Blazin' Saddles

Frandy: an apology

Blazin' Saddles

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Saddles
is going to be a man and put his hands up and admit he got it wrong about
Frandy.

After
Frandy's one-two on the Galibier - which came after an early, measured and
highly accomplished attack - how can anyone not shower Frandy with praise?

Frandy,
the way you took everyone by surprise on the Col d'Izoard, with an attack when
nobody expected it, was a masterstroke; the kind of aggressive
all-in-at-any-cost riding we no longer seem to see amongst our overly cautious
GC hopefuls.

Granted,
Saddles thought it was a bit rich for you to ride a thoroughly decent descent
after all those downhill complaints earlier in the week - after all, nobody
wants to see the Tour decided on a downhill, do they? - but perhaps that was
part of your plan, luring the others into a false sense of, er, Schlechurity.

And
granted, you probably wouldn't have tried something so rum had the adverse
weather conditions initially forecast actually materialised. But that doesn't
take anything away from the fact that on Thursday, as the sun pounded down and
Alberto Contador nursed his injured knee at the back of the bunch, Frandy, you
rode a real ripper of a stage.

While
Saddles understands why you, Frandy, didn't help Cadel Evans whatsoever in the
chase, it was still a bit mean of you to then drop him in the final 200m and
take a handful of seconds off the Australian.

But
again, BS will forgive you for that, Frandy, because you did really get it spot
on - and made critics, like Saddles himself on occasion, look rather stupid.

When
you went so early and with such intent, Saddles was worried that you may get
stage fright and crack on the final climb up the Galibier. You see, Frandy, you
didn't seem to be eating much or taking on board many liquids. With a body so
slight, you have to be careful. But still you rode on, like a man possessed.

It
was, in short, one of the great rides in recent Tour history. A superb double
act - in fact, a mesmerising team effort. But it still came down to you,
Frandy, and you alone.

Saddles
hasn't witnessed as remarkable a solo attack since the day Floyd Landis
testosteroned his way to Morzine. But that was way before your time, Frandy.
Things are different nowadays, thankfully.

And
on that note, with a large slice of humble pie still left on his plate, Saddles
is going to move on from his Frandy apology and make five quick observations
about Thursday's stage 18.

1.
Leopard Trek gambled and it paid off. Their tactics were spot on - sending men
up the road to prepare the way, cranking up the pace via O'Grady while Contador
struggled with a sore knee, getting Andy to attack earlier than expected, then
using Frank to sandbag the chasing group before attacking himself at the right
moment so as to conserve his own chances in the GC. Both Schlecks look a
shoo-in for the podium in Paris - but their final positions are still far from
decided.

2.
Squabbling gets you nowhere. With Schleck junior riding four minutes up the
road, the yellow jersey chasing group really needed to combine their efforts in
a bid to reel him in. Instead, they bickered and argued their way up the first
two kilometres of the Galibier, before Basso and then Evans finally decided
that delaying any longer would amount to losing the Tour.

3.
Voeckler has been the life and soul this Tour. It's understandable why Voeckler
was reluctant to do all the work at the start of the Galibier, even if he was
in yellow, but the passion, determination and true drama with which he rode the
final kilometre in order to hold on to the yellow jersey for yet another day
almost brought a tear to the eye. Seven years on from his last 10-day stint in
yellow, Voeckler now hits that same landmark. What's more, he's now completed
three out of four summit finishes in the 2011 Tour in a quicker combined time
than Contador - quite a remarkable feat for a non-climber whose highest Tour
finish in the past six years is 66th.

4.
Contador is cooked. Look, the guy never thought he was going to ride the Tour
in the first place and after his winning performance in the most demanding Giro
in years, following it up with the Tour was always going to be a tall order. We
all know that, on his day, Contador is a match for anyone - but the Spaniard
hasn't been on his day all month. Expect him to press on for a top five finish
though - which is considerably better than Basso managed last year off the back
of his winning Giro.

5.
Only the uneducated would write off Evans now. The plaudits may have gone to
the Schlecks and the rousing cheers to Voeckler, but the real winner of stage
18 could well have been the shrill-speaking Australian. Evans rode the Galibier
better than anyone, managed to limit his losses, and still holds the Grenoble
time trial trump card. Just 57 seconds shy of Andy Schleck, he will be fresher
for the climb to Alpe d'Huez on Friday and he won't have the pressure of
knowing he must pull the goods out of the bag for the second day running.

Gaffe of the Day: An elderly spectator
almost knocked Maxime Monfort off his bike when turning to take a photo on the
Agnel. Had the Belgian gone down, would Schleck have been able to ride such a
superb downhill towards the foot of the Galibier?

Plat du Jour: Proper coffee in the
morning in Italy, a reblochon and beaufort cheese tartiflette for lunch, and
some humble pie for dinner.

Word of the Day: Schlectacular - an
amazing occurrence; usually out of the blue.

Uses for... Andy Schleck: A coat hanger.

Peloton prattle: Which eligible bachelor
is being set up with a blind date for the post Tour party by his team-mates,
who have started interviewing hopeful candidates on Twitter?

Quote of the Day: "All those blokes
but only a couple of sets of balls as far as I can tell." Robbie McEwen's
reaction to the chasing group's animated discussions at the foot of the
Galibier.

Stage 19 prediction: Short but steep,
Friday's stage approaches the Galibier from the harder side and concludes with
Alpe d'Huez - this Tour is far from over by any stretch. Exhausted by his
efforts on Thursday, Andy Schleck will be dropped on the Galibier, allowing
Frank to go on and contest the win with Evans. A resurgent Contador will pip
them both to the prize - crowding the GC ahead of the final time trial. But it
will be Schleck senior in yellow atop the Dutch Mountain.

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