|Kolobnev - doper
The 30-year-old Russian voluntarily suspended himself from competition pending the investigation and has been fired by Katusha - which has made a rule stating that any rider who presents a B sample which also proves to be positive will be sacked, so it would appear that such a sample has indeed be provided. He now has four days during which he can mount an appeal, but of that appeal fails and/or the sample again tests positive he will also be fined "five times his salary" according to team rules. At the time of writing, he claims to have no idea how the drug got into the samples provided.
This is depressing because, throughout the world, this is going to be the first Tour news to reach the ears of millions of non-cyclists, many of whom would have remained unaware that the race was even on, thus reinforcing their belief that "all cyclists are on drugs." Few, if any, outside cycling will view it for what it really is - proof that cycling is working hard to eliminate doping and that any professional who does resort to trying to get an unfair advantage over his colleagues will be caught and punished. Every cheat detected should be viewed as a step forward, proof that cycling is working hard to eliminate doping, but in the media it is used to further blacken the sport's reputation.
That it has been inhabited since ancient times was made evident in 1977 when a Celtic-Roman temple was discovered in the town. By 885 CE is was the site of a Benedicitine monastery, later home to a monk named Gerbert who became Pope Sylvester II in 999 (when he would have been 54 years old - with average life expectancy being considerably shorter, they probably didn't have much choice among octogenarians like they do today). Overlooking the town is the Chateau Saint Etienne, a real castle built with the intention of resisting armed attacks rather than a gateau chateau built to impress rich friends from Paris and all the more imposing for it, begun by the father of Saint Gerald who established the monastery and thus dating (in parts) to about 1,126 years old. Part of the chateau houses a museum of vulcanology and exhibition of mineral deposits collected in the region which is unmissable if - like me - you're a bit of a geology geek and find that sort of thing interesting.
Things start off downhill but we'll only have seen 8km of racing before the parcours takes a kick upwards, rising a hundred metres or so over the next 5km. 8km is more than enough time for a breakaway to form and begin establishing a worthwhile lead, which we fully expect to be the case again during this stage: the intermediate sprint comes early today, starting at the 37.5km point, and it ought to be a fairly simple process for a gang of fast domestiques to build a gap and get the top points while the GC bosses stay in the peloton and and conserve their energy for the final sprint to the finish line. Having said that, if a lead group doesn't form or is caught on the big descent through Rouziers, Quézac and Saint-Etienne-de-Maurs, they're going to find themselves trying to wrestle points away from the Manx Missile. Good luck with that one, lads!
Following another 7km, we come to Bagnac-sur-Cele where the peloton joins the N122, a fast road passing through forested rolling country and which is almost straight but for some wiggles as it passes a large open-cast mine. The road is wide and well-surfaced, making this about as non-technical as the Tour de France gets and, if we're honest, about as boring too. Luckily for those of us who are watching rather than competing, this section includes the town of Figeac which has a number of interesting features that the helicopters can wander off and have a look at including an enormous reproduction of the Rosetta Stone, L'église Notre-Dame-du-Puy, a pair of mysterious stone obelisks which have never been dated (they look medieval and may have been waymarkers for pilgrims on their way to Saint Jacques de Compostela in Spain) and a nu,ber of medieval houses including one that belonged to the Knights Templar.
Just to the south of Figeac is the first Category 3 climb up to 350m on the D822 road as it crosses the Côte de Figeac. The road here is top quality, so the ascent should be a simple enough matter and the descent very fast indeed - 90kpmh+ is very likely as riders try to get ahead to the next climb, a Cat 4 to 326m at Côte de Loupiac. On the way, we enter the department of Aveyron- the ancient inhabitants of which had a special enthusiasm for dolmens, building over a thousand in the area. Villeneuve, less than 2km further on and the site of the feeding station, has a town hall which is the most stupendously French-looking building imaginable and some very fine medieval architecture including la Porte-Haute and la Tour-Porte Cardalhac - the former was used as a prison, the latter, as suggested by the name (la Tour-Porte = the tower-gate) was one of the entrances through the city walls when it was fortified.
|La Tour-Haute and la Tour-Porte Cardalhac. What a lot of towers in this preview - if any Freudians would like to provide an explanation, please write your thoughts on a stamped, addressed envelope and throw it in the bin.
5km further on and we reach the third and biggest climb of the day, which is 4.1km to 512m - translating to a gradient of 5.9% average. There's no let-up once the riders are at the top, though, because after a very short descent they're heading back upwards again; this time to Rieupeyroux at 751m above sea level, the highest point of this stage. There's some reasonably technical twisty bends on the way out of the town, but nothing that should cause any problems, then it's south via a tiny village named La Palousie to La Salvetat-Peyralès which stands among deep, forested valleys which are largely uninhabited.
At around this point, the parcours enters the department of Tarn and a few kilometres later arrives at the base of the day's last climb, Cat 4 Côte de Mirandol-Bourgnounac - the highest point is at Le Bes which is really a collection of large houses separated by fields rather than a village. They all have enormous gardens and, in quite a few cases, swimming pools; so it seems that this is a place for the rich. Next, we travel south through a relatively flat area characterised by large fields to Almayrac and through a forested valley with a small river flowing through it which then enters a lake created by a dam (44° 4'53.09"N 2° 9'0.98"E).
|Statue of Jean Jaurès in Carmaux.
Those years of prosperity left it with many grand buildings, however, along with some beautiful parks and an impressive collection of statues amng them two of Jean Jaurès, a socialist politician who defended Alfred Dreyfus during the "Dreyfus Affair" which, incidentally, led to the birth of the L'Auto newspaper which was originally a bit of a financial failure until it organised a bike race known as the Tour de France in 1903 to increase exposure.
Things are finally on the up again in Carmaux with an economic recovery of full swing - it's also acting as a stage town for the very first time, so expect the civic pride of the Carmausins to result in a festival atmosphere as the stage comes to an end.
Predictions: With a downhill sprint to the end, this could be just about anyone's - especially if a strong breakaway builds up a decebt gao and manages to keep it going. But Mark Cavendish has an ability to pump his legs faster than anyone else: that makes him lightning-quick in a sprint, but it also means that he can keep applying power when others just can't pedal enough to keep up with the RPM - and with one more day before the high mountains, he has limited chances to do what he does so well now. The final kilometres are technical with several tight bends to break up the pack - provided the HTC train can form (and they'll have practiced for this one) it seems likely we'll be in for another Missile launch, and not many finish lines can resist that.
Weather: After days of rain, things are starting to look up - we're not too far from the Mediterranean now, and the sun has come out. That'll drive up temperatures too, with 26 degrees C forecast for Aurillac later on. However, at the time of writing, it's apparently hailing heavily at the start line and spectators are trying to find shelter. Quézac looks set to be OK, though there's a 15% chance of light showers, as does Aveyrac and Villefranche-de-Rouergue. Things may change for the worse in Mirandol-Bourgnounac, meanwhile, where rain is predicted for this afternoon. Very light rain is also forecast for Carmaux later on in the day. The wind will come from the south-east, thus creating crosswinds, but at 10kmph shouldn't cause any problems.