Tour start villages are always a slap-up breakfast of quotes, info and rumour, and this year's Grande Boucle is apparently no different. Here are a few amuse bouches from my morning rounds on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday ...
Most reports from yesterday's third stage to Nantes suggested that Denis Menchov and Riccardo Riccò had been caught out by Litu Gomez's crash 23km from the finish, but it seems that explanation flattered the Rabobank and Saunier Duval riders. Conversations with various directeur sportifs last night and this morning confirmed that a shift in the wind direction, some quick thinking and serious wattage from Quick Step were in fact Menchov and Riccò's undoing. So fast was the pace set by the Belgian team that the Schleck brothers were apparently among the riders fighting to stay with the first group. And if CSC perhaps weren't capable of pulling, we can't help wondering why Silence-Lotto and Caisse D'Epargne, in particular, weren't more willing.
Denis Menchov wasn't keeping an eye on the wind
Rod Ellingworth, British Cycling's Under 23 coach, was in Cholet on Wednesday to drop in on his old protégé Mark Cavendish. Among the reasons for his visit, said Ellingworth, was to discuss Cavendish's future objectives with the "Cannonball's" Columbia team bosses.
"Mark doesn't want to be just a sprinter, and I agree that he can be much more than that," Ellingworth told me. "We're just trying to work out where he goes from here. Obviously a logical next step would be the points jersey in a major tour. But there's plenty beyond that. Could he, for example, one day go well in Paris-Roubaix? We just don't know. I certainly believe that he can win Ghent-Wevelgem."
Ellingworth preferred not to speculate about where Cavendish will pursue his goals if, as is widely expected, a major British pro team comes into being in 2010. Before the Tour kicked off in Brest, the man who currently writes the Manxman's pay checks, Bob Stapleton, hinted that he would fight hard to keep his prize asset. "I don't think that it's a foregone conclusion at all that Mark would leave us," said Stapleton. "He loves it on our team, and I think he'd want to be absolutely sure that he could get the same elsewhere before he decided to move."
In the shorter term, Ellingworth suggested this morning that anyone who predicted that Cavendish will leave this Tour early may have been mistaken. "I want him to finish it, and he does too," Ellingworth stressed. "He'll gain a lot from that in terms of experience and also form ahead of the Olympics. Am I worried about the effect that three weeks on the road will have on his track form ahead of the Olympics? No, Mark's so good anyway - his speed, his cadence, his ability to ride the track - that it all comes automatically to him."
Cavendish, remember, is set to team up with Bradley Wiggins in the Olympic Madison on 19 August.
Reports that appeared in the press yesterday suggesting that Filippo Pozzato could be bound for CSC are apparently the product of someone's overactive imagination, or perhaps poor ventilation in the press room. "There's no way he'll join us. There's no truth to it. You guys in the press room should open the windows and get some air sometimes," said a CSC source this morning.
We'll get those fans switched on.
Riccardo Riccò claimed on Monday that he's not targeting the Tour's general classification, and it's probably a good job judging by his tenuous grasp of French geography. "I know that I'll lose plenty of time in the Cholet time trial," he said, "but what counts for me is the Thursday's stage in the Pyrenees."
Er, just one problem, Ricky - Thursday's stage finishes in Super-Besse, in the Massif Central, not the Pyrenees. Maybe if he asks nicely, the chaps at Garmin can sort him out.
Cofidis manager Eric Boyer has been getting his knickers in a twist about the Belgian media and the pressure they're supposedly putting on Maxime Monfort. Boyer confronted two colleagues from La Dernière Heure in Brest on Saturday to demand that they stop foisting unrealistic expectations upon Monfort. Just one hitch - they hadn't been foisting anything upon the young Belgian, except reports which faithfully quoted him outlining his own modest ambitions i.e. a finishing position on the fringes of the top ten in Paris.
"Everyone should know their place and know their profession," wrote one of the journalists in question, Philippe Van Holle, before adding. "Our relationship with Maxime Monfort is excellent - which isn't necessarily the case with the rider and his manager."
Touché, Eric Boyer.