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A new race leader, some applause and some confusion

A new race leader, some applause and some confusion

For the first time since Team Sky started collecting yellow jerseys, one of its riders has relinquished the race to someone other than a team-mate… let’s consider some of the details of stage 12 and how it may affect the overall result.

There was applause in the press room at Peyragudes. Twice. It was a hint that some things happened during stage 12 that piqued the interest of those who spend a lot of time watching men ride bikes.

The first incident that yielded a cheer was a brief acceleration by Alberto Contador. It didn’t last long and it earned the Spaniard nothing but it prompted a reaction in the salle de presse nonetheless. It was largely in recognition of the fact that someone – anyone – dared try and dart ahead of the Sky formation at the front of the GC selection.

The second cheer when up when Romain Bardet crossed the finish line in first place.

Contador’s move was futile from the beginning but it may be the last time in his career that he tries to show himself at the Tour de France. He no longer has the power to match his conviction and although he’ll remain a genuine racer through to the end of his career, the applause by the media was tendered almost in sympathy.

Hey, look at that… someone is having a go.

 

During a day when the peloton covered five categorised climbs, and finished on a steep uphill, it was clear to see what the aim of the course designers was? They wanted to ignite some action. There was some, actually, in the final few hundred metres there was a flurry of activity that shook up the rankings quite a bit.

Special announcement: Team Sky is NOT leading the 104th Tour!

 

It took 12 stages but someone else wears the yellow jersey. It’s not Geraint Thomas and it’s not Chris Froome, it’s Fabio Aru.

That cheeky Sardinian. He doesn’t mind attacking. And when he does he’s able to put distance even into Froome and the 10 or so others who gather at the front when the road gets steep.

It’s the first time since Team Sky started wearing the yellow jersey that one of its riders has relinquished the race lead.

It doesn’t mean that Froome’s hopes of a fourth title are over, far from it. But it is a sign that there are others in contention for the win in 2017.

Landa and Uran race ahead of the yellow jersey at the end of stage 12.

Photo: Leon van Bon

The influence of the rules

The great shame of the final kilometres is that the UCI commissaires had selective vision. They see a Colombian and a New Zealander take a drink but fail to recognise a Frenchman doing the exact same thing. And that has an impact on the top order of GC after 12 stages.

Congrats to Romain Bardet, he raced with panache and sped to a third Tour stage victory in as many years. The runner-up from last year is poised for another podium appearance – but there’s a catch: he didn’t get penalised 20” like both Rigoberto Uran and George Bennett. Why?

The jury makes up its own rules. Or it applies them selectively. And we can debate if it has turned out the way it has because of the nationalities – or profile – of the riders involved but the truth will never be told.

Instead we get excuses and a Hhhhmmffff-style reaction from the commissaires when questions are raised. ‘Whatever…!

This is when interest in cycling can waiver. How can it be that some of the long list of regulations are applied to some but not others?

It’s already difficult enough to police all the antics of a large peloton spread over a vast distance, is it happens – especially when the Tour is being contested in the mountains.

The application of video refereeing is said to be coming to cycling, formally. Footage from the race has helped commissaires in recent times and it has seen, for example, the eviction of a rider like Vincenzo Nibali from a Grand Tour in the past.

But officially, the video review is not actually part of the formal process in cycling. Not for now at least.

One UCI representative told me earlier in the Tour that the video assessments “are being discussed and they will be introduced soon”. But, for the moment, it’s only when it cannot be ignored – as was the case with the controversial Sagan disqualification.

Apparently there remains no appeal process. Despite Cannondale-Drapac lodging a complaint after stage 12, Uran (and Bennett) are 20” further behind Aru than what Romain Bardet is.*

 

(*NOTE: This is cycling. Rules are applied or not applied… and then reversed. Evidently there is an appeal process as the penalty for Uran and Bennett has been revoked.)

 

‘That’s life and the riders in fourth and ninth overall have another nine stages to try and reduce that deficit. It’s a shame but that’s how it is.

One of the big issues with the potential introduction of an official video referee is: how will on-bike cameras influence the jury?

According to once source associated with one of the 11 Velon teams, this is one issue that was raised when the notion of cameras on bikes was first considered. Before it was allowed by the UCI, the teams wanted to know that footage collected by riders would not influence a result. Imagine the consequences if the UCI started reeling through hours of footage collected by 20 riders or so in each bike race?

Beyond the actual task (and time) involved in perusing all that content, there’s also the risk that the riders with cameras will seek out infractions by, for example, rival teams.

If you look hard enough, you will find riders doing things that are allowed according to the regulations.

One of the beautiful things about road cycling, however, is that is largely arbitrary action. So many things unfold at once. Surprisingly there aren’t more incidents on a playing field that can be hundreds of kilometres long and when speed and terrain has a major influence on the result.

As it is, we’ve seen rulings applied by the UCI at the Tour in 2017 which are, in fact, appropriate in accordance with the regulations… but it is becoming selective. And it’s influencing the result.

Rehydrated and onward to victory…! Like others in the race, Bardet took a drink from spectators inside the final five kilometres. Unlike others, however, he was not penalised 20” for breaking the rules.

Photo: Leon van Bon

‘Sprint’ stage for the climbers

It’s the French national holiday for 14 July. A long weekend is upon us. The race continues in the Pyrenees for one more day. But, in contrast to Thursday’s long, tough stage, Friday is a 101km curiosity. The shortest mountain stage in many years, this has the potential to – once again – prompt a reshuffle of the top order.

There isn’t a hilltop finish but there are several major passes on the itinerary.

It’s a late start, the riders don’t set off from Saint-Girons until after 2.00pm. But the arrival in Foix is expected to be around the usual time for a stage finish: ±5.30pm.

In the past, it would be a stage that would have Contador rubbing his hands together in anticipation. It’s the kind of terrain that suits the Spaniard who likes to animate the racing. He has gone on the attack in short stages before – and he’ll likely do so again.

It’s possible that, if he does, he’ll prompt more applause but his days of challenging for the yellow jersey seem to be over.

Bardet, however, is also earning applause for his riding style. It should be from the fans – even the media – not the race jury.

In a few hours we’ll find out how costly 20” can be. Will it be the difference between wearing the yellow jersey or not?

 

 

– By Rob Arnold

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