Blazin' Saddles

Peraud heartbreak as French falter further

Blazin' Saddles

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Still without a win in their own bike race in their own back garden, it's fair to say the French are having a pretty 'merde' time in this Tour de France.

Top rungs on stage podiums have been replaced with Pierre Rolland's increasingly uncomfortable flirtation with polka dots as a valid piece of onesie bike wear, frequent sightings of Cyril Gautier gurning away in breaks, just the two lashings of Thomas Voeckler's tongue and Tuesday's slightly lame recreation of the French flag as Monsieurs Jeannesson, Riblon and Coppel fought it out for second place in a flurry of blue, white and red.

The only 'chapeau' the French deserve is the cap into which Jan Bakelants didn't - but wished he had - emptied the contents of his troubled bowels during stage 14 to Lyon.

Well, at least there was Jean-Christophe Peraud holding his head high in the top ten... at least, until fate dealt him the cruellest blow on Wednesday's mountain time trial in the Alps.

The highest placed Frenchman in ninth place going into the stage, Peraud decided to do an early-morning recon of the 32km course when he crashed on the second descent and cracked his collarbone.

Unless your name's Tyler Hamilton and you keep a load of spare collarbones alongside the bags of blood in your chilled wardrobe, this is the kind of injury that keeps you out of racing the world's hardest bike race - particularly on the eve of three fairly brutal stages in the Alps.

But 36-year-old Peraud's a proud man and he wasn't going to walk away with what - in a game of conkers' parlance - was a mere skin crack.

Clearly in considerable pain, Peraud was riding with ballsy determination to limit his losses - coming through the third time split in a respectable 21st place.

His first descent in slightly wet conditions had been rather hairy, mind, with Peraud once doing his best Michael Rasmussen impression when overcooking a bend.

"Holy s***, did somebody use the Men In Black memory wiper thing on Peraud after his crash this morning? He's descending like a lunatic," tweeted David Millar during the Frenchman's ride.

If someone had wiped Peraud's memory, then it all came flooding back when, with just 2km remaining, Peraud rode too quickly into a tight bend and lost his front wheel in a bit of painted road (a message, ironically enough, no doubt directed towards the local French riders).

Down he slammed into the same collarbone that he fractured that very morning in what was one of the most sickening images of this year's race - made all the worse with the knowledge of that previous injury.

Saddles defies anyone to watch that fall without wincing in pain and holding their own right shoulder in a reflex action.

As soon as gravity separated Peraud from his bike and the veteran skidded onto his backside, the Ag2R-La Mondiale rider gesticulated to his team car: No more. Game over.

To make things all the more cruel - this was the same corner where his family had come to watch in support. His wife jumped over the barriers and consoled him as he shed some tears after what was certainly the darkest day in his career.

Having to give up on his target of bettering the ninth place he secured in his debut Tour in 2011, Peraud retired from the race, passing the baton over to 22-year-old team-mate Romain Bardet who, in 20th place, is now the highest French rider on GC. Yes, the best the host nation can do is a 22-year-old rookie.

"I didn't feel that I was taking too many risks," Peraud said afterwards. "I was descending as I know how but I was surprised by the corner. It's part of sport. I'm okay and it's only a broken collarbone. It will be a relief to get home."

Peraud's adieu to the peloton is the latest in a long line of disappointments for the host nation. Voeckler has been rubbish, while Rolland and Thibaut Pinot - two riders who both finished in the top 10 last year - have been decidedly underwhelming.

Such is Pinot's well documented fear of descending, that when the 23-year-old withdrew from the race on the second rest day because of a throat infection, some riders presumed it was to avoid the backside of the Col du Manse, the two climbs in the time trial, and the infamous Sarenne downhill between two ascents of Alpe d'Huez.

"Sorry to hear about Thibaut Pinot out of the Tour because of fear of descents... No fun. He's a big talent and I hope he gets over it quick," tweeted Nicolas Roche, unaware that he had probably made things ten times worse.

As for Rolland, his time trial on Wednesday coincided with the biggest downpours during the first wet day on the 2013 Tour - and his descending was about as cagy as Bradley Wiggins in an Italian monsoon.

Telling the press that he was now giving up on his quest to singlehandedly ruin the street credibility of the Tour's polka dot jersey, Rolland reiterated that he was hoping to repeat his Alpe d'Huez success from 2011 on Thursday.

But with rain forecasted - and that long descent off the back of the Col de Sarenne between the two takes on the famous 21 hairpin bends - Rolland is not an obvious favourite to turn France's fortunes around.

HOT: Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez came very close to winning Spain a first stage - but in the end they couldn't match the man-for-all-seasons Chris Froome. But the Briton's dominance is so clear isn't it time he stopped pretending to be so surprised every time he tops the podium?

Graciousness is one thing, but faux-sincerity and self-deprecation can become rather tiresome. Come on Froomedog, show us your snarl and gnash those teeth.

NOT: This time two years ago, Cadel Evans managed to overturn a deficit on Andy Schleck in the final time trial to snatch the yellow jersey on the eve of the race's finale in Paris. This year, Evans was reduced to "enjoying the atmosphere" and taking in the "amusing characters out there".

The Australian finished eight minutes down on Froome - and some five and a half minutes slower than Schleck. Evans should be careful before he becomes one of those amusing characters himself...

QUOTES OF THE DAY: "Certainly not. We're not footballers." John Gadret's response when asked whether or not the race organisers should cancel the descent of the Sarenne should there be storms.

"It would be sad not to do two planned parcours of the Alpe d’Huez, but safety comes first." The yellow jersey calls for just the one ascent of the famous mountain.

"This is a bike race; it’s not some Sunday morning grandma trip. They have to learn how to race their bikes and stop complaining." Saxo-Tinkoff manager Bjarne Riis enters the debate.

BANNER OF THE DAY: "Sagan - you can touch my ass if you want"

STAGE 18: GAP - ALPE D'HUEZ, 172.5KM: The only way you could get a bigger Queen Stage than this would be if you'd organised a bike race in which Her Majesty Elizabeth II attended while listening to Bohemian Rhapsody as Graham Norton provided the commentary.

This is the one we've all been waiting for - and as John Gadret said above - we'd be damned if they're going to cancel the major pull of the 100th edition of the race over a bit of rain. A double ascent of Alpe d'Huez on the same day has never happened before - and given the race situation, you'd expect the moves to come thick and fast on the first ascent.

If it comes down to the final climb then we all know that Chris Froome will just power away to the top without even leaving the saddle. But if Saxo-Tinkoff can send Roman Kreuziger up the road on the first ascent - perhaps in a break alongside Alejandro Valverde and one of the Belkin boys - then we could be in for a treat.

It will take a lot to dislodge Froome - but we still have three tricky stages in the Alps and each one of the remaining 17 climbs could prove pivotal.

PLAT DU JOUR: It's a cheese and carbs overload in these parts so grab yourself a Tartiflette for lunch (offset with a few green leaves) and then make sure you do enough exercise to do the Fondue double in the evening, with both cheese and meat. At the end of the meal, knock yourself out with a shot of Chartreuse - a disgusting green spirit made out of mountain flowers and fermented my monks.

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