Blazin' Saddles

Double whammy

Blazin' Saddles

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If ever there was an argument in favour of keeping race radio it came in the climax to Saturday's stage at the moment when Sylvain Chavanel and Jerome Pineau combined to ensure that it would be QuickStep's day.

From their two different positions, the pair attacked almost simultaneously to swing the race in their favour: Pineau to drop Danilo Hondo at the start of the final climb, and Chavanel to take his fellow pursuers by surprise on the previous descent.

It was a beautifully choreographed pincer attack, a one-two combination that would have made any boxer proud. Hondo was knocked out for the count whilst Thomas Voeckler's chasing group of was thrown on the ropes. If this was in the ring, the referee would have called the bout off and awarded the spoils to the obvious victors in the yellow, white and red corner.

Pineau, his day's work done and the polka dot jersey assured, then sat back and let Chavanel weave his magic, safe in the knowledge that he had played his part in the most successful day for French cycling since... since... erm... some help here anyone?

Ironic, then, that both ride for a Belgian team.

Chavanel is one of the peloton's nice guys and Saddles is pleased he's finally realising his true potential. Incredibly, it has taken a potentially fatal fracture of his skull to give the Frenchman that much-needed winning mindset. Not that he would ever recommend for anyone to crash into a car to enhance their career prospects.

The 31-year-old's heady celebrations at the finish line in Rousses were only outdone by those of Pineau two minutes later, the latter beating his chest, pointing to his sponsor and generally milking it for conserving his polka dots.

But the best scenes came when Chavanel was being interviewed by French TV after just taking the win and Pineau ran over and embraced his team-mate in view of everyone. The two combine brilliantly - whether it's on a bike or in a tender embrace. It was just a very pleasant moment - and as you can see, even Saddles is finding it hard to find humour on such a special day.

Over the last 10 days Quick Step have taken huge strides - and fast. Last year the team was disrupted by the whole question of Tom Boonen's participation and suffered accordingly; this year, despite the 11th hour absence of the Boon King, the team have been a revelation. It's primarily down to both Chavanel and Pineau - two great guys who are making France fall back in love with Le Tour.

Observations and thoughts: It was so hot during stage seven that some riders even berated fans for not throwing water over them (Robbie Hunter). With that in mind, Saddles thought it rather selfish of the group of firemen who simply clapped and cheered the peloton as it zipped by. Surely they should have whipped out their hose and doused the riders with icy water from their big red engine?

It was a bad day for Fabian Cancellara who lost his yellow jersey in the most humiliating of ways, losing almost 15 minutes to Chavanel. Watching Spartacus's demise, Saddles was half expecting the self-elected leader of the peloton to ride over to race organiser Jean-Francois Pescheux's car and ask for the neutralisation of the stage on the grounds of it being too hot.

And finally, does the "fashion designer" who came up with the polka dot podium girls' outfits actually make a living with his/her sartorial nous? As far as Saddles could see, the poor girls were wearing spotted umbrellas and the kind of frilly top big in the 80s. Maybe they had been warned about the impending rain and hail storm that hit Les Rousses moments after the finish?

Quote of the day #1: "The finish looks ideal for Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen. I would pick him for victory today." Former Tour winner Stephen Roche comes a cropper after the Norwegian finishes almost 19 minutes off the pace.

Quote of the day #2: "But I wouldn't discount Sylvain Chavanel either." Roche would save his bacon with a second, slightly better, prediction.

Word of the day: Knees-down - n. the gradual deterioration of fervency of a religious gathering (predominantly the Christian faith) after an initial surge of belief. Opposite of a knees-up.

Stage eight prediction: Is this the day the Alexandre Vinokourov will finally show his true colours, attacking team-mate Alberto Contador mercilessly, taking the stage in Avoriaz and then declaring himself leader elect of Astana? Probably not, although Saddles would love to see it.

Plat du jour: Seeing that the riders pass close to Switzerland, how about the Swiss mountain speciality of Croute, a load of melted cheese on top of lumps of bread with bits of ham, mushroom and gherkin (and an egg of you're lucky) thrown in for good measure.

Peloton prattle: Which French housewives favourite wears a vest even when it's really hot because he's afraid of revealing his white chest when temperatures rise?
Uses for Belgian riders in Quick Step #1: Make up the numbers.

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