Le Tour: End of part

Tour de France - Stage 14 - 15 July 2012 — Limoux to Foix, 191 km (118.7 miles)


Where were we? Oh that’s right Tommy had just won the first stage after the last rest day and Bradley Wiggins was rocking the yellow jersey.

Bradley Wiggins Stage 15
Bradley Wiggins in the yellow jersey after Stage 15 of the Tour de France - 16th July 2012 — Samatan to Pau, 158.5 km (98.5 mi)

Five stages on and Wiggo is still in yellow with no one getting close to taking it off him. As one of his main rivals dropped away out of the podium placings it’s only the man who signed up to pace Wiggins to the top spot in Paris, this coming Sunday, who looks the remotest bit like any competition.

But for all the talk, from others and in mistranslated interviews with French newspapers about Chris Froome being stronger than Wiggins, Froome knows his place. Yes he may have said he could be winning this Tour on another team, well he had the chance after last years Vuelta where he did beat Wiggins but he chose to sign back up with Sky – the team that stuck by him when he wasn’t this good – knowing Wiggins was/is the team leader. The one that the team are putting everything behind.

Stage 11 showed why so many feel Froome could have been the first Brit to wear yellow in Paris. As Cadel Evans cracked up the final climb it also seemed on his team the best rider isn’t the protected favourite as Tejay van Garderen struggled not to leave his team leader behind. Evans tried to go a couple of times with kicks but it wasn’t there to finish off his rivals as Wiggins or Froome reeled him back with ease.

Again there was this surprise at Froome’s dropping back, seemingly spent, for him then to power back into action. It was seen a few K’s from the end as Nibali finally did something, with Evans way back, Froome dragged everyone back and then zoomed past the bunch looking far stronger than anyone out there. Unfortunately this left Wiggo in no man’s land. Froome had to do his job, a quick call on his radio made sure of that. Yes he could have put some serious time on Evans as well as probably Nibali but it would have sacrificed Wiggins. He rode Wiggins back as they finished with Nibali. Evans a losing a further 90 seconds you would think means the end for him as Froome moved up to second, Nibali third seemingly the only winners outside of Wiggins.

The next four stages have seen Sky control things to such an extent they’ve effectively closed everything down. No attacks from leading rivals just breakaways from riders who are so far behind the top 3 they’re not talking in minutes but minutes over an a hour. Breakaways that have had success now Sky haven’t chased anything down, no criticism of Wiggins’ team because neither has any other team.

David Millar putting in a great effort to win Stage 12, where he was nearly 8 minutes of the pack. Britain’s fourth stage victory of the race so far, all four of the British Olympic team that are in this race with one each. Cavendish was meant to increase that number on Stage 13 but that final climb, but that third category Mont Saint-Clair, with 23km to go looked like a Cav killer from the off. So it turned out to be. Evans tried one final – desperate/ – attempt to drag back some time but again was reeled in with ease as Wiggins turned on the afterburners, setting out the full train, or what was left of it, to fire Edvald Boasson Hagen to the stage win. It didn’t work but they didn’t half get up some speed on the final bend, before Greipel nipped Sagan for the stage win, Hagen coming third.

So stage 14, first day in the Pyrenees and the first climb over the Mur de Péguère would be a memorable one. They’d tried to use the climb before but thought the road was too narrow for riders and spectators. It was certainly narrow and the spectators would play a major part. A great ride by Peter Sagan, though he came in second nearly a minute behind the winner Luis León Sánchez, was ever so slightly overshadowed as someone decided to throw a bunch of carpet tacks on the road near the summit of the Mur – which means wall. It was reported by race officials that thirty punctures were suffered amongst the riders – cars of the officials and teams along with motorbikes were also affected.

Amongst those thirty I don’t know if they counted Evans just once of they counted each of the three he had. As he reached the summit he’d suffered the first and here the narrowness of the course played it’s trump card, with no team car being able to get up past the strung out peloton, Evans had to wait for a team mate to swap tires with. Unfortunately for him the first that arrived also had a puncture. It was taking an age for another to arrive. When he did he suffered two more on his way down.

Of course it would have been all different if his team mate Tejay van Garderen hadn’t copped a deaf ‘un. Riding alongside Evans as they crossed the summit, he apparently didn’t hear the shouts of Evans, well didn’t hear them clearly as he looked to his right and then his left before taking off. Payback for Evans dragging him back the other day? Whatever, the young rider was somewhat shifty about it all when interviewed on ITV4 later.

Evans was going to completely out of it now but Wigins had played the leader, done what the wearer of the yellow jersey should do in such situations. Calmed everyone down and stop racing. You don’t try and deliberately benefit from such incidents. It neutralised the stage, it ticked another off for Sky and Wiggins, one that could have been tricky.

Stage 15, Samatan to Pau, was a cruise for the peloton, a breakaway got too far ahead for them to bother about. Thought Tommy Voeckler might have nicked another stage win but he was dithering about when Pierrick Fédrigo and Christian Vande Velde set off to fight for the stage.

Next two days are the deciders now proper Pyrenees stages with the sort of climbs, d’Aubisque and Tourmalet on stage 16 alone, that make of break a rider. Get past these two days safely and the victory is Wiggins’, just a cruise to Paris. Crack here and well there’s another time trial to try and get it back but will legs that have lost yellow have enough to get anything back?

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