Sunday, July 8, 2007

Tour de France: Stage 1

London to Cantebury 203 km

Good morning. It's Tour de France, Stage 1. This is the Group News Blog Sports Desk.

Stage 1 left London's famous Tower Bridge at precisely 11 am London time this morning. The 94th Tour started with 189 riders representing 27 nations.

Trivia Question: Last British rider to win a stage of the Tour: David Millar, who has won three Tdf stages in his career. Two time trials and a road stage. We shall see what the past holds for today for David Millar.

Within minutes of leaving the Tower of London, the peloton was attacked by breakaways. Eleven minutes in, David Millar (GBR) got himself free, and four other riders -- Grivko (MRM), Perez (MRM), Kuschynski (LIQ) and Sprik (BTL) -- bridged the gap to Millar and joined the breakaway, which not only got clear, but extended, held off the peloton and successfully extended their escape.

The break stayed out front of the peloton for a number of hours, with the breakaway taking the intermediate sprint points and King of the Mountains points on today's three category 4 climbs, however the peloton continued to slowly reel the breakaway back in from a maximum of almost six minutes away. By the time of the final intermediate sprint, the breakaway had only 2:51 on the peloton with three full teams organizing most seriously to bring them back.

For those of you not passionate about cycling, let's take a moment as the peloton rides along, to review some of the basics of multi-day bike racing. There are many different races happening inside the overall race. While we'll talk specifically about the Tour, the basics are the same for most multi-day races. The colored Jersey is the symbol of winning, and in the Tour de France, there are four up for grabs, in addition to 21 stage wins, the Most Aggressive Rider, and the Team Classification awards.

Stage Win: 8,000 Euros ($10,900) There are 21 stages. This year, there is 1 prologue, 11 in the flats, 6 mountain days and 1 in the hills, plus 2 individual time trials. In other years, there have been team time trials, which personally is one of my favorites. But not this year. The tour is different each year. Capturing a stage could be the highlight of many riders career.

Most Aggressive Rider: 20,000 Euros ($27,250) Chosen by an eight-judge panel after each stage (not including time trials), at tour's end, one rider is chosen overall and takes the award (and all the money.)

Team Classification: 50,000 Euros ($68,125) After each stage, add up your three best placed riders times. At the end of the tour, the fastest total time wins.

Best Young Rider -- The White Jersey: 20,000 Euros ($27,250) 25 years and younger at the start of the Tour. Based on fastest overall time in the General Classification. The fastest youngster wears the white jersey throughout.

King of the Mountains -- The Polka-Dot Jersey: 25,000 Euros ($34,060) Categorized climbs are awarded points; the more difficult, the more points. Mountain finishes are worth double points. As always, it's wonderful to wear the jersey throughout the tour, but only wearing the jersey on the podium on Paris (the last day) gets you the money.

Points Competition -- The Green Jersey: 25,000 Euros ($34,060) Also known as the Sprinters Jersey. Points are awarded at intermediate sprint lines on road stages, and at every stage finish. The most points at the end of the stage, and the race, wins.

General Classification -- The Yellow Jersey: 450,000 Euros ($613,150) The maillot jaune (the Yellow Jersey) is the greatest win possible in all of cycling. The rider with the fastest overall time after three weeks is the winner of the Tour de France. At the end of each stage, the rider with the fastest overall time wears the yellow jersey on the next stage. There are time bonus (not including time trials) of 6, 4, & 2 seconds deducted from your time, for being first three riders to cross intermediate sprint lines -- three such bonus on flat stages and two on other stages. Time bonuses of 20, 12 & 8 seconds are awarded to the first three finishers on all non time-trial stages.

By tradition, the Yellow Jersey winner gives all of his winnings -- and the other winners share their winnings -- to his teammates, as he could not have won without them. The winners know they will receive much more in endorsements than the winnings, so it is only fair to give the winnings themselves to their teams.

The Tour -- not just one race; multiple races: The Yellow Jersey, the Points (or sprinters) Jersey, the King of the Mountains, and the Young Riders (White) Jersey.

Damn. Nasty crash. One rider hit a central traffic island, went down and two other peloton riders plowed into him. I'm not certain if this is the Tour organization just screwing up, or if it's the riders not paying attention on the first day. The obstruction was padded. Normally -- in France -- there's someone there waving a flag at the field so they go around. Not so here in England. Hmm. Sloppy, sloppy on this lovely day in the English countryside. But the bikers, they just have to ride; they have strict time maximums they must meet each day or they're cut from the Tour. All three are back up, one of them bleeding all down his arm, and they're back riding, working to catch up with the peloton, the one rider being bandaged from his team car, riding alongside. Damn, these riders are tough.

At 3:45 pm London time, Millar and Grivko are back in the peloton. Three riders lead on still almost two minutes on the field, but they're not trying very hard, and it's almost certain the field will bring them back, any time it wants. The sprinters will have their day today, which is as it should be. It's going to be a full out sprint at the finish this afternoon.

Cantebury is so beautiful. And soon 188 cyclists (we've already had our first drop -- someone fell, breaking their collarbone) are going to tear around the final turn at over 40 miles an hour pushing and shoving for position, accelerating for a few brief moments at the front of the pack to almost 50, even 55 miles an hour. These guys are pure leg muscles and an enormous pair of lungs, attached to a tactical racing computer. It's scary as hell, and it's all gearing up to hit beautiful Cantebury now just 25 miles away.

Now just 25 km left to race, and only Stephen Auge is left in what was a 5 person break. He's only got 35 seconds on the peloton, but he's racing with all he's got, trying to get 3 km more for those last 3 King of the Mountains points to take the Jersey today over David Millar. He may well manage, but no way he holds off the field all the way to Canterbury. This is going down to the sprinters.

And yes, Auge is captured and the peloton is together at last. Not enough by Auge, all that work for nothing and Millar will wear the King of the Mountains jersey on Day 2. With Millar taking second over the climb at Farthing Coommon, he and Auge tie in climbing points. But Millar is higher in the GC classification, therefore Millar wins the tie and takes the King of the Mountains jersey in England and will wear it for at least the next two stages. Congratulations to English favorite David Millar.

Sprinting. Flat stages come down to sprint finishes. Teams work to set up their strong finishers, warriors like Robbie McEwen (AUS), Thor Hushovld (N), and Tom Boonen (B). Or Alessandro Petacchi (I.) If you don't follow cycling, these names mean nothing to you, but they are stars in Europe. In a bunched sprint to the finish, it's a terrifying sight to see trains of cyclists piling down on you, speeds well over 45, even up to 50+ miles an hour for brief moments, each rider drafting the others, attaining speeds no one could ever attain alone.

At the very last moment, the front riders of the train pull to the sides leaving the sprinters to gasp through the pain of pure oxygen dept to the finish line. 1 km to go...

And HERE THEY COME TO THE LINE, Robbie Hunter in the lead, a wild card out of nowhere, McEwen trying to take it, and there he is, where the hell did he come from? McEwen, McEwen was at the back of the main field, no one saw him, and it's Robbie McEwen at the line breaking out of nowhere taking the field, the winner of his 12th Tour stage.

Yes! That's how it's done. And after Robbie crashed with less than 25 km to go. Damn. Will his wrist be okay for him to ride tomorrow? Tune in to GNB Sports and find out.

Monday, Stage Two is viewable LIVE in the United States on Versus, Monday, July 9, 8:30 - 11:30 AM ET/5:30 - 8:30 AM PT

We regret the error: Yesterday, GNB Sports accidently posted incorrect TV times for today. I live in Seattle, so I automatically adjusted times for the west coast in my head. My bad; sorry. From now on, I'll post times as ET/PT, as above.

Here are the video highlights from today. More great Tour coverage at VeloNews.

See you tomorrow in France for the restart with Stage 2 where we ride into Belgium. And in the meantime, Sunday's a great day to go bicycling.

TDF Stage 1 Results -- Top 10:
1. Robbie McEwen
2. Thor Hushovd
3. Tom Boonen
4. Sebastien Chavanel
5. Romain Feillu
6. Robert Forster
7. Marcus Burghardt
8. Oscar Freire
9. Francisco Ventoso
10. Thomas Vaitkus

TDF: Standings after Stage 1
Pos. No. Name Nat. Team Time Gap
1 033 CANCELLARA, Fabian SUI CSC 04:47:51.000 00:00:00.000
2 196 KLÖDEN, Andréas GER AST 04:48:04.000 00:00:13.000
3 201 MILLAR, David GBR SDV 04:48:12.000 00:00:21.000
4 114 HINCAPIE, George USA DSC 04:48:14.000 00:00:23.000
5 149 WIGGINS, Bradley GBR COF 04:48:14.000 00:00:23.000
6 113 GUSEV, Vladimir RUS DSC 04:48:16.000 00:00:25.000
7 015 KARPETS, Vladimir RUS GCE 04:48:17.000 00:00:26.000
8 101 HUSHOVD, Thor NOR C.A 04:48:20.000 00:00:29.000
9 191 VINOKOUROV, Alexandre KAZ AST 04:48:21.000 00:00:30.000
10 054 DEKKER, Thomas NED RAB 04:48:22.000 00:00:31.000