Thursday, February 29, 2024

Le Tour de France 2013 – Stage 18: Gap > Alpe-d’Huez, 168km. Riblon Saves AG2R’s Tour

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Alpe-d’Huez

I could never be a ski bum, 60 Euros per night for the room here at the top of Alpe-d’Huez – but you have to pay extra for sheets – and towels – there’s no toilet paper – then you have to clean the place at the end of it. A bit like borstal really, with off-hand, condescending staff.

If you were there ‘with the boys’ to watch the race that would be fine but not when you’re working.

All that said, it was a nice place to be, high in the Alps, the shop was well stocked and you could get L’Equipe with a two minute walk.

It’s edition 21,551 of L’Équipe today and they carry a big feature on Froome and whether his performances are ‘coherent.’

Fred Grappe who has biomechanical and physiological credentials and has advised F des J and the French Federation said that Froome’s rides stand up to inspection.

But L’Équipe also reveals that Froome has been tested 19 times during the race – 13 urine/blood tests and six biological passport checks.

A friend of mine maintains; ‘there’s no such thing as a random dope test.’

Given those 19 tests, there’s little doubt that the Powers That Be are highly suspicious.

And as I write this on the BlackBerry, we pass a banner which simply says; ‘FROOME ?’

Let’s hope it can become’ ‘FROOME !’

Alpe-d’Huez
The view from our chalet balcony – lovely. Photo©Ed Hood

It’s 20:30 and I’m writing this as we head for our hotel in Grenoble.

Getting off l’Alpe is horrific, even jumping into the car the minute the voiture balai (sag wagon) passes and having full credentials is no help to clearing the hill quickly.

It’s chaos all the way down and for miles out of Bourg d’Oisans.

But that’s just the way it is, Martin drives whilst I sit and write the words.

The trouble is that we still have all the pictures to put on the laptops, edit, position in the story and send – it’s gonna be a late one.

Alpe-d’Huez
The obligatory Publicity Caravan shot. Photo©Ed Hood

L’Alpe was it’s usual manic self – especially ‘Dutch Corner’ where we headed to first up to get some good shots of the madness.

Alpe-d’Huez
Dutch corner has become a tradition, but it gets wilder each time. Photo©Ed Hood

The Dutch folks arrive as early as Sunday to set up – tents, camper vans and DJ decks.

The music has been pumping all week – just a pity that Mollema and Ten Dam edged further down that slippy GC slope in a slide which began in yesterday’s time trial.

A shame because they have the most loyal and dedicated fans on the race.

Orange, red, white and blue are the colours and it’s obligatory that you’re wasted.

There’s drink everywhere – and noise and crush.

Alpe-d’Huez
Take care of that precious cargo. Photo©Ed Hood

Most of it is good natured but sometimes it’s borderline; the crowd gives the Sky team vehicles a really hard time, giving them the thumbs down, chucking beer on the windscreen and even jumping on the bonnet.

Alpe-d’Huez
The Team Sky cars get a hard time from the Dutch supporters, but if you rode for Belkin that’s different. Photo©Ed Hood

It’s nuts.

And then there was the Tour’s social media vehicle – a macho pick up which zooms along race route photographing fans and then posting the images to Twitter and Facebook.

Alpe-d’Huez
The official TDF Social Media wagon is taken over. Photo©Martin Williamson

Some of the crazies ‘boarded’ it to the consternation of the occupants – and that was after they’d been on the roof of the Belkin van as it drove the course.

And there’s the odd idiot; ‘go the other side of the road,’ he told me; ‘you are not Dutch!

But what was encouraging was that the lass next to him told him to behave himself.

We got our pictures in there and then got out – it wouldn’t have been possible to do rider pictures among that madness.

There’s all sorts of nut jobs on the hill – a Wiggo replica, Superman and Superwoman, Batman and Robin, Thor, the ‘Froomeys’ and loads more.

Alpe-d’Huez
We think it’s Thor, not sure. Photo©Ed Hood

It strikes me that they don’t actually see much of the race – many would say that it’s only harmless fun but it’s only a matter of time before one of them or a rider is badly hurt albeit I’m not sure what you could do to prevent that behaviour.

And if we take Vik’s liberal views into account on this one; ‘they should all be shot.’

But what about the race? I hear you ask.

Alpe-d’Huez
Heading the race up the Alpe, van Garderen was crushed to be overtaken in the last section. Photo©Martin Williamson

Respect to van Garderen, the race hasn’t been a good one for BMC – Evan’s excellent ride in the Giro meant there was no way he could do a ride in le Tour.

Every rider in the Tour is in top form, their training and programme designed so as they’ll peak for the French race.

There’s simply not enough time to taper then peak again between the Giro and Tour.

It’s a shame to watch Evans being clubbed, day after day.

Alpe-d’Huez
Fair play to Cadel Evans for continuing when his morale and/or form are in the bucket. Photo©Martin Williamson

Gilbert has hardly dazzled either; he’s just not the same rider who ripped up the Cauberg in 53 x 19 to win the Worlds, last autumn.

Alpe-d’Huez
Philippe Gilbert has been quiet in this race. Photo©Martin Williamson

But maybe it’s all about Florence for Phil – and defending his rainbow jersey?

And van Garderen himself has been a big disappointment – fifth last year and with a highly successful first half of 2013 including the Tour of California it now looks as if he peaked too early.

He rode a good time trial on Wednesday and was at the head of affairs both times up l’Alpe – great exposure for the sponsor.

Alpe-d’Huez
Riblon’s win was needed, on many levels. Photo©Martin Williamson

Riblon deserved his win and le Tour needed it, whilst the French public love Le Tour and characters like Froome, Cav, Sagan and Evans – there’s nothing like a home win to stimulate interest and give the race a boost.

Riblon’s team has had a bitter/sweet week with AG2R renewing their commitment but Jean-Christophe Peraud crashing out in the time trial whilst sitting as best Frenchman.

AG2R’s Tour is now well and truly saved – more than can be said for Cofidis who’d be as well not being here.

Sojasun, F des J and Europcar have been in the breaks and at least animating affairs, with the latter’s Rolland spending time in polka dots.

Alpe-d’Huez
Tommy Voeckler. Photo©Martin Williamson

But the rider who took Richard Virenque’s mantle as the man most French women would like to cuddle – Tommy Voeckler – has been a shadow of his 2012 version.

Alpe-d’Huez
Moreno Moser was superb today. Photo©Martin Williamson

Moser is a big talent and freed of his obligations to Sagan for the day showed what he’s capable off.

Chavanel is still a class act, French TT champion and a vital part of the QuickStep machine but now with his best years behind him – not so long ago, Riblon couldn’t have ridden away from him like that.

Froome and Porte apart, the Sky guys are on their knees – Lopez, Porte and Kennaugh were there first time up but by the second ascent the Manxman and Italian had gone.

Alpe-d’Huez
Peter Kennaugh. Photo©Martin Williamson

The faces of Kennaugh, Thomas and Stannard told the story of how they felt better than any words I could write.

Alpe-d’Huez
Along with his teammates, Ian Stannard has been worked hard these last weeks. Photo©Martin Williamson

Contador rode a great TT on Wednesday but paid the price on l’Alpe, shelled on the second ascent and thanking his lucky stars for Kreuziger – it’s funny these days how many riders can’t produce two big rides back to back, like they used to…

But then maybe Vik has a point, wouldn’t once up L’Alpe have been enough?

Alpe-d’Huez
Chris Froome admitted to being ‘on his knees’ the last time up the hill, and risked a fine for illegal feeding. Photo©Martin Williamson

Another ‘easy’ day today; two HC, two first and a second cat climb – may be just too much after a day like l’Alpe?

But we’ll be there to record the scenery and suffering – a demain.

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Results - Le Tour de France 2013 – Stage 18: Gap > Alpe-d’Huez

Stage Result

1 Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 4:51:32
2 Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:00:59
3 Moreno Moser (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling 0:01:27