Livin' the Dream

Livin' the Dream

About Me

I am a sophomore at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA, majoring in journalism. My passion is cycling. I am a category 4 bike racer and my absolute dream would be to turn pro one day. My more realistic goal is to become a journalist for the sport of cycling and eventually move on to become a broadcaster for the sport.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Untouchable: Vincenzo Nibali Wins the Stage

The final stage in the Pyrenees was a brutal one. The riders travelled 145.5km from Pau to the top of the Hors Category climb of Hautacam. Do not kid yourself; the organizers did not make it that easy. The riders also traversed the famed Col du Tourmalet before screaming down the 100kph descent to Hautacam.
          The course rolled up and down on its way towards the Tourmalet with only two short category 3 climbs testing the riders. At km 13 a breakaway of 20 riders formed and was let go by the peloton, which was controlled by Team Astana. Those riders were Mikel Nieve (Sky), Jesus Herrada and Jon Izaguirre (Movistar), Yuriy Trofimov (Katusha), Alessandro De Marchi and Marco Marcato (Cannondale), Lars Boom (Belkin), Jan Bakelants (OPQS), Blel Kadri (AG2R), Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ), Daniel Oss (BMC), Bryan Coquard, Kevin Reza and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Julien Simon (Cofidis), Sylvain Chavanel and Marcel Wyss (IAM), Bartosz Huzarski and Tiago Machado (Netapp) and Florian Guillou (Bretagne).

Huzarski lead over the Cote de Benejacq (2.6km, 6.7%) at km 28 and Lars Boom lead over the Cote de Loucrup (2km, 7%) at km 56. Astana was keeping the breakaway on a tight leash as they gap was around 4’ over the Loucrup. The breakaway was working well together, but all that would change once the riders hit the Tourmalet

Highest Peak of the Pyrenees

            The Col du Tourmalet is a brutal climb at 17.1 km in length and an average gradient of 7.3%. The riders would climb from the sunny valley into the clouds atop the Tourmalet. This year the Tourmalet marked the highest elevation crossed in the Pyrenees and with it came a special prize to the first one across the top. The winner would get the Souvenir Jacques Goddet award.

            The breakaway hit the base of the Tourmalet with a 3’50” advantage over the peloton. Immediately EuropCar went to the front of the break and drove the pace. Chavanel attacked on the lower slopes of the climb, which saw no reaction from the breakaway riders. Chavanel knew the climb of the Tourmalet very well having crossed over the top first during a stage of the 2003 Tour.

            With a still brutal 9km to go to the summit Kadri and Nieve came across to Chavanel and then dropped him as the group behind split to pieces. The chase of Kadri and Nieve was very disorganized. For the breakaway riders the Col du Tourmalet was a climb of attrition. Whoever was able to ride a steady tempo to the top without blowing up would find himself at the front of the race. Astana continued to ride tempo at the front of the rapidly thinning peloton. It was appearing by the top of the Tourmalet the peloton would already be down to the elite men of the sport.

            At the town of La Mongie, 5km from the summit and 50km from the finish, Kadri and Nieve had a 36” lead over a now formed chasing trio of De Marchi, Huzarski, and Trofimov. De Marchi is making a case for the most aggressive rider at this year’s Tour de France. He has been in the breakaway most of the mountain stages. When the peloton reached La Mongie they were 4’05” behind the leaders.

            The two leaders pushed into the mist of the top of the Tourmalet. Nieve was clearly the stronger of the two, but was probably keeping Kadri around to help in the valley between the end of the descent of the Tourmalet and the start of Hautacam. A bad headwind awaited the riders in the valley today. Biel Kadri took the award atop the Col du Tourmalet. A long, fast descent awaited the riders. The chasing trio crossed the top 1’40” down on the lead duo. While, the peloton came over the top roughly 3’30” in the rears.

Not a Normal Descent

            The descent of the Col du Tourmalet is like nothing in the world. It is nearly 30km and is wide open. The drop-offs are harrowing and there are no guardrails. Furthermore, the descent is mostly straight on with only a few switchbacks and the other few corners are full gas. The speeds on the descent are not for the weary as speeds average 100kph. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) who last year was in tears at the bottom of descents unable to deal with speeds, seems cured and has been descending well.

            One of the better descenders in the peloton Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) decided to take advantage of the descent and attacked on the downhill of the Tourmalet. Pinot and Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R) where threatening his second overall placing and both had also been climbing better than him of late. Valverde flew down the descent picking off dropped riders of the breakaway along the way. He showed off his bike handling skills as he carved the corners perfectly. Valverde has a strong team around him and today they had placed two men in the breakaway. Herrada and Izaguirre heard on their radios that Valverde was coming and they waited for him so they could pace him to the bottom of Hautacam. When Valverde caught up to his two teammates his gap over the group containing Nibali and all of the other GC contenders stretched out to 30”.

            As the leaders, Kadri and Nieve hit the 25km to go banner they held a 1’21” lead over a now 6-rider chase containing, =Trofimov, De Marchi, Oss, Bakelants, Simon, and Huzarski. The yellow jersey group had caught Valverde and was now just 2’52” behind the leaders. Clearly, Nibali wanted to win the stage, making his mark as the strongest rider in the race.


            Hautacam is one the feared climbs in cycling. It stands tall and at 13.7km in length and averaging 7.8% it is not a climb for the weary. Plus, a one-worded climb just sounds mysterious and painful. As the leaders hit the base of the climb with now only 13.7km to the finish the crowds were immense and loud. Nieve immediately jumped away from Kadri in pursuit of the stage win Team Sky desperately needs to salvage this year’s Tour. The chase group blew to shreds as it also hit the climb. Back in the yellow jersey group Nibali was down to just one teammate.

            As the GC rider group approached the 10km to go banner they had picked up all of the riders in the chase group and only Kadri and Nieve remained out front. Then Chris Horner (Lampre) attacked out of nowhere and was immediately followed by Nibali. No one else reacted in the group. Horner was way down on the general classification and Nibali was far enough ahead that everyone else was racing for the podium. Entering the day places 2-4 were separated by just 42”.

            Horner and Nibali rode steady, but only held about a 15” advantage over the GC contenders. After a km of sitting on Horner’s wheel in which the duo passed Kadri, Nibali leapt away in pursuit of his cherry on top. Nibali wanted to prove he was the best in the race. With 8km remaining to the finish Nibali passed Nieve and took the lead on the road. Nibali accelerated hard, in the saddle, past Nieve giving him no chance to catch on.

            Rafal Majka attacked out of the thin GC group in pursuit of saving his Polka Dot jersey. Majka needed to finish top 6 on the stage if Nibali won in order to keep the jersey away from Nibali. With 7km to go Nibali was rolling up the climb with a 53” gap back down to the GC group with Majka 40” down.

Race for the Podium

            Finally, the race for the podium began, with 5.8 km to go Pinot attacked and immediately Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Peraud jumped across to him. Behind them Leopold Konig (Netapp), Laurens Ten Dem (Belkin), Bauke Mollema (Belkin), Romain Bardet (AG2R) and Haimar Zubeldia (Trek) where together, but no one wanted to set the pace. Where was Alejandro Valverde? He was dropped. Valverde was struggling; his place on the podium was now in jeapordy.

            The trio of van Garderen, Pinot, and Peraud worked well together and began closing in on Majka. Valverde kept yo-yoing on and off the other GC group behind as they worked very poorly together. Up front though it was all Nibali. He motored along up the climb. He appeared to be in no trouble at all. He shoulders were steady, his cadence was steady, his breathing was steady. There was no stopping “The Shark of Messina” today.

            With 2.3km remaining in the last mountain stage of this year’s Tour Nibali had nearly 1’30” over the Pinot chase group, which had now caught Majka. Majka desperately wanted that Polka Dot jersey and clenched his jaw to hold on to the group as Pinot drove the pace. Valverde’s group was now over 30” behind and with that meant Valverde had conceded his second place overall to Pinot.

            Vincenzo Nibali crossed the line and pointed at the Team Astana logo on his yellow jersey. He had won his fourth stage of this year’s Tour and did it in dominating fashion, attacking low on the climb and driving all the way to the finish. Majka sprinted to the line for second place, but was just beaten out by Pinot. They crossed the line officially 1’10” behind Nibali with Peraud and van Garderen finishing seconds later. Bardet broke away from his group in the final km and finished 1’53” down on Nibali, losing more time to Pinot in the fight for the Best Young Rider’s White Jersey. Valverde, Ten Dem, Konig, Zubeldia, Mollema came in 1’59” behind Nibali. Valverde not only lost his second place overall, but he had slipped to fourth overall, off of the podium. Nibali now held a more than 7’ advantage, but places 2-4 got even tighter with them separated by just 15”.

Note: Jose Rojas (Movistar) was disqualified from the tour during the stage for spending too much time behind a vehicle on the Col du Tourmalet.

Stage 18 Results:

Stage Winner: Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
Yellow Jersey: Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
Green Jersey: Peter Sagan (Cannondale)
White Jersey: Thibaut Pinot (FDJ)
Polka Dot Jersey: Rafal Majka (Tinkoff)

Top 10 GC:

1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)                        80:45:45
2. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ)                                 +7’10”
3. Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R)             +7’23”
4.                 +7’25”
5. Romain Bardet (AG2R)                           +9’27”
6. Tejay van Garderen (BMC)                      +11’34”
7. Bauke Mollema (Belkin)                          +13’56”
8. Laurens Ten Dem (Belkin)                       +14’15”
9. Leopold Konig (Netapp)                          +14’37”           

10. Haimar Zubeldia (Trek)                         +16’25”

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