Taking advantage of echelons

There was plenty going on in stage 13 and I’m going to struggle to get it all down without boring people, so bear with me if I omit details or include too many or waffle on in the opening sentence making excuses for myself in advance.

Fighting back

This was the theme of the stage. Mark Cavendish fought back, emerging victorious after an ensmallening stage 12 experience in which he was overtaken by Marcel Kittel while sprinting. Similarly, several of Chris Froome’s rivals fought back, gaining 1m08s on the race leader on the day.

There was also a thing with Alejandro Valverde, but that doesn’t really fit the subheading. It wasn’t so much fighting back as ‘fighting at the back and ultimately falling short’.

Fighting at the back and ultimately falling short

Several of the sprint teams upped the pace early on, particularly Mark Cavendish’s Omega Pharma – Quick Step brethren. This resulted in Marcel Kittel losing touch, so they carried on forcing the pace. If they could leave him for dead, there was no way he could outsprint Cav at the finish.

While this was going on, Alejandro Valverde got a puncture. Instead of swapping bikes with one of his domestiques like a non-idiot, he waited for a new wheel, like an idiot. He never made it back to the main bunch, finishing 9m54s after Cavendish.

How did all of this happen on a flat stage?

Echelons! Saviours of long, flat sprint stages. Echelons are the natural product of cross-winds as riders shelter from the wind diagonally behind the rider in front. Their form means that, unlike a peloton, each one can only hold so many riders and if your echelon features less powerful riders than the echelon in front, you are going to lose time.

And this was happening throughout the stage?

It seemed like it. It was certainly harder than the average flat day, because it seemed like someone or other always had something to gain from absolutely flooring it at the front. For example, when Valverde was behind, Belkin took up the running, because it was an opportunity to move Bauke Mollema up the general classification.

Everyone must have been knackered

Pretty much. Normally they just cruise along for most of the stage, but today a lot more energy was expended. This might be why Alberto Contador’s Saxo-Tinkoff team engineered another split with about 30km to go.

By this point, we had what seemed like about a dozen groups out on the road. The front group, created by Saxo-Tinkoff, contained 14 riders, including a smattering of general classification contenders, but not Chris Froome. He and his remaining team-mates couldn’t haul them back and he finished 1m09s down.

But Cavendish made the group?

Darn tootin’. Strong riding from the Manxman; strong riding indeed. Considering all the carnage, it was a major achievement to even be in the lead group and from there, he then had to beat Peter Sagan – a man who seems ever more likely to win, the messier a stage gets.

After being bollocked for a crash, doused in piss and pipped at the post in successive stages, this was a better outcome for Cav.

Green

  1. Peter Sagan – 357
  2. Mark Cavendish – 273
  3. Andre Greipel – 217

Yellow

  1. Chris Froome
  2. Bauke Mollema +2m28s
  3. Alberto Contador +2m45s
  4. Roman Kreuziger +2m48s
  5. Laurens Ten Dam +3m01s

Stage 14

A diminished sprint kind of day. Here’s the profile.