Blazin' Saddles


Blazin' Saddles

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The opening song on Bananarama's eponymous second album is called Cruel Summer and it must be what's going through the heads of the Astana riders right now.

Last year the team were winning stages and delivering Alberto Contador to the overall victory; the year before they were pretty much doing the same, while getting all the publicity of Lance Armstrong's lauded comeback.

This year, however, it's all a bit, well, pointless. Their roster of four home-grown Kazakh riders is not as self-punishing as Katusha's ridiculous Sputnik-esque foray into all-Russian outrecuidance, but it's hardly going to bring home the bacon.

As for putting all their eggs in the basket of Shy Boy Roman Krueziger... What a Shambles! It's Really Saying Something, but they can Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye after the Czech cycling trustafarian rolled home more than 20 minutes down.

Granted, Kreuziger had a sore wrist after beating off the tarmac on Friday - but the former Liquigas man never looked in form during the opening week of racing.

Still, they have perpetual hope Vino, the Kazakh snow leopard retiring at the end of the season and hoping to go out with a big bang.

Vinokourov has been open about this being his last Tour and honest about his chances: he's not here for the GC, he's here to win a stage and do as best as he can.

And that can be brilliant - as we were reminded when he zipped off the front of the peloton on the penultimate climb in stage eight, in a move that was about as predictable as a confusing Tweet from Fabian Cancellara.

Vintage Vino at one point looked to have pulled off a veritable coup: the stage win and with it, the yellow jersey missing from his collection of cycling memorabilia.

But Vino Version 2011 is a far cry from the one of yesteryear. Even the pounding Eurasia trance and Kazakh turbo-folk he was no doubt listening to through his earpiece wasn't enough to reel in the former Benfica playmaker Rui Costa and drive the snow leopard to that elusive maillot jaune.

Like Big George Hincapie, Vino may retire at the end of the season never having donned the Tour's fabled yellow jersey. And that would be a travesty for Kazakhstan.

Still, he's only 32 seconds down in the GC, and given his climbing ability in the high mountains is now probably worse than Thor Hushovd's, then tomorrow's stage may be his last chance to join the illustrious club. Who would get against him having a pop?

Gaffe of the Day: Pierre Rolland almost bit the bitumen when his rain jacket got caught up in his back wheel.

Plat du Jour: Fresh water Aigurande crawfish - the noblest shellfish in French cuisine - served with a potato pancake. Then for dinner, a truffle omelette with a side of Saint-Nectaire cheese.

Word of the Day: adj. Schleckling - doing something in pairs. Eg. 'Oi, you two ruffians, stop schleckling about on street corners.'

Uses for... BMC: Babysitting and dry cleaning. Well, they seem prepared to do Garmin-Cervelo's dirty washing for them on the front of the peloton, even though their man Evans is yet to don the yellow jersey.

Peloton prattle: Which top speedster had a scare on Friday when he thought he'd "followed through" with a fart while riding ahead of a chap from - rather aptly - Liquigas.

Tweet of the Day: "Being operated on Monday morning to put plate in. My two dogs are also having their balls chopped off Wednesday morning. Hoping my drugs don't confuse me and end up at the wrong appointment." Bradley Wiggins

Stage 9 prediction: A large 12-man break to go early, including Anthony Charteau, Thomas Voeckler, David Moncoutie, half of the FDJ team, Johnny Hoogerland (to atone for Saturday's loss of the polka dots), Amets Txurruka, Geraint Thomas, Dimitry Murayev, Maxime Bouet and Matteo Bono. But on one of the later climbs (there are seven) Vino will attack again, win the stage and take the yellow.

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