Will Tyler Farrar Beat Cav? He’s Done It Before.

From Chapter 5 of Argyle Armada:

“The day after the time trial win, Navardauskas and Zabriskie keep five breakaway riders within reach for much of the flat 123-mile stage from the seaside village of Olonne-Sur-Mer to Redon. The field captures the breakaway 6 miles from the finish. On the run-in it looks like another Mark Cavendish win is in the offing. But then, with less than 1 kilometer to go, Millar keeps Hushovd protected through a right-hand turn, then the yellow jersey barrels past a stunned Cavendish with Dean and Farrar in tow. Dean takes over from Hushovd and drops off Farrar 250 meters from the finish in Redon.

Farrar wins the team’s second stage in two days. The manner in which Hushovd made it happen is unprecedented. This is the first time a rider wearing both the rainbow stripes of the road world champion and the yellow jersey has led out a teammate for a win in the last 500 meters of a Tour stage. At the finish, Farrar and his two lead-out men reenact the historic moment through a time-delayed doppelgänger; while Farrar coasts past the finish line in real-time, hands held aloft in the shape of a W, on a JumboTron behind them and on TVs around the planet, a time-delayed Farrar is still sprinting, hands on his bars, elbows out with escorts Dean and Hushovd peeling off to his right.

After the stage, Farrar says he won it for Weylandt. The sprinter from the state of Washington is the first American to win a Tour stage on July 4, his country’s Independence Day. As of today the 27-year-old is also the second American to have won stages at all three grand tours—Dave Zabriskie being the first.

At the finish, Millar scrambles through a frenzy of journalists to Farrar. With a Colombian radio reporter providing a live account in machine-gun Spanish to listeners back home, Millar plants a kiss on Farrar’s cheek. Vande Velde hugs Farrar and tells him it’s a great way to celebrate the Fourth. New Zealander Dean is usually emotionless after races, a countenance of blank concentration. Today, however, a smile shows through road grime that covers his face in the patterns of a Maori tattoo.

The marketing return on Farrar’s win rains down within hours. U.S. Senator John Kerry e-mails Vaughters his congratulations. Articles headlining Garmin-Cervélo pop up on media sites around the world. Forbes, CBS, ESPN, The Washington Post, The Guardian: the world’s press is smitten with the story of an American winning on July 4, an American who suffered tragedy months earlier with the loss of his dear friend. The next day’s L’Équipe headline reads, in English, “Farrar’s Day” with a fullpage photo of Farrar with his hands forming a W.”

Go inside the pro peloton with Argyle Armada, available from your local bookstore or bike shop or from these retailers:Argyle Armada book cover

Blood and Ice

Watching the carnage of the first week of the 2012 Tour de France, you can’t help but think how fortunate the team was at the 2011 Tour. While Ryder Hesjedal suffered a terrible crash during stage one, during last year’s first eight stages the team largely kept the rubber side down. They also carried the yellow jersey for seven glorious days.

This year, of course, has been the opposite, with crashes forcing lead-out-man Robbie Hunter to abandon along with GC contenders Hesjedal and Tom Danielson. Smack downs with the European pavement seriously compromised both health and GC potential for the rest of the squad as well. “We are down to six,” Vaughters said. “We have just got to soldier on.”

But crashing is bike racing, and last year that was especially apparent at September’s Tour of Spain. There, the team lost both Brazilian Murilo Fischer and Tyler Farrar to crashes during the first week. In a freak accident on a wide, flat road, Frenchman Christophe Le Mével also went down so hard he at first thought he broke his hip.

Showing the marks of a crash earlier in the day, and with a bag of ice down his bib shorts, Johan Vansummeren finishes the Vuelta a Espanã stage 15 on the Alto de L’Angliru. September 4, 2011.

This photo shows Johan Vansummeren during Vuelta stage 15 on the Angliru, a vicious climb in the Cantabrian Mountains of northern Spain. The blood on his fingers, arm, and leg are traces of an earlier run in with a sharp bit of Europe’s infamous road furniture–traffic-calming devices placed in roads to slow cars.

You will have to read Argyle Armada to get the gory details, but consider that in addition to getting stitches in two parts of his body after the stage, injuries forced the Belgian to ride the stage with a bag of ice down his shorts. The 6’5″, 167-pound Vansummeren also resisted the race and team doctors’ strong recommendation that he finish the stage in an ambulance, not on a bike.

During another Vuelta stage, Sep Vanmarcke got tangled up with another falling rider and flew over a guard rail on a steep mountain descent. After launching 40 meters into a ravine, the young Belgian hit a tree and crashed to a halt in underbrush just meters from a river. The caravan didn’t see the crash, and Vanmarcke had to drag himself up out of the woods before word filtered out to the team car to come back and assist him.

Traumatized, Vanmarcke got back on his bike and rode to the finish. “At that moment you just realize what you survived. I was totally mentally broken. I started crying for two hours. I couldn’t stop. I had no power. I was shocked.”

Jonathan Vaughters recently argued that, considering the grave risks inherent to pro cycling, the minimum rider salaries should be twice what they are today. That’s part of his larger vision for a reformed sport. Getting compensation more in line with the hazardous nature of the pro cycling hasn’t happened yet, but both the 2011 Vuelta and the first week of the 2012 Tour suggest their may be some merit to the Slipstream boss’s wish.

Go inside the pro peloton with Argyle Armada, available from your local bookstore or bike shop or from these retailers:Argyle Armada book cover

You’ve Won the Stage, Now What?

What happens after you’ve won a stage of the Tour de France? Here’s embedded writer-photographer Mark Johnson’s look at Thor Hushovd’s exit from the course after winning Stage 13 of the Tour.

From Chapter 5 of Argyle Armada

Long after all the team buses have left, Hushovd makes his way through a crowd of fans to a waiting team car. With the assistance of a Tour de France bouncer, he slips into the front seat, where he takes a moment to sign an autograph book for a boy in a polka dot climber’s jersey. A plastic container of food with “Thor” written on the lid waits in the backseat.

Team director Marie gets into the driver’s seat, and Marya Pongrace sits in the back, though she has a hard time shutting the door because as she gets in, a fan sticks his video camera through the door and won’t pull it out. When police finally pry the videographer off the vehicle, Marie starts the engine and the crowd parts.

Argyle Armada Inside the team car after Thor wins Stage 13

Get behind the scenes with Argyle Armada, your all-access pass to the sport, lifestyle, and business of professional cycling. Argyle Armada is available from your local bookstore or bike shop or from these retailers:Argyle Armada book cover

Behind the Scenes at the Tour de France: A Snarl of Team Cars, A Forest of Bikes, the Tour de France Support Staging Area

Before a stage of the Tour, the team cars assemble in a staging area before departing onto the race course behind the riders.

Argyle Armada Tour de France support staging area

Argyle Armada Mark Johnson TDF staging area

Click to enlarge. Try it! Can you find Vaughters?

Argyle Armada is a behind-the-scenes look at the world of professional cycling, from training camps to service course, sponsorship negotiations to the team bus.

Go inside the pro peloton with Argyle Armada, available from your local bookstore or bike shop or from these retailers:Argyle Armada book cover

Missing Thor: Would Hushovd Have Beaten Sagan on Stage 3?

With Thor Hushovd out of the 2012 Tour de France, many fans are missing his presence, especially after the finish atop a Cat 4 climb in Boulogne-sur-Mer, which reminded many of Thor’s win in the rainbow jersey last year:

From Chapter 5 of Argyle Armada

On paper, the day’s stage from Pau doesn’t look promising. With the 10-mile Col d’Aubisque poking up the middle of the stage profile like a circus tent, followed by 26 miles of descending into the Pyrenean foothills town of Lourdes, the stage is not selective enough for climbers like Danielson and Vande Velde. And it’s too mountainous for sprinters like Farrar and Hushovd.

Or so it seems. With 60 miles remaining in the 97-mile stage, Hushovd gets in a 10-man break. At the bottom of the Aubisque, the Norwegian makes a thunderous attack and drops everyone in the break except Frenchmen David Moncoutié and Jérémy Roy.

By the top of the 5,607-foot climb, Roy and Moncoutié return the favor by dropping Hushovd and put nearly two minutes on him. But the world champion plummets through the serpentine descent like a one-man Norwegian bobsled team and catches Moncoutié on the descent. Moncoutié sits on Hushovd’s wheel; he knows he can’t beat him in a sprint, so there is no sense helping him catch his countryman, Roy.

At the finish in Lourdes, a big screen TV shows Hushovd’s insane effort play out. Transfixed by the possibility of their man winning yet another stage, Viking hat–wearing Norwegians chant, “Thor, Thor, Thor,” and a blond woman holds up a sign that reads, “Thor Hushovd the Ox.” Their hero catches, then passes Roy. Is Hushovd, a sprinter, really about to win a Pyrenean stage? He rides across the finish line with arms aloft. Behind him, the crowd is a frenzied tableau, a Delacroix of waving pom-poms, lifted cameras, and out-of-body screaming that is almost religious in its tenor—an appropriate scene for Lourdes, a shrine visited each year by some 5 million Catholic pilgrims.

Hushovd’s Garmin GPS shows his top speed on the descent from the Aubisque is 69.59 miles per hour. After the stage, Lionel Marie, the directeur sportif in the team car behind Hushovd, tells me he has “never done a descent like that. It’s wonderful for the guys.”

When Hushovd had the gap down to a minute and a half, Marie thought there was a chance he could catch Roy, but the director was by no means certain. His eyes shining with joy, Marie recounts how “on the last roundabout, I told him, ‘Come on man, come on!’ And, phewww . . . he did it!” He adds, “I told him to enjoy this moment, because, can you imagine, he won a stage in the Tour de France with the rainbow jersey. It’s fantastic.”

Argyle Armada Thor wins

Embedded with Team Garmin for the 2011 Tour de France, photographer Mark Johnson was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to capture Thor Hushovd’s come-from-behind stage win at Lourdes.

Get behind the scenes with Argyle Armada, your all-access pass to the sport, lifestyle, and business of professional cycling. Argyle Armada is available from your local bookstore or bike shop or from these retailers:Argyle Armada book cover

How to Watch the Tour de France in Person

After I gave a talk and slide show at the Seattle Bike Expo (thanks everyone who bought a book!), a woman told me how excited she was about making her first trip to the Tour de France in 2012.

She wanted to know if I had any tips for seeing the Tour, specifically the stages in the Alps.

I told her that unless she wants to spend her holiday locked in a traffic jam, she should ride her bike to the Alpine stages, and plan on getting there very early (on the big climbs, aim for four hours before the riders are scheduled to pass–keeping in mind that many of the people camping on the side of the road have been there for a week already). Because road options are relatively limited in the Alps, the routes that do exist get gridlocked hours before and after each stage. Ride a bike and you sail past all those people suffering in their steel cages. For stages too far to ride to, I recommended taking a train to a closer location, and then riding to the course. Also, if you arrive on a bike four or five hours before the stage is scheduled to pass through, you can usually ride on the course, something you can’t do in a car.

I also told her to get a copy of Graham Watson’s Tour de France Travel Guide. It distills the legendary cycling photographer’s decades of experience covering the Tour into a portable, and beautifully illustrated, guide designed specifically for Tour de France visitors. It also has terrific tips on how to get good photos at the Tour, even if you aren’t a credentialed photographer.

Can’t make it to the Tour? Pick up Argyle Armada, a behind-the-scenes look at the world of professional cycling, from training camps to service course, sponsorship negotiations to the team bus.Argyle Armada book cover

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Q&A Vande Velde: ‘We raced the Giro with a massive chip on our shoulders’

Chapter 5 of Argyle Armada gives an inside look at the team’s remarkable successes at the 2011 Tour de France, including four stage wins, seven days in the yellow jersey, and the overall team prize.

In the chapter, at a private after-party in Paris, Christian Vande Velde describes the race, saying, “From pipe dreams in 2003 for Jonathan to 2007 for a couple of us taking some serous risks coming to this team in the first place. From being the little engine that could to standing the whole…team on the podium in Paris. It’s been huge.”

Ryder Hesjedal and Christian Vande Velde at the 2011 Tour de France

In this interview for VeloNews, Vande Velde expands on this sense that Slipstream has always been underestimated, if not dismissed, for their quirkiness and their stance on doping. He also explains how being the underdog motivated him and the team as they helped Ryder Hesjedal ride to victory at this year’s Tour of Italy.

Christian Vande Velde and Ryder Hesjedal often room together when on the road, including at the 2012 Giro d’Italia, which Hesjedal won.

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