The second week of the Tour de France has delivered another batch of excitement, drama, and jaw dropping performances.
Chris Froome’s ride to the summit of Mont Ventoux was little short of astonishing, Mark Cavendish’s 25th victory in cycling’s greatest race a landmark, and the emergence of Nairo Quintana as future Tour de France champion looks like the writing of another chapter in the magnificent history of Columbian cycling.
Elsewhere, the influence of a room-mate was there for all to see in the revelatory performances of The Jensie’s roomie, Jan Bakelants, but the enthusiasm of the massive crowds occasionally spilled over into occasionally dangerous and unseemly behaviour.
As we reach the second rest day, here are five observations from the week two of the 2013 Tour de France.
Froome the flag bearer
Chris Froome’s breathtaking performance on Mont Ventoux has set Team Sky on course for a second consecutive Tour de France victory. Should he achieve overall victory in Paris, prepare for another chorus of “Sky the invincible’’. The truth is different.
The team faltered in the Classics, at the Giro, and have done so twice already this Tour: on La Horquette d’Ancizan, the final climb of stage nine, where Froome was left to defend the jersey alone, and on stage 13 when Alberto Contador caught them napping in cross winds. Brailsford’s men race hard and die hard, like their rivals. Froome, however, remains a class apart.
Can’t win them all? Tell that to Mark Cavendish
The phrase “you can’t win them all” is not one that cuts much ice with Mark Cavendish, one suspects. No one, but no one, wants to win as much as the Manx Missile. He is a rider fuelled by emotion (witness his response to the Veelers incident on stage 12) and by instinct (sprinting across the ‘cracking ice’ of the echelon on stage 13 to position himself perfectly or Tour victory number 25).
The urine throwing incident on stage 11 was shameful, and the Manxman would have been within his rights to have left the race, but he will grovel through the Alps out of respect for the Tour and for a chance to win again in Paris. Britain has a champion to be proud of, despite the occasionally raw emotion displayed when events don’t go to plan.
Organising Le Tour is a logistical challenge of elephantine proportions and the ASO is to be congratulated for the overwhelming success with which the vast majority of stages unfold. But a repeat of last year’s tack attack on stage five, the disgraceful urine throwing episode on stage 11, and the riders’ Twitter pleas for spectators to keep out of the road post-stage 14, show that anarchy lurks just beneath the surface of every stage.
Kudos to the ASO for yesterday’s Tweet urging spectators on the Ventoux to respect the riders and give them room to race, but a greater show of determination might be required. Had Cavendish, arguably the peloton’s biggest star, left the race in Mont Saint-Michel, one suspects that greater effort would have been made to find the person responsible for hurling wee at him.
Quintana: heir apparent to escarabajo greatness
If Movistar’s Nairo Quintana feels the weight of a nation on his shoulders, he bears it lightly. The 23-year-old Columbian is heir to one of the proudest traditions in cycling – that of the escarabajo – and to some of its most fanatical support. Born 3,000 metres above sea level in the village of Boyaca, and with an already legendary 16km ride home from school each day, Quintana has known little other than soaring gradients since birth.
His features, those of a man more than twice his age, are implacable when he rides, and his post-race interviews are conducted at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum to those of Cavendish. He cracked on the Ventoux, but only after repeated assaults from the maillot jaune (Froome, a native of Nairobi, is also no stranger to altitude), and while team leader, Alejandro Valverde, toiled far behind. There can be little doubt who will lead Movistar at next year’s Tour.
Jensie’s roomie discovers his passion for the attack
Is Jan Bakelants the heir apparent to Jens Voigt? The Belgian is clearly feeling the influence of his much-loved team-mate, whose heroic attacks have become his trademark. Bakelants told reporters that he had recalled The Jensie’s words of wisdom as he clung on to win stage two by the skin of his teeth.
Having waited until the age of 27 to record his first professional victory, one that brought him the maillot jaune, Bakelants has shown every sign of wishing to repeat the experience. He rode with Voigt in the decisive, 18-strong break of stage 14, remaining among it while the veteran German was dropped, before launching a bid for victory in the final kilometre. Yesterday, he was at it again, dropping fellow escapee, Rui Costa (Movistar), winner of the Tour de Suisse in an attack on the slopes of the Ventoux.
Winless for the first four seasons of his career, has Bakelants finally discovered his true calling? If he has, a certain German, given to telling his legs to ‘shut up’ when pain threatens to derail an escape bid, might claim some of the credit.