Monday, 30 July 2012

Double Drama #London2012

One thing with all the multiple Olympic channels is that you can get watch sports and get drama on more than one channel, of your choosing.

Earlier this evening I managed to have simultaneous drama in both the North Greenwich Arena and the Excel.

First up in the North Greenwich Arena the GB men's gymnastics team were in contention for a medal. Ok it wasn't gold as China had that sown up. But we had a chance for bronze. On the last rotation GB were on floor, chasing Ukraine on rings, meanwhile the Japanese were doing all they could to secure silver on pommel horse.

The dismount that almost cost Japan a medal

It was nip and tuck on that last piece as the three were going second on the various apparatus. In the end Kristian Thomas up last scored 15.433 to give GB a lead in the floor with 46.132 which was enough to lift them over Ukraine who only managed 45.699. It was enough to secure the GB a medal, but then the last Japanese gymnast Kohei  Uchimura had a terrible dismount and was initially awarded 13.466 which dropped them to fourth. Out of the medals but there was an appeal and that was corrected to 14.166 as the score for difficulty wasn't awarded as he did actually try and execute a dismount an landed on his feet if a little messed up in getting there.

The initial "final" score

So the British held silver for only ten minutes as the last pommel performance was reviewed. But 100 years on since the last time the British men's team medaled and then rope climbing and drill were part of the gymnastics discipline.

Meanwhile, simultaneously, there was drama in the women's épée semi-final. Britta Heidemann (GER) and Shin A Lam (KOR). It was a very close bout which involved a number of double hits. In épée hits within 0.04 secs of each other count as a hit for each fencer to allow for inaccuracy in the equipment. It was 5 all at the end of the normal time, then it went to sudden death for 1 minute. In fencing one fencer has the priority in sudden death, meaning that the other has to score, Shin who had been fighting defensively for the last 2 minutes of normal time was given priority.

In the final second there were two double hits. During sudden death double hits do not count for either fencer. However, before the fight was resumed the clock which still showed one second went to zero. The referee called for it to be reset, to a complaint from the Korea coach. But then when Heidemann scored another hit she was deemed the winner. There was another protest from the Koreans, but all the fencing gathered and the clock was still showing 1 second and the score still 5-5.

Update apparently there was a technical infringement by Shin in that last second and she received a yellow card, which meant that she could not win on an infringement so the clock was reset from the zero.

Heidemann waiting for a conclusion
At that point both fencers waited on the piste, because if they were to move off it the result would have been accepted. After about 30 minutes of deliberation the point was finally awarded to the German.

Shin can't believe the decision
Shin stayed where she was as her coach launched appeals on her behave. But finally after over an hour of sitting there waiting, an official came up to tell her the decision had been made and tried to escort her off. Eventually the head of the international federation himself came up to tell her if she didn't come off she would be black carded, the equivalent of a black flag in F1 but which would exclude her from the bronze medal match, if she wanted to take part in it. Shin was finally escorted away from the piste distraught but to a standing ovation of those who were still waiting for the medal fights who had been very supportive of her throughout.

Update After an hour and half between the last hit being made nad her leaving the piste Shin seemed to be an emotional wreck. She did however reappear for the bronze medal match. She scored the first hit against the world number 1 China's Sun Yujie, and the Excel erupted. She scored another to take a 2-0 lead. At the end of the first 3 minute period she led 5-3 (after 2 doubles).

During the second period Sun brought it to 7-7, before Shin started to lift her game and took it to 9-7 only for Sun to bring it back to 9-9. Which with 30 seconds to go was where the attacks ended for the second period.

The first hit of the third period went to Sun. There there was a double hit, which wasn't helpful to Shin,. But she did strike next to bring it to 11 all with just over 2 minutes left. Then Shin went for an attack but lost the hit to the counter. Sun then scored with 90 second remaining. With 45 seconds remaining Shin went down low but missed and Sun scored to take her 14-11 leaving her requiring just one more hit. Sun then scored one final hit to take bronze. But the biggest cheer went up for the valiant fourth placed fencer who had stolen the hearts of the Excel spectators.

Further update Heidemann's gold medal match went to a sudden death and she had the priority this time. But Yana Shemyakina (UKR) managed to get the winning score countering a thrusting move from Heidemann.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

London 2012 Day 1 Preview

So last night seven young athletes, nominated by seven Olympic champions did thet honour of lighting the cauldron. Cameron MacRitchie a 19-year-old rower (chosen by Sir Steve Redgrave), Callum Airlie 17 sailor (Shirley Robertson), Jordon Duckitt 18 who chaired London 2012 Young Ambassador Group (Duncan Goodhew), Desiree Henry 16 athlete (Daley Thompson), Katie Kirk 18 athlete (Dame Mary Peters), Aiden Reynolds 18 athlete javelin (Lynn Davies) and Adelle Tracey 19 athlete (Dame Kelly Holmes).

Don't get too comfortable if you are a GB spectator our first great gold medal hope sets off from St. James's Park, heads out past some of London's iconic landmarks through Richmond Park to hit the 9 laps of Box Hill. Before heading back in to finish on The Mall in front of Buckingham Palace.

The World Champion and sprint king Mark Cavendish in their ranks, hungry for a medal after failing in 2008 being the only track star of team GB without a Beijing medal he wants the gold here today. That will be down to how the team control the race for him. But Team GB may have their first gold if the Manx Missile is released for that finish between 1500 and 1600. Here is a preview of the route.


There are other golds on offer today.

Out at the shooting range the first Gold Medal should be the women's air rifle with the finals starting at 1100. In the afternoon there is the men's air pistol with their finals starting at 1530 it will be their nerves of steel against the adrenaline in The Mall for the first men's gold medalist.

Up at Lords Cricket Ground the men's team archery medal will be won this evening. The action starts at 0900, quarter finals at 1500 and semis at 1640 with the Bronze medal match at 1733 and gold medal match at 1601. GB may have a tough time after yesterday's seeding matches as they are up against South Korea who set a new world record.

There are two judo contests that will be decided today the men's 60kg and women's 48kg. With the rounds of 64 getting under way at 930 the two bronze medal contests will get under way at 1400 (making these the first medals decided if not the first gold). But the women's gold medal fight starts at 1600 with the men at 1610. Up for Ireland is Northern Ireland's Lisa Kearney.

The women's individual foil is also taking place all day starting at 1030 in . They are schedule to have the bronze medal dual at 1910 and gold medal at 1940.

At the aquatic centre six events get underway with heats in the morning and four finals and two semi finals in the evening session. Of the finals first up could be Joe Roebuck  going in the first of his two events and Roberto Pavoni in the first of his two. Roebuck especially was on form setting world's fastest times at the time of the Olympic trials in his other two events right here. They will be followed by Rob Renwick hoping for gold in the 400m freestyle who is Commonwealth champion over 200m. Then it will be a chance for Hannah Miley and Aimee Wilmott to show what the GB women can do in the 400m medley, Miley is the European record holder and 2010 European and Commonwealth champion. She only took silver in the World's last year but has since swam a time that would have taken gold then. The final event of the evening will the women's 4x100m freestyle relay.

So there may be GB medals to match the highlights on their outfits for the opening ceremony within 24 hours of them entering the stadium. That may be enough to have Her Majesty jumping out of helicopters again.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Culture Minister the Disco Remix

Well it didn't take long. Shortly after he said that if anything unexpected happened London would cope, something unexpected happen to the Culture and Olympic Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Don't worry World. London coped and has even made a disco remix

Who should light the flame?

Tonight is the night.

Ok the Games started on Wednesday with the women's football but today is the day that the eyes of the world turn to London for the Games of the 30th Olympiad.

There is much discussion about the key component of the night, the person who will light the Olympic Cauldron.

There is talk of 5 times gold medalist Sir Steven Redgrave, or double decathlon gold Daley Thompson, there has even been a cry for Bradley Wiggins to do so, but as he is competing the next day I don't think it will be.

However, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest someone else.

David Bond.

You may ask who, but he is the last survivor of a unique group of six men. The six men who between then won Gold medals for Great Britain in 1948.

There was Dickie Burnell and Bert Bushnell in the men's double sculls, Ran Laurie and Jack Wilson in the Coxless pairs, and with Stewart Morris, Bond sailed to the gold in the swallow class.

When Bushnell died in 2010 he was thought to be the last survivor of that group of six. But Bond emerged from the private live as still being around.

I'd like to see him lighting the torch to represent the last London Games but along side him a representative of the new generation, like the youngest member of Team GB Rebecca Tunney.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

What was that about triple checks on national anthems? Do we need same for flags?

This is the flag of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (AKA North Korea)

Note the red star, so often a symbol of communist countries upon it.

This is the Republic of Korea

Not to be confused for the above.

Dear LOCOG make sure you don't mix them up again.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

New Archbishop hops straight into innuendo and ignorance on LGBT health

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted Matthew 5:4

Though not necessarily from Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, the newly appointed Catholic Archbishop for the Diocese of Glasgow.

I first encountered acute pancreatitis, the disease which struck down David Cairns MP, during my running days, when it struck down one of the men I knew from the long distance road racing circuit. You see on of the less common causes is repeated marathon running and back in the early 90s that was even more of a craze for people. That particular man was in his mid thirties and left a wife and two young children behind when he too died of the disease. He was in very good health you would assume judging by the times he was able to run. Yet his body also succumbed at a young age.

The new Archbishop in his statement says:

"If what I have heard is true about the relationship between physical and mental health of gay men, if it is true, then society has been very quiet about it.

"Recently in Scotland there was a gay Catholic MP who died at the age of 44 or so and nobody said anything and why his body should just shut down at that age, obviously he could have had a disease which would have killed anyone, but you seem to hear so many stories about this kind of thing.

"But society won't address it."

So firstly yes Your Eminence it is a disease that could have killed anyone. So well done on upsetting that man's family, also other sufferers of acute pancreatitis and a great many other people who have family that die young. Medicine is great, but not 100% guaranteed to help up all live to Cardinal retirement age.

As for the mental health problems in gay men. Yes there is a higher prevalence of it. But it is societal issues that cause it. It is churches denying that there are young gay men and women in their midst which leave each individual to struggle on alone until they realise differently. It is the pressure from society, from peers at school, in the workplace, on the sports field to fit in with the heterosexual experience that is freely talked about, when your own experience is often hushed up by society.

So to make his first proclamation again attacking the gay community including those within his church he has carried on adding to that anxiety, mental anguish and worry of many of his flock. Well done.

Maybe we should ask him and other church leaders to help address that.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Team LGB at London 2012

If the global crash of Grindr was caused, as my unmentionable tabloid claimed, by Olympians arriving at the Olympic village then team LGBT is a lot bigger than many of us imagined. There are 15 competitors at these games who are open about their sexuality being other than heterosexual.

So if the small amount of athletes and one expects the similarly small proportion of support staff can affect one of Grindr's largest network spikes then maybe the gay Olympian lobby can expect mighty things. So who are they.

Matthew Mitcham (Australia, diving) - Is the defending champion in the 10m Plattform so team GB are hoping the Aussie doesn't defend his title as he is up against our own Tom Daley.

In the 2010 Commonwealth Games he took double silver behind Daley in both events. He failed to medal in the 2009 Worlds behind another Daley gold and the double Chinese threat lead by Qiu Bo.

He is still a medal contender and along with Tom Daley and Qiu Bo it is going to to be a tough battle for the medals. At 24 he is still young but he is already being threatened by the two teenagers in his defense of his title.

 Edward Gal (Netherlands, equestrian) is a triple gold medalist from the 2010 Dressage World Championships on his horse Tortilas. He is in a long term relationship with his team mate and team silver medalist from Beijing Hans Peter Minderhoud, who sadly did not make the team this time depriving the Games of a gay couple competing together.

He will be looking for gold in Greenwich Park at the equestrian centre on Glock's Undercover, both in the individual and hoping the Dutch can overcome the Germans for team gold.
 Lisa Raymond (U.S., doubles tennis) has won six womens and five mixed Grand Slam Doubles tournaments in her long career.

She and her doubles partner Leizel Huber are actually the number one ranked doubles team in the world and both being USA were an easy choice along with the Williams sisters to try for doubles gold.

In 2004 Raymond was part of an doubles team with another famous out tennis player, Martina Navratilova, but they were beated in the Quarter Finals in Athens.

Judith Arndt (Germany, cycling) last month Arndt who is the world time trial champion won the double as her nation's time trial and road race titles. She will be amonst the favourites for gold in the women's TT at Hampton Court.

She has had medals at previous Olympics bronze on the track in the individual pursuit in 1996 and silver in the road race in 2004.

She won the Women's Touy of Flanders earlier this year for the Orica-Greenedge Team. Having been like Mark Cavendish part of the HTC-Highroad set up for years before they exited cycling last year.

Seimone Augustus (U.S., basketball) The Minnesota Lynx player is coming to her second Games. As part of the all powerful USA team she will be expecting a second gold.

On the way to helping the Lynxs to the WNBA title last year she set a record for most points in a final game with 36 in Game two and lead her team in scoring in 5 of the 8 Games required to give her her first national title.

She also concurrently with her WNBA career has been playing with some of the European teams in Turkey and Russia

She is currently engaged to her girlfriend LaTaya Varner.

 Imke Duplitzer (Germany, fencing) Having tasting team silver in the 2004 Games the German has gone on to secure individual gold in the 2010 European Championships for the épée.

She has very recently been outspoken about the Olympic governing boards selling out the Games to commercial interests.

A feisty lesbian at the end of the sword! I hope the worlds largest McDonalds in the Olympic Park are ready for her wanting to take down those golden arches.

Megan Rapinoe (U.S. football). The Seattle Sounders player will be making her Olympic debut after anterior cruciate ligament injuries ruled her out of the 2007 World Cup and 2008 Olympic squads. She will be the first of the LGB Olympic contingent to take part when the USA kick off against France at Hampden Park on Wednesday.

She has had 52 appearances for the senior squad since 2006 though playing in midfield or on the wing. She's scored 12 times in internationals so the chances are that she will score a goal in the Olympic tournament at one of the venues for the football across the country.

She only came out at the start of the month in Out magazine announcing that her girlfriend is Australian forward Sarah Walsh who sadly will not be waltzing with the rest of the Matildas to the Games this time. Although he may be passing on some of her Olympic experiences to Rapinoe having been to the Games in 2004.

Marilyn Agliotti (Netherlands, field hockey). Although born in South Africa, whom she has represented at international level, Agliotti was part of the gold medal winning Dutch hockey team from Beijing.

Because of marriage equality laws in the Netherlands she is married to another woman.

The women in Orange are among the favourites again in London, so expect to see them clashing with the pink and blue of the hockey pitches for quite some time.

But the Dutch women's hockey team have the most LGB representation that we know of as there is also.

Maartje Paumen (Netherlands, field hockey) who was another member of that sucessful 2008 team.

Paumen was top scorer in the 2010 Women's  World Cup which the Dutch also won

 Natalie Cook (Australia, beach volleyball). Cook will be taking part in her fifth Olympic Games on Horse Guards Parade this summer. On home soil in Sydney in 2000 she added a gold to go with a bronze from four years earlier in Atlanta. In Beijing last time she finished in 5th place. She will be taking part with Tasmin Hinchley this time.

Shortly after those Games she got married to Canadian Beach Volleyballer Sarah Maxwell who had retired from the sport in the lead up to those Games.

Cook has recently got involved in the gender debate surrounding the flag bearer for Team Australia in the opening ceremony. She is threatening to sit in protest if a fourth women in history and the first since 1992 isn't given the honour of bearing her nation's flag.

Alexandra Lacrabère (France, handball). Taking part in her second Olympics after being part of the French team that came 5th in Beijing, but has since gone on to come second in last year's world championships.

She is one of only a handful of major French sportswoman since Amelie Mouresmo came out in 1999 to be so public about her sexuality, but it was the casual matter of fact way that she dropped the fact that she liked to relax by shopping or spending time with her girlfriend that was refreshing for the young 24 year old. The comments were made in a handball magazine just before the world championships and went hardly noticed.

 Jessica Landström (Sweden, soccer) Landström has 58 caps for Sweden since her debut in 2007. This includes playing in the 2011 World Cup scoring the only Swedish goal while they lost to Japan in the semi-finals and then being an unused sub in the 3rd/4th play off which Sweden won.

A year after her senior international debut she came out to acknowledge the support of her girlfriend Sara to her career. The two meet at a Pride Festival in 2005 and have been together since.

Her team will be at the City of Coventry Stadium on Wednesday from 18:45 the day that two of our 14 LGB Olympians start their Games.

Carole Péon (France, triathlon) and Jessica Harrison (France, triathlon). The French pair (although Harrison is born in Sheffield) both made their debut at the 2008 Games. Harrison finished 12th and her partner 34th.

Harrison won her first World Cup title in Tongyeong last October while Péon came in 4th. Followed a month later by Péon's first win at the same level in Guatape.

The two are probably the first LGB couple to take part in the Games and now they are going to be doing so again.

One thing that does strike me about all the 14 above is that they are all at top world level, so there are other Olympians who have yet to had the spotlight turned on them in just such a way, who may also be part of team LGB.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Britannia Rule the Champs Élysées Tour de France 2012

Your 2012 Champion
Well the script for this tour didn't have any twists in the tail. With a little over 10km to go there was a group of three with a 20 seconds lead over the peleton, but slowly but surely they got pulled back. At times Chris Froome the man who is second in the GC was leading the peleton to pull it back. As we crossed by the finish line on the other side of the Champs Élysées they were captured and Team Sky were riding back at the front of this Tour.

Under the tunnel it was Saxo-Bank who lead for the last time but just behind them was the Maillot Jaune, followed by the Norwegian Champion and World Champion. Out of the tunnel and take Norway Corner into Rue de Rivoli then something unusual if not unique happened the Maillot Jaune hit the front with a km to go. He led all the way into the Place de la Concorde until the left hand bend. With a flick of his elbow it was over to Edvald Boasson Hagen who powered on to the right hander entering the Champs Elysées. No sooner were they on it today that there was a missile launch.

The Manx Missile zoomed off down the cobbles almost before anyone else had taken the corner. The rest of the world top sprinters tried to catch up but for the fourth year in a row once the Missile was launched there was no abort and no mistake and nobody even got within a bike length. He crossed the line in the Rainbow Jersey ahead of the Green Jersey in second and Matt Goss with yet another top three finish but without a win.

So we have a British winner of the stage lead out by the British winner of the Tour. Britain won one in three of the stages in this year's Tour taking another record, beating the 6 of 2009. Athough unlike then when they were all won by one man, Cavendish, this time Cav took 3, Wiggins both Time Trials, Froome one mountain stage and David Millar in one break away.

Lesley Garrett sang the national anthem in what looked like one of her last night of the Proms dresses. Then all that was left was for Bradley to draw the raffle numbers from the winners podium and wish all the fans a safe journey home and not to get too drunk. Yeah it was a winners acceptance speech that only a Brit and probably only Brad could make. But as he said some dreams do come true and now his old mum's son has won the Tour de France.

What a Tour! What a result for Britain!

We now have a short intermission before many of these guys leave from The Mall to head over Box Hill again and again before returning to The Mall for the first Gold Medal of London 2012.

Will the man who won this Sunday be doing the same off the Victoria Monument next Saturday?

Stay tuned.

Just for the record

General Classification

1 Bradley Wiggins Sky ProCycling 87 hr 34' 47"
2 Chris Froome Sky ProCycling +3'21"
3 Vincenzo Nibali Liquigas-Cannondale +6'19"

Best Young Rider

1. Tejay van Garderen BMC Racing Team 87hr 45' 51" (5th overall)
2. Thibaut Pinot FDJ-BigMat +6'13" (10th Overall)

Points Classification

1. Peter Sagan Liquigas-Cannondale 421pts
2. André Greipel Lotto-Belisol 280
3. Matthew Goss Orica-GreenEDGE 268
4. Mark Cavendish Sky ProCycling 220

King of the Mountains

1. Thomas Voeckler Team Europcar 135pts
2. Fredrik Kessiakoff Astana Pro Team 123

Best Team

1. Radioshack-Nissan 263hr 12' 01"
2. Sky ProCycling +5'54"
3. BMC Racing Team +36'36"

Super Combative Rider

Chris Anke Sorensen Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank

Tour de France 2012: Stage 20 Rambouillet to Champs Élysées, Paris

Is it really that time of year again that me and Nick Barlow (amongst others) give you our last look at what lies in the day ahead on the road of France (an any other country) as part of the Tour de France.

First up let's short out what happened yesterday.

The man the Dutch call the "Banana with sideburns" showed why he is the man who have spent 7 days in yellow in Paris-Nice, five in the Tour of Romandie, seven in the Critérium du Dauphiné and now 13 days in Le Tour. Let us not forget he was a rather unripe banana on the second day of this year's tour. He opened more time on everyone, even his own team mate who once again in the Time Trials came second. I suspect that these two now will go into the Olympics and after helping try and secure Mark Cavendish his gold will be going head to head with Fabian Cancellera and Tony Martin amongst others to try and lift the other men's road cycling gold on the course over many roads I have ridden a bike on around Hampton Court.

In the end Vincenzo Nibali lost more time to end up 6'19" behind Wiggo overall. Froome ended up with a Dusty Bin time of 3'21" behind his team mate. With Richie Porte coming fifth  yesterday Sky managed to half the gap between themselves and Radioshack-Nissan in the team race. But it was because they were using all their men to keep the pace high until just Froome was left with Wiggins that they despite domination of the race failed to secure the team prize, which if the aggregate of each teams best 3 riders each day.

Today's final stage is usually only a ceremonial roll into Paris until the race hits the most famous Boulevard in road race cycling. The only things for certain are that the four wearers of the jerseys will be toasted with champagne. Laterne Rouge Saur- Sojasun rider Jimmy Engoulvent who is 3 hours 57 minutes slower than Wiggins will be given a red lamp to carry for the press and Wiggins with the World Champion, Nowegian Champion and other 5 remaining team mates will lead the race briefly at the start of the circuits of the Champs Élysées.

Even though the tour organisers decided to try and spice things up with two Category 4 climbs. Just in case that competition were tight heading towards Paris. As it isn't maybe the race will let Thomas Voeckler take both of those in the Polka Dot King of the Mountain Jersey, or maybe he will share the honours with Fredrik Kessiakoff with him he had a tough battle in the Pyrénées. So maybe expect the peleton to give them a point each. With not much contest, the other riding as the escort on the Côte de Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse and shortly afterward the Côte de Châteaufort.

As always on the last day the intermediate sprint will occur on the third crossing of the line of the Champs Élysées. Last year it was contested as Mark Cavendish's Green Jersey was still in play. This year the peleton may well have already let a few riders get a little up the road. So they will be working to stay away and there will probably be no sprint.

Tejay van Garderen is safe in the other Jersey for best Young Rider and I fully expect to see him as leader of the BMC team when the race starts next year, maybe with Cadel Evans helping him as a super domestique.

What everyone will want to know however is can Mark Cavendish do it again. Yesterday for Cav is all about being number 1, but not in stage winning, he finished the stage in 1 hr 11 mins 11 seconds. He wants to see just one number 1 next to his name today and that is a the front rather than afterwards. 

He has never lost on the last day of the Tour de France. He is already the only man to have won this famous stage three years in succession and the way he rode into Brive la Gaillarde on Friday it would be very rare to see anyone bet against him, especially as both the top two in the GC have already vowed to help lead him into prime position off the Place de la Concorde that last time into that straight that he owns. If he does it will be the seventh win by a Brit in this year's Tour from four different riders (or 1/3 of all the finishes) breaking the record of 2009 when all six were won by Cav.

Can André Greipel or Matt Goss spoil the party? Looking at the difference between the three of them on Friday and how Mark has won here in the past I'd say it looks unlikely, but you can never know.

Here is how he won in 2009, when a Brit for only the second time raced to 4th place, tomorrow that Brit should also be breaking records as he rides in for yellow.

In 2010 after Mark Renshow had been kicked off the Tour he did it himself. And rather like on Friday he left the rest of the sprinters for dead with an attack from a long way out.

Then last year when even despite having the luxury of two of his team in front of him off the last bend it has been the closest so far, because it was into a head wind.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Tour de France 2012: Stage 19 Bonneval to Chartres

For almost three weeks of this Tour, since stage there has been one man whose name has been on the tip of cycling fans lips just waiting to get out. A sprinter. A world champion. A phenomenal force in the Tour de France.

Here is a picture of him in action crossing the line well ahead of the rest of the field.

The man's name is André Darrigade and he is an 83 year old, French, former sprint cyclist. He was born in Narrosse which is 355km from the end of yesterday's 235km stage finish and was the sort of length that he was accustomed to riding in a day on the Tour de France.

The reason he was on the tips of everyone's tongue was because he held a certain record. The most stage wins by a sprinter in the Tour, set between 1953 and 1964. Yesterday after a 16 stage drought, which for him is a record itself, Mark Cavendish finally crossed the line in first again. There had been a break up the road that had finally been pulled back in the last km, but two of the counter attack Luis Leon Sanchez and Nicolas Roche had looked like they might just stay away. But the power and sheer speed of the Manx Missile destroyed everyone. Matt Goss did come in second but several bike lengths down just edging out Peter Sagan, Sanchez and Roche, the last two having free wheeled from when they fought the sprint had enveloped them. The fact was it was only one rider and if they had pedaled on they would have come second and third.

The last three in Cav's lead out today were Chris Froome, Bradley Wiggins and Edvald Boasson Hagen, who had been in the breakaway but stayed with it to take the Manxman to the 600-500m to go. The distance with which he beat his rival ranks up there with the 2009 finish on the Champs-Élysées when his own lead out man Mark Renshaw had coasted in for second. But the way with which he did it is certainly one of his best solo efforts from so far out. He seemed to catch the other sprinters with lead lined legs when he opened up the sprint first in pursuit of the front two, and then in pursuit of a little bit of history in equaling Darrigade's record for a sprinter.

There is also the small matter that his 22 stage wins now also equals Lance Armstrong. Cavendish will have to wait at least until nest year to equal the next most winning rider André Leducq who took 25 stages in a career that saw him winning the Tour in 1930 and 32.

Today's stage of 53.5km is a flat time trial stage, but a long time trial at the end of a Tour of such intensity may have untold effects on the legs of riders.

That being said the way Bradley Wiggins pulled in the final remnants of the day's breakaway yesterday would suggest that he still has the legs. He'll start the day as favourite to give Britain its sixth stage win of this Tour, putting us back ahead of the French. With Fabian Cancellera and Tony Martin both out of the Tour, the only person who may challenge him for the stage win would appear to be Chris Froome who came second in this year's other long time trial to Besançon. We shall know by the first time check at 14km if anyone else is anywhere close.

Today's stage as well as being on ITV4 where you would expect to see it is also simulcasting on ITV1, the same applies to tomorrow's finish in Paris.

Yesterday another jersey's final destination was finally put beyond doubt when Peter Sagan crossed the line in third place. His lead in the Green points leaders jersey is now unassailable so along with Thomas Voeckler as King of Mountains nothing can change there.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Tour de France 2012: Stage 18 Blagnac to Brive la Gaillarde

Yesterday was the stage that the contenders were meant to take on Bradley Wiggins and his Sky Train.

Only Vincenzo Nibali's team of Liquigas-Cannondale can have been charged with attempting that. From the slopes of the penultimate mountain of this year's Tour, Port de Balès, their men were on the front setting the pace. There was just one issue, behind them Wiggins had four men including Chris Froome looking after him. One of who was Richie Porte who along with Mark Cavendish had crashed in the feed zone just before the climb got under way and who had to change bikes as a result.

Up ahead there was a breakaway that included Thomas Voeckler (EUC) and Fedrik Kessiakoff (AST) who were the two men contending for the the King of the Mountains. In each of the first three climbs the result was the same Voeckler to the top first with Kessiakoff second. at the top of Port de Balès while they were no longer in the lead it was the two of them again who made a move from their group but Voeckler was again in the lead. As they climbed the Peyresourde down roads Voeckler descended alone to victory yesterday the main group picked them both up and threw them out the back. But by then we already knew one thing. With a maximum of 7 points left Voeckler had secured the King of the Mountains 134 points to 123. I reckon those two still have one more battle between them to be the combative rider of the Tour.

Froome still waiting for Wiggins while Valvarde survives
The man who had taken the summit of Port de Balès was Alejandro Valvarde (MOV) who had been given his head being so far down on GC. On his return to Tour he lifted himself to win Movistar's second Tour de France stage as a title team.

But as we climbed the Peyresourde we lost Cadel Evans once again, and Nibali looked to be struggling near the top. Lotto Belisol tried on the final climb up to Peyragudes to get Jurgen van den Broeck up the road but they were having none of it, then the yellow Jersey took to the front bringing Chris Froome with him. One by one those left were dropped, Nibali, Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Pierre Rolland (EUC) and van den Broeck. Then there were two! Froome and Wiggins. Froome kept waiting for Wiggins and if anything looked like the only man that could have been a threat to the Maillot Jaune yet again.

The question of whether 'they' could catch Valverde ended in the negative as they came in 19 seconds down, with Pinot recovered to just three seconds behind them. But if Froome had been allowed to go he may well have taken the stage, but Nibali who did recover his legs may well have taken some time though not enough for the lead out of the Maillot Jaune. In the end he lost a further 18 on the men from Sky.

Today's stage is a true transition stage as we head away from the Pyrénées into the heart of Frane. There are mountains points up for grabs, but that will not affect the King of the Mountains, that has been won by Thomas Voeckler with Fredrik Kessiakoff second. There are 20 points up for grabs in the intermediate sprint. But the break away should get it and even if André Greipel were to go for them today and in Paris, Peter Sagan would only have to mark him and come among the point scorers which is a doable task.

So the only focus of today is the sprint at the end. We have lost a number of sprinters over the last 2½ weeks. But one hasn't won since stage 2. His team have more or less acheived their main goal. He wants to test his legs today and in Paris ahead of the Olympics road race in London. Therefore I think that Sagan and Greipel will have a certain Manxman looking to equal a piece of history in Brive la Gaillarde. The Sky train could in escorting Bradley Wiggins to safety also help to lead out the World Champion. If he wins today he would equal the sprint wins of André Darrigade, which could lead to Mark Cavendish bettering that record in Paris if he wins that for the fourth year on the trot. 

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Tour de France 2012: Stage 17 Bagnères de Luchon to Peyragudes

Nibali being pulled back by the last two men from the peleton.
Hear ye, hear ye. The King is dead long live the new King.

Cadel Evans (BMC) was dropped once against yesterday and this time there was no truce and no limiting of losses, nor was Tejay van Garderen required to hang back with the rest of the team to help the team leader.

But who is the new King. It should be Bradley Wiggins. But if some misfortune overcomes the Maillot Jaune today Sky still have the fall back of Chris Froome. Vincenzo Nibali (LIQ) tried again yesterday to break the Sky one-two but if Froome wasn't pacing Brad back to his wheel, Wiggo was doing the same for Chris. The stage yesterday saw the three of the them locked together taking time out of all the other contenders. Jurgen van den Broeck (LOT), Haimar Zubeldia (RNT) and van Garderen were in the group 58 seconds down lead across the line by Nico Roche (AGM).

Early on there were 38 of the 152 riders still left in the Tour in a breakaway up the field. That is 25% of the race, just not any of the 10% that matter. In that Group was Thomas Voeckler (EUR) who ended up taking the top spot on both of the Hors Catégorie Climbs of the day and both the 1st Category Climbs. On the Col d'Aubisque second over the top were the Polka Dots on the back of Fredrik Kessiakoff, who was 4th over the Tourmalet but was outside the top 6 for the Col d'Aspin and the Col du Peyresourde, with only 34 points on the day Kessiakoff ended the day with 4 points less than Voeckler in the King of the Mountains.

Voeckler who attacked alone for the last climb and with only Brice Feillu for the one before that was not surprisingly the comabtive rider of the day as well as winning the stage by 1'40".

Today's stage in the final Mountain stage of the Tour. It is over 143km not all of them new to this years race as once the road circles around to Saint Aventin it is back up the Peyresourde in the reverse direction to yesterday before a short part of the descent before turning off the the left for the climb to Peyragudes.

After 17km of today's loop though the road starts to go up with the first category Col de Menté, the 15th time this has been a mountain in le Tour. In 1971 it was tackled in the direction we are going today on the way to Bagnères de Luchon during stage 14. Eddy Merckx was 7 minutes behind Luis Ocaña in yellow at the time and on the decent both men were taking risks, Merckx fell on a bend into a retaining wall, Ocaña following close behind could not avoid him and crashed himself. Although Merckx was up and off again quickly Ocaña's couldn't release his toe clips quickly and Joop Zoetemelk collided with the prostrate Ocaña. The Spaniard was helicoptered off the mountain his Tour over and the following day Merckx refused to wear the Maillot Jaune as a mark of respect.

Without that crash, which is marked by a memorial on the spot as they came down it is possible that Merckx may not have been one of the five time winners of Le Tour. But it is a constant reminder to all leaders that the race is not won until all the corners on all the descents are negotiated.

After the Col de Menté there is a relatively flat section of today's race. Although the category 2 Col de Ares and Category 3 Côte de Burs do intervene. Then at 95 km into the stage the climbing resumes again in earnest. 

First up is the 11.7km climb up the Port de Balès which is only in it's 3rd Tour having featured in 2007 and 2010 previously it is the day's only Hor Catégorie climb. The Average gradient is 7.7% but there is a three km section that averages over 9% 5km from the end. If Vincenzo Nibali still has any designs on winning this Tour it is likely to be at that point that he is going to have to attack. The descent is not likely to allow him to pull out a gap on Wiggins and it is doubtful that the gentler climb of the Peyresourde before taking the addition to Peyragude is going to going to offer him much opportunity to gain enough time.

After 16.5km of descending the Tour will find itself on familiar roads as for the next 12.5km they are going back the way they came yesterday. As they summit the Peyresourde and take part of the descent before turning off up to the Peyragudes ski station. The final climb itself is less than 3km, but along with the Peyresourde it is counting as a 1st category climb. There is a km of flt racing at the top and if Nibali reaches the plateau with Wiggins and/or Froome in close attendance his Tour is over and he will only have a podium position.

There are 62 King of the Mountains points on offer today, twenty of them for the mountain finish and I doubt that either Voeckler nor Kessiakoff will be there to pick up those. With Chris Anke Sorenson 40 points behind Voeckler and with only a maximum 7 more KoM points available between Peyragudes and Paris today should be the day that the Polka Dot Jersey finds it final recipient. if neither Voeckler nor Kessiakoff pick up any early points from a break away though it may come down to who if either can get into a break tomorrow. Voekler really only needs to secure 4 points more than Kessiakoff today to be sure. 9th on the Port de Balès or 4th on the Col de Menté or 10th on the Peyragudes if Kessiakoff fails to score.

If Peter Sagan (LIQ) gets through this final mountain stage his 102 point lead should be enough for him to be riding the green jersey into Paris and all the way to the line. Seeing as he has worn it since the start of Stage 2 and as of right since the start of Stage 3 his dominance in that competition has been almost absolute.

Yesterday Tejay van Garderen (BMC) was given the nod by Cadel Evans to race on for the White Jersey as best young rider and not come back to support the defending champion who said later that he was suffering from stomach pains. If he stays in contact or ahead of Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) who lost a little time to now be 3'48" back in that competition he should also be wearing that jersey all the way to Paris. However, Pinot along with Pierre Rolland (EUC) are both on track to be in the Top 10. If they do, after last year it will only be the second time since 2000 that more than one French cyclist has filled spots in the top 10, but with both in the early days of their careers rather than experienced men it holds the greatest hope for France to end the home Grand Tour drought since Bernhard Hinault.

And finally... today could be the day that means Bradley Wiggins takes the Maillot Jaune into the start box in last place for the Time Trial. With a Time Trailer like him that would be hard to make up by anyone, and with Fabian Cancellera nursing his new daughter and Tony Martin nursing his fractured wrist there isn't any obvious winner of the stage on Saturday so here is a good luck song from a fellow fan.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Tour de France 2012: Stage 16 Pau to Bagnères de Luchon

The Top Four
When those two towns are at either end of a stage it can only mean one thing. The classic Pyrénée's climbs of the Col d'Aubisque, Col du Tormalet, Col d'Aspin and Col de Peyresourde. Indeed the last time those two towns were the start and finish locations was only in 2010 when the route was reversed. The winner then was Pierrick Fédrigo who won the stage into Pau before yesterday's rest day.

First up today is the 46th climb of the Col d'Aubisque in Tour history. Jérémy Roy climbed this first on what was an easier stage in the Pyrénees with just the one major climb on the road from Pau to Lourdes. The descent to the finish produced Thor Hushovd as a rather surprising winner of a mountain stage.

Climbed in the this direction the ascent starts as Laruns at 499m before over the next 16.4km reaching the peak at 1709m. An average gradient of 7.1%. The first steep ramp is at the Cascade de Valentin which is 13% before an 8km section of steady 8% average toward the summit. Normally I'd expect all the GC riders to stay together on this climb, but remembering how Andy Schleck went out to attack on stage 18 last year you cannot tell. Vincenzo Nibali and Cadel Evans both need a big chunk of time somewhere over the next two days. Will either of them be brave enough to go alone from a long way out, even from the first climb?

Next up is the Col du Tourmalet with the €5000 Souvenir Jacques Goddet for the climber who reaches the summit first.

Last year Jérémy Roy was again in the lead over this famous Col, and it appeared as if Geraint Thomas wasn't aware of the prize money at the top as he didn't contest for it. This is the 79th time that the Tour has visited Tourmalet the most of any mountain.

From Luz Saint Sauveur where the climbs starts at 711m there is 19km still to go to the 2115m summit at an average of 7.4%.

In 2010 when Pierrick Fédrigo won this stage in reverse Christophe Moreau reached the summit first. There are a number of easing sections on this long climb with a ramp about 3km from the summit. Depending on how the GC riders are racing today either Sky will be riding a tempo of possibly Nibali (most likely) will be trying to get away and both Sky and BMC riders will be working to keep Bradley Wiggins and Evans in pursuit.

After the decsent to Sainte Marie de Campan it is straight into the climb of the Col d'Aspin.

Of all today;s climbs this is the easiest, but that still makes it a Category 1. There is 570m of ascent to the 1489 summit spread over 12.4km at a mere 4.8% gradient. It is unlikely to be a climb that will put any of the GC contenders into difficulty so I'd expect them, if they are together here, to ride this together.

The 6% gradient of the descent over 12km on the other side might however be an opportunity for Nibali to try and get ahead if he has not tried already before the start of the final climb of the day.

Which leads us into the Col de Peyresourde which is being climbs from its toughest direction unlike the Col d'Aspin.

The climb from Arreaux is 9.5km at an average of 6.7% but there are three distinct steep sections on the way including the final one 1.5km from the end.

If Wiggins, Evans and Nibali are still together here I'd expect one of the latter two to have to try and do something here on one of the ramps. They will have to try and put in an explosive burst when the road goes sharply uphill to try and test the Maillot Jaune. If Wiggins still has Richie Porte and Michael Rogers with him at the start of this climb alongside Chris Froome the other two are going to find it tough. Which is why I suspect they might have tried something on the Tourmalet to reduce the amount of support riding with the yellow jersey. Even if it is left to just Froome and Wiggins it may well still be too late.

However, after the summit there are 937m of descent at an average of 6.1% though some sections do reach 9.8% in which they might be able to open up some time over Wiggins.

If Wiggins gets to the line marking both Evans and Nibali there is just one more day for fireworks on the Pryénées tomorrow. I do expect someone however to test the post rest day legs of Wiggins and his team today and not to let them settle into their routine of riding tempo for everyone from the start.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

What the Department has revealed about the Blood Ban #FOI

I have this afternoon received a response to my Freedom of Information Request about the retention of the lifetime ban on Men who have sex with Men (MSM) donating blood. Here is the reply:

Q 1. For minutes of any meetings that the Minister has had pertaining to the SaBTO report "Donation selection criteria review - men who have had sex with men" 8-Sep-11

A:  No minutes held.
Q 2. For details of any information that the Minister has received that conflicts with or supports the quantitative and qualitative substance of the above report. Especially that of the two pieces of the evidence that the Minister announced on 17-Jun-12 that he had received in recent weeks.

A:  Two pieces of information may be released.  Please see relevant attachment to this letter and appropriate links later in this reply (overleaf).
Q 3. Minutes of any meetings the Minister has had with professionals in the health and LGBT fields, since receiving this new information, regarding their contents.

A: No meetings have taken place.
Q 4. Minutes of any meetings or information that the Minister has had regarding people who have had sex with prostitutes or someone from Africa that has led to his conclusion to lift their 12 month deferral period for blood donations to a lifetime ban.

A: No meetings have taken place and no information held.  


You wrote to this Department on 17th June 2012 seeking information under the Freedom of Information Act.  Your requests for information are copied below with specific italicised responses.
Q 1. For minutes of any meetings that the Minister has had pertaining to the SaBTO report "Donation selection criteria review - men who have had sex with men" 8-Sep-11

A:  No minutes held.
Q 2. For details of any information that the Minister has received that conflicts with or supports the quantitative and qualitative substance of the above report. Especially that of the two pieces of the evidence that the Minister announced on 17-Jun-12 that he had received in recent weeks.

A:  Two pieces of information may be released.  Please see relevant attachment to this letter and appropriate links later in this reply.
Q 3. Minutes of any meetings the Minister has had with professionals in the health and LGBT fields, since receiving this new information, regarding their contents.

A: No meetings have taken place.
Q 4. Minutes of any meetings or information that the Minister has had regarding people who have had sex with prostitutes or someone from Africa that has led to his conclusion to lift their 12 month deferral period for blood donations to a lifetime ban.

A: No meetings have taken place and no information held. 

Q 5. The number of meetings or conversations that the Minister has had regarding their positions and actions on MSM blood donations both before these two new pieces of evidence arose and since with his counterparts in:

a) Westminster – none
b) Edinburgh - none
c) Cardiff – none
d) Dublin – no formal meeting however Minister had a conversation with James Reilly, TD at a North/South Ministerial meeting.  Information requested in Q.2 is referred to below and a copy of a letter from Mr Reilly TD, is attached to this letter.
Q 6. Minutes of any meetings or information that the Minister has had regarding as yet undiscovered or undisclosed blood borne diseases that the Minister alluded to on 22-Sep-11.

A:  No information held.

I wish to advise you that no Ministerial decision has been made as yet on the lifetime ban on blood donations by men who have had sex with men, and the position remains the same as when you were advised in a previous letter dated 15 November 2011 (FOI 140/2011 refers). Therefore Section 35 1(a) (Formulation of Government Policy) still applies.

It may be helpful if I advise that Section 35 is a qualified exemption, and we are required to assess as objectively as possible whether the balance of public interest favours disclosing or withholding information under this provision.  The Department recognises the general public interest in making this information available for the sake of greater transparency and openness.  However, final decisions have not yet been taken and the Department believes that in this instance, the public interest lies in protecting the policy-making process, and preserving the ability of officials to engage in free and candid discussion of policy options without apprehension that potential courses of action may be held up to scrutiny before they have been fully developed or evaluated.  A copy of the applied Public Interest Test is appended to this letter.

We can however release some information pertaining to your request and to which the Minister referred in a recent interview for the Sunday Politics show, broadcasted on the 17th June 2012.  These are:

1.      Copy of a letter dated 31 May 2012 from Dr James Reilly T.D. Minister for Health (ROI)

2.      Link to the technical memorandum outlining the results of the study by the Council of Europe

Here is the text of the meat of that letter from the Irish Minister for Health:

The Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) remit is to provide a safe, reliable and  robust blood service to the Irish health system. Blood, and the products derived from it, are an integral part of healthcare delivery. A major objective of the organisation is to ensure that is always has the necessary programmes and procedures in place to protect both the donors of bl;ood and the recipients of blood and blood products.
 The IBTS has the responsibility to ensure that there is a sufficient supply of safe blood to meet the needs of patients.  In order to supply blood for transfusion all decisions on donation criteria are based on a review of the evidence bearing in mind the desire of individuals, the safety of the recipient, and the tolerance of society in general of any transfusion infection occurring. The exclusion of men who have/or had sex with other men (MSM) from donation is based not only on risk factors from HIV but on other blood borne agents known to be associated with MSM behaviour.
For Ireland, the view of IBTS, is that taking all of these aspects into account, a permanent deferral for men with a history of MSM behaviour should remain in place. This and donor deferral policy in general will be kept under constant review.
So I am somewhat bemused that once again the Minister appears to have announced that he has come to a decision, yet the Department are saying that he has yet to come to one. However, I am grateful that the Department have realised that the public interest in how he has come about his own (if not the department's decision) deems a necessity to have some form of response.

It appears that the Minister has had no meeting with Health Care professionals about the decision comments he has made. He also appears not to have talked to or consulted with the other UK health ministers but has had a brief conversation which led to the above letter with the Republic of Ireland minister. This appears to match the NI Health Minister's earlier utterances about other blood borne infection. But the SaBTO report took those into consideration in its findings.

First up look at the proportion of new diagnosis by groups

Taken from the SaBTO report April 2011
Then consider the incubation and detection periods:
  • HBV - 4-6 weeks
  • HCV - 50-60 days
  • HIV - 1 to 4 weeks (9 day window period 99.9% accurate)
Currently all the tests above ask you to come back after 6 months if you feel you have been exposed to infection to check whether there is infection or not. Of course the new occurence of new HIV infection are out of proportion with the size of that population but look at the rest of the breakdown; fairly in proportion. Then look at some of the detail in that report.

MSM who have Hep C are usually co-diagnosed with HIV which has a shorter window period, indeed the figure is as high as 96%. Hep B new detection is prevalent among migrants from high endemicity indeed this figure also occurs in 96% of cases, so there is some credence to the Minister's earlier comments about people coming from African countries where Hep B epidemic levels exist. So the chances of anyone having any of those infections after a 12 month deferral period is small to impossible and indeed the chance of MSM slipping through the hoop is even less due to concurrency of the majority of Hep C infection with HIV detection.

Also as I have mentioned before MSM, or indeed anyone who visits a GUM clinic, who have regular blood tests are offered a course of Hep B & C inoculation so those who look after themselves are even less likely to have the other infections. Yet this behaviour is not taken into consideration with the ban in place. Nor the fact that those sexually active who have their blood regularly checked are also included in the blanket ban.

The evidence from the SaBTO report has been enough to convince England, Wales and Scotland that a 12 month deferral period is the best option as non-compliance is more likely to happen if MSM have a lifetime ban. But Northern Ireland's health minister appears not to have discussed this issue with any of his counterparts. He is however, happy to take his advice from the IBTS whose quantitative .

Tour de France 2012: The Pyrénéean Rest Day

When is a sprinters' day not a sprinter's day? When not one of the sprinters' team actually do any work to reel in the six man breakaway.

That is what happened yesterday on the road in to Pau. Pau can be all sorts of things to Le Tour being as it is at the foot of the Pyrénées it can he end of a flat stage approach to the mountains, a launching pad to enter the mountains or an end town after being in the mountains. Yesterday it was supposed to have been set up as a sprint finish before the final rest day.

At the start of the day no escape seemed to get too far ahead, or given too much head. Then a group of five got up the road Christian Vande Velde (GRS), Pierrick Fédrigo (FDJ), Thomas Voeckler (EUC), Dries Devenyns (OPQ) and Samuel Dumoulin (COF) this break was allowed to establish after a number of unsuccessful one because of full on racing. Then Nicki Sorensen (STB) tried to bridge the gap but was taking such a long time over it that his own team took up the chase from the peleton for a while. That is until Sorensen actually started to get close to the break and eventually join him.

Once that happened it was then Team Sky who took up the front of the peleton and just rode tempo all the way to Pau.

Up front all the excitement of the day was provided by only 6 riders as they entered the final 10km almost 8 km ahead of the peleton they knew they were not going to be captured. At 6.5km to go Fédrigo made his move and only Vande Velde went with him. In 2010 Fédrigo had won here in Pau, in 2006 heading to Gap he had also won in a breakaway but Vande Velde had launched a late attack from the rapidly closing peleton and was only 3 seconds down at the line.

When it came to the sprint Fédrigo saw Vande Velde launch his attack while he was leading out and was able to counter and take his fourth stage win in the Tour. Behind them in another duo Voeckler outsprinted Sorensen.

As for the Peleton, nobody seemed to challenge Peter Sagan (LIQ) for the intermediate sprint. Though Lotto-Belisol did lead out André Greipel for the best of the rest and 7th place.

Today they rest but riders like Cadel Evans (BMC) and Vincenzo Nibali (LIQ) will have to plan how they will take on Bradley Wiggins and the Sky train if anyone other that Wiggins is to win this Tour it will have to happen in the next two days.

Monday, 16 July 2012

New jersey for the Tour de France

Just as the race rolls out from Samatan this morning you may spot a rider wearing a new blue jersey.

After the events of yesterday Tour Director Christian Prudhomme overheard the suggestion from the Sky Team bus that there should be a jersey for the rider who was best at tacks avoidance. When Prudhomme asked Berhard Eisel where he could acquire such a jersey at short notice he was directed towards Garmin-Sharp stage winner David Millar.

There is an added incentive to wearing the blue jersey. At the end of each stage the director sportifs of the other teams will gather to vote. The wearer will either be the same time as the best riders, or he will be relegated to the time of the second group on the road, or he will be relegated to the time of the  lanterne rouge.

The jersey below was handed over and will now be an integral part of Tour folklore. To see who will wear this jersey tune in later, will it be one of the established teams with a long history with Le Tour or one of the new teams?

Why have @Twitter suspended @equalmarriageni ?

Yesterday the Equal Marriage Northern Ireland campaign launched a Twitter account @equalmarriageni I know as I was one of the first 10 to follow it.

This morning if you look for that account you will find that it is suspended.


It has not been spamming people which is one of the reasons that accounts can be blocked.

Nor have any of the messages been offensive.

Indeed the account was only set up within the last 24 hours. Most of the messages were welcoming its followers or telling people how to get involved.

The only reason that many of us can assume this has taken place is that somebody or some people within Northern Ireland have complained to Twitter that even having such a campaign is offensive. It is a pity that such people do not feel that they can allow a debate on this issue, but on the other hand it probably is a victory of sorts. If the opponents of Equal Marriage in Northern Ireland have to resort to censoring the debate then they must know that they are fighting a losing battle.

The Campaign for Equal Marriage here in Northern Ireland will not be silenced by a few people trying to prevent Twitter from broadcasting our views. There are enough of us as established Twitter users who will be making our points. We will also be encouraging all of you to get on board and support us. In Northern Ireland we face the toughest task of anywhere in the UK to get equality of marriage and if this is one of the early reactions to  our campaign here becoming more visible then it will only spur us on to get the message out there front and centre however we can.

We are not lying down. We will not be silenced no matter who tries to stop us being heard.

Tour de France 2012: Stage 15 Samatan to Pau

Apparently yesterday there were two first category climbs. This was meant to mean that Peter Sagan (LIQ) would have been dropped from the lead group he set up after his second attack was successful in getting away on the second of these when the road ramped up. It also meant that Mark Cavendish should have been dropped early on the first one rather than leading the peleton over it.

Neither of these things came to pass, although there was an effort to achieve the first from Luis Leon Sanchez (RAB), Sandy Casar (FDJ), Phillipe Gilbert (RNT) and Gorko Izagirre (EUS) tries to do. However, the Green Jersey pulled himself back and actually dropped the latter two before the summit of Mur de Péguère. Only Sandy Casar who had made a bit of a move when he saw the Green Jersey come back at them was up the road, but he was soon swallowed up by the swiftness of the Slovak's descent.

Behind them however, chaos ensued. When it came to the steep ramping section Cadel Evan's did make a push for the top. But while many were dropped all of the GC contenders were in that group, Wiggins with a couple of his Sky team mates, even Michael Rogers climbed back to the lead group to join Porte and Froome in that supportive role. Evans with only Tejay van Garderen in the white jersey for support. 

However, when  they reached the top Evan's pulled to the side having shouted for his young team mate and swiftly removed his rear wheel. Van Garderen continued on over the summit, seemingly unaware of what was happening behind. With the road being so narrow at the summit of Mur de Péguère none of the team cars or neutral service cars were in close attention to the leaders at that point. Evans waited for what seemed like an age before he saw his team mate Steve Cummings approach who should have been able to swap rear wheels with Evans if only his were not also deflating. Finally two more team mates including George Hincapie turned up to the rescue, and just after them the neutral service car. 

What we soon found out was that there were numerous punctures at that part of the route. Unusual on an uphill section where the riders are not braking. One rider the King of the Mountains Robert Kersilovski (AST) broke his collarbone on a crash on the descent but there were riders all over the road getting tires replaced. Evans himself having three replacements.

Up ahead while the escapees fought on to try and stay away the yellow jersey showed his leadership of the race and called a truce when it became apparent that something untoward was happening behind. Even he took a change of bike. Only one rider Pierre Rolland (EUC) seemed to not understand what was going on and attacked from the main group. It became clear that there were carpets tacks that were causing all the punctures and also getting into the tires of support vehicles.

Down on the road into Foix, Luis Leon Sanchez launched an attack to try and shake off Sagan, which would prove to be the decisive move of the day. Lotto-Belisol and Liquigas managed to pull back Rolland and the Evans group after waving thanks to the team cars rejoined the main group. Sagan led the remaining four over in second to secure 37 out of a possible 40 points in a mountain stage, surely enough to mean nobody can challenge him for the Green Jersey unless disaster strikes.

Elsewhere with Kersilovski out of the race the Polka Dots revert to his Astana team mate Fredrik Kessiakoff.

Today's stage to Pau is a relatively flat stage and therefore should suit the sprinters. But then we all said that about the stage into Cap d'Agde on Saturday and look at the problem the Category 3 climb caused then.

Today there is another Category three climb mixed in among the rolling parcours as we skirt around the north of the Pyrénées but it is 45km from the end and not on the coast therefore getting affected by cross winds. 

The way Mark Cavendish (SKY) climbed the first Cat 1 climb yesterday suggests to me that he wants to get over all of these lumps today to be in that lead group. So with Greipel (LOT), Goss (OGE) and Sagan (LIQ) there may well be a contested sprint between those guys at the end. Cav is still looking for that illusive 22nd Stage win to equal André Darrigade for sprint wins. with Sky riding well in the closing stages to keep the yellow jersey safe what are the chances of his old Madison partner leading him out in Yellow as he did for Boasson Hagen the other day for that other piece of history?

I don't expect any major shake up in any of the other classifications today, that will be saved for after tomorrow's rest day.  But

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Tour de France 2012: Stage 14 Limoux to Foix

Yesterday's stage did see a break away, and then saw Michael Morkov trying to honour his father who had died five years before try to break away from that. But the 9% short climb of the Mont Saint Clair was what decided just how this race would turn out.

On that short climb three things happened, the escapees were all caught, many of the sprinters were dropped, plus the GC contenders were racing. It was Jurgen van den Broeck (LOT) who made a move on the slopes to be pursued by Cadel Evans (BMC). When the rest of his team didn't seem able to respond the Maillot Jaune did the pulling back of that duo himself. With the race split up with 23km to go the leading group were going to be racing flat out. Lotto Belisol took up the pace at the front, but Alexandre Vinokourov (AST) and Michael Albasini (OGE) managed to get ahead of the group with the cross winds.

Lotto kept up their pursuit because André Greipel was still there but was marked by the Green Jersey of Peter Sagan (LIQ). The pursuit was so intense that the main group developed a split in the winds. Although in the lead group were Sky's Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Edvald Boasson Hagen, the GC contenders Evans, van den Broeck and Vincenzo Nibali (LIQ), as well as Sagan and Greipel.

The Wiggins lead out
After over 12km in the front eventually Albasini and Vinokourov were captured 2.5km from the end. But then Leon Luis Sanchez (RAB) made a bid for the line he was joined by Matthieu Sprick (ARS) behind them now the yellow jersey was at the front of the race. Coming into the final bend 300m from the end it was the Maillot Jaune that brought them back together but was doing more than that he was leading out his team mate Boasson Hagen.

With less than 200m left Wiggins pulled over but had to keep pedaling to keep safe, he ended up finishing 12th. But Edvald couldn't hold off Greipel and Sagan. The two of them came past in the final metres and Griepel took the line from Sagan. In the process overtaking Goss in the contest for the Green Jersey, but Sagan looks almost set to win that providing he gets to Paris.

Today's stage takes us into the Pyrénées with two 1st Category climbs of the Port de Lers and Mur de Péguère. 

The Port de Lers is being taken from a different approach than in its three previous appearances since 1995. The approach from Vicdessos is harder though shorter than the approach from the other side. At 11.5km the climb of only 805m at 7% is shorter and sharper than the other slope. It has raised the category of this climb to a 1st Category.

But after a 16km descent we come upon the even tougher Mur de Péguère. It may be shorter than the Port de Lers at only 9.3km but the average gradient is 7.9% and the last 3.5km really ramps up including two ramps of 18% and 16%.

It was due to debut in 1973 from the Foix side but the riders protested that the descent, today's ascent was too dangerous. The road has since then been resurfaced and in 2008 the col was crossed as part of the descent from the Col de Portel but was not categorised.

Today with 38.5km descending to the Foix at the end might see an attack from someone who can descend well like Vincenzo Nibali or Cadel Evans. If they use an explosive turn of speed at the right point they might be able to break the elastic to the way Bradley Wiggins likes to climb. The question of course is how much do either of those two have in the tank. There has just been one real rest day for the mountain legs, stage 12's gentle roll after two peaks not withstanding. 

So Wiggins and his Sky Team will have to be alert I think towards the end of this stage as Nibali and Evans will try and gain back any time that they are capable of. Tomorrow's stage isn't that severe before Tuesday's final rest day in Pau before two more days in the Pyrénées. This may been seen as some as a chance to attack knowing there is time to recover.

Bradley today sets a new British record simply by turning up at the start line. He will surpass Chris Boardman's record for most days in the Maillot Jaune. The fact that Boardman did it over 3 Tours and Wiggins only took it off the departed Fabian Cancellera now the proud father of Elina born on Friday. Jean Christophe Peraud who came second to David Millar in that stage on Friday also became a father to a new daughter yesterday. Although he was on the road racing when Valentine was born.