Saturday, July 21, 2018

Le Tour Days 14 & 15 - The Massif Central

Yesterday was a sprinter's finale, and Peter Sagan came through once again. It was really close - although he was hanging near the front, he almost started his assault a little late. Still, after days of pushing himself through the Alps and keeping up with the climbers, he managed to once again get a win on the Tour. He's an amazing sprinter with a heavy-duty body that can pull through the high peaks and still be ready to race again the next day. Bravo for Peter Sagan. 

Today's Stage 14 to Mende is hilly once again, with a steep climb to a small plateau at the end. We're entering the Massif Central on this 186 km stage, and it's an up and down profile now. We're also back to the climbers being prominent. 

The big obstacle today is the final peak as the riders pull into Mende. The Cote de la Croix Neuve has a nice steep section (in black) that will challenge already-tired legs, with a short, flat plateau at the top for the finish. It could be an all-out battle for the lead riders as they crest the climb and enter that short flat. 

Sunday's ride features three major peaks, the last of which
is a Cat 1 mountain, the Pic de Nore. Here's another
opportunity for Peter Sagan if he can keep up with the
climbers on the up part, he might well win on
the downward run. 

Sunday's ride is Day 15 of Le Tour and it starts early. The 181.5 km stage features three category peaks on the way from Millau to Carcassonne, and that third climb, the Category 1 Pic de Nore may turn into a head-to-head (or bike-to-bike) battle. Look for high speeds on the final downhill and a real tussle near the finish line. 

The lawn roller we want to rent can be filled with water
from the hose which will give it the weight needed to
compress the soil. If we can get this done, it will do
a lot for DH's peace of mind. 

Monday will be a well-deserved rest day and on Tuesday, we'll end nestled in the beginning of the Pyrenees. The western mountains between Spain and France are always so exciting, so next week will be AWESOME! In the meantime, DH and I will be working hard on the yard on Sunday. We need lots of black dirt and grass seed, and need to arrange the rental of a lawn roller. These large rollers are used to compress the earth. Fortunately they make 'fill with water' instead of solid steel ones now, and I think one will fit into Minion. The only question is will one be available to rent? 

Have a wonderful weekend. I plan on being back here on Monday to review what happened over the weekend in Le Tour and to look ahead to the ride into Paris next Sunday. Then another Tour will be in the books, and what a ride it has turned out to be thus far! Be healthy and happy, I'll be back on Monday. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Le Tour Day 13 - Leaving the Alps Behind and Heading West

The Alps did their job - they broke the ranks of the riders and made for some truly exciting watching. Alpe d-Huez was crazy - spectators everywhere, noise, colored smoke and flags flying. It was like going into battle for the riders, and in many ways, that's not out of the realm of an accurate description. At the end of the day, Sky still held the Yellow Jersey, and it was still on the back of Geraint Thomas. I'm delighted with this young Welshman - he's the future of that team. An old adage states "He who wears yellow at the top of the Alpe wears it at Paris." I hope that turns out to be the case because I really like Geraint Thomas - a lot! 

Team Sky was supposed to be all about Chris Froome, and Froome
came in 4th on the stage, so a good performance. But this man,
Geraint Thomas, he's the future of that team and he performed
brilliantly. He's a joy to watch on the bike. 

Nine riders either withdrew, didn't start, or were eliminated because of being outside the time on yesterday's stage. A lot of them were support personnel, but there were some well-known names among them. Rigoberto Uran (Education First), Tony Gallopin (AG2R), Rick Zabel (Katusha), Dylan Groenwegen (Lotto-Jumbo and an earlier stage winner this year) and Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) are all out of the race now. 

Today we leave the alps of the eastern side of France
and begin heading toward the west and the
Col du Tourmalet. 

Today we begin heading across the bottom of France toward the Pyrenees. We're still in mountains, but not the massive peaks of the Alps. Lots of pain still to come. Today's stage is proof of the fact that even though we're leaving the Alps behind, those hills still have to be conquered. Tomorrow will be harder, so I'm sure the riders are taking a breath here. 

Yes, there are two category peaks, but today's profile is almost gentle compared to the past three days. Today's stretch is 169.5 kilometers, and actually will have a flat ending, so here's a chance for the sprinters to show their stuff. The question will be if the Alps left anything in their bodies so that they can take advantage. The time gaps are big, so even with a sprinter win, Thomas may still wear the Yellow tonight. The problem with this stage is the possibility of wind which may make or break the riders throughout Stage 13. 

Enjoy your day. I'm planning on doing the same, so we'll see. I was so busy with customers yesterday that I only finished one repair. I have three more pending, so I hope I get a bit of opportunity to work on them today. Also, my laptop is breaking again - this time the hinge on the other side of the screen. I guess next week I'll perch in the back at the shop and disassemble it, mounting the other hinge. It always scares me when I take my computer apart and drill through the casing, but I can't let it die. I can't afford a new one. Happy Friday, everyone! 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Le Tour Day 12 - The Final Day in the Alps

Alpe d'Huez resonates in the mountain biking world. The multiple switchbacks, the steep terrain, and the storied history within bicycle racing have made it an icon. It's been raced from bottom to top. It's been raced from top to bottom. It's even been raced from both directions in the same race. It never fails to amaze and delight the fans, and crush the riders. Today's stage in the Alps ends on Alpe d'Huez. I'll be standing on the side of one of the switchbacks ringing a virtual cowbell alongside Chickie in my imagination. Doing that in real life? It's on our bucket lists. 

The top of Alpe d'Huez is a ski resort, but I wouldn't want
to be driving up these switchbacks in the snow and ice. The
famous switchback road that gets you from bottom to
top is almost never-ending. 

Yesterday's fight through the Alps was magnificent. Geraint Thomas (Sky) pushed hard and took off like a gazelle about 5k from the summit finish line. Five klicks from the end is a long way to hold a lead, but even as he was almost caught by his fellow teammate, Chris Froome, he pulled on his reserves again and sprinted ahead for the final kilometer to win the stage and the Yellow Jersey. So, Team Sky now has the yellow. Froome actually was neck-to-neck with Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) but ended up in third place by the thickness of a bicycle wheel. 

Today is brutal - three HC classed peaks with a single baby
Cat 2 nestled among them. The already broken field
will be blown apart by today's final day in the Alps,
and riders who gave their all yesterday may find that
today is an impossible dream.

Also, although Alpe d'Huez
takes a lot of press, don't forget about Col de la
Madeleine, a mountain almost as storied in Tour
de France history. Madeleine is a monster! 

Some well-known riders were broken by the Alps yesterday and finished outside of the time limit. Say good-bye to Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), his lead-in man Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data), and Marcel Kittle (Katusha Alpecin). Amazingly, Lawson Craddock (Education First) is still riding, and actually doing better than many riders less severely injured than he is. So far his courage and tenacity has inspired so many people that he has managed to raise more than $100,000 for hurricane relief and rebuilding in his home city of Houston, Texas. Currently he stands at 123, ahead of almost 40 riders including his own teammate, Taylor Phinney. 

Alpe d'Huez looks so kind in this detail, but
among all of those black sections of extreme
gradient, is the actual roadway - switchback
after switchback, after switchback. 

So today we're back in the high mountains, those natural boundaries that effectively cut one country off from another. The race must go on, therefore these mountains must be conquered before we can move across France toward the mountainous western fence, the Pyrenees. There's lots of up and down in the 175.5 km race today, and it takes two hours alone just for Col de la Madeleine. Hard work for everyone today, and there will be more riders dropped by either time or accident by the end of today's stage. 

Have a fabulous Thursday and I'll be back tomorrow. I'm SO excited - today ends on Alpe d'Huez and I'll be watching, even if it is watching on a screen. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Tour de France Stage 10 Wrap-up and More Mountains Today

Yesterday's first day in the Alps was wonderful - filled with great bike racing, hard climbs and heart-stopping descents. Quick-Step Floor's Julian Alaphillipe won the 10th stage by putting out a blistering pace and holding on throughout the massive peaks. The yellow jersey stayed with Greg van Avermaet for one more day, but Sky pulled together, keeping both Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas in good position to make a move. Nairo Quintana also seemed very comfortable as the riders forced their way up and down these massive peaks. 

It's the first uphill finish in this year's race and Chris Froome
will want to be very much in the rankings. Count on Sky to
push on this stage, getting both Froome and Geraint Thomas
to the end in a fast time. 

Today we're surrounded by mountains - lots and lots of them. It's a short stage, only 108 km, but so very intense with two HC peaks, one 1 and one 2. Steep, rugged, hard uphills and flying downhills, it sets the stage for tomorrow's classic ending on Alpe d'Huez. 

The final peak for today is a Cat 1, and the uphill
finish will really push the riders to the edge.
Today is the day when the Yellow jersey
will likely move to a different rider, but it's
been worn well by Greg van Avermaet. 

The standings after Stage 10 had no change for the Yellow Jersey, but coming in at a solid second place was Geraint Thomas, even though he was stuck to Chris Froome for the day. Froome, himself, is currently in 6th position overall. Adam Yates is doing well this year, he's currently placed in 7th. Vincenzo Nibali is currently 9th. Some very good riders in the top 10 right now. The peloton hasn't cracked yet, but it's coming. 

Congratulations to Stage 10 winner, Julian Alaphillipe. It was
a hard ride, but he performed brilliantly, going as fast
as 55 mph on the downward slopes. Scary and so fun. 

Well, I'm going to wrap this up and head out to the swimming pool. Our heat wave has backed off a bit, so it's at least comfortable sleeping weather, and all in all, in spite of the fact that I'm working on what would be my normal "day off", I'm hanging in there. Have a wonderful Wednesday. I'll be back to spotlight one of my favorite peaks, Alpe d'Huez, tomorrow. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Le Tour Stage 10 - Finally We're In the Mountains

Now I can start to get excited because the mountains begin today! The boys of Le Tour begin their climbs in the Alps with today's stage. I can hardly wait! Of course I enjoyed the cobblestones, and the French coastline and upper portion of the nation was quite beautiful, but mountains make me sing. I suppose it's a reminder of the Colorado Rocky Mountains of my youth, but it also makes for some damned exciting bicycle racing. 

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Today's stage stars lots of wonderful mountains which will be the star of the race for most of the remainder of the Tour de France. After a plane ride south, were're firmly in the Alps im the eastern part of France. Today the Tour will start to break up - the sprinters having difficulty staying anywhere close to the climbing specialists. (Day 12 will be the hardest for the sprinters, but the next three days are super challenging for all of the riders.) The current standings won't look the same after the next three days. It's time for the big guns, the vast scenery, and the crowds of spectators. 

Today's stage profile makes me very happy. I have two detail
maps of specific peaks below as well. We have three Cat 1
peaks and one HC. Notice that small green marker to the far left?
That's the last flat for the sprinters to get points on today's route. 

Although we've lost some serious contenders through the flats and cobblestones, most notably Richie Porte from Team BMC, there have only been nine riders who have dropped out of the race thus far. The mountain stages will increase that number exponentially, although the boys will push everything they have into staying under the time limits. Some of the riders will be caught on time, others will have their already abused bodies just give out on them. This race is not for the weak. 

On Montee du plateau des Gliored, it's an
extremely steep gradient for this HC peak. 

In terms of actual distance, today's race is 158.5 km long, starting with a Cat 4 climb and ending with a massive downhill race down Col de la Colombiere into a flat plateau for an all-out race to the finish. The question is will the teams gather behind their front men? Team Sky usually is all about Chris Froome, but Geraint Thomas is equally capable of pulling the win and so far his team director has allowed him to race instead of just support Froome. Are we seeing cracks in the teams? 

The final two peaks today will really push the riders. See all
of those black sections? Those are the really steep portions and
by the time they reach the top of Col de la Colombiere, they'll be
more than ready to fly down the peak and into the final

The final two peaks, the Col de Romme and the Col de la Colombiere (both Cat 1) are where most of the shifting for positions will take place. The riders' legs will be tested today. These are the Alps - broad roadways, sweeping turns, and sometimes the riders misjudge their speeds or the gradient and go off the side. I've seen it happen, and it usually isn't a good thing. I'm hoping everyone gets through this first day of the Alps safely, but I know that the field will be fractured by tonight. 

Have a great Tuesday. I'm looking forward to several days in a row of exceptional racing in the massive peaks of the Alps. Huzzah! 

Monday, July 16, 2018

What a Great Weekend - Now For Six Days of Work in a Row

So, we survived the cobblestones, although it was hell on man, machine, and rankings. Today is a well-deserved rest for the racers, and a rather intense day of repairs for the mechanics, I suspect. The bikes were shaken and stirred, there were crashes throughout the course. Bikes were thrown this way and that and tires were wibbly-wobbly. Oh, those cobblestones. 

Cobblestones - more than 22k in sections - tore the hell out
of the bikes and the riders on Sunday. It was really
something to watch! 

The weather was hot and dry, allowing for lots and lots of dust between the riders, spectators and the various vehicles racing through the narrow roads on a twisty-turny course. It was mayhem, and it was a total delight to watch. I sacrificed sleep - serious needed but it was Le Tour and it was the cobbles, so sleep was set aside. I might regret that later this week, but right now, it was the correct decision. 

Congratulations to France, winners of the FIFA World
Cup 2018. 

After the Tour, we watched the final of the World Cup. Congratulations to France for a job well done, and congratulations to Croatia for making it an excellent match. I'm not fond of soccer, but it was an interesting game to watch, and well-played. The final presentations, etc, happened in pouring rain, with the President of France and the President of the Republic of Croatia getting drenched to the skin as each athlete of both teams were thanked and hugged by both governmental leaders. I was impressed by both heads of state who stood there, focused on the players, ignoring the rain. 

I was very impressed by the President of Croatia who
gave every player from both teams heartfelt
hugs and congratulations for a game well
played. While standing in pouring rain. 

Today begins a six-day workweek (ick!). Chickie is taking "stay-cation" this week and I hope she has a good time relaxing with her cats. She deserves the time off, but it gets hard on me because I have to work harder when I don't have two of us active on the sales floor at all times. My Manager is in the store too, but he tends to work on his own projects and not interact with the customers. *sigh* Still, it is what it is, no choice. 

I hope each of you had a wonderful weekend. I'm already looking forward to tomorrow's resumption of Le Tour when we FINALLY hit some mountains - three days in the Alps. Huzzah! I'll have the stage profile and analysis for you tomorrow. Have a great Monday. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Day 8 & 9 - We're Heading Toward the Cobbles on Sunday

The week, indeed the entire first eight days, has been focused on making it to Sunday's cobblestones. But to get to the cobbles, we first have to get through Day 8, and there's no such thing as a 'gimmee' in bicycle racing. 

Day 8 isn't a long day, but it does have a couple of Cat 4
climbs in the 181 km course. I'm not expecting anything
earthshaking today. I'm leaving all of the shaking earth
for the cobbles on Sunday. 

Stage 8 of Le Tour will take place in just a few hours. You'll have to check your local schedule for when Day 9 will actually start, since they will try to schedule it earlier than usual to finish (if at all possible) before the final game of the World Cup. The crowds for Le Tour might be a bit less because a lot of the French populace will be in their local watering holes of choice watching France go against Croatia in the World Cup final. 

Day nine really doesn't look like much, but there are fifteen
sections of cobblestones, totaling 21.7 km total. This will be
bruising on both the riders and their bicycles. 

Still, after Sunday the boys will welcome their one day "off" on Monday, and the mechanics will be more than delighted to have a bit of time to really go over the equipment and the array of well-worn and highly abused bicycles. 

The cobbles have a history of pain and despair. Although there have been winners from cobbled stretches in the past (Tony Martin, Vincenzo Nibali), there have been serious issues for front runners as well (Alberto Contador and Chris Froome in prior years). The Tour has always had smaller stretches of cobblestones, but the road to Roubaix is famous in racing history as part of an annual one-day race of total pain and punishment. It's a perfect addition for this year's Tour de France. 

The cobblestones are hard on the bicycles and riders, but
if there is any moisture - rain or mist - they can become
very slick and difficult to navigate. Quality riders have
been hurt badly by slipping on wet cobblestones. 

This year features a total of 55km of cobbled stretches in fifteen separate sections through the route for Sunday, taking up a good portion of the 156.5 km course. I'm hoping for sunny skies, a minimal breeze, and a safe race for all, but I also know it probably won't be that easy. It never is. 

Lawson Craddock, the injured rider I mentioned yesterday, is still last in the field of 170 riders. As of yesterday morning, he had managed to raise more than $64,000 for his personal campaign of Hurricane Relief for Houston, Texas, an amount that he's extremely grateful for. He's continuing to race for as long as he can, despite the pain, because every day he's out on the course increases the donations for a city he loves. The cobblestones on Stage 9 will be really hard for him. 

As for the current standings ... Dylan Groenewegen won Stage Seven over Fernando Gaviria and Peter Sagan, but the overall standings didn't shift much. As of today, here are the current standings: Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) is still in the Yellow Jersey, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) still wears the Green for the sprinters. Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo) wears the polka dot of King of the Mountains, but that will change a lot when we hit the real mountains still to come, the best young rider is Soren Kragh Andersen (Team Sunweb), and the top team thus far is Quick-Step Floors. 

So there you have it - an exciting sporting weekend all around between Stages 8 and 9 of Le Tour de France and the final game for the World Cup in soccer. The bicycling boys may have Monday off, but I don't. So I'll be back on Monday, ready to start a six-day work week. ICK! Have a wonderful weekend.