Sadly I also need a job for the other 49 weeks of the year when the Tour isn't on ITV4 and with the Condor Road Club as the only gig on offer this week I'm going to have to do the best I can to give you a round-up of this minor local club ride without mixing anyone up with the real stars of the road. Now, over to Ned Boulting for a colourful piece to camera in the start village …
Thanks Gary, the start this week is actually one of the largest towns in the Calder valley and according to my extensive research has the largest number of privately owned shops in the UK with ne'r a chain store in sight. The riders have already been to sign on and are massing at the start near the main traffic lights in the High Street. One of the team vehicles must have been left out in the rain overnight because the official Team Condor bus now looks more like a red mini – and is that Bjarne "the Vicar" Riis at the wheel?
The first part of this stage is a steady 4th category climb out of Hebden and down the valley to Todmorden. Turning right, the riders will face a slight headwind up the 3rd cat Col du Cliviger but we're expecting the bunch to still be together at this point without any major attacks by the big names. Phil Ligget has been called away to lend his name, if not his physical presence, to the “Phil & Mates” cyclo-sportif in the lovely Peak district. We join commentary now with Paul Sherwen and an empty chair. But first an ad break …
Unfortunately our cameras have just missed the vital moment's of today's stage while lingering on a field of cows artfully arranging themselves as a bicycle complete with a "moo"-ving chainset. Still, we can now fill a few minutes telling you about the sheltered micro-climate in Slaidburn. Sitting outside next to the main road watching the ducks mow the grass on the river bank opposite the Riverside cafe, with some of the best bacon & sandwiches within a day's ride of home, is one most delightful ways we know of passing a few minutes off the bike.
Already we have news of one surprise early retirement as Robin “Big George” Holt has had to abandon because he was “due home early for lunch” which is something you hear all too often these days even from the most talented professional riders.
The time gaps are now available and, after having to chase back to the peleton after chatting for too long at the feed station, Steve Legstrong has attacked the bunch and taken Johhny Shleck and Andreas Burnham along on his wheel.
The chasing group at 4' is being led by Team Caty with Nigel Cancellara on the front doing most of the work and Bradley “Wiggo” Robinson in support.
With the temperatures reaching highs of 14 or 15 degrees and a gentle tailwind of perhaps 10 mph it could be all the way to Long Preston before we see the catch. As we predicted, I think the breakaway have realised that the escape is futile and have sat up to wait for the bunch just before the turn onto Flat Lane as the riders now swing south on their homeward leg. The bunch have stayed together through Bank Newton and are riding a steady tempo up the 4th cat Col du Gargrave. However, it is important for all these big names to stay in the top 4 or 5 places as anything might happen to cause a split in the bunch.
In what is nearly a team time trial formation the short stretch of the A59 before Carleton rattles by at a steady 25mph. Wiggo Robinson is on the front – sitting high on his bike with that distinctive white-legged riding style and amusing hairstyle and dreaming that maybe, one day, he could really ride under the hour. Through Connonley and the efforts are now starting to tell on the riders as they attack the steep climb to Cross Hills. Johnny Shleck has been working hard on his nutrition and looks to be going well still, even though the stage today is well over 50 miles. Lance Barker tries to respond but that ageing body has given too much already and he can't match the explosive effort of the younger man. Richard Kloden keeps up well initially but then fades at the top, allowing the slow diesel engine of the big-nosed Wiggo to catch and pass just before the crest. Sadly Fabian Hartley is a demon descender but no angel delight going uphill and looses time significantly on this climb to ruin his chances of being in yellow tonight.
Now there is just one final climb – the feared Hors category Col du Ingrow. The bunch have slowed almost to a standstill on the lower slopes through the lovely alpine town of Keighley as everyone tries to avoid doing the pacemaking, until the patron du peleton and chef de gormet comes to the fore to show how it is done. Then Wiggo takes over and rides tempo up the climb as an act of self-preservation more than anything, only to find that at the Crossroads that the damage has been done and Kloden has cracked again. The front riders think about waiting here and “just potter on” for a bit – allowing Kloden to battle back up to the pack. Unfortunately, there is a tussle for control at the front as the sprinter's teams all move up – it seems like the peleton has just doubled in size as two groups merge and can't help but race each other. However, the sprint is short-lived and a blistering attack at the bottom of Col du Coq Hill sees the bunch split as two or three riders go clear to turn left on the old road and the rest battle it out towards Pecket and Hebden.
Finally, before we preview next Wednesday's exciting mountain stage over the Col du Milnrow, there is just time for our competition and your chance to win an 18 speed!! Boardman road bike...