One of the things about having a student who graces us with her presence now and then is that you get to hear the latest in young people's buzz words. As well as emptying the fridge and filling the washing machine with sweaty garments, she brings home the various phrases and insults that are the doing the rounds at University, so that we can be reminded of just how old we are. This summer has been no exception with 'douche-bag' seeming to be the derogatory word of the moment but I've also been introduced to the happier choices: 'Wow!' and 'amazing'.
If I had a pound for every time I've heard those two words in the last two weeks I'd be hanging out with the Oleg Tinkov of this world and thinking about which super yacht I could moor in Monaco harbour.
That brings me to the opening stages of the 2015 Tour de France, which I usually catch up with in the evening. I was watching the highlights of stage 3 and just at the critical point when the first big crash happened; the student came through the door and saw the images of bodies and bikes flying through the air. "Wow! That's nasty," was her reaction and with her having the benefit of a proper education, who could argue. It was very nasty and the decision to neutralize the race because all the medical personnel were stuck behind the carnage was a rare moment of humanity from an event that usually takes no prisoners.
Crashes big and small are always the talking point of the opening skirmishes of any Tour de France so it's no surprise that the tradition continues. I'm sure it's not deliberate but it's still pretty shocking.
Froome has been amazing
So far in the race, the most amazing thing I've noticed has been the form and presence of Chris Froome up at the front on every stage. Most pundits had predicted he'd be doing well if he was still on the first page of the results after the cobbled stage. If ever there was a case for the use of 'WOW!' to describe something, it has been the way the 2013 Tour winner has performed on the roads of the Netherlands, Belgium and especially on the pave of northern France.
Who would have predicted that after very tricky first four days he would have had enjoyed a day in yellow and already have decent gaps on Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana. I suspect not many and certainly not the Italian who was looking to take advantage of any mistakes made by Team Sky. But so far there haven't been any. In fact it's been quite the contrary. Froome has been the strongest of the overall favourites, and that's on terrain which is as far from his comfort zone as thoughts of personal hygiene are for most students at Glastonbury.
Only Alberto Contador, Tejay van Garderen and the invisible Rigoberto Uran remain within a minute of Froome and that's because they have had teams capable of matching Team Sky's protection of their GC man. For Astana and Movistar, they will be hoping that their losses don't become any bigger in the team trial on Sunday and that they still got the riders left to turn around their fortunes by the time the Pyrenees begin.
One thing is for sure the contest isn't over for Nibali and specially Quintana who would have expected losses in the two-minute region after the cobbles. However from Team Sky's point of view it's been a perfect start. Even better for the Brits, Tony Martin and Etixx-QuickStep will surely defend their maillot jaune in the coming days, meaning the situation has become almost comfortable for Team Sky. There'll be no more than the minimum of controlling to be done in the race and none of the leader's protocol and media duties for Froome. Add in no obligatory daily visit to the doping control and that's at least an extra hour of recovery time each day.
Sadly for the Frenchies and especially Thibaut Pinot, things have been diametrically opposite. This year was meant to be Pinot's big chance to prove he's a proper contender. He was third last year and the lack of a long time trial played in his favour. Now his overall hopes are all just a dream again because it's not going to happen with a six-minute deficit and what looks like fading form. He could blame some of his losses on bad luck but being on the wrong side of all the splits is more due to a lack of condition. If his team can keep his head from falling off completely then he might think about stage wins but I fear even that might be a big ask. Over at Ag2r-La Mondiale Romain Bardet and Jean-Christophe Péraud have been looking flaky as well but at least they have the excuse of they are waiting for the mountains.
A summary of the racing so far:
The Good: Chris Froome and Team Sky's tactics, the return of Fabian Cancellera to yellow and Rohan Dennis riding at over 55 km/h. Mark Cavendish happily doing his bit for Tony Martin.
The Bad: Cancellara's crash and abandon, Orica-GreenEdge's collective bad luck and the French riders showings so far.
The Ugly: the stage three pile up.
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Robert Millar was one of the last pure climbers of the Tour de France, winning several stages in the mountain stages and finishing fourth overall in 1984. He is also the only English speaker to have ever won the prestigious polka-dot jersey climber's competition jersey.
Millar retired in 1995 but has continued to follow the sport closely. He was often critical of the media and quickly cuts through the excuses and spin to understand why and how riders win and lose.
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