Rain was the main course as the Tour snaked south towards its rendezvous in the Pyrenees tomorrow. Unlike sports like baseball, rain very rarely cancels a bike race, let alone a stage of the world's greatest race. These guys are all about suffering and a day in the rain only adds to the evidence that professional riders are the hard men of the road. That doesn't mean they have to like it, but they totally accept the fact that they are going to get wet (and cold!).
Riding safely in the rain does require some additional attention and skills and while there does appear to be more crashes on a wet day, without the abilities of the top pros, it could easily be total carnage. There are some basic rules they like to obey. First off, they avoid rolling over any painted surfaces, the bigger the painted surface the more they avoid it. The reason is simple, paint does not absorb water and hence a film of water will build up. Since the contact patch of a road tire is about the size of a postage stamp, hydroplaning is a real concern.
It is bad enough that there are lots of traffic regulating paint on the road, but when the rabid Tour fans go completely nuts and paint a huge section of roadway with their country's flag, this creates a mini-skating rink that is exceptionally dangerous. In 2002, American Freddie Rodriguez crashed out on just such a flag on the second day of the Tour. So, avoid paint at all costs.
Metal grates and manhole covers are another land mine. These things become so slick when wet that one minute you are up, the next you are eating asphalt. Unfortunately, metal surfaces seem to abound in the towns along the Tour route. Not a great welcome for the peloton.
As we have all seen in the classic of classics Paris-Roubaix, stone surfaces are also very slick and dangerous. For some reason, every town in France seems to want to reclaim their roots and have at least one section of stones right in the middle of town to remind us all of times past. Luckily, most of these sections are usually found on straight portions of the road and not in turns.
So, when it gets wet, take a tip from the pros at the Tour. Stay away from painted surfaces, metal covers and grates and brick and stones. Asphalt baby!
It was a text book win for Mark Cavendish today. His team did an incredible job all day long riding at the front for Kim Kirchen in yellow and then swtiched to leadout mode for the win. In fact, with Ciolek (2nd) and Kirchen (4th) there were three Team Columbia riders in the top four. In his post race interview, Cavendish re-iterated that he is feeling strong and has no plans to drop out in the mountains. He thinks his next chance for a stage win many come on stage 12, but also acknowledged that the traditional breakaway during such a transitional stage between the Pyrenees and the Alps may foil his chances.
Yesterday, news of the first doping positive of the Tour was announced. Liquigas rider, Manuel Beltran, tested positive for EPO. Beltran was one of ten riders who had abnormal blood values during the Tour's medical checks the week before the start and because of this was targeted for additional testing during the race.
The identities of the other nine riders have not been released nor have they, as yet, tested positive for any banned substances.