Tuesday, July 10, 2012

10 July 2012: Louisiana

So we moved again, only four and a half years after the previous move, which isn't bad going really.

This time (now with two little girls in tow, whether they like it or not) we've moved to a town called Monroe in Louisiana. Partly because my current job allows me to work from anywhere in the US, partly because it just felt like it was time but mainly because Gloria's dad and step-mum live here. Having grandparents handy, especially when there are two young children, is a very big plus, so 'Pop Pop' and 'Lu Lu' are helping out with occasional Hannah- and Amelia-sitting whenever the opportunity arises. Currently house-hunting down here, so if you have any good tips on houses in the Swartz area of town, please let us know.

Elsewhere in the world there was the astonishing predictability of the Euro 2012 football (England lost in the quarter-finals on penalties? Whoever would have thought of such a scenario?), Argyle failing to sign anyone decent, Saints not really making any early headway in the transfer market (J-Rod aside) and Greece still somehow having the Euro as their currency.

But the big news (for me anyway, in my half-awake zombie seven-week-old-baby state) concerns the Tour De France, about which I've been meaning to write for several weeks now and haven't had the time. As predicted last year, Mark Cavendish's move to Team Sky hasn't exactly been a raging success for him: he's won one stage and been a little unlucky in crashes and punctures to thus miss out on a couple of others, but overall it's kind of sad to see the world champion and clearly the fastest man in the race be given little or no support by his team.

Theoretically he has Bernie Eisal and Edval Boassen Hagen watching out for him, but last week in one of the few sprints Cavendish did contest, Boassen Hagen led him out to the front of the pack with one kilometre still to go, which is a suicidal technique for leading out a sprinter... Cavendish realised this and dropped back on his own, but then didn't have the legs for the final push.

And while it may be unlucky to be involved in so many crashes, the thing is that if he had a team and some actual protection around him, he'd be a lot safer. He wears the rainbow jersey of the world champion, he has won more stages than anyone else in the last four Tours and as such he's a marked man. For Sky to offer little-to-no protection or help must make him think, at least a little, 'why am I here and not at Rabobank with Mark Renshaw?'. Still, the main target for Cav seems to be the Olympics... let's just hope Team GB (roughly equals Team Sky here) can figure out how to do a leadout for him.

Of course the reason Sky aren't doing much for Cav is that they're busy protecting Bradley Wiggins, currently the leader of the race by a pretty massive margin (almost two minutes, yes that is massive in this sport). Last year's winner Cadel Evans is in second, and creeping up in third is one Chris Froome, another Brit (although he's actually from Kenya and has British parents). In fact if Froome hadn't been delayed in one of the first-week crashes he'd be comfortably in second place right now. Wow, you might think, possible one-two for Britain in the Tour De France.

Maybe. But the problem is this: Wiggins isn't quite as good in the really high mountains as Cadel Evans and Chris Froome. At least, he's not shown that kind of form in the past, including this very excellent season that he's had. And so, here's the scenario: Evans attacks (or at least sets very good pace) on the high mountains that are coming up imminently (tomorrow, Thursday and also Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday next week), Wiggins and Froome stay with him but eventually Wiggins cracks and starts to drop back a bit. So what do Team Sky do with Chris Froome? Do they send him back to help Wiggins or do they tell him to keep going, because he can probably not only stay up with but actually beat Evans, probably both in the mountains and in the one remaining time trial? Received wisdom says he should go back to help Wiggins... but what will they do?

THAT, to me, is probably the key question remaining on the Tour (assuming Wiggins does crack on the mountains at some stage, which I think he very well might). The problem is that Sky have been in exactly this position before - in the Tour of Spain last year, Froome would quite comfortably have won the race (a Brit winning a Grand Tour! Amazing!) but the team ordered him back to help the ailing Wiggins in the highest mountains. As a result, Froome finished second in the Vuelta and Wiggins third.

Commentating legend Phil Liggett already stated a couple of days ago that Sky clearly made a mistake with those team orders. And given their aim of a British tour winner by 2014, will they do the same again?

I'm not sure, and I don't know that Sean Yates, Dave Brailsford and the rest of the decision-makers know yet either - but I will say this right now: I think, even at this stage of the game, that Froome is the better, stronger rider of the two and is much the more likely to beat Evans.

Evans meantime is looking to divide and conquer, and hope that Sky send Froome backwards when crunch time comes.

Oh, and we found Weetabix here at a local supermarket. And Rich Tea biscuits. Just to put things in perspective, ya know.

Postscript: one amazing thing already in the Tour for the Brits is that there have already been three different British stage winners this year - Cav, Froome and Evans have all won a stage. Considering years (sometimes decades) go by without a single British victory, it's already been the most memorable TDF Britain has ever had.

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