Tennessee is not recruiting well just because they got 18 dudes
[Sticky-ing this here for now, and reminding folks of the Draft Kings deal (least expensive method of getting a book)]
BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT. OR GET IT FOR FREE FROM DRAFT KINGS.
SO YOU KNOW WHAT I WAS THINKING ABOUT THE OTHER DAY?
No, what were you thinking about, bolded, all-caps subconscious who's apparently now discovered the html code for "Heading 3"?
I WAS THINKING: "FOOTBALL."
It's not yet August.
No football for another month yet. But I may have a book that previews the football?
PREVIEW FOOTBALL BOOK? WHEN BOOK?
Our preseason magazine is mailing from the printer tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow-tomorrow.
Kickstarter backers and pre-orders: to your mailboxes.If you've been letting your page-turning finger calluses grow weak from Kindle usage, get 'em tough again. If you're too young to remember a time when things were printed on paper products, have an old one explain the function to you.
WHAT'S IN BOOK?
About 128 pages of high-fallutin' Michigan knowledge, only 4.3% of which is complaining. As follows:
|Unlike some football previews, this one knows what what a 4-3 over is. Pls it dsn't sqsh wrds lk ths Phl Stle.|
THE TEAM THE TEAM THE TEAM (position previews) by this site's Brian Cook. This goes on for some time: two pages for QBs, two for RBs, four for WRs and TEs, four for the DL, four for LBs, four for DBs, and two for special teams and recruits. Following MGoTradition there's an extra two pages of vintage MGo-namby-pamby for the cover boy's section. He's pretty bullish on the defense you guys.
THE ENEMY THE ENEMY THE ENEMY (opponent previews) by this site's Ace Anbender and BiSB, plus PSU blogging capo Mike Pettigano did PSU. Learn things like what happens to Ace when we make him scout App State and Rutgers.
TWISTED BLUE STEEL (heartfelt MICHIGANly Michigan features). This is the afore mentioned blogger Brian getting all sentimental about Jeremy Gallon, and John U. Bacon getting all realistic about the future of college football.
Yes, Bacon. Remember the articles on his blog a few months ago about how to save the college football experience, and why fans are bailing on Michigan this year? That's what he CUT from this article, which is also kind of an update to Fourth & Long because a lot of events that belonged in that book happened after that book.
TECHNICAL DOSSIER (how things work-y features). Space Coyote introduces the Nussmeier offense, i.e. inside zone and its key constraint and passing plays. And I give a Back to the Future II-themed explanation of how the timeline skewed into this tangent, creating an alternate reality where the SEC is rich and powerful, etc., and the Big Ten kinda blows.
|I gave up several hours when I could have been sailing a Laser on Lake Michigan to make this so you'd better damn appreciate. The players are in order of their mention in the article.|
TALES OF OLD BLUE (historical features). Greg Dooley, the guy who writes MVictors and the best stuff in the official programs, wrote a candid history of the 1964 team, with all the parts that definitely won't be in the program this season. I'm particularly proud of my lead photo. John Kryk shares his memories and photos from the last night of the Bo era, i.e. the pep rally before the 1990 Rose Bowl. Craig Ross (yeah seriously we got ALL these guys!) did a history of the forward pass that runs right through Benny Friedman.
And sharing a section with all of these dudes is Michael Florek of the Dallas Morning News, formerly one of my favorite Michigan Daily writers from the recent years when the Daily sports section's been kicking everyone's rears in Michigan coverage. I am such an asshole because I left him out of the Table of Contents. Which is too bad because he tracked down the true and only a little weird history of The Wave.
STUFF, like a roster with a helpful drawing of where the positions are on the field, and intro letters from me and Brian, and a table of contents that forgot Florek's article. And our annual roundtable. And a thank-you to our big Kickstarter backers:
HOW DO I GET BOOK?
There are a few methods of book acquisition.
HOW DO I GET THIS METHOD 1: It's free with a Draft Kings Deposit
Our sponsor Draft Kings (formerly partly Draftstreet) has once again hijacked a box of books from us to give away free to new depositors. Since they never ended the $5 deal for a digital copy, that still applies, so if you're a first-time depositor, and you deposit $15+, I'll send you both a print copy (in the mail) and the digital version, along with a link to order your free print copy.
How it works:
- Take this link (or those above) to Draft King's landing page (we are all MGB users):
- Larry will collect the email addresses on the qualifying accounts and send them to me in groups.
- I'll email you from [email protected] (so you can protect me from your spam blockers) with a link to order your copy, and another link to download your digital edition.
Offer's only good for first-time deposits at Draft Kings. Small print things in regular-size print: 1) One per customer. 2) They're looking for new members so if you've already got an account there (even a free one) you'll be locked out, at least on that email address. Also locked out: Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Vermont, and Montana.
HOW DO I GET THIS OPTION II: Try the MGoStore.
…where you can purchase a hard copy for $14.95 plus shipping or a digital copy (and download that right off) for $5.50 and no shipping (with tax it's $5.83). Shipping the hard copies is gonna run about $4 to $6 depending on how many zones you are from Ann Arbor. Also your state has sales tax. It was $21.80 to send one to my house.
HOW DO I GET THIS OPTION III: Buy it in a store next week. I'll put up a list of stores once I have confirmation that they're on the rack. I know for a fact that the UGP locations in Ann Arbor will have them, but not yet because at this moment they're all on a huge pallet at a printer. If you've got a store and want a few let me know, or pester your local store to email me.
Ok, ladies and gentlemen - mostly gentlemen, let's be honest - here is my newest creation. I saw the Butkus/Lombardi nomination picture of Jake and immediately thought it looked like a Captain America style shot. So that's what I did. Behold, Jake Ryan, "The Autumn Soldier." I hope you all like it. 27 days until JMFR hits the field in glory. As always, constructive criticism and/or suggestions for future work is appreciated. Mobile and assorted other formats to come as they are finished. Enjoy!
After a rough and tumble (literally) first two weeks, the peloton and surviving GC riders limped into the final rest day. Still on tap were three hard days in the Pyrenees and a ITT to decide the overall winner, and two flat stages for the sprinters to contest.
It seems like every year, one of the top guys comes out of the last rest day feeling off and Stage 16 was no exception. This year, American Teejay VanGarderen drew the short straw. The stage on paper did not look particularly hard or decisive, but the peloton made things harder on themselves by contesting breakaway attempts for the first 75km. Usually, a break is established early and the peloton can enjoy a slightly more relaxed pace for the middle sections of the stage, but it was flat out racing for the first half of the stage. Apparently, Movistar, the team of Alejandro Valverde, must have sensed weakness in his rivals and decided to drive the pace up the Port de Balès, the only HC climb of the day. When TeeJay VanGarderen came unhitched in the lower slopes, the pace was lifted even more as the top riders saw a chance to put away a podium rival. When Romain Bardet, another podium hopeful, also dropped of a few kms later, there was no turning back. The guys at the front, aided by some teammates who dropped back from the breakaway, drove the pace relentlessly up the climb and through the descent to the finish. By the end of stage, they had put VanGarderen back three and a half minutes and Bardet back two minutes, dealing significant blows to both riders' hopes of finishing in the top 3.
The breakaway that did finally manage to escape at 75km managed to hold their advantage to the finish. The initial 21 men were whittled down to 5 and Michael Rogers bested the two EuropeCar riders in Voeckler and Gautier with a cagey veteran move with 5km to go, creating a gap and time-trialing to the finish alone. It was the first Tour stage win in Roger's long, decorated career and a well deserved one.
Stage 17 was the shortest stage in this year's Tour, but what it lacked in horizontal distance, it made up in vertical relief. With 3 cat 1 climbs preceding a HC climb to the finish, this was labeled by many as the "Queen Stage," the hardest stage of the Tour. After King of the Mountains contender Joaquim Rodriguez missed out on the early break, the peloton again raced flat out for the opening kms, trying to limit the breakaway. Rodriguez would jump ahead on the first climb to claim the KOM points, putting him into the virtual lead on the road. Rafal Majka, who previously held the KOM jersey didn't seem to contest the points initially, but finally jumped out of the peloton on the second climb, crossing the summit just behind Rodriguez. The Majka, Rodriguez duo repeated their duel on the next climb with Rodriguez getting the better of Majka again, but it wasn't until the last climb that Majka finally showed his cards. He had designs not only on the double points at the top of the finish, but also ambitions to win the stage as well. Majka was untouchable up the HC climb to the finish, dropping Rodriguez and picking off the remnants of the early breakaway one by one. With the maximum KOM points at the top of the finish for winning the stage, Majka wiped out the advantage Rodriguez had built over the first 3 climbs, and retained his lead in the KOM competition.
Behind Majka, the peloton had been reduced to an elite group of riders at the top of the overall classification. The three French riders, Pinot, Bardet, and Peraud ganged up on Spaniard Valverde and repeatedly try to gap him with attack after attack, succeeding temporarily. It was race leader Nibali, however, that would once again stamp his authority on the race by launching a vicious attack that only one man, Peraud, could follow. At the finish, it was Nibali, Peraud finishing a minute ahead of Pinot, Bardet, and VanGarderen.... with Valverde making a miraculous recovery to actually take a few seconds on the Pinot group at the line.
Stage 18 offered one final opportunity for the climbers to gain time. The stage opened in the predictable pattern of a breakaway group jumping ahead early in the stage while the peloton whittled itself over the Col' de Tourmalet, the first HC climb of the day. Movistar and Alejandro Valverde, hoping to avoid another day of being ganged up on by the French, launched a short lived attack off the descent but were caught. It was status quo until midway through the final HC climb to Hautecam, where Nibali attacked an no one could follow. It was a clear concession among the GC contenders that Nibali had already won the tour. The race for the remaining podium spots was just heating up though as again the three Frenchman, with the help of TeeJay VanGarderen, attacked and finally cracked Valverde. In the end, they would 45 seconds on him, resulting in a virtual tie among the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place riders in Pinot, Peraud, and Valverde respectively, with only 15 seconds separating them. It would set up what would be a intense battle for precious seconds in the Individual Time Trial on stage 20. Also of note: KOM leader Majka managed to finish high enough on the final climb to cement his victory in that classification.
Before that could happen though, they would have a bit of a respite in Stage 19, a flattish stage for sprinters with climbing legs like Sagan and Degenkolb. The stage unfolded with a small breakaway including Garmin's Jonathan Slagter. As the break was about to be caught in the closing kilometers, Slagter jumped ahead alone and held out until the last small cat 4 climb before the finish. Here, he served as a launching pad for teammate Ramunas Navardauskas, who used the climb to catch up to Slagter and jump ahead after a brief rest in Slagter's slipstream. The peloton looked to be in position for another heartbreakingly close catch of the lone leader, as they did for Navardauskas's teammate Jack Bauer, just 25 meters from the finish a few days earlier. Once again, though, the weather and wet roads interjected themselves into the race in the form of a crash with 3km to go, not only derailing the sprinters with aims at winning the stage, but also taking GC contender Romain Bardet down (he claimed he was not seriously hurt). With the impetitous of the chase gone, Navardauskas held off the remaining chasers for Garmin, who have been down on their luck ever since the retirement of their leader Andrew Talansky.
The result of Stage 20 was a surprise to absolutely no one. The lone Individual Time Trial of the race this year, stage 20 featured a long and lumpy 55km course that was perfectly suited for Time Trial specialist Tony Martin. Martin smashed the rest of the field and won by an almost literal mile. The graphic below shows just how far ahead he was of everyone else.
The drama would unfold later as the top riders, who start in reverse order of GC standings, took to the course one by one. Leopold Konig, riding for first time Tour team Netapp Endura, put in a great effort, good enough for 5th on the day, but more importantly took enough time to jump two spots in the GC, from 9th to 7th. VanGarderen, after taking his lumps against the climbers in the mountains, set his sights on revenge in his specialty discipline. He started the day in 6th overall, just over two minutes behind Romain Bardet. VanGarderen put in a very good ride, finishing in 6th place on the stage. However, Bardet was doing a good (for him) effort as well and seemed poised to defend his 5th place overall until bad luck struck and a flat tire ultimately cost him the position by a mere 2 seconds.
Meanwhile the three men in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th within 15 seconds of each other were playing out their battle. Peraud, perhaps the best time trialist of the three, put in a blistering effort and despite a bike change due to mechanical issue, still finished 7th on the stage. Pinot, managed to limit his losses, but lost 30 seconds to Peruad, conceding his 2nd place in the GC. Valverde, who is normally pretty good in the TT had another bad day, losing 3:30 minutes to Peraud. Pinot and Peraud would cement their positions on the podium with their rides, the first time since 1997 that a Frenchman, let alone two, finished on the podium. For Peraud, in particular, this was a special day since the year before, while in 9th overall, he had crashed out of the race during the final ITT almost within sight of Paris.
Stage 21 traditionally begins as a celebration and ceremonial victory lap, before finishing on the Champs Elysee in what is the Superbowl for sprinters. The stage unfolded as expected initially, with champagne toasts and congratulations all around for overall winner Vincenzo Nibali. However, perhaps in fitting fashion for such a brutal Tour, it was not without drama as 2nd placed rider Peraud hit the deck in a bizarre crash where his front wheel seemed to inexplicably lose contact with the ground in a corner. After a brief moment of panic as the peloton had just begun to rev up for the actual racing, a truce was called at the front so that Peraud could rejoin and not lose time or position. After Peraud was able to chase back on to the peloton, racing began with several attacks, including from none other than Jens Voigt. The man that led out the attacks 3 weeks ago in England in stage 1, wanted to make his mark on his 17th and final Tour de France by doing what he does best: riding alone in front. After his attack was caught Richie Porte, teammate of fallen defending winner Chris Froome also took a dig. In the end though, it all came together for a wild bunch sprint. After the final corner, Alexander Kristoff launched his sprint first and seemed to get the jump on everyone else, but Marcel Kittel simply had another gear and kept accelerating as Kristoff hit his top speed. Kittel nipped Kristoff at the line by a wheel length and won his second victory in a row on the Champs.
I can say, without exaggeration, that this was the most insanely unpredictable, ruthless, but also entertaining Tour de France since I started following cycling over 10 years ago. Even as the GC competition seemed locked up with a week to go, exciting battles were going on all the way up to the end, and every stage had either a compelling storyline or some dramatic turn of events.
It was a shame that some of the most exciting riders ended up making early exits, but Nibali definitely deserved the victory. He gained 2 minutes on the cobblestones, 5 minutes in the mountains, and over a minute in the ITT. That, as well as managing to stay out of trouble while almost no one else could, shows that he was clearly the best overall rider there this year.
While 37 year old Peraud will probably not have much more to give, the two younger French riders in Bardet and Pinot are giving the French great hope in the future. VanGarderen, at just 25 as well, showed that his 2012 5th place was not a fluke and should be a big name to watch for the Americans as well. These guys will be duking it out for years to come.
Some have said that Peter Sagan doesn't deserve to win the Green Jersey for sprint points because he didn't win a stage. The Green Jersey, ultimately is about consistency though, and with four 2nd place finishes and a handful more in the top 5, he certainly was consistent, showing versatility that most of the other sprinters lack.
Rafal Majka was somewhat of a revelation this year. He rode in the Giro d' Italia and finished 6th overall in just his 2nd try. He wasn't even supposed to do the Tour this year and was rather upset when he was drafted as an emergency addition after another rider was suspended for doping. It's probably safe to say, with 2 stage wins and the KOM Polka Dotted Jersey, he's pretty happy he rode the Tour after all.
De Marchi won the distinction of the most aggressive rider. He was a constant presence in breakaways and driving the pace from the peloton. While he didn't win a stage, he certainly was a big catalyst and animated the race stage after stage.
Finally, there's Ji Cheng, the "Lanterne Rouge," a distinction given to the last place rider in the Tour (named after the red lantern hung at the back of the caboose in trains). Ji was intially somewhat of a token participant as the first Chinese rider ever to ride in the Tour. While no doubt his inclusion was partially motivated by expanding interest in Asia for cycling, he took advantage of the opportunity and put in mile after hard mile at the front of the peloton for his team. He earned not only the respect of other riders, commentators, and fans, but also the bad ass nickname "The Breakaway Killer." With so many good riders who didn't finish the tour, the Lanterne Rouge is a distinction he should embrace with pride.
Welp, onward to the Vuelta a Espana in August! Thanks for reading.
First in a series I'm working on. I'm on vacation starting Saturday, so nothing new for a bit. Hope ya'll like this. As always, constructive criticism and/or suggestions for new wallpapers are welcome. I will diligently try to make content that the MGoBlog community wants. I'm adding two versions of this wallpaper (one with "Redemption" under the M, and one without) and a mobile version will follow shortly. It's getting closer...
The Tour comes out of the final rest day and begins what will be the most decisive stages of the race. With three straight stages in the Pyrenees Mountains and then an individual time trial, there will be many opportunities for riders to move up in the standings, and to make a mistake or have a bad day and slip down as well.
<Edit: I wrote this before stage 16 started>
Stage 16 is the first stage in the Pyrenees. By high mountain stage standards, it is relatively easy with a few rolling lower climbs followed by a single HC climb. The summit of the climb is 20km from the finish, so it's not a great choice to gain time for the top guys since any effort spent opening up a gap may be wasted as riders behind come together and use their collective aerodynamic advantage to close gaps down. However, riders with top 10 ambitions looking to move up from further down may try to sneak away in a breakaway and make some time but still not threaten the leaders. This should be a relatively calm stage, but if any of the favorites show signs of having an off day (as can often be the case coming out of a rest day), all bets will be off.
Stage 17 is what I would consider the Queen Stage, or the hardest stage of the race. With 3 cat 1 climbs in quick succession followed by the monster, 10km/8.3% HC climb to the finish line. This will be a dangerous stage and with so many tough climbs, the peloton will likely keep things together as much as possible. Any breakaway will be guys that are well, well, down in the GC, and even then, they will be kept on a short leash. Riders like Joaquim Rodriguez and Rafal Majkal, who are tied in the King of the Mountains competition will try to jump ahead and duke it out for the points at the top of the first 3 climbs, while the GC contenders will stay together and keep their powder dry for a big showdown on the final climb.
While Nibali has looked unassailable, the climbs of the Pyrenees are quite different than those in the Alps and Vosges. The climbs are steeper, the pavement is worse and the descents are more tight and technical. Nibali, and the others chasing him, will have to show they can handle the terrain after 2 weeks of hard racing, as well as staying safe on the descents.
Stage 18 will be the last mountain stage. For natural climbers, it'll be the last chance to make hay. Everyone else will looking to survive the last big obstacle to making it to Paris. Two, back to back HC climbs are on the agenda for the stage, first up the 17km/7.3% Col du Tourmalet and then ending on top of the 13.6km/7.8% climb up to the ski resort, Hautacam. How this stage will shake out will largely depend on how the previous stages have unfolded. With only the individual time trial left to decide the overall GC standings, every rider will know exactly the time gaps they'll need to reach whatever goals they have for the race, be it winning, podium, or top 10. If I had to make a guess, it would be that the two French riders currently in 3rd and 4th will use this opportunity to move up, if they haven't already. Both have said the climbs of the Pyrenees suit them well and neither are proven time trialists. I would expect these two to jump ahead and fight it out for the stage win while trying to pad time on guys just behind them.
Stage 19 offers a bit of an opportunity to regroup and recover after the mountains and before the individual time trial. The GC riders will be hoping for a calm day, but for the sprinters and their teams this will be one of the last opportunities for a stage win. Peter Sagan has had the green jersey (awarded according to points given at flat stage finishes and intermediate sprint points) sewn up since week one, but he has not yet won a stage and coming in second with frustrating regularity. This stage will be his last chance, the sprints of the Champs-Elysées are better suited to the pure sprinters like Marcel Kittel. With a small climb near the finish, Sagan will put his team (Cannondale) at the front and drive hard in an attempt to shed the sprinters who can't climb as well as he can. Hopefully, he can keep a teamate with him in the last1km as a sprint leadout, something they haven't been able to do before, and finally get a win.
Stage 20 is the only individual time trial of the Tour this year. Dubbed "The Race of Truth," riders will complete the 54km course alone against the clock and wind. After 5 mountain top finishes and countless mountain passes, the tables will finally turn for GC contenders like American TeJay VanGarderen who excel in the discipline. The two French riders currently sitting ahead of him are not noted time trialists and he can gain a minute or more on them. If he managed to keep it close through the Pyrenees, this stage will be his opportunity to vault himself onto the podium. Nibali and Valverde are both good-decent time trialists, so they will likely hold serve barring crashes or mechanical issues. For the stage win, my money is on Tony Martin, world time trial champion three years running. He has been a beast this year, already winning a stage and constantly on the front working for his team, Omega Pharma Quickstep. The question is whether or not he'll have anything left. He'll have hauled himself through 3 weeks hell just for a shot at this stage, so motivation will not be an issue.
The Tour concludes on Stage 21, the traditional ride into Paris from and 8 laps around the famed Champs-Elysées. Traditional also dictates that the riders vying for the general classification do not attack each other on the final day. This allows for champagne toasts and victory cigars in the leisurely ride into Paris. For the sprinters, however, the story couldn't be more different. For them, to win on the Champs is the absolute pinnacle of their discipline, and all the suffering through the mountains (which, with the exception of Sagan, the sprinters are allergic to) was just for a shot at this stage. They and their teams will make huge efforts and take huge risks at a chance to cross the line first.
Marcel Kittel won here last year and will be the odds on favorite. I'm going to go out on a limb and pick Alexander Kristoff for the win. Kittel has seemed to lack his normal pop recently, maybe worn down by a couple crashes and hard days in the bad weather and mountains. His team's organization hasn't been stellar either, something that'll be crucial in the chaos leading up to the finish line. After two close stages in 2nd place, Kristoff finally broke the seal on stage 12 and followed it up with another on stage 15. He seems to have survived the mountains the best of the sprinters so far and his team has been a dark horse this year, always seeming to come out nowhere at just the right time to place him in good position. Either way, it should be quite the spectacle to wrap up a crazy year at the Tour.
The peloton limped out of a chaotic week one licking their wounds and hoping week two would bring better fortunes. Unfortunately week two brought only more carnage, more bad weather, and saw even more top name contenders eliminated from the race.
Stage 8 was the first taste of the GC battle as the peloton reached the foothills of the Vosges mountains at the end of the stage. The short, but steep climbs were surprisingly selective as only an elite group was left at the top of the penultimate climb. The wet and tricky descent before the final climb brought down American GC contender Andrew Talansky before the battle on the final climb even began... costing him 2:30 against his rivals, but more importantly exacerbating his injuries from his stage 7 crash the day before. Blel Kadri managed to survive from the breakaway to win the stage, but the story of the day was Nibali staying with Contador (nearly) step for step on the final climb, showing that his form on the cobbles was no fluke. Because the climbs were so short, any time gains between the GC men were small, but it was a great preview at who had good form and who didn't.
Stage 9 was a chance for the peloton to recover a bit before the first true mountain stage. From the beginning, the peloton was content to let a large breakaway group, filled with relatively well placed riders to the GC, go up the road. Race leader Nibali's team seemed to purposely relinquish the yellow jersey so they could be relieved of the pace making responsibilities. Time trial specialist Tony Martin jumped ahead of his breakaway companions and took the stage in a solo victory, his first non-time trial stage win in the Tour. Tony Gallopan was the best placed rider in GC among the breakaway and won the right to wear the yellow jersey on Bastille day as a Frenchmen.
Stage 10, the first real mountain stage, was expected to be the first battle between what had increasingly become a two person war between Contador and Nibali. Unfortunately, that battle never happened as Contador crashed on the rainy, wet descent off of one the stages opening climbs. Initial reports that the crash was caused by his bike frame breaking proved to be false, and what actually happened was he hit a pothole while reaching for a energy bar from his back pocket. He tried to soldier on but after some 15 km he, like other pre-Tour favorite Chris Froome, also was forced to abandon the race. It was later revealed that he had a broken tibula and managed to ride 15km up a mountain on it before the pain was just too much (these guys are amazing).
Contador was not the only one to have a bad day as Andrew Talansky's crashes of the previous days were too much to overcome, causing him to helplessly lose 10 minutes on the final climb. Then 3rd placed rider Tiago Machado also crashed early in the stage. At one point he had gotten off his bike and stepped into an ambulance leading to reports of his abandonment, but he ultimately got back on his bike and finished the stage (outside the time limit, but the race committee granted him an exception)
The GC contenders left standing duked it out on the final climb as expected. The abandonment of Froome and Contador left the race with a decidedly anti-climatic feeling as Nibali, who was clearly stronger than the rest, effortlessly rode away for not only the stage win, but also reclaimed his yellow jersey. I couldn't help but remember Tejay VanGarderen's frustrated comments following a rough stage 5 and Froome's abandonment: "You guys got your drama, but it could theoretically make the race less exciting towards the end."
Stage 11, coming out of the rest day, was supposed to be a routine flat stage for the sprinters, but high drama unfolded as Talansky, unable to recover from his injuries, was dropped midway through the stage. In obvious agony, he slipped further and further back from the peloton, and it was clear his team was not going to drop back to aid him. Left to ride to the finish alone, at one point, he actually stepped off of his bike and sat on the side of the road, but remounted after a chat with his team director. Ultimately, he finished the stage just inside the time limit in a heroic effort that drew the TV cameras to him for much of the stage and well after the winners crossed the line, a rare thing cycling coverage.
The stage was won by Tony Gallopin, who was clearly not dejected after losing his yellow jersey the day before. He made a series of attacks late in the stage and finally was able to create a gap with 3km to go, holding the advantage to the line.
Stage 12 unfortunately saw the abandonment of another GC big name. Despite gutting it out to the finish the day before, Talansky could not continue with the condition of his back. After the peloton reeled in the breakaway towards the end of the stage, the stage seemed to be Peter Sagan's to win with other top sprinters being dropped by a small climb (Kittel) and crashing in the final kms (Griepel). However, another weak showing by his team left him isolated and forced to follow someone else's wheel in the final sprint, and he could not overtake winner Alexander Kristoff, despite a strong acceleration before the line.
Stage 13 brought the peloton to the first of 2 stages in the Alps. Nibali again asserted his dominance, winning another stage and gaining time on his rivals in the final HC climb of the day. It was clear that, barring the unexpected, he was going to win the Tour, and the remaining battle was for the remaining places on the podium.
All was not lost for the fans however, as several interesting side battles began to emerge. Two young Frenchmen, Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet, are locked in a fierce fight for not only the white jersey (highest rider in GC under 25 years old), but also for the podium. Joaquim Rodriguez collected more King of the Mountains points, creating a tight fight for the polka dot jersey between himself and Nibali. American Tejay Vangarderen also rode well and limited his losses, placing himself in the top 5 and within striking distance to the podium.
Many had labeled Stage 14 as the tour's "Queen Stage," a designation given to the hardest stage of the tour. The opening cat 1 and HC climbs thinned the peloton to an elite field of the top GC contenders. After a brief attack on the downhill, a battle was set up on the final climb of the day: an cat 1 climb to a mountain top finish. Rafal Majka survived from the breakaway to win the stage (a victory he dedicated to fallen teammate Contador), but behind him a fierce battle again broke out among the GC riders. Nibali once again showed his dominance riding clear of all but one rider, 6th place Jean-Christoff Peraud. The two young Frenchmen Bardet and Pinot again went toe to toe all the way up the climb, and VanGarderen had another solid stage, distancing himself from others below him in the standings and keeping within striking distance.
I actually have not watched Stage 15, so I'll withhold comments except to say that Alexander Kristoff won his second stage in a bunch sprint.
I will preview the final week in a separate diary entry....