Whilst this is a phrase that, for many of us, echoes the little voice of childhood as we sat in the back of Morris Travellers or Hillman Minxes as parents seemed to drive for ever to the north or west in search of holidays, it is surely what the legs (if they could speak) of the peloton are asking today.
Today being the second rest day of this year’s Tour de France, the answer is 525.5 killermetres and that is not a typo. Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett always say “killermetres” although the accepted pronunciation, as far as I can research, is actually “kill-om-eter”. There’s a subtle difference and tomorrow’s 174km truly will be killer metres for someone as the Tour ascends the Col du Tourmalet for the second time this year.
So far this year the Tour has taken in over 3000 km of its total distance of 3642 km (official figures – my sums have them riding 4004.9 km but then I’m using a solar powered calculator and we’ve had no sun for the last five days!).
The peloton has covered a starting Time Trial – flat, rainy and a bit dull, seven further flat stages that have given Mark Cavendish three sprint wins, some hilly and middle mountain finishes and three in the high mountains. Mark’s three wins have seen him equal and beat some of the best sprinters the world of cycling has ever seen – Erik Zabel and Mario Cipollini have 12 each – The Manx Missile has 13 in just three and a half Tours. For a man who was way out of form coming in to this year’s Tour, and losing the first two possibilities for lack of form, it is a remarkable turnaround. Sadly there has been controversy again. This year not for Mark’s own actions in a sprint, but for those of his lead-out man, Aussie Mark Renshaw. On the run in to Cav’s third victory in Bourg les Valence (Stage 11, Thurs July 15), as the sprint started to wind up, Garmin Transition’s Kiwi Julian Dean stuck the elbow into Renshaw. A very dangerous and unacceptable thing to do. In defence, Renshaw nudged his head against Dean’s arm. Should have ended there, but the red mist of sprinters had descended. Renshaw went on to head-butt Dean three more times and then, unforgiveably looked behind and seemed to deliberately close out Tyler Farrar (of Garmin). None of these actions had an impact on the finish so rightly Cav claimed it, but it was a rather unedifying episode of Tour sprinting. Renshaw was the only man punished – not just relegated (which would have been fair) but thrown off the Tour (totally unfair) and Dean – the man who started the who’s yer father in the first place was off scott free. As I say, unedifying all round really.
However, that is cycling and that is Le Tour – the commissars have the last say and they said it. Fortunately – for fans of cycling and Mark Cavendish – the Missile proved on Stage 13 that he can do it without Renshaw. On a day when watchers saw former drug-cheat Alexandre Vinokourov prove that you can do it with your own blood and win a stage (and I am not convinced, sorry), Mark led the charge to the line for second place, but first of the sprinters, and did it in style.
After this lot of ducking and diving, elbows and heads, we saw the Tour head into the really high mountains. This year the Alps were just a little tickler for the big days. One hundred years to celebrate of men on bikes versus desperate altitudes and weather – The Pyrennees. The stages that tour director Christian Prudhomme hoped would define this year’s race.
He has done well, that man. No momentous occasions in the Alps, all to play for in the Pyrennees and even better, all to play for in the final day in the Pyrennees. There are only really two men left in the GC – Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador (though Denny Menchov and Sammy Sanchez could spring a surprise). It looks as though they will continue to go head to head up the Tourmalet. Neither has been able to lock down an advantage. Schleck maybe has looked stronger but then the mechanical problem with his chain on the 15th stage gave the lead and the Maillot Jaune (and the cuddly lion) to Contador. That little episode has lead to the Tour’s second big controversy – should Alberto have attacked under those circumstances? Tour protocol has an unwritten law that the Maillot Jaune is not attacked for a mechanical, but it is far more complicated this time. Denny and Sammy were already attacking and going to fight out their third and fourth. I don’t think Alberto did anything wrong. If Schleck comes out of the rest day strong, then he can make his attack before the final Time Trial. It’s up to him.
Of the other former favourites, there is both plenty and nothing to write. Bradley Wiggins has been totally honest – last year he came in with unexpected form and got fourth, this year his form has not been there. All he can hope for is a good finish in the final Time Trial.
Cadel Evans – with the Rainbow Jersey of World Champion on his shoulders – rode well early and proudly took Yellow. Then crumbled in what is becoming a rather Aussie way – maybe he and Ricky Ponting can share a beer of sadness together (88 all out when you win the toss – ho ho ho!).
Armstrong in his last ever Tour has been somewhat of a revelation – nice, journo-friendly, even a bit laughing. Once he knew all was gone he rode a fantastic breakaway on Stage 16 in to Pau. Gave his all and reminded us of why we respect him. The stage was won by Pierrick Fedrigo and he gave France their sixth Stage win of the Tour. I can’t remember the last time that happened and with French riders topping King of the Mountains as well.
Tomorrow we go out for the final day in the mountains. This day will certainly decide the Polka Dot Jersey, should also decide the overall winner. Unless something bizarre occurs, Andy Schleck will certainly win the White Jersey (and the stuffed yeti toy) and Alberto Contador will go into the final Time Trial knowing that he will be in Yellow in Paris.
After that we have two days more for Mark. A sprint finish is likely into Bordeaux and of course no matter if the Maillot Jaune is decided, there is the sprint on the Champs Elysees. Who can forget last year’s finish? Renshaw delivering Cav to the line so easily that it was a double Mark finish.
That won’t happen this year, but if Cav can get over the Tourmalet, he’ll fight to the finish. More to prove this year. My guess, and bet, if I were a betting woman, would be that Bernie Eisel will deliver Cav to the line in Paris.
Contador to win. Schleck second. Denny third.
Thor for the Green.
One of the French for KoM.
Cav on the Champs.