Stage Four of the Tour was a day made for the sprinters, and the action in the final kilometer is perfect for demonstrating one aspect of the team strategy of the Tour.
It's far from 'every man for himself' out there, with every rider in the Tour belonging to one of 21 corporate-sponsored teams in the race. Each team begins with nine riders, and each team naturally has its own strategies, based on its riders' strengths. A stage win or jersey for one man on the team is seen as a great credit to the team overall. If you listen to an interview with a stage winner at the end of a day, chances are the first thing he'll attribute his win to is the support of his team. There is also an award given to the team with the overall best time in the Tour (similar to the Yellow Jersey, but no jersey is awarded for the team honours.) To calculate the team's time for each stage, the fastest three times for each team are added together. The lowest cumulative total at the end of the Tour wins the Team award.
A team is typically comprised of a mix of specialist riders (sprinters, mountain climbers and/or all-rounders) and domestiques. The domestique has the very important job of looking after the team leader, to the extent of even sacrificing his own bicycle should the team leader's malfunction. The domestique also rides between the cyclists and their support cars at the back of the peloton to ferry food and drinks to the cyclists en route.
A team's tactics can involve offensive / attacking moves as well as defensive riding. In many cases, the members of a team are called on to protect their team leader's (usually the rider on the team who has the most chance of a jersey win) overall position in the race. This can be done by team members leading a breakaway, forcing the peloton to chase them down. Or, they may have to chase down a breakaway which could threaten their team leader's position. One of the most important team functions (which is also carried out en masse by the peloton) is drafting, or slipstreaming. By following closely on another rider's wheel, a team leader can keep energy in reserve for a sprint finish, or for making a lethal attack at a perfectly timed moment. In the mountains, teams can also help a mountain-climbing leader by setting a pace for him.
When a team has a sprinter in its midst, often team tactics toward the end of the race are set up to deliver the team's sprinter into prime position for the final sprint to win the stage. We saw this today with Thor Hushovd's win. Hushovd's teammate Julian Dean (a New Zealander) has the job of 'leading out' Hushovd in the last few hundred metres of the race. Thor just has to stick right on Julian's back wheel until Julian tears off to the side, leaving Thor to pedal like mad and work his sprint magic to cross the line first. Today it worked. Hushovd said after his win:
"In a sprint I don't check out my rivals. I have total faith in Julian Dean. All I do is stay in his wheel, that's the only thing I'm focused on." [source]
Other sprinters might prefer a different tactic. Once you start to watch how a team works together to deliver its man to a jersey or stage win, the Tour takes on an even more exciting angle!
The standings at the end of today's stage are:
Yellow Jersey: Fabian Cancellara (his lead is 29 seconds over 2nd place Thor Hushovd)
Green Jersey: Tom Boonen (12 points ahead of Erik Zabel, and 14 points ahead of McEwan)
Polkadot Jersey: Stephane Auge
White Jersey: Vladimir Gusev (only 6 seconds ahead of Thomas Dekker)
If I had to sum up today's knitting stage, it would have to be labelled Stage of the Heel Turns. Let's dispense with jerseys for the moment and just take a look at how many knitters have turned heels on their socks in the past 24 hours or so:
Meredith (almost there)
But wait! That's not all. Even more people have finished socks - even pairs of socks!
Lauren (we saw her socks in progress yesterday)
Moze (her SECOND FO for the Tour)
And Sharon aka Stripey Tiger has her first ever bouncing baby sock to show off!
A passing mention of sock progress was made by Donni but I lost track of that because OMG! THE WOMAN HAS MET CADEL EVANS!!! (for those of you who don't keep track of your hostesses' race picks, he's Meg's.) And the ADD Knitter has given us a picture of A Day in the Life of an ADD Knitter, during which her Canal-du-Midi socks make a brief appearance!
Focus on the project at hand is a challenge for some of you - Since starting the Tour in order to spur on her Mermaid knitting, Arja has managed to make great progress on a pair of socks! (and she's writing in english so we can all read about it!) Sharon aka Clickety Knits has officially entered the race having chosen her needle size and moved on from swatching... but isn't her other knit in progress advancing nicely too? And Kristin is beginning to wonder if she'll have a pair of socks completed by the 29th? Go on over and give her a big of encouragement, why don't you.
On the other hand, for some people, the focus of Le Tour is exactly what they've needed to get their knitting needles in gear! Ann is wearing one sleeve of Mermaid while working on the body. Janet is in good form, reading a Lance Armstrong book and sticking to her one inch per stage goal (classic Yellow Jersey tactics, Janet!), while Barbara has finished yet another discloth AND a chevron scarf - I think that's a new world record! Kate has finished the back of her son's groovy vest and if the knitting gets boring, she could have a career as a race announcer ahead of her! Devorah has kept up a steady pace with the peloton and has finished what looks to me like 3/4 of her garment, while a whole HEAP of people are up to their armholes! Yes, armhole decreases are being knitted today by Blogless Tam, Susan, and Westozcaat, to name but a few.
There have been crashes. It's a brutal world, the knitting-while-watching-cycling world. Nikki has crashed. After spotting a glaring error in the Skin of the Sea waistcoat we saw yesterday, she's decided she's not too keen on the colour either. Pop on over and give her some advice please! Poor Mrs Pao has frogged her lace project seven times. SEVEN TIMES. But a change of needles seems to have done the trick and now she's got eight rows done! And go check out her REAL polkadot jersey. Do tell, Mrs Pao! Also back on the bike, I'm thrilled to report, is Ambermoggie, who has decided she's going for the green with a tried-and-true old favourite pattern. Good on ya Ambermoggie!
Vivian is still looking for her shawl and meanwhile shows us some Official Tour 2006 Merchandise ! Cindy2paw will be a life-long student of the French language now that she's discovered Monsiur Ravel and his wool scarf, and luckily she'll have a cozy fitted v-neck to wear on the Champs-Elysees! Check out her amazing progress! Dotty is still waiting on her yarn, while Maylin has rediscovered why it was her Swallowtail Shawl was stuck in the UFO closet last year.
Steph should be proud to introduce to the world a lovely fair isle enchantillon, her first ever fair isle attempt, while Mary Heather takes us through a blow-by-blow account of the advent of her first ever cable. First Ever. Take a bow Mary Heather! Now you only have to do that about 477 more times and the scarf will be finished!
I'm thrilled to report that the Tour has taken the hearts and minds of many of you. Elisa is hooked. So hooked, in fact, she dare not attempt to work on her knitting whilst trying to watch the cycling. Auntly H is mysteriously craving brie while plugging away on her Mystery Stole. It doesn't take much to make everyone realise what exactly is so great about France once you read Greeley and her tips on the delicacies of the region. Those poor cyclists have to zoom through those cheese-producing districts at 60km an hour, I certainly hope their domestiques are stopping to buy some local products!
I also have some email updates but I must save those for next time as I really ought to publish this before Stage Five actually begins. I will leave you with some photographic highlights of my travels around our blogs today. I know lots of you are stopping by everyone's blogs and leaving lots of encouraging comments! Now that we are watching the Tour's exciting team work tactics, why not seek out someone new and see if you can't be a lead-in rider for their sprint!