert our eyes.
There are four jerseys to be won at the Tour, and we can predict with 100 % certainty that at least one of them will be on new shoulders this year. Who would that be, you ask? We will tell you: Andy Schleck will NOT be best young rider, a title he has won the last three years in a row. But not this year. As with the rest of us, he is getting ..... older. And now that he has just turned 26 last month, he is no longer eligible.
Vinokourov had dropped back to the team car, and now Astana teammate iglinsky brings him back. Oh, and Krueziger is with them, too.
The yellow jersey in 2010, of course, went to Alberto Contador, then riding for Astana, now with Saxo Bank-SunGard. Second was the afore-mentioned Andy Schleck, then with Team Saxo Bank and now with Leopard Trek. Third was Denis Menchov, then with Rabobank and now with Geox. (Hm, lots of transfers, it seems to us!)
And, of course, Menchov will not be defending his third place title, as his team was not invited.
Lots of road furniture at the moment, but the riders are careful to point it out to one another.
The green jersey for the points title last year went to Alessandro Petacchi of Lampre, followed by Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) and Thor Hushovd (Cervelo). All are here again this year.
Mountains – yes, we had mountains last year, too, and the red polka dot jersey went to Anthony Charteau of Bbox Bouygues Telecom, now known as Europcar. Second was Christophe Moreau (Caisse d'Epargne), who is now retired, and Andy Schleck was third.
The gap is holding steady around the 4.30 mark.
Best team last year was RadioShack. They're here this year, too, of course.
World Champion Thor Hushovd is at the front of things. A bit behind him, several Saxo Bank riders have a snack. Cancellara looks like he is not really too thrilled with whatever it is he has.
There was a certain Mr. Armstrong who wrote history with this race, and raced it for the last time last year. But he just can't stay away! He will be back for the final two stages – just as a visitor!
Westra gets a visit from his team car.
An Omega Pharma-Lotto rider is the next to go down. He take a few with him.
matt Goss of HTC was caught up in the crash and is being brought back up by a bunch of teammates.
The HTC train has now caught up with the peloton.
It was Jurgen Van De Walle who crashed and took the others with him.
Van De Walle is now furiously chasing the field, helped by a teammate. He has a nifty bandage now.
A BMC rider who went down is with the two from the Belgian team.
We all know that Alberto Contador was number one in the race last year. But who finished last? Adriano Malori of Lampre-Farnese Vini. And – you guessed it – he's here again this year too.
The gap continues to yo-yo around. It was up to 4:41 a few minutes ago,and is now at 4:07.
Who are these three riders, whose gap is now under four minutes`
Jeremy Roy had a win earlier this year in the GP d'Ouverture La Marseillaise but is perhaps best known for his stage win in 2009 at the Paris-Nice.
Tour de France debutant, Perrig Quemeneur at age 27 is still chasing his first win as a professional but earlier this year, came very close, finishing 2nd on the 9th stage of the Tour of Langkawi.
Lieuwe Westra must be pretty comfortable with Vacansoleil, it was announced in April that he would stay with the team through until 2013. He took out the Prologue at this year’s Tour of Belgium, and won the Mountains Classification at the Three Days of De Panne.
Cyclingnews caught up with HTC-Highroad directeur sportif Valerio Piva before the start this morning. Today’s finish at Mont des Alouettes should be too difficult for Mark Cavendish and Piva admitted that Matt Goss would have his work cut out to contest the victory.
“We’d need a lot of conditions for a scenario like that to work out,” Piva said. “It depends a bit on what a rider like Gilbert does, as he is in top condition. If he just goes at the bottom of the climb then the race could split in two and it would be difficult to control those final two kilometres.”
Piva predicted a tense finale where inattentive overall contenders could risk losing time.
“Everybody is afraid, including the teams with riders for the GC because they don’t want to lose position and let gaps open because you’d risk losing 10-15 seconds,” Piva explained. “It will be very fast and nervous and it will be very difficult to organise a train. I don’t see a sprint finish, but certainly Goss is still among those riders who can do well. But it won’t be easy.”
The day's intermediate sprint is coming up in a few kms. Obviously the peloton won't catch the break group by then.
But the sprint teams are already aligning themselves back in the field. Will we really see a real sprint in the middle of the stage?
Only 1 km for the three leaders until the sprint. Who will take the first points of this year's Tour? Will they sprint or just roll on through?
THey sprint! Roy is the first to jump.
And he takes the 20 points. That leaves 17 for Westra and 15 for Quemeneur.
It won't be enough to give Roy the green jersey later on today, but it will put some Euros n the team account.
Omega Pharma-Lotto and Lampre are furiously setting the pace in the field.
HTC Highroad coming up as well.
A real sprint!
Farrar ahead of Greipel.
Leopard Trek now moves to the head of the peloton.
The gap is down to 2:42.
We are in the Vendee, in central western France on the Atlantic Ocean coast. For history buffs, Eleanor of Aquitaine was born here, the mother of Richard Lionheart. It was a major battleground during the Hundred Years War, was majorly effected by the French religious wars in the late 1500s and was the scene of a peasant revolt in 1793.
It's nature break time again, and lots of riders, including Vinokourov, are now weaving their way back up to the front.
Don't go looking for any high mountains here. The biggest one is the Puy-Crapaud (295 m).
Who is at the front of the peloton? Saxo Bank, Leopard Trek, BMC.
Why does this not surprise us?
What will we drink while we are here in the Vendee? The local wines of course, after all we are in France. Personally, we want to investigate Kamok, a liqueur made from mixed sorts of coffee.
Thor Hushovd and Phil Gilbert are having a nice friendly chat at the front of the field. Both will be going for the win today, so we doubt things will be so nice and friendly in the finale.
We need to eat, too, and think we can fill ourselves up on the local seafood, Charolais beef, salt-marsh lamb, mogette beans and Noirmoutier's Bonnotte potatoes. Yum yum yum.....
The peloton picked up the speed for the intermediate sprint, bringing the gap way down. But now it has jumped again, up to 4:36.
Omega Pharma-Lotto looks to be practicing its team time trial for tomorrow, as they are line up at the head of the field.
Once again Cyclingnews and Easton Cycling have teamed up for a contest during the Tour. Do we have nifty prizes? We have mega-nifty prizes! Just look here: http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/win-a-bmc-teammachine-or-easton-schwag-during-the-cyclingnews-tour-de-france-trivia-challenge
All you have to do is answer one incredibly easy trivia question and you are automatically entered. And you get 21 chances, one per stage!
Here is today's trivia question in the Easton/Cyclingnews Tour de France Trivia Challenge: George Hincapie is starting his 16th Tour de France in 2011. Whose Tour Starts record does he tie?
If you need a hint, look here: http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/hincapie-set-for-record-equalling-tour-de-france
You are entered for the random drawing for prizes by filling in your answer here - http://easton.cyclingnews.com/. Good luck!
Let's try that competition thingy again and see if we can't get the links to work....
Once again Cyclingnews and Easton Cycling have teamed up for a contest during the Tour. Do we have nifty prizes? We have mega-nifty prizes! Just look here.
ll you have to do is answer one incredibly easy trivia question and you are automatically entered. And you get 21 chances, one per stage!
Here is today's trivia question in the Easton/Cyclingnews Tour de France Trivia Challenge: George Hincapie is starting his 16th Tour de France in 2010. Whose Tour Starts record does he tie?
If you need a hint, look here.
You are entered for the random drawing for prizes by filling in your answer here.
They are in the feed zone now. Bon appetit!
And of xourse that question should be: George Hincapie is starting his 16th Tour de France in 2011. Whose Tour Starts record does he tie?
Hm, somebody woke up and picked up the speed. The peloton is getting strung out here, and the gap has again dropped to 3:07.
Our three leaders have been in the front for 100km now.
Gilbert, who is now having more fun as a blond has dropped back and seems to rather urgently want his team car.
Richie Porte of Saxo Bank-SunGard is rarin' to go and looking forward to winning the race with Alberto Contador. He already has the Giro in his legs, but is ready to tackle his third Grand Tour.
And we have another crash. Or not? Everyone comes to a stop as several riders take a nature break.
Gilbert has already checked out today's finish and says it will be a sprint. He admits to being one of the favourites for the win.
The pace has dropped a bit in the field, and there is a lot of chatting go on again.
In fact, the pace has dropped so much that the gap has jumped to five minutes again!
Westra gets a Coca-Cola from the team car and empties the can in only a few swallows.
And now the gap is even up to 5:32. How much will the peloton let it grow?
Peter Velits of HTC-Highroad has his favourite for today's win and the first yellow jersey. You will probably not be surprised to hear that he picks teammate Mark Cavendish.
The peloton finally realized what was going on and has now brought the gap down to just under five minutes.
Brian Nygaard thinks his Leopard Trek rider Andy Schleck can win the race this year, and says the Luxembourger is even better than last year.
The gap is coming down nicely (if you support the peloton) or dangerously (if you support the break group).
At any rate, it is now 4:15.
Omega Pharma-Lotto and Garmin-Cervelo each have one rider at the head of things.
Oh our first traditional picture of "the Tour peloton riding through the fields of sunflowers"!
Garmin-Cervelo team manager Jonathan Vaughters has been interviewed on UK television from the team car.
He was pleased to see Tyler Farrar win the intermediate sprint.
“It’s a big con boost for him, that’s for sure. The finish is a little bit tough for him from what I saw and so (the sprint) bodes well for the rest of race. He’s coming into the race with really, really good form and that’s good to see after the last two months he’s had.”
Vaughters revealed that Garmin-Cervelo would be working for world champion Thor Hushovd on the uphill finish.
Thor’s confidence is definitely up and he feels good about today. He’s fit and ready to go. Today’s finish for sure is for him. It’s a very, very hard finish. Gilbert will be up there and a number of others. Goss will be up there too. Our game plan is for Thor today.”
Garmin-Cervelo and Omega Pharma-Lotto have things under control and are really pushing the peloton along, or pullng it along, actually. The gap is now at 3.37.
Linus Gerdemann of Leopard Trek has crahshed, as has a Europcar. Neither is injured but their bikes need some help.
Even the Caribbean is represented here in the Tour. Yohan Gene of Europcar hails from the island of Guadeloupe, and is the first form there to ride the Tour. “I'm very happy to finally race, but to be the first one was not really a goal,” Gène told Cyclingnews.
The gap is now under three minutes. Garmin-Cervelo has two men up at the front of the field, along with Omega Pharma-Lotto and an Astana representative.
David Arroyo of Movistar drops back to his team car and pockets a bunch of water bottles and a can of coke.
Mark Renshaw said this Tour would have larger break groups which would form later in the stage. So far he is wrong.
He blames it all on the new points allocation system, and admits, “It is uncharted, and we don't really know what to expect.”
The red BMC jersey are visible near the front of the field now, along with the black Sky jerseys with the new green stripe.
Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) doesn't expect to be in at the finish today. He is more than happy to wait for Monday's stage and a real mass sprint.
Less than 40 km to go now, and all the favourites are starting to move up to the front. Nobody wants to be caught behind in case something happens.
Well, looks like our three heroes are'nt going to make it away to the end, not that we ever really thought they would. With 36km to go, the gap is at one and a half minutes.
What is Tejay Van Garderen of HTC-Highroad riding here? Nothing less than Specialized's S-Works McLaren Tarmac SL4. Check it out here.
This is an uphill finish, but it is considered a flat stage. That means the 3km rule applies, so the favourites won't have to worry about mixing it up in the finale.
Unless they want to, of course.
Omega Pharma-Lotto's Van De Walle is leading the field. He has a rip in his jersey and a lot of gauze on his left arm.
Pablo Urtasun of Euskaltel has a one-man crash. Up and going again.
The women of CN have made their choices to win today. Jane Aubrey picks fellow Australian Matt Goss, Sue George is going for Thor Hushovd and your truly thinks Philppe Gilbert will take the victory.
Jens Voigt loads up with water bottles. He has at least 7 tucked in his jersey at various places.
He actually looks quite lumpy.
Under a minute now! to be exact, 52 seconds.
Won't be long now until the leading trio is caught. Will the field stay together after that, or will we have a successful attack?
The field is really flying along now. Omega Pharma-Lotto is setting a very high pace. Think they want the jersey today?
Things have slowed down slighly and the lead holds at around 30 seconds. Don't want to catch that break group too soon!
19 seconds and falling....
If the three leaders look over their shoulders, they can see a big mob looking to overtake them....
20 km to go and the gap is at 11 seconds.
Handshakes all around and Roy, Westra and Quemeneur accept their fate.
The peloton simply sweeps on by.
16 km to go. Omega Pharma-Lotto stil at the head, with BMC, Rabo, HTC, Leopard among those right behind them.
Europcar jumps into the leadwork now.
Four of the green-clad men are now at the front of the peloton.
Today's winer will also be the first King of the Mountains, as well as points leader. What a bounty of goodies!
The field is holding together.
Whereas things were really flatter-than-flat earlier it is now becoming ever so slightly rolling.
Huge crash near the middle of the field. Everyone behind them stopped.
Apparently a fan was involved.
This changes everything. If you were in teh front part of the field, you have a chance. Othewise, forget it.
A lot of riders went down. We don't know anything about injuries.
A lot of riders are now giving furious chase.
The 3km rule does't apply here of course, since it was some 8km out.
Hard to tell how large the front group is, but it is actually pretty large. 40-50 maybe?
Contador is behind the lead group. Repeat, NOT in the first group.
Watch for the speed to be really turned on now!
Contador in a group at 32 seconds.
RAdioShack has moved to the front of th elead group. This is their chance to put in time on Contador.
Richie Porte is at Contador's side, doing his best to help his captain.
BMC now take over the led of the first group.
Gap now 36 seconds.
Samuel Sanchez also with contador.
Hushovd is in teh lead group. And they are staring to go up.
Another crash near the rear of the lead group.
Gilbert third in the group.
Lots of riders down, right at the 2km marker.
mechanical for Cavendish, he is out of it.
A katusha rider jumpsi nto the lead.
1 km to go. gilber ti sgood position.
Cancellara attacks! Gilbert goes with him.
Gilbert catches hilm at 500 metres and goes on to take the win !
Cadel Evans gave chase and took second place.
Omega Pharma-lotto riders still working their way up to the finish line hug and rejoice at Gilbert's victory.
Contdor and Sanchez cross the line at 1:20 down. Also, we think, Wiggins, Andy Schleck, Brajkovic.
Well, the stage ended as expected with Gilbert's win, but otherwise --- not!
Two big crashes split everything up and cost some important riders some important time.
We have not heard anything about injuries in any of the crashes and hope there were none.
Third place went to Hushovd.
This was Gilbert's first Tour stage win. Congratulations!
Gilbert is now the overall leader as well as leading the mountain and point rankings.
The top three overall is of course the same as the top three stage.
Looks like Geraint Thomas will be best young rider.
General classification after stage 1
1Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 4:41:31
2Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:03
3 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:00:06
4 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team
5 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
6 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky ProCycling
7 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team RadioShack
8 Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne
9 Christopher Horner (USA) Team RadioShack
10 Tony Martin (Ger) HTC Highroad
That's it for today! What a dramatic opener we had.
Be sure to join us again tomorrow for the team time trial, and thanks for reading along.