Sunday 31 July 2011

My abiding image of Belfast Pride 2011

No it wasn't being midway down the parade as seeing it still heading round to the front of City Hall having circumnavigated it. Nor was it the crowd who stood in front of most of the Church protestors to lend us their support. Indeed it was nothing to do with the parade at all.

But it was after the event, once the Party in the Square had closed down for another year and people were heading home or on to the after parties and it happened on the concourse of Great Victoria Street Station. It was two teenage young men giving each other a kiss goodbye. It was so natural and so right, yet something that those of us, though out, still find hard to do in a public space.

It may have helped that almost everyone else in the station had some form of rainbow on them, but maybe it didn't. Maybe it was just something that the generation after mine in Northern Ireland just do. They don't have as many hang ups as those of us who were that age before the first Belfast Pride in 1990 had to go through. It may well have helped that the biggest Pride in Ireland was bigger again this year, but it seemed so natural and it really warmed by my heart. So all praise to GLYNI (Gay and Lesbian Youth Northern Ireland) for heloing bring normality.

As a teen I knew I had same sex attractions but it was something I had to keep hidden and something I battled myself over for some time. Those young men at that age there this evening made the efforts of those who have gone before seem so worth it. As for the small pockets of protestors they were so easily swamped by the number of positive shows of support for so many as we walked through the heart of Belfast's shopping district.

There is one other image I say earlier today. On one side of the pavement was a man wearing a "Proud Dad of a Gay Son" T-shirt, on the other side his wife wearing one that said "Proud Mum of a Gay Son." in the middle was the T-shirt "Proud Son of 2 Straight Parents". When I walked through the door my mother asked how the parade was and said she was looking out for me on the news. Maybe next time I can get her to come along.

Saturday 30 July 2011

OK you want a straight pride...

One of the arguments that most homophobes give for not having a Pride Festival or even a Parade is "Well you don't see a Straight Pride". Here is Davey Wavey asking those people to think about it and why there isn't.

I'll be in Belfast today marching with my fellow Liberal Democrats, as well as the Alliance Party, Greens, SDLP, trade unions, LGBT groups, individuals, other supportive groups. We'll set out from Custom House Square at 2pm. At the City Hall we will parade past the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor, before returning to Custom House Square for the party in the square.

This is my first Belfast Parade but not my first Pride Parade, indeed I did three of them last summer and will be heading up to London/Derry in August to take part once again in Foyle Pride.

Meal a naidheachd to the Bride and Groom

It is not the grandest church on the Royal Mile that would be the Catherdral of St. Giles High Kirk, which contains the Thistle Chapel, on up the hill. Nor is it the Kirk associated with Royal occassions; the ruined Holyrood Abbey at the foot of the Mile has seen Royal Weddings including those of James II, III, and IV of Scotland the latter to Margaret Tudor the sister of Henry VIII of England. Nor is the oldest that being St. Margaret's Chapel at the Castle.

But the Kirk of the Canongate (pictured) is the parish Kirk not only of the Scottish Parliament across the street but of the Palace of Holyrood (as well as the odd detachment of the Parish of Edinburgh Castle itself). Indeed it is just below the Canongate Tolbooth which marks the entrance to the Old City proper, being part of the separate Canongate Burgh until 1856 until it was absorbed into Edinburgh. The graveyard provides the resting place of economist Adam Smith and poet Robert Fergusson (whose statue is on the pavement outside).

Today it sees the wedding of the eldest Granddaughter of one of its parishioners, and will have to fly the Soveriegn's standard during the service. Because this is the church in which Zara Phillips will be marrying Mike Tindall. Up the Hill tourists and locals will be queueing for Fringe tickets which gets underway next week. Or enjoying the historic old town. So with her family including her Grandmother HM Queen Elizabeth II and Grandfather the Duke of the City she is getting married in two sporting worlds Rugby and Equestrianism will come together, her mother being the common link as Patron of the Scottish Rugby Football Union as well as a former world class Three Day Eventer.

But as my title says in Gaelic (that is the Scots variety) Congratulations to teh Bride and Groom, it is their .

Some Pastors do get the harm done by Churches to LGBT pride

I'd like to thank my cousin for pointing this link out to me. In a week when first our future Health Minister and then a church leader came up with excuses to avoid engagement with the LGBT community in Belfast, what better way to start Pride Parade Day than this message from Hans Kristensen, leading Pastor of Resolved Church in Sydney.

  • I am sorry that a lot of Christians have not treated you with dignity and respect even though as people you are created in the image of God
  • I am sorry that a lot of Christians have not listened to you. We haven’t spent the time to hear about you and your hurts and fears and dreams.
  • I am sorry that a lot of Christians (especially the ones on T.V.) talk about being gay as if it is the worst thing even as we turn a blind eye to our greed, gossip, slander and other sins we make excuses for
  • I am sorry for TV Evangelists because they are TV Evangelists
  • I am sorry that in our conversation we major on your sin when I think Jesus would have majored on his love
  • I am sorry that we have not been there for you in your dark times. When you have seen friends die of AIDS. When many from within your number have committed suicide.
  • I am sorry that we have not preached against the sin of Homophobia
  • I am sorry that we have kept saying that we are all sinners which has made many of you wonder why is being gay so bad if we are all sinners? We should have communicated that the response we all have to make to Gods love is one of repentance.
  • I am sorry that we have tried to cure you of your homosexuality instead of helping you see how Jesus transforms who you are and gives you a new identity.
  • I am sorry that we have not loved you as God himself loves you.
I am sorry for all these things and I hope you can forgive us. We would love to start a conversation about who Jesus is and how much he has done for you and how much he loves you.

As I mentioned on Thursday night there was a young Presbyterian training for the ministry at Hymn or Us who similarly asked to start that conversation, I just hope and prayer that more of them come forward in Northern Ireland. In our churches, in our politics and in our workplaces. So that we can feel able to be who we are without fear.

Friday 29 July 2011

'Hymn or Us' without Him

Last night the Rev David McIlveen didn't turn up to GLYNI (Gay and Lesbian Youth Northern Ireland's) even for the Belfast Pride Festival entitled "Hymn or Us". It was a look at can homosexuality and being LGBT co-exist. Earlier in the week on BBC Radio Ulster's Wendy Talks Back while discussing the non-appearance of Jim Wells at the "Pride on the Hill" David McIlveen and Simon Rae the secretary of Belfast Pride both showed that Rev McIlveen was more than welcome to return to Pride in the debate that was due to happen last night; he'd appeared at a similar event last year.

However, Rev McIlveen was unable to attend dues to "an issue in his church". He was replaced by a Church of Ireland lay preacher Dermot O’Callaghan, who along with Mike Davidson of Core Issues, Pádraig Ó Tuama of Irish Peace Centres and Rev Chris Hudson of All Souls Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church took questions from the audience directed by the BBC William Crawley.

The discussion was wide ranging seeing as there were a high number of LGBT people of faith in the room with a vast variety of personal experiences. There also were a number of straight people in the room, some the parents of LGBT children, one a young man training to be a minister in the Presbyterian Church.

Dermot O'Callaghan tried to use some rather selective science, just as yesterday Rev McIlveen's church tried to use rather selective readings from the King James Bible, to say that being gay was down to nurture not nature. Apparently it is not the same as left handedness or skin colour as something we are born with because there are twins who are not both gay, I know some twins who are not both left handed as well. Well there was one blogger's father who asked the pertinent question about how he didn't bring up his sons to be gay, he didn't nurture them that way, and did that make him a bad father or his wife a bad mother.

Somebody else had asked Mike Davidson of Core Issues after he said that he started with the presumption that homosexuality was a sin and that reparative therapy wouldn't work for everyone, did that mean that some people were beyond salvation. After a bit of stumbling he said yes. But William Crawley also challenged him on his qualifications, or lack thereof for giving therapy. The killing blow came when he was asked "Most therapists see someone unqualified providing therapy and counselling as unethical." Davidson actually replied "Yes" before going on to try and cover his tracks.

Chris Hudson brought up a good point about those who disagree that you can be gay and a Christian, as these people concentrate more on the practise that the being. He said that the bible isn't a sex guide but a book about love with a care ethic.

Then the young Presbyterian Minister in training got up near the end. Admitting that these were his first baby steps into this whole element of theological thought. But at least he was there. He saw that the LGBT community can respect those that disagree with us and not shout them down, lock them out or ignore their opinions as is often the case in the reverse. I hope he does look at these things more fully, I obviously gave him a few tips of where to start from within the PCI, like the Board of Social Witnesses own pastoral guidelines and what they are doing about the action points, something I may have blogged about before.

Anyway it was a night of good discussion and there was certainly a lot to take away and think about, as much for the panellists and those in the audience.

Update Thanks to IcedCoffee for pointing me in the direction of this Vlog by @RuthEbabes

Thursday 28 July 2011

Selective celebration of the King James Version from Sandown

By all means Sandown Free Presbyterian are more than welcome to give thanks for the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible but they are rather selective in how they are going about it.

Some people on Twitter are wondering what they will be doing for a grand finale. Will they take out Iris Robinson and Kirk McCambley and stone them on the Square in front of St. Anne's Cathedral after all in Leviticus 20 v 10 it says:

"And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death."

Actually as this comes three verses earlier than one they quote in their advert maybe this should be the warm up act.

Or if they are so worried about abominations mabe they should picket outside the Mourne Seafood Bar while they continue to serve oysters, crab, prawns and lobster after all:

"And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you. They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcasses in abomination.Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you." Leviticus 11:10-12
 Or maybe they will have to have a witness outside House of Fraser or in the Victoria Shopping Centre or Castle Court or basically any shop that sells clothing after all:

"The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God." Deutoronomy 22:5

Of course while they rejoice incircimventing the law that says that a protest against a parade needs to be registered with the Parade Commission maybe they should bear this one in mind next time they feel like praying.

"He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination." Proverbs 28:9
Of these other protests, or as they would like to have you say 'witnesses' will not be taking place this this 400th Anniversary year of the King James Bible that they hold so dear, even though many of the translations within it are of the time of writing to keep the propriety of the reader.

Artful Thursday 7- Pride

This week is Belfast Pride week. Therefore I'm going for some of the artful contributions out there that display the Rainbow flag colours. The colours chosen for the well now known 6 since 1979 instead of the original 8 in 1978 were to show the diversity of the LGBT community. The colours are red (life), orange (healing), yellow (sunlight), green (nature), blue (harmony), and purple/violet (spirit).

This image by Jeff Ball
Finally something so quintessentially Northern Irish. There are so many image of the Free Derry Corner but last August for Foyle Pride it was painted pink here it is as a work in progress. Wonder when we will have a Belfast wall mural to celebrate Belfast Pride

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Future DUP Health Minister calls Pride "totally repugnant"

Diana Rusk in the Irish News today is naming the DUP member who called the people who take part in the Belfast Pride Parade as "totally repugnant". As the Irish Times is like its UK counterpart behind a firewall you can learn about this on The Journal's website.

repugnant [rɪˈpʌgnənt]adj
1. repellent to the senses; causing aversion
2. distasteful; offensive; disgusting
3. contradictory; inconsistent or incompatible
from Collins English Dictionary
The fact that the person named ignores the fact that the people who are parading because they are still needing the devolved assembly to pay attention to a number of inequalities that affect the LGBT community, especially from the DUP spokespeople, is shocking. The fact that he is the future Minister for the Department of Health and Social Services, South Down MLA Jim Wells, is bound to be even more horrifying. It was while she was Chair of the Health Committee that Iris Robinson made her comments about homosexuality being an abomination. There are also some distinct health measures that the LGBT community use more than some others, e.g. the services of the various GUM clinics, so for the future health minister to make such comments is of obvious concern

Apparently though as I am repugant to all the senses Jim Wells is going to have to get rid of me from four out of five of his* having attended a family wedding linking both his and my family. I've been attending Pride and will be there with fellow LGBT Lib Dems on Saturday in the parade.

As there is that connection however I have invited Jim Wells to have a right to reply posted fully on this blog, I await his response.

The full story in the Irish News I have posted below so that people do not have to pay for the pay wall.

Future minister says gay pride event 'repugnant'
 by Diana Rusk, Political Correspondent
The future health minister Jim Well has branded as "totally repugnant" those who take part in Belfast's gay [sic] pride parade. Mr Wells made the comments in a text message to one of the event's oirganisers.

All the main parties bar the DUP took part in the political discussion at Stormont yesterday as part of Gay Pride Week.

The South Down assembly member, who is to take over from Edwin Poots as health minister in 2013, was among colleagues who rejected the invitation. He explained his reasons in a text he sent to Gay Pride secretary Simon Rae on Friday.

"I understand that you contacted my Kilkeel office regarding what is termed a 'Belfast Pride' debate," he wrote.

"As you are probably know I find the behavior of those who take part in this march totally repugnant.

"I do not thereforee wish to be association in any way with this event.

"My position on this matter will not change in the future and I would politely suggest that any further requests of this nature will be a total waste of your time."**

Mr Rea said the message was like a "painful shock" when he recieved it.

"I was personally offended and deeply disappointed," he said.

"I thought Jim Wells would have been the ideal candidate to take part in this debate. he is the chair [sic only deputy] of the health committee and will be the next health minister.

"Some of the issues will be a major part of his brief.

" A lot of the debate will be around health issues like suicide, self-harm, adoption, without even looking at the sexual health stuff.

"Regarding his future as the health minister, it is not a good start.

"He seemed to think I would know he would have an issue with being asked.

"We invite all parties to these political events. The DUP never take part and normally we either get no response of one stating  that they are not available.

"I think politicians need to realise that seven to 10 per cent of their constituencies are lesbian, gay or bisexual."

Sinn Féin lord mayor Niall O Donnghaile, the SDLP's Delores Kelly, UUP Deputy Leader John McCallister, Alliance councillor Michael Bower and Green Party Leader Steven Agnew all attended yesterday afternoon's debate. Mr O Donnghaile described Mr Wells' comments as "offensive" while Ms Kelly said he was guilty of a "demonisation of a sector of the community". Mr McCallister said his comments were unnecessary and unhelpful".

When contacted by The Irish News yesterday, Mr Wells said his comments referred to the activities of the participants of the parade.

"The gay pride people are trying to miscontrue my comments," he said.

"They refer to teh parade. If a heterosexual group were behaving in this way, I would still condemn it.

"The parade is repugnant - the costumes they wear and the way they behave during it."

Asked if he meant that it was the behaviour of the participants that he felt were "repugnant" and not the activities of gay people, he replied: "I have no comment on this."

He refusal to clarify that last comment is not the first time Jim Wells has been unable to comment on gay issues. I guess my clothing for Saturday a kilt with casual daywear is repugnant, though totally in keeping with Scottish use of the kilt way from a formal setting even down to the correct level of sporran. Or maybe it is my activity on the march, walking to the beat as I usually strive to do at these events, that is repugnant. But surely this activity is just like the 4,000 plus other marches across Ulster, including those that Mr Wells takes part in wearing an Orange piece of material around his neck which is so not really his colour. After all he must be busy being a member of 3 loyal orders.

* He didn't taste me.
** There is a photo of the text in question with the time stamp 15:55 on 16/7/11 which also throws out the DUP  excuse for not attending as they were not invited until Thursday of last week i.e. 21 July.

Sunday 24 July 2011

The sex abuse victims who will have to sue God

There is the Billy Connelly film The Man Who Sued God about a man who takes God to court when he one piece of property his boat is destroyed by a lightning strike. The reason of course is the infamous insurance company get out "an act of God".

Why am I bringing this us? Well it appears that the Catholic Church is using the defence in court that the priests involved in sex abuse are not technically employed by the church. In a Christian sense they are right, in that priests are effectively called by God to their charges. However, the training that they undergo is given by the church, the supervision is given by the church, the name above the door (or where ever it is) is that of the church. So effectively the church is a chain of franchise operations seems to be what they are saying, run by a number of self-employed or God-employed individuals.

So the church is trying to effectively use scripture to circumvent their own responsibility to remove, take action against these men, to stop them having access to opportunity whilst representing the church.

There is of course a passage of scripture that comes to mind. "Give unto Ceasar what is Ceasars" Luke 20:25. Or of course "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him take your coat also." Matthew 5:40. Now both these are sayings of Jesus who is the recognised Head of the Church in the Roman Catholic tradition. So maybe they should listen to their boss and just get on with doing as he says.

#tdf stage 21 All over bar the sprinting

Today for most of the riders who are still in this years Tour de France it is a porocession. For some, those that struggled over the mountains often in the grupetto at that back there is one dream left to win the sprint on the Champs d'Élysées. Of course for two there is also the change of pulling on the last green jersey of the tour. Mark Cavendish is just 15 points ahead of Jose Joaquin Rojas in that competition.

There are 20 points on offer for the winner of the intermediate sprint and 45 for the win on the line. That is one line that Cav has made his own in recent years in 2009, he was led out so well by Mark Renshaw that the Aussie crossed the line second despite celebrating and freewheeling for about 20 metres.

For commentary view here, the embeds have been disabled

Then last year with Renshaw kicked off the Tour Thor Hushovd launched the sprint, then Petacci came on the near side but wait, over at the far side the Manx Missile gets launched and wins so very easily.

Now there is one thing to consider from yesterday by predictions based on previous time trial times. How did they go from Friday night?

Here is what I said in black the actuals are in red.

1. Andy Schleck Cadel Evans
2. Cadel Evans +1'54" Andy Schleck +1'34"
3. Frank Schleck +2'27" Frank Schleck +2'30"
4. Alberto Contador +3'30" Thomas Voeckler +3'20"
5. Samuel Sanchez +4'32" Alberto Contador +3'57"
6. Thomas Voeckler +4'33" Samuel Sanchez +4'55"
7. Damiano Cunego +7'06" Damiano Cunego +6'05"
8. Ivan Basso +7'35" Ivan Basso +7'23"

As far as those times go most of the guys from 3rd down ended up reasonably as far down on the leader as I said they would. Of course the leaders have transposed they times, which shows how well Cadel Evans rode to win the Tour and haw poorly compared to last year Andy Schleck was, indeed he was more on a par with his perfomance in 2009, so more work needed there.

The shock was how well Thomas Voeckler did in the Time Trial, bunt not really a shock when you consider how he has ridden this Tour. Of course with Alberto Contador still only a provisional third pending his Court of Arbitration in Sport hearing next month he was riding in the hope of honour, which might still become reality, the other performer who did better than the form guide would have suggested was Damiano Cunego. 

But into Paris we ride with Cadel Evans in yellow, Samuel Sanchez in Polka Dots and Pierre Rolland in white all secure in the knowledge that they will keep those. Garmin Cervélo are also riding with the yellow numbers having been the best team over the course of the race. Mark Cavendish however rides in Green but wants just one thing, another stage win on this famous Avenue, this time in the Sprinters jersey and this time to keep it. 

Saturday 23 July 2011

Amy Winehouse another gone at 27

On 3 July 1969, 18 September 1970, 4 October 1970, 3 July 1971, 5 April 1994 and today we lost some of the iconic names in music. In order they were Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Jim Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, they all died aged 27.

  • Jones 27 and 125 days
  • Hendrix 295 days
  • Joplin 258 days
  • Morrison 207 days
  • Cobain 44 days 
  • Winehouse 314 days
All of them were part of or breakthrough acts of their times. All of them were undoubtedly talented. Although Morrison's death was recorded as heart failure there was no autopsy carried out on the young man when he died in Paris 40 years ago this month. The others all died (assuming the rumours of Amy's cause of death are correct) in tragic circumstances. For yes even if it come from a drug overdose the addiction that leads to that outcome is a tragedy.

In the case of Amy it is even more tragic as her top charting single, while she was alive*, was Rehab which of course opens with the line. "They tried to make me go to rehad, I said No, No, No!". She lived out her addiction in the public eye. They were court appearances for possession and her ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil once told a magazine interview that he had introduced the singer to crack cocaine and herorin.

Her father said that he and his family made public statements about her substance and alcohol abuse as a form of intervention to get her to get help. In October last year she cliamed that she had been drug free, but earlier this year in a comeback performance in Slovakia she appeared obviously drunk on stange and her come back tour was cancelled.

She was a talent, but for whatever reason, and her parents believe it was the death of her grandmother in 2006, she plunged into addiction.

If you are or know someone who has an addiction to drugs or substance you can get help just Talk to Frank free at 0800 77 66 00, by texting 82111. For Alcoholics Anonymous call 0845 769 7555 (charged at local rates from a BT landline)

In the meantime here is my favourite Winehouse song Back to Black

* There is possibly going to be a bigger hit now she is dead.

Tanker og bønner for Norge - Thoughts and Prayers for Norway

Jeg beklager for mine norske dette har vært oversatt via Google translate. Men på denne vanskelige tiden føler jeg at jeg trenger å snakke med venner i Norge og andre i deres eget språk, så vel som å la mine engelsktalende lesere kjenner mine tanker.

I apologise for my Norwegian this has been translated through Google translate. But at this difficult time I feel I need to speak to friends in Norway and others in their own language, as well as letting my English speaking readers know my thoughts.

Jeg prøver å forstå hva som har foregått i Norge i går. En bilbombe jeg kan forstå, jeg er fra Nord-Irland, er skyting døde på 80 unge mennesker på et politisk camp noe jeg prøver å få hodet mitt rundt: selv om jeg sannsynligvis aldri vil, og sannsynligvis ikke kan komme nær forståelse.

I'm trying to comprehend what has gone on in Norway yesterday. A car bomb I can comprehend, I am from Northern Ireland, the shooting dead of 80 young people at a political camp is something I am trying to get my head around: though I probably never will, and probably cannot get close to understanding

 Den eneste måten jeg kan selv forsøke å tenke på virkningen er å tenke på alle de politisk aktive medlemmer dersom Liberal Youth jeg vet og tenker at kanskje så mye som én av fire av dem ble utryddet i en forferdelig ettermiddag Aktiver. Men selv det er noe som er vanskelig å ta i.

The only way I can even attempt to think of the impact is to think of all the politically active members if Liberal Youth I know and thinking that maybe as much as one in four of them were wiped out in one horrendous afternoon at Activate. But even that is something that is hard to take in. 

Eller kanskje en av sommerens kampanjene jeg har vært på, tenker at et stort antall mennesker på disse lagene var å nyte en ettermiddag i solen og deretter en stor andel av dem blir plutselig visket ut.

 Or maybe one of the summer campaigns I have been on, thinking that a large number of the people on those teams were enjoying an afternoon in the sun and then a large proportion of them being suddenly wiped out.

Jeg skriver dette som jeg lytter til den norske statsminister Jens Stoltenberg gi en andre pressekonferanse denne morgenen er opprivende. Han sier at noen av de nær ham var ofre i bombingen, og at noen av ungdommene på øya var også kjent for ham. Han kan ikke gi ut flere detaljer i øyeblikket, ingen tvil om familiemedlemmer er fortsatt alle til å bli fortalt, så vel som politiet har å gjøre med situasjonen.

 I'm typing this as I listen to the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg giving a second press conference this morning is harrowing. He says that some of those close to him were victims in the bombing, and that some of the young people on the island were also known to him. He cannot give out more details at the moment, no doubt as family members are still all to be told as well as the police are dealing with the situation.

I går var den mørkeste dagen i norsk historie siden andre verdenskrig. Folket i Storbritannia stod hos dem nå, og ingen tvil om vi vil igjen i dag.

Yesterday was the darkest day in Norwegian history since the Second World War. The people of the UK stood by them now and no doubt we will again today.

Mine tanker og bønner er med alle i Norge på denne tiden. De som har mistet kjære. Men også alle som ikke kan tro dette har skjedd i deres fredelige land.

 My thoughts and prayers are with all in Norway at this time. Those who have lost dear ones. But also everyone who cannot believe this has happened in their peaceful country.

De unge håpet på og jobbe for en lysere fremtid. Alle i verden bør ta opp fakkelen og sikre at vi oppnår at i minnet deres.

Those young people were hoping for and working for a brighter future. Everyone in the world should take up their torch and ensure that we acheive that in their memory. 

Friday 22 July 2011

Edvald will wear the flag of Norway tomorrow with respect #tdf

Edvald Boassen Hagen
The Norwegians have had a good Tour de France between them their two riders have one four times as many stages as the French and equal the number of the Isle of Man.

Their fans have been vocal and visual on every stage of the Tour, flying the Norweigian flag on the plains, in the Mountains, in the towns.

Both their riders are supposedly sprinters yet both Thor Hushovd and Edvald Boassen Hagen have won in the mountains. Hushovd in the high mountains on the road to Pau and again on the run in to Gap, Boassen Hagen on the first day of the Alps into Pinerolo. Boassen Hagen also won on the flat on the way into Lisieux.

Thor "God of Thunder" Hushovd
However, they plus all of the Norwegian fans will be hearing of the sad news back home in Norway. People all across the World have been updating their avatars on Facebook and Twitter with the flag of Norway.

Tomorrow being a time trial stage in the Tour means there will be no group start where a ceremonial commemoration of the dead in Norway could take part. Yet these two Norwegians will do their bit. Young Edvald will don the flag in the form of the jersey as the national time trial champion. Thor will not be wearing the rainbow rings of world champion again until Sunday as he is Road Race Champion of the World, a jersey he won in the national colours as pictured.

I'd like the organisers to give him dispensation to wear it tomorrow to show the World cares for Norway, let's have two world jerseys in the start hut.

My thoughts and prayers go to every Norwegian whether back home or following the Tour or anywhere else in the world. Especially any of those who have lost a loved one or friend.

#TDF Stage 20 The answer to life, the universe and the Tour de France


What else in the year that I will turn that age?

Or to be precise 42km around the roads of Grenoble are the ultimate answer to all bar two of the jerseys on this year's Tour.What we do know is that the King of the Mountains this year in Samuel Sanchez after the final ride in the high lands yesterday. What we won't know is who will win the green points jersey as there are a maximum of 65 points on offer and only 15 between Mark Cavendish and Jose Joaquin Rojas.
  1. Andy Schleck 82h 48'43
  2. Frank Schleck +53"
  3. Cadel Evans +57"
  4. Thomas Voeckler +2'10"
  5. Damiano Cunego +3'31
  6. Alberto Contador +3'55"
  7. Samuel Sanchez +4'22"
  8. Ivan Basso +4'40"
Taking a crude look at last year's Time Trial gives the following result for the top 8 on relative time (the one exception will the Frank Schleck who crashed out on stage three.

  1. Alberto Contador 0"
  2. Samuel Sanchez +10" adjusted for distance (+12" in reality)
  3. Andy Schleck +23" (+31")
  4. Thomas Voeckler +2'48"(+3'28")
  5. Ivan Basso +3'20" (+4'08")
  6. Damiano Cunego +4'00" (+4'57")
  7. Cadel Evans +4'13" (+5'14")
As well as Frank Schleck being missing Cadel Evan was racing with a broken elbow so may have been behind power. Therefore I will give them the times calculated for an extra 1.5km for tomorrow from their 2009 times.

Evans +1'16 (+1'14")
F. Schleck +2'39" (+2'34")

Based on these time the outcome will be

  1. Andy Schleck 82h 48'43
  2. Cadel Evans +1'54"
  3. Frank Schleck +2'27"
  4. Alberto Contador +3'30"
  5. Samuel Sanchez +4'32"
  6. Thomas Voeckler +4'33"
  7. Damiano Cunego +7'06"
  8. Ivan Basso +7'35"
There are of course other stats to deal with apart from the pure maths.

Contador has given his all yesterday and may not think he is capable to going flat out to achieve anything. Andy Schleck has never worn yellow at this stage and will know what he has to do. Frank Schleck has looked to have good form in this race and may well race harder than he ever has with the possibility of a filial one-two on the line. Thomas Voeckler has had a hard week, but he is racing for the honour of France. He wants to get back into that top three.

We shall wait and see.

For the record tomorrow the race for the white jersey is between Pierre Rolland and Rene Taamare 1'33" behind. Nobody else is within 7 minutes of Rolland so it is down to those two.

#TDF Stage 19 Centenary for Galibier

After yesterday exhilarating stage with Andy Schleck going on an attack 60km out and holding the virtual lead on the road by over a minute. Only for Cadel Evans paced himself, the Maillot Jaune of Thomas Voeckler and Ivan Basso back and allowed Fränk Schleck to leapfrog him into a podium position. How can we possible top that? Well the Tour is hoping that they can, they give us a shot stage at only 109.5km but they were expecting fireworks from early on today, not yesterday.
Scene from the 1924 ascent of the Galibier

It may be time to finish on Alpe d'Huez for the 27th visit to that peak, but on the way the Tour is paying an honour to another Alp.

Last year we celebrated the centenary of the Pyrénées, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Galibier first appearing in the Tour. Having taken on the Pyrénées the year before Henri Desgranges wanted his race to take on the high Alps. On the 12th July 1911 the Tour left Grenoble heading for Nice, but for the first time passed over the Col du Galibier in the Dauphiné Alps.Yesterday we may have finished on the Galibier, but today we take the same approach as in 1911 and it is harder than yesterday's ascent.

Monument to Henri Desgranges on the Galibier
It was French rider Emile Georget who was first to the emerge through the tunnel to the peak that day, only two others Paul Duboc and Gustave Garrigou made the summit without walking. That day with his single gear bike Georget had taken 2 hours and 38 minutes to cross both the Col du Télégraphe and the Col du Galibier, today the ascent from St-Michel-de-Maurienne to the Galiber is expected to take only about an hour. On that first ascent riders took over 8 hours more than Georget to arrive in Grenoble for the finish, indeed Raymond Harquet the 50th and last man to finish the stage took 22 hours.

The Galiber became an established part of the Tour from then and the following year they were back. This time Eugène Christophe rode the Télégraphe and Galiber five minutes faster that Georget's time. Even though he fell three times in the last 400 metres of the Galiber due to the sticky nature of the road.

In 1919 the year of the introduction of the Maillot Jaune in the first post war Tour it was Christophe who first wore it on the slopes of the Galiber. The jersey intended to spot the leader was hardly needed at this stage as there were only 11 of the 65 starters still riding at that point. Not wishing any bad omens on Thomas Voeckler but on that day the penultimate of that Tour he lost the yellow jersey to his team mate Firmin Lambot (the man who famously in 1913 mended his broken forks on the Col du Tormalet). In 1922 he hit a rock on the descent of the Galibier and changed his pick for volunteers on the course twice before again losing his Maillot Jaune.

Fausto Coppi, Charly Gaul, Eddy Merckx, Luis Ocana, Tony Rominger and of course Andy Schleck are now all amongst the names of the people who have reach the summit of the Galibier first. Like on six occasions before though the stage still has another monster to come. Alpe d'Huez looms large.

  • In 1979 Lucien van Impe peaked on the Galiber first only for Joop Zoetemelk to reach Alpe d'Huez first.
  • 1986  it was Luis Herrera on Galibier but Bernard Hinault and Greg Lamond to race side by side for that iconic stage finish as team mates, the Frenchman took the line first
  • 1989 Gert-Jan Theunisse was the first and thus far only man to summit both peaks first on the same stage
  • 1992 Franco Chioccioli took honours at Galibier for Andy Hamsten to be the first American to win on Alpe d'Huez
  • 2003 Stefano Garzelli lead on Galiber but Iban Mayo took the honours on d'Huez
  • 2008 it was Stefan Schumacher only for Carlos Sastre to win on Alpe d'Huez
Those 13.8km up Alpe d'Huezhave often been where minutes can be pulled out. How much will Andy Schleck have in the tank today? Can his brother make a crucial move today to give him a buffer he would need over Evans to give him a chance in tomorrow's time trail? Will Thomas Voeckler keep the yellow jersey for one more day? All these questions we will get answers to on Alpe d'Huez.

Here is that iconic 1986 finish.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Inappropriate or forgettery

There is a saying in our family that sometimes people have a convenient forgettery as opposed to a memory.

The Prime Minister in the House yesterday
Yesterday David Cameron while making his statement and answering questions kept saying he did not any inappropriate conversation with Rebekah Brooks. He also said they he could not recall every conversation that he ever had when being questioned about specifics about conversations with John Yates.

I have just one question how come he is certain that not once in all the 26 meetings with Rebekah Brooks he can be sure that not one he spoke about BSkyB, yet at the same time when talking to the anti-terrorist chief from the Met he cannot recall talking about phone hacking even once. How are we tracing some of these terrorist threats to the UK if not by occasionally sanctioning phone tapping in the public interest? Surely such discussion could lead unto the phone hacking subject?

But as Mark Thompson points out, how can a senior executive at News Corps not take the opportunity of access to the Prime Minister (on one of the 6 occasions in the last year) to talk about her boss's burning ambition. If it was an inappropriate conversation surely the Prime Minister could have stopped her there, and said so in the House yesterday. Something along the lines of:

"Mrs Brooks did attempt to talk to me about BSkyB, but I stopped her from going further with that conversation."

Instead the formulaic "I had no inappropriate conversations, with that woman" sparks memories of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

One thing that the 138* MPs questions to him yesterday did highlight. The PM had a convenient forgettery over conversations with John Yates, but was crystal clear in his recollection of conversations and their appropriateness with Rebekah Brooks.

I suspect a convenient forgettery was in evidence over both.

* Mr Speaker was right the Prime Minister was wrong, he probably could not  recall all the 138 MPs conversations with him. Still with a 1.45% drop off rate after a couple of hours who knows how much the PM can forget in a year.

The Prime Minister: I think it is ingenious, after 136 questions, to come up with something entirely new, so I pay tribute to my hon. Friend. I am sure the judge will be able to look at all vested interests and the power that they wield in our country.
Mr Speaker: I thank the Prime Minister and all Members. I was advised that there were 138 Members, but we will settle for 136, who have had the opportunity to question the Prime Minister, and I thank everyone for participating.
Hansard Vol. 531 Part 191 Col. 962 20 July 2011

#TDF Stage 18 to the Top of the Tour

Today is Day one of the Col du Galibier, in the celebration of the 100th year in the Alps and the 100th year of that peak. To honour it the Tour is going to have its highest ever stage finish on top of the Col itself. Yes we have ofter summitted the Galibier but the Schlecks will the pleased to know that today there is no final descent*.

Of course today is no easy day. There are indeed two other Hors Categorie climbs on the way to the Galibier. The first the Col Agnel is actually the highest point on the Tour. The first man to scale this will receive the Henri Desgrange prize. It is the longest climb of the day coming in at 23.7km long. Although it has a 6.5% average the final 10km average 9%.

The French-Italian border on Col Agnel
Although once they reach the summit at 2,744m we are also back into France after our brief excursion to Italy. Best not tell the Schleck boys though that once we get here we have to go downhill to Château-Ville-Vieille. So none of the rest of the leaders had better attack or there will be complaints.

However, after we descend into the Guil valley we are ready for the Col d'Izoard. Two of the men who became the first superstars of the Tour had many a hotly contested ascent in the 40s and 50s. Indeed at average of 7.3% for its 14.1km it has the highest average gradient.

In 1949 and 51 it was the Italian Fausto Coppi who summitted the Col d'Izoard first in 1950, 53 and 54 it was the Frechman Lousion Bobet. In 1949 Coppi was the first man to win the Giro d'Italia and the Tour in the same year, a feat he would repeat in 1952. In that year he also entered the Pyrenées 55 min behind the leader and led most of the field by almost 30 minutes when he left the Alps. The exception was Gino Bartali his compatriot but also rival at that time. In 1949 he also was the first man to summit on Alpe d'Huez, the mountain we finish our mountain adventure on tomorrow.

Monument to Coppi and Bobet on Col d'Izoard
Louison Bobet first contested the Tour in 1947 but found the going tough and retired on stage nine.  He cried in the Alps that year when the going got really tough, and the Schlecks should learn that he was called cry baby as a result. The following year he was back, leading going into the Alps by 20 minutes over Bartali, however this became a 32 minute deficit as on Prime Ministerial instructions from Italy to divert from a political crisis Bartali won three stages.  In 1953 he had his greatest day on Izoard climbing alone on the route from Gap to Briançon he finished 5 minutes ahead of the field, he went on to win the first of his three consecutive Tours.

So after the historic Col d'Izoard there is only the more historic Col du Galibier left, which will be making history today as they climb above the pass through the town to true top and the hishest ever stage finish at 2,645m. They are climbing mostly up the Col de Lautaret on this approach only taking a spur near the summit of the other Col to climb the Galibier for the last 6km or so of this 22.8km climb. This is the easier approach than the one used in 1911 but we will deal with that tomorrow when we come this way again in revesrse.

Although this may be the easier approach its length of ascent may make it a place that the Schleck's try and attack Alberto Contador again. Also we have yet to see Cadel Evans attack. He is a slower starter of these things but he may be able to ride at an increasing tempo up here to make some sort of move. He is being talked about as a potential winner in Paris but he had yet to instigate a telling move, something he only has two more days to remedy.

PS I haven;y forgotten about todays sprint but as Gilbert and Rojas seemed to yesterday leaving the only remaining point to Green Jersey wearer Mark Cavendish in a procession, I don't think I'll mention that this is in Verzuolo at 46.5km before any of the climbing really starts. Just think that any points on offer will propably go to Cav, who then will need his team to make sure he gets over the passes. He is one person who will not be complaining about the descents as he can make up 3-5 minutes on these, just what he needs to make the cut off times.
* Both Andy and Fränk have both over the last two stages complained about the finishes on downhills. Not sure if this has anything to do with them losing time to Alberto Contador on the first of those two days.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

#TDF Stage 17 170 go to Italy

Today the 170 remaining riders in the Tour de France take a little excursion into Italy for an overnight stop. Although it will not be an easy 171.5 km to take them there.

There will ride out of Gap alongside the Serree Poncon Lake where the Embrunman Ironman Triathlon is held. These cyclists though would included swimming or running (we hope) in their disciplines today, or any other sport even though they will be passing a ski station.

There are two third category climbs either side of the sprint at Villar St Pancrace. Yesterday was the first time in the race that the peleton didn't race for the sprint points, as there was only two on offer due to the size of the breakaway. Look for that again a small break might well mean that once again Mark Cavendish, Jose Joaquin Rocas and Philippe Gilbert go head to head. It will the only chance that they will today.

The second of those third category climbs leads us to Briançon at 1,326m the highest City in the EU. But it is also the start of the first second category climb of the day up the Col de Montgenèvre. 7.9km to climb to 1,806m at an average gradient of 6.1%. On the downhill section we enter Italy on the way to Sestriere. 11.1km at 6.3% is hardly the hardest climb of the next three days However, in 1999 Sestríere was the stage of a mountaintop that Lance Armstrong destroyed the field to help make his first Tour de France win. On his second day in yellow in yellow on stage nine he put down a marker that he was going to attack in the Mountains and nobody could keep up. Maybe finally one of the leaders in this year's race can do the same

Armstrong's lead of 7'37" that year would current include almost the entire top 10 this year:
  1. Thomas Voeckler EUR 69hr 00' 56"
  2. Cadel Evans BMC +1'45"
  3. Fränk Schleck LEO  +1'49"
  4. Andy Schelck LEO +3'03"
  5. Samuel Sanchez EUS +3'26"
  6. Alberto Contador SAX +3'42
  7. Ivan Basso LIQ +3'49"
  8. Damiano Cunego LAM +4'01"
  9. Tom Danielson GRM +6'04"
  10. Rigoberto Uran SKY +7'55"
Of course once these ten get to Sestriere they have to go downhill from the 2,035m summit without the aid of skis. The main road from there for Pinerolo the finish is all downhill. But that wouldn't fit the modus operandi of this year's Tour. The is a little kick up the Prà Martino a regular feature on the Giro d'Italia, it is only a 6.7km climb at 6% but there is only 7 km downhill after that summit until the end of the stage. It means that the climb is shorter than the Col de Manse yesterday but it is steeper and comes at the end of a harder day. So maybe Alberto Contador will try again to get even more time back on the Schlecks. He may even start to attack on Sestriere after Andy's moans about descending yesterday. With a long descent then straight up the Prà Martino Contador could gain back some serious time. I expect though that Cadel Evans will be able to mark every move of the Spaniard again today. It may well set up a race between those two for the rest of the Alpine stages.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Parliamentary Phantom Flan Flinger

Today was meant to be about the questions asked to Andrew Stapleton, the James & Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks. Now due to one numpty it will be remembered for one custard pie and Wendi Deng, Rupert's wife's left hook.

All fingers are pointing towards Jonnie Marbles who on his Tweeted profile has a UK Uncut Twibbon. He said earlier in the afternoon "I'm actually in this committee and can confirm: Murdoch is Mr. Burns." before just a minute before the disruption Tweeted this.

As someone who says they are an "Activist, comedian, father figure and all-round nonsense." who Tweets "in an impersonal capacity" However, comedian's who are activists should look at people like Eddie Izzard, Lenny Henry and Steve Coogan amongst others for the correct mix of being serious and funny to get their points across. This timing and way in which he tried to use humour has actually buried what should be the story tonight and tomorrow and changed the focus.

The action that he has actually carried out had turned Rupert Murdoch into a victim in the space of 60 seconds from being someone that on Twitter was being mocked, just minutes before. Also it is a common assault on an individual, it happened in full view of a largest than normal BBC News audience that time of the afternoon.

It's also result in the end of the Murdoch's questioning and all of Rebekah Brooks to be carried out without a public gallery. It has already been hinted at that a review may have to go underway into how Select Committees happen in the future. I assume that involves the access of members of the public to such hearings.

#TDF Stage 16 that Tour de France Cyclo-cross descent again

Stage 16 is really going to be about the Green Jersey. There aren't enough points on offer to affect the King of the Mountains, the hills aren't big enough to make the main contenders go for it so all eyes will be focused on Mark Cavendish, Jose Joaquin Rojas and Philippe Gilbert.

The first time we will focus on the three of them is at Veynes with 45 km to go. This is where today's sprint occurs. While it is uphill we know that Cav can and will put in the effort on uphill sprints and can pull it off. On Sunday's intermediate sprint it was only the three Green Jersey contestants that showed an interest and finished in the order they were in that competition. I fully expect the same three to be contested the bunches arrival at this point again today.

Then as we get close to taday's finish town Gap we head out on a final loop. Sadly for cav it is up the Category 2 Col de Manse before heading back to Gap. Many people are writing off Mark Cavendishes chances on the stage. While there is a hill in the way and it does come at the point tha the race will be flat out it is only a category 2 and comes after the rest day. I'm not sure how HTC and Cav will do, but I think if he feels good enough he might well be able to get over close enough to the front to still be in it. It will up to Omega Pharma-Lotto to set the pace to bring the race together today an to try and test Cavendish. If they don't shake him there is 11km of descent before the Manx Missile might just get launched.

Of course Gilbert has himslef attacked on a descent before. On stage 13 he raced ahead on the descent of the Col d'Aubisque in the end for only 6 points. So that might be his tactic again today. Which is why it depends where they manage to shake off Cavendish. Cavendish himself can descend, he has to to not lose too much time on the Mountain stages. So if he hasn't been shaken, it may well become a battle on the descent. I'm not sure if it will come to that, but on fresher legs it might just be possible. However, I do expect Gilbert to make some inroads into Cav's lead in the Green Jersey today, I'm not sure that he will be contention at the top of the Col de Manse.

Thing is that descent down into Gap has become part of Tour folklore when Lance Armstrong in Yellow took a cyclo-cross approach to near disaster back in 2003. Anything is possible and the weather forecast this time instead of it being dry is for rain.

Sunday 17 July 2011

An Open for Norn Iron?

"I would love to see a British Open round here one day. Royal Portrush is a far better course than Troon. This is one of the real great Open courses."
Gary Player 
The 2010 US Open Champion hales from Royal Portrush, the 2011 US Open Champion is the course record holder at 61 of Royal Portrush, on the morning that he won the 2011 Open the Champion's sons were playing on their local course Royal Portrush.
Yes, all three of the Northern Irish Golfers who have now won three of the last six golf majors* have some connection to the only course outside Great Britain to have hosted the Open Championship. That was in 1951, four years after the last Northern Irish winner of the Open Fred Daly.

Yes, all three of the Northern Irish Golfers who have now won three of the last six golf majors* have some connection to the only course outside Great Britain to have hosted the Open Championship. That was in 1951, four years after the last Northern Irish winner of the Open Fred Daly.

Admittedly the next three open courses are known:

  • 2012 Royal Lytham and St. Annes
  • 2013 Murifield
  • 2014 Royal Liverpool, Hoylake
So there is room in four years time to replicate that honour.

The course has on six occasions held the Senior British Open, which is when Gary Player made his comment above. Before we had yet another Northern Irish winned today, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said:

"Obviously there's much emotion about Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy's victories and why don't we go back to Northern Ireland and perhaps Portrush in particular, and I understand that.
“You can't, however, base where you hold The Open on where players come from. I think that should be obvious to anyone. Portrush is a terrific golf course and may well be strong enough for an Open, but as we all know, there are other issues of infrastructure, accommodation, roads, what would the commercial success or otherwise of the championship be, that need consideration.
"We are not ruling it out by any stretch of the imagination, but it would have to meet all those criteria, and I don't think it's something that's going to be in any way imminent, but it's certainly something we'll have a look at again in view of the success of the golfers from that part of the world."

Now I agree that we shouldn't be basing where we place a Tournament solely on where the best golfers come from. I also agree that there is a lot of work needed to build up infrastructure near Portrush or any other links course to make it viable. But in 140 Opens we have only had one open in Northern Ireland, surely it is time to ensure that another one comes this way. By far one of the most challenging courses Royal Portrush though a short course at 6845 plays long and difficult. Having watched a number of those Seniors Opens.

There are a number of high quality hotels now in Northern Ireland, admittedly not many near the course at Portrush. The road up to Portrush from the Airports at Belfast or London/Derry have room for improvement as well. So yes there is work to be done. But we need to build on, as Rory McIlroy tweeted us becoming the Golfing capital of the world, we need to attract a European Tour event here on a regular basis, possibly at Royal Belfast or some other course. But we also need to work towards getting an Open over here, that is most likely to happen at Royal Portrush, so we need to work with people who want to bring the Championships over here, often enough to get us unto the cycle of venues.

If we can we should do what we can to get golf raised here in Northern Ireland by attracting these sort of tournaments.

* Indeed now three of the last five open have been won by golfers from this Island when you count in Padraig Harrington's wins in 2007-08.

#TDF Stage 15 Last Sprint til Paris

After three days in the Pyrenées today we are on the flat. So the General Classification leaders will be taking a breathe after not doing very much apart from mark each other in the southern mountains. But the guys who have been at the back the last three days will be itching to get to Montpellier ans see what they have left in the tank.

Currently the standings in the Green Jersey are:

  1. Mark Cavendish 264
  2. Jose Joaquin Rocas 251
  3. Philippe Gilbert 240
  4. Thor Hushovd 192
  5. André Greipel 164
The Sprint comes 46.5km from the end of today's stage. So there will be a fight as even over as many points as the breakaway allows. As I slept in and amy only getting around to  writing this now that looks likes 10 points for 6th. Then we can expect the sprinters teams to bring it under control for a traditional sprinters finish on the boulevards of Montpellier.

So with 55 points on offer who is going to take them?

As always it looks hard to see past Mark Cavendish. Even though Rojas took a point off him on the sprint on Friday he's not getting the lead out that allows him to take on Cav consistently and is often following the Manx Missile. Plus Cav was angry as much with himself for not taking maximum points in that sprint. I fully expect Cavendish to be on 331 points by the end of today. He'll then be ready for a threepeat on the Champs-Élysées (I expect in the Green) to take out that competition.

The way Cav responded to getting it on Wednesday (pictured) I think he intends to keep it on his back the rest of the way in this race. It will be hard to prize it off his back through racing I think.

Saturday 16 July 2011

#TDF Stage 14 Saint Gaudens to Plateau de Beille

It is a fifth trip to the ski station finish at Plateau de Beille, and while this ski station is the centre of cross country skiing in France if is anything but an easy climb for the peleton. Whoever takes the stage win today is most liely going to be a contender.

Today's sprint come on the descent of the 2nd category Col de Portet-d'Aspet. Whether any of the green point contenders apart from Philippe Gilbert will be there to contest for points is going to decide this one. Thy might just hang on, but more than likely they will drop off.

The final Hors Catégorie climb to the ski station comes after the first category climbs up Col de la Core and Col d'Agnes and the second caregory climbs of the Col de Portet d'Aspet and Col de Latrapee

Looking at the names of the previous winners here Marco Pantani (1998), Lance Armstong (2002 and 2004) and Alberto Contador (2007) shows how tough this climb is. Indeed on each of those occasions the winner here went on to win the Tour. Of course in 2004 when Lance Armstrong won here there was a certain French man in yellow, who hung on against the odds to keep it for one more day. Lance may be gone, but he is back and once more in the Maillot Jaune. Thomas Voeckler did a stirling job on Wednesday to defend his lead, but he'll have to do it all over again today.

Only in the final 2 kilometres of the 15.8km climb up 1255m does the gradient fall below 7% but there are three sections where the average is above 9%. The maximum gradient on the climb is 10.8%. This is the sort of point that one of the classification leaders might try their luck over the others. The second such section may well be used to thin down the field with the second potentially the one to make a break in this last of the Pyrénées stages.

Will we see the Schlecks carry on with their one-two counter punching? Will we see Alberto Contador left again and losing even more times, or will he launch an attack to get back some of the time he needs? As for Samuel Sanchez who won on Wednesday. If he attacks again he may well be able to get some more of the time back. He is still over 2 minutes down on Fränk Schleck.

Here is that final ascent.