Blazin' Saddles

Cannondale’s crash course in causing chaos

Blazin' Saddles

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"Kind of knew what Cannondale would do today but there was no way to prevent it. They rode faultlessly. Congratulations to Peter Sagan. He's a machine."

This was Mark Cavendish's Twitter reaction to being at the receiving end of a right rogering from Cannondale during stage seven of this increasingly intriguing Tour.

On the second of four categorised climbs in the long and undulating stage from Montpellier to Albi, Cannondale suddenly ramped up the pace. This wasn't a mere leg-stretching exercise - this was a full-on distance-all-rivals operation.

The boys in green, with their man in green, crossed the summit with two minutes over a chasing group featuring Andre Greipel and three minutes over a third Cav and Marcel Kittel faction.

These were the three major sprinters who had already picked up wins on the Tour. Two of them - the fastest with the strongest teams - were the men Sagan had failed to beat in the previous two stages of the race, as his string of second place finishes continued to pull in green jersey points but no glory.

The chasers came together to form one large grupetto. Working together, and with 110km to turn things around, you would have thought Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Lotto-Belisol and Argos Shimano could have neutralised the threat.

But Cannondale's relentless pace of 60kmh made this impossible. A momentary easing up after Sagan won the intermediate sprint with 70km still left to ride gave the chasers hope - but soon Cannondale were back on the front doing their own chase, after three riders had taken advantage of the brief lull to spring off the front.

After finally deciding to sit up and give up the chase with 45km remaining, Cavendish was seen being consoled by his OPQS team-mates. As for Greipel's Lotto-Belisol train, they took the chance to stock up with water bottles. It wasn't because they had emptied theirs; such a long and hard chase left no time for basic needs like drinking water.

More likely, it was because they had thrown all their old bidons at Brian Vanborg, the only Cannondale rider not to be dictating the infernal pace on the front of the main pack. Vanborg's green Cannondale jersey was the closest they'd get to green all day.

In fact, the Cannondale's green team colours will from now on act as a constant reminder that Friday was the day Peter Sagan won his second successive green jersey.

Anyway, back on the front, Cannondale still had a job to do: reel in the Bakelants-Oroz-Gautier trio and then make sure their man got to the wedding in time - dressed as the groom and not the bridesmaid.

Besides one slight wobble on one of Albi's numerous roundabouts, they did just that. Sagan's final sprint, from the wheel of John Degenkolb, was pretty special - and there was an element of relief in the Slovak's slightly muted celebration as he crossed the line.

"I reckon Sagan isn't too popular with the peloton tonight. Two hard stages to come and a lot wasted chasing his ego today," one of Saddles's cycling buddies wrote on Facebook afterwards.

The reply came from a respected cycling reporter: "He won a stage and opened up a very handy advantage in the green jersey competition. Both reasonable goals which justified the way his team rode. What do you think he should have done - let Cavendish and Greipel get back up?"

The social network table tennis continued, with Saddles's buddy elaborating on his first statement: "Thinking ahead, there are two major stages to come this weekend, both could be deciders for who's on the top three steps of the podium, and there's a flat stage on Monday, so today Sagan made everyone work so he could get a cheap stage when a low GC guy could have had it.

"Today was down as a rest day for the overall. Sagan will have to face Cavendish and Greipel on a level playing field, which he will do on Monday, then it's payback three days in a row for his whole team."

In reply, the aforementioned reporter simply posted the new green jersey standings, which Sagan tops by 94 points over Greipel.

Saddles has to say he agrees. The GC boys can hardly complain. Their day is tomorrow. And the next day. Then they'll get a rest. The Tour is three weeks long and played out over numerous platforms. It's crazy to think that anyone is entitled to a rest day when there are stages to be won and jersey competitions to dominate.

Can anyone complain that Contador made his decisive attack in last year's Vuelta on a day that wasn't meant to be game-changing for the race favourites?

When Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky dominated in the mountains in key stages last year, was Wiggo "chasing his ego" or chasing his dream of winning the Tour de France? Why should it differ with Sagan - his Tour is stage wins and the green jersey. It's hardly egotistical to use his best strengths to do both in one fell swoop.

Former green jersey Simon Gerrans - one of the three riders to get the better of Sagan in sprints in the opening week - didn't seem to have too many complaints. "You've got to take your hat off to the Cannondale boys - they earned that win today," he tweeted.

As for Richie Porte, the Tasmanian "GC guy" didn't seem too put out by Cannondale actually wanting to race a bike race, tweeting: "After the stress of yesterday today actually was quite enjoyable, Looking forward to getting into the mountains."

One rider, however, did complain - although it wasn't anyone you could exactly call a GC favourite.

Replying to Porte's tweet, stage one winner Kittel simply wrote, "Opinions can be sooo different..." before adding an emoticon of a crying face. For Kittel, the hell of the mountains started one day early.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The multiple cuts and bruises that he suffered in today's crash, compounded with the injuries he sustained on stage five - which included a blood clot in his neck, a loosened screw in the metal plate holding together his collarbone, and upper back injuries - made it impossible for him to finish today's stage." Garmin team doctor Prentice Steffan on the withdrawal of Christian Vande Velde.


HOT: RadioShack-Leopard's Jens Voigt, 63, showed there's still life in the old dog yet with an early attempt to get away. When that failed, the veteran of 16 Tours had another go - and this time he and Blel Kadri (a relative beginner in just his third Grande Boucle) managed to get away. Sure, it was doomed once Cannondale threw down the hammer, but even as the boys in green closed in, good old Jens had a third wind and rode solo off the front in a bid to secure the red dossard as most aggressive rider.

Criminally, Jens was not given the combativity award, which instead went to his team-mate Jan Bakelants. In his defence, the Belgian did put in his own large attack following the intermediate sprint - but his proximity to the race lead meant that Orica-GreenEdge were having nothing of it.

The final spot for hot goes to the man who's going to be covered in them (spots that is) on Saturday: Ag2R-La Mondiale's Kadri, who managed to wrest the polka dot jersey from Pierre Rolland's shoulders after taking maximum points over the top of the first two summits. Rumour has it, Rolland offered him his polka dot shorts too, but Kadri politely declined - preferring instead to stay in his team's regulation brown ones (which sums up Rolland's sartorial sense over the past four days to a tee, really).

NOT: A lot of column inches go on about Team Sky's robotic nature - but there was a minor malfunction on Friday when two of Chris Froome's key mountain lieutenants, Vasil Kiryienka and David Lopez, went missing on only the third Cat.2 climb of the race. Alongside Geraint Thomas, the trio came home almost 15 minutes in arrears.

The next Not is not an individual but a collective: anyone with green jersey aspirations other than Peter Sagan - and for obvious reasons. Sagan had them all in his pocket - and almost has a 100-point lead at the top of the standings.

Saddles would include Thomas Voeckler in the list - but then rumour has it the French veteran was all smiles at losing the best part of 15 minutes. In fact, some suggest that Voeckler shipped the time intentionally so that he is no longer deemed a threat on GC, whereby increasing his chances to go on the rampage in the mountains. Which brings us neatly to our next segment...


The mountains are finally here - although the riders face a long 120km flat ride before the road starts to head uphill towards the monstrous Port de Pailheres, the highest point in this year's Tour in the absence of the Galibier. This tough ascent is followed by an 18km downhill and then the final climb to the ski station finish.

Just 47 seconds separate the top 42 riders going into the stage; the same amount of time could realistically separate first and second tomorrow. One thing is certain: Daryl Impey will become the first African to lose the yellow jersey - although he may well be handing it over to the second African to wear yellow, Chris Froome.

Sky management, presumably, will not be too keen to take hold of the jersey so early - but they can't exactly control the form or performances of others, and Froome is not going to hold back on landing a psychological blow to a rival because of team orders barked down his earpiece now, is he? That's just not his style...

Someone with no style but a lot of panache - that man Voeckler - may try to make a splash. He won two stages last year - one in each of the mountain ranges - and so he'll look to continue that streak at some point over the weekend. Surely one day Europcar will get a win after all these attacks...?

PLAT DU JOUR: Hearty mountain food is in abundance in the Ariege region of France, which is renowned for its dish 'mountjetado' - a wind-inducing cassoulet made with pork, sausages, duck thighs and ham.

Vegetarians will have to settle on 'azinat' - a dish of fried potatoes and cabbage accompanied with ham, liver sausages and other charcuterie. The finish on Saturday is near Spain so expect to sample some churros doughnuts for pudding - perhaps with some local cheeses like Moulis or Bamalous.

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