Blazin' Saddles

Movistar write great script but forget happy ending

Blazin' Saddles

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It started with the action coming thick and fast - much like the opening sequence in a Bond film.

So much happened in the scene-setting segment of the film - with the CGI count (Chaos Garmin Input) hitting overdrive - that, when Adele finally started warbling the lyrics to 'Skyfall', Chris Froome's team-mates had done just that.

Garmin really got their jaws stuck in. David Millar, Jack Bauer, Ramunas Navardauskas, Tom Danielson, Andrew Talansky, Ryder Hesjedal and Dan Martin - that's seven riders, or 007 if you will - all made repeated attempts to break away.

It was as if they were still fuming about their performance in the Nice team time trial and decided to find a quantum of solace in the Pyrenees.

Sky didn't seem to be doing themselves any favours either, with Peter Kennaugh crashing after a clash of shoulders with Ryder 'Nick Nack' Hesjedal, then falling down a grass bank and disappearing into the undergrowth of a deep ditch.

(It seems Kennaugh anticipated a shoulder-barge from Hesjedal that never really came, thus toppling off balance and hard onto his hip on the roadside. That said, Hesjedal was wearing some kind of eye-wear not seen since the days of Andy Hampsten, and could well have been oblivious to the presence of anything on his flanks - much like a blinkered horse.)

That left Froome with just three Sky team-mates, including his Felix Leiter-style right-hand man, Richie Porte. The Tasmanian was a poor imitation of his own swashbuckling self from 24 hours earlier - like one of Madame Tussauds' less good works (you know, the ones whose photos they publish in newspapers that make us all laugh).

Porte's legs were certainly about as reliable and responsive as those of his Bond alter-ego towards the second half of Licence To Kill - although, to non-Bond connoisseurs, that will mean nothing.

Sure, there was two moments when he told himself to die another day - after the first climb of the day and on the third, when he seemed to be working his way back to the leaders after a miracle musette - but by the end, the combined efforts of Movistar, Garmin and Saxo Bank had knocked the living daylights out of him.

Porte shipped 18 minutes and now is completely out of the picture, sinking from second to 33rd on GC. He's been well and truly emasculated to the extent that Jaws was towards the end of Moonraker, when he realises Drax's deceit before floating off into space with Dolly, his bespectacled blonde belle.

For the first time in this year's Tour - for the first time in the past two years in fact - we had a yellow jersey from Team Sky in total isolation. And not simply on the final ascent of a stage. This was 130km from the finish and there were still four peaks left to scale.

Movistar had more henchmen than the entire Roger Moore back catalogue; but in the end they did about as good a job of blowing things apart as the raft of gorgeous girls keeping Bond company in the mountain chalet in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. That's so say, they looked good, asked the right questions and were certainly distracting but, ultimately, nothing came of it.

Strength in numbers is quite an asset - but if none of you know the recipe for a good gratin, you're not going to enjoy your roast dinner (so to speak).

Or is that being too harsh?

For already, just one day after everyone had written off the Tour, we are in a situation when the race is well and truly alive.

Sure, Froome lost no time to any of his rivals on the stage - and had you come in from sunbathing in the garden and only caught the last few minutes of the race, you'd be forgiven in thinking it was a rather routine affair. But you may have also noticed the yellow jersey surrounded by the yellow-helmeted Movistars but not alongside any other Men in Black.

In the Team Sky bus after the stage, they probably fancied putting on some music. Well, if they'd fancied a bit of Plan B they'd be in a pickle - because there isn't any on the playlist.

The next phase of the Tour will be a whole new ballgame for Dave Brailsford's men. Last year, there was always Chris Froome as back up should something happen to Bradley Wiggins.

This year, if something happens to Froome, that's it, their Tour is well and truly over. There's not even a Plan C in the shape of a bidon-fetching Mark Cavendish any more.

As Martin said himself after the win: "Last year was a bit of a procession behind Sky so we wanted to show them what we could do and put them under pressure."

So in that respect, Movistar, Saxo and Garmin did an outstanding job on Sunday.

That they didn't break Froome on the two final climbs wasn't because they were tactically naïve or didn't fancy sticking the knife in - it was more likely because they were pretty much at full capacity themselves.

The people who complain that Movistar didn't pull the trigger on those climbs are the same people who were probably expecting Team Sky to completely dominate the second Pyrenean stage as they did the first - and who would then throw a series of doping aspersions their way on Twitter.

"Given their work yesterday, it's quite normal for my team-mates to be feeling it today. They're human and that's bike racing," said Froome.

And the reason why he's not feeling it as much as them is the reason why he's team leader and not them.

Movistar wrote the script today - but it was not for a single film. There will be a sequel. Heck, this could be a franchise. We already have one cliffhanger - time to sit back and enjoy the rest of the box set.

So, bravo Garmin for giving us yet another different stage winner in this Tour - and bravo Movistar for putting Sky in a situation in which they have never been: leading the race but with no leeway.

After all, such was the blistering pace all day that one rider didn't finish within the cut-off: Vasil Kiryienka of Team Sky.

HOT OR NOT

HOT:

Dan Martin's season couldn't be going better, the young Irish climber adding a maiden Tour stage win to his Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Tour of Cayalunya scalps. Now in the top 10, Martin can target his highest ever finish in a Grand Tour, plus another win and - why not? - the polka dot jersey. Oh, and he totally owned Jakob Fuglsang in the final 500m.

Romain Bardet is having such a good Tour it's easy to forget he's just 22 and making his race debut. After a strong showing on Saturday, the Ag2R-La Mondiale youngster was the last rider of the break to be caught - and alongside team-mate Jean-Christophe Peraud, he's one of only two Frenchmen in the top 20.

Lastly, let's give Cadel Evans a hot - for succeeding where his compatriot Richie Porte failed, that's to say, crack on the first climb, but fight back on - despite an untimely mechanical - and finish alongside the main favourites. The 36-year-old veteran gets a lot of stick, but his bullish determination is admirable.

NOT:

Tenth in his debut Tour last year, Thibaut Pinot's nightmare race continued when the FDJ youngster came home 25 minutes down after another punishing day in the Pyrenees. Rumour has it, Pinot was on the verge of quitting cycling earlier in the season after his morale hit rock bottom. It can't help that the French media and public put so much pressure on their young stars so early. Just look at Pierre Rolland - you've got to be going a bit crazy to wear shorts like those every day... Romain Bardet, beware.

Talking of Rolland, the Frenchman did open up a 16-point lead over Froome in the King of the Mountains competition - but he is seemingly throwing away a place in the top 15 to go for a jersey that just makes him look stupid. Besides, if he were taking the KOM seriously, then he wouldn't allow Thomas de Gendt and Simon Clarke to pretty much steal maximum points from his pocket on successive climbs.

Finally, Astana suffered another nightmare day with Jakob Fuglsang missing out on the stage win and Dmitriy Muravyev becoming their fourth rider to quit the race.

But as Simon Geschke's photo suggests, the remaining Astana riders are no doubt going to spend large parts of the rest day in paradise...

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STAGE 10: SAINT-GILDAS-DES-BOIS - SAINT MALO, 197KM

Provided there are still some sprinters left in the race following Sunday's cut-off, this one is for them. A well-earned rest-day on Monday should be followed by a rather routine day in the saddle, with a Europcar/Cofidis/Sojasun/Vacansoleil breakaway edging clear early doors and being swept up 15km from the finish before a ding-ding bunch sprint.

Although you can imagine the looks on the face of Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel should Cannondale decide to do what they did the other day and roll the metaphorical elephant into the peloton.

PLAT DU JOUR

We're in Brittany now so the restaurant race takes a whole new dynamic. Lunch today will feature savoury pancakes - or galettes - stuffed with ham, cheese and mushrooms, washed down with some Breton cider. Why not double up with some crêpes for dessert - keeping it traditional, with some lemon and sugar?

In the evening, once you've had your fill of Cavendish celebrations, seek out Cancale, a village near Saint-Malo renowned for its sumptuous oysters. To get rid of the flavour afterwards (come on - nobody actually likes oysters) have some Kouing Aman, a delicious Breton cake made with butter and sugar, sometimes infused with apple.

Blazin' Saddles will return after the rest day...

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