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Tour de L’Aude – The Review

OK it’s not over yet, but it’s difficult to see today’s stage into Carcassonne stirring things up in the GC, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to summarise what I’ve learnt from this in the hope of doing things a bit better next time. Or at least having one handy list of all the stuff I got completely wrong and should never try again.

Number one, this race has been great. Even with our knowledge limited to a few tweets, a short report by the organisers which formed the basis of just about all English language reports, subsequently coloured in by rider blogs and the great people over at Cicloweb who seemed to be the only ones taking active steps to wring out more information, there has been an awful lot going on every day, from the windy echelons at the start, right up to Emma Johansson’s frantic attempt yesterday to bump herself up a step or two on the podium. So far the only video coverage has been the short reports on the local news, but I still have some hopes that, just as happened with the Tour of Picardy, a programme will appear some time in the next week or two showing more racing.

Number two, my predictions stink. I’m tempted to say this was deliberate, just in case there are people out there who mistake this place for a news site and think that we actually know what we’re talking about, but in that case I could have done far worse. It doesn’t always happen in the Aude, but this year the climbers ruled and I got that totally wrong.

Number three, Twitter is brilliant for getting racing reports. In the absence of live footage and Podium Café style race chats, theis is the best way to get a feel for what is going on. I just wish all the teams could agree on a short hash code for each race and then that they would all get a team mechanic to give a wildly prejudiced series of homer tweets every so often. There’s no point whining about lack of mainstream coverage nowadays, you can come up with something better yourselves.

And for a few random thoughts on riders. We’ll have to find someone else to make fun of their bad descending, since Emma Pooley seems to have sorted that out, at least as far as climbers are able to. She’ll never be able to keep up with the suicide squad in the grupetto (self proclaimed leader Jo "I live for descents " Kiesanowski), but they’re twenty minutes back anyway; If you can match her going up then she’ll match you going down. It's tough on Claudia Hausler, since she did the Aude-Giro double last year, but this year's Giro Donne evevn more seems to be designed specifically for Emma. Still her fourth place was perfectly respectable.

Whoever knew that riding on the Dutch dikes in winter would be the ideal preparation for the first half of this race. The Aude is in a little valley with mountains to the north and south, and when conditions are right this turns into a perfect little wind tunnel. The name of that wind, the Tramontane, goes back to Roman times and it can get pretty strong at times. The first few days of this year’s race coincided with one of those times, with gusts of up to 60 mph, and that caught out a lot of the girls. Twenty riders gained two and a half minutes over the rest, and of those twenty, eight were Dutch, while seven of the eight eliminated for missing the time cut came from southern Europe.

Nederland Bloeit are working really well as a team. Before the season started I had thought of them as just there for getting Marianne Vos to the business end of the race and then rolling home ready to do the same again next time (Ok my views are coloured by the fact that I can’t read Dutch directly and have to rely on Google for most of the work), but they really seem to have gelled together and even better, Vos seems genuinely pleased to play the role of supporting rider at times.

Emma Johansson’s performance deserves more notice. Yesterday’s official news bulletin didn’t make it clear, but both Red Sun and Nederland Bloeit tried to break up the race very early on to get a few more seconds, and Emma was one of the last two caught, just 2km from the finish line.

Marijn de Vries’ blog reports have been one of the highlights of the Tour; she’s funny even through Google translate (and that’s in the good, white unicorn, sense), and I hope she gets to race a lot more. I’m not yet sure I’m prepared to forgive today’s piece from Aunat (winter population 58) yet – if you’ve not yet read it then you probably should go here first for the right musical accompaniment. The website is also another place worth bookmarking for race reports. It’s not as sanitised as the Cervelo and HTC-Columbia ones can be at times (although the rider blogs at Cervelo are a lot better).

Team Tibco have been great here. Often the little teams get intimidated by the giants and ride as if they are trying to keep out of the way of the race proper. Tibco instead went out on the attack every day, right from the start, and made the race a lot more fun, and in return got a stage win , a jersey, and lots of little cuddly toys to show off in the team bus window.

News coverage hasn’t been too bad, after all it wasn’t that long ago when the only coverage of the Giro outside Italy was a list of the bare results in specialist magazines several weeks after the race. We’ve had some TV every day, Twitter, blogs, and there may be some news reports in the French regional press that none of us have yet discovered. A hat tip once again to the people over at Cicloweb for those reports that go beyond the organisers’ press releases, and for Edita Pucinskaite’s commentaries (and if you want unflattering photos then here’s Marianne Vos as The Incredible Hulk). It’s still not at the level of the Giro Donne, where RAI put on a half hour’s highlights programme a day, but if you want to encourage the French then go and watch those news reports we linked to in the last thread, and maybe someone somewhere will start to wonder why they are so popular.

I’m sure that I’ll remember lots of other things I wanted to say, but that’s the way of these pieces. It already looks a bit too long. Congratulations to all those who made it even part way. I suspect I wouldn’t even have made it round the prologue course in that wind. If you’ve got any interesting links that I’ve missed then add them in the comments; I tend to be good at finding new stuff at the start of a race, but tail off later into the race in to checking earlier good links.