July 6, 2009
Tour de France Stage Three: Marseille to La Grande Motte
196.5 kilometers (122 miles)
Mind-blowing. That’s the only way to describe it. Team Columbia-HTC has officially put its stamp on the 2009 Tour de France.
The crew launched a massive coup in the peloton during today’s stage, splitting the field and sending the entire 9-man Columbia-HTC squad off the front to form a 27-man break that held until the finish. The incredible team effort (followed by another impressive leadout) gave boy-wonder Mark Cavendish an entrée to deliver his second consecutive stage win of this Tour and the sixth Tour victory of his career.
How it unfolded
A four man breakaway formed early on in today’s stage, gaining as much as 13 minutes on the peloton. With 112k to go, Team Saxo-Bank began to bring them back in order to protect their lead in the general classification.
Crosswinds confounded the peloton in the second half of the stage and the gap came down slowly. With 28k Team Columbia-HTC moved to the front and dropped the hammer as the road curved to the right, hanging the rest of the peloton out in the wind. The brilliant tactical move caught everyone off guard and opened up an immediate gap.
Panic ensued in the main field and the entire Columbia-HTC squad managed to make the break, dragging a total of 27 riders up the road and increasing the gap to 30 seconds in short order. With all 9 men in the break, Columbia-HTC went to work, driving the pace at the front to put time into the field and gain valuable seconds for GC contenders Mick Rogers and Kim Kirchen.
Most people only think of the yellow jersey when they think of the Tour de Fance, but there are actually four major classification competitions that make for several exciting “races within the race”. Cavendish will be in the green sprinter’s jersey tomorrow – here’s what you need to know.
Overall Leader – The Yellow Jersey
The yellow jersey (maillot jaune in French) is worn by the overall leader of the race. It was introduced in 1919 to reflect the color of the sponsoring newspaper, L’Auto (the winner of the first Tour in 1903 wore a green armband instead). Lance Armstrong famoulsy mispronounced “maillot jaune” and earned the sometimes-nickname “Mellow Johnny” – which is now the name of his bike shop.
Team Columbia-HTC angle: Kim Kirchen wore the coveted maillot jaune for four days in last year’s Tour, a crowning moment both for him personally and Columbia-HTC. Kirchen is the team’s best hope for yellow this year, though he lost significant time in the tricky Stage 1 time trial so finding his way into yellow will now take a herculean effort in the mountains.
Points Classification – The Green Jersey
The green jersey is awarded to the most consistent rider, and is hotly contested by the world’s best sprinters (it’s often referred to as “the sprinters jersey”). At the end of each stage, points are earned by the riders who finish first, second, etc. Points are higher for flat stages, as sprints are more likely, and less for mountain stages, where climbers usually win. There are also points awarded for “intermediate sprints” at designated points throughout a stage.
July 5, 2009
Tour de France Stage Two: Monaco to Brignoles
187 kilometers (119 miles)
Mark Cavendish delivered in dominating fashion today, stomping his way to his first Tour de France stage win this year and the fifth of his career. A heavy favorite going into the stage, the Englishman from Isle of Man rose to the occasion, playing off a picture-perfect set-up from his teammates to ride away from the competition.
How it unfolded
A breakaway of four men formed early in the stage as Cancellara’s Saxo-Bank team controlled the pace in defense of the yellow jersey. Things started to heat up with about 43k to go as Team Columbia-HTC’s Bernhard Eisel, Bert Grabsch and Mark Renshaw went to the front of the peloton and did the lion’s share of the work to bring back the escapees to set Cavendish up for the win.
Tensions rose as the finish line drew near and the peloton caught the breakaway with just over 9 kilometers to go. Leading into the sprint, the front of the field became physical with riders bumping shoulders left and right and Columbia-HTC’s George Hincapie and Michael (Mick) Rogers laid down a brutal pace to keep Cavendish safely at the front of the group and launch him toward the line.
Rivals Tyler Farrar and Thor Hushovd got into the mix, but in the end no one could come close to matching Cav’s firepower – coming off of Hincapie’s wheel, he turned on the afterburners and delivered a long, commanding sprint to ride away from the bunch.
Cancellara dominates, Contador answers Astana questions
The time trial is often called “the race of truth” and today under the hot Monaco sun, more than a few truths were revealed. Among them? Fabian Cancellara (Saxo-Bank) is still a master of the time trial and Alberto Contador looks to be the undisputed leader on Team Astana.
Starting 4th from last, Cancellara delivered an incredible ride to win in commanding fashion, 18 seconds ahead second-place Alberto Contador.
A two-time World Time Trial Champion and the current Olympic gold medalist in the discipline, 28-year-old Cancellara was a heavy favorite to win today’s stage. The victory marks the third Tour de France prologue win of his career and puts him into the yellow race leader’s jersey heading into Stage 2.
The 15.5 kilometer time trial in Monaco took riders high above the Mediterranean coast into the hills behind Monte Carlo, down a technical descent back into the city, and along a few flat kilometers along the waterfront.
Expect Suspense: Course Overview
This year’s course covers 3445 kilometers, visits a total of six nations (Monaco, France, Spain, Andorra, Switzerland, and Italy) and includes a team time trial for the first time since 2005.
Tour organizers have done their best to put together a course that will leave us on the edge of our seats until the final mountain stage on Saturday, July 25th. Instead of the usual prologue, things kick off with a full length TT (15.5k) that features almost 7 miles of climbing. The challenging first stage should begin to separate the men from the boys right off the bat.
Watch for Cavendish to come out swinging in the first week when the roads are relatively flat and his legs are fresh – Columbia-HTC will be eager to strike with early stage wins so that they can focus on supporting team leader and GC-contender Kim Kirchen as the tour hits the first of the mountain stages,
In Stage 7, the race heads into the Pyrenees mountains of Spain for three days where the race for the overall lead will begin to take shape. After returning to France, racers will enjoy a few more flat stages during week two before heading back into the mountains – the Alps this time - for a Stage 15 mountain-top finish in Verbier, followed by two more days of mountainous terrain.
The Alps will finish what the Pyrenees started.
Team Columbia-HTC Prepares to Attack the 2009 Tour de France
The roster is stacked, long training miles are banked and the boys of Team Columbia-HTC are headed to Paris. Poised to continue the impressive winning streak that has characterized their 2009 season, they’ll ride into the Tour de France boasting 49 wins (including 6 National Championship titles) already this year – the most of any team in professional cycling.
With a new co-sponsor added early this week (HTC, a designer of mobile phones), the pre-Tour excitement has reached a fever pitch. A new co-sponsor means new kits (team uniforms) so keep your eyes out for a fresh look just in time for the big show. They’ll reveal their updated spandex super-hero outfits in Monaco on July 3rd, the day before things kick off on Stage One.
Last year, the team managed to pull off a stunning debut Tour de France performance with 5 individual stage wins and 4 days in the yellow jersey as well as a host of other honors.
The fastest man in the world?
Worried about whether you’ll be able to recognize the team in their new gear? Don’t be. If world-class sprinter and human land-rocket Mark Cavendish has anything to say about it, Team Columbia-HTC should be hard to miss during the opening stages.