July 10, 2007
       
 

By Graham Jones and Barry Boyce
CyclingRevealed Historians

 

 

 

Tour de France Champions Living and Dead

 

 

 

 

 

CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '07

Stage 3 - July 10th, Waregem (Belgium) to Compiègne, 236.5 km

Roses of Picardie

Compiègne is a modest town located on the Oise River north of Paris in the region of Picardie. Local history can be traced back over 1000 years but two dates above all others have made the town eternally famous. On November 11th, 1918 an Armistice was signed with a defeated Germany in a railway carriage in the forest outside of the town. Twenty two years later on June 20th, 1940 a spiteful and vengeful Hitler had the same rail carriage moved back to exactly the same clearing to have the defeated French sign an armistice with Nazi Germany.


Compiègne, November 11th, 1918

Compiegne, June 20th, 1940

Northern France and Belgium have suffered much from the two world wars and music from those eras still resonates through our collective consciousness. Written in 1916 “ The Roses of Picardy ” is one of those pieces that evoke images of the great sadness of war. The song itself is the sad refrain about an English army officer in love with the widow of a French soldier.

Roses are shining in Picardy.
In the Hush of the silver dew,
Roses are flow'ring in Picardy,
But there's never a rose like you!
And the roses will die with the summertime,
And our roads may be far apart,
But there's one rose that dies Not in Picardy!
'Tis the rose that I keep In my heart!

Two versions of the Roses of Picardy are available here: the first ( click here, MP3 format 905kb ) was performed by Ernest Pike in 1917; the second ( click here, MP3 format 406kb ) was rendered by John McCormack in 1919. [ Audio courtecy of: www.firstworldwar.com ]

Today Compiègne is best known, especially to cycling fans, as the start point of the Paris-Roubaix classic. Mercifully for the riders the stage today avoids the famous Paris-Roubaix cobbles as it follows a route very similar to the spring classic (but in the opposite direction). Waregem, today's start town, lies over the border in Belgium not far north of Roubaix . Forty six kilometers into the stage the race enters France and from this point on the Tour stays in its homeland apart from a short loop into Spain during Stage 16.

So far the battle for GC has been lying dormant while the sprinters take center stage. This is very typical for the first week of the Tour and from now until Friday we can expect sprinters or a successful small break to capture each day's headlines. The GC battle will begin in earnest on Saturday when Stage 7 heads up the Cat 1 Col de la Colombière shortly before the finish in Le Grand-Bornand.

For some of the riders involved in yesterday's massive pile up with 2km to go, today is going to be especially painful. At 236km it is the longest stage of the Tour and such a ride is no way to try and recuperate from painful wounds. But this is the world's premier race and every rider knows what they are coming to. They should be thankful that they were not around for the early Tours when 350km plus stages were routine!

With just 5kms covered Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel) and Mathieu Ladagnous (Française des Jeux) slipped away from the peloton on a long, lonely ride across Picardie as the peloton, totally unconcerned, allowed the gap to stretch out to nearly 15 minutes at one point.

Under such stress free conditions it is nice to see time honored traditions originating from the early days of the Tour still being respected. Shortly before the feed zone at Landrecies (109kms) Laurent Lefevre “attacked” but most riders knew that he was entering his home town. Lefevre stopped and was quickly mobbed by family, friends and fans as the peloton grabbed their food musettes and concentrated on the serious job of ‘pigging out'. Eventually Lefevre managed to extricate himself from the local ‘love fest' and had no trouble getting back with the race.

One effect of all this lethargy was that the stage was looking to be a record breaker as the slowest in modern Tour history! After 4 ½ hours of racing the average speed was only a fraction over 20mph (and 57 minutes behind the slowest estimated schedule). The average Saturday club ride normally goes faster than that.

But not everyone was sleeping when with 60kms to go Stéphane Augé (Cofidis) was able to ride easily away from the front of the peloton with Frederick Willems of Liquigas. This was a sly move as the only categorized climb of the day (Cat 4 Côte de Blérancourt) lay 25kms up the road and if Augé succeeded in claiming the mountain points then he would relieve David Millar of his Polka Dot Jersey.

While Millar and his team decided to refrain from chasing, the bunch as a whole had other thoughts as Augé and Willems quickly closed down the 3m 30s gap to the two leaders. With four riders now up front it was feasible that they could preserve their lead over the remaining 52kms. News of the action up front quickly ricocheted through the peloton and suddenly the cub ride was over.

Augé secured his KOM objective by taking maximum climbing points over the Côte de Blérancourt. Now the leaders decided that they had a chance at stealing the stage and went about the task of burying themselves in a maximum effort. Behind them the peloton exploded into a furious chase as the speed shot up to the 30mph plus range. Right up until they entered town it looked as though the leaders would out-fox the peloton.


Le Grand Depart of Paris-Roubaix is inside the final kilometer of stage 3 [ Image ©: CyclingRevealed.com ]

But CSC knew that Augé could lift the Yellow Jersey from Cancellara. Inside the final kilometer the leaders still had close to 20 seconds when Cancellara suddenly launched himself off the front of the bunch which itself was doing about 33mph at this point. He caught the four leaders and as he got past them the big sprinters followed suit. With Erik Zabel grimacing on his back wheel, Cancellara took one of the most exciting finishes in many years. It was an incredible feat of sheer power, speed and bravery. He not only retained his Yellow Jersey but the stage win also added a 20 second time bonus to his GC lead.


Race lead Fabian Cancellara surprised the sprinter!!! [ Image ©: www.gazzetta.it ]

Apart from the crazy hustle into Compiègne the riders had plenty of time today and perhaps some of them were quietly humming the tune from Roses of Picardie to themselves!

 

 

 

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