The Tour de France, for those of you who have just returned from extended spelunking expeditions, is dominating the cycling world as it does every July for three weeks. Here are some thoughts as the first week has passed, the final week is looming and Saturday's stage should be significant.
The Good - A number of riders and teams deserve credit for being good, or maybe even great. First up - Thor Hushvold. Hard to ignore Thor Hushvold holding the Yellow Jersey for a number of days after Garmin-Cervelo won the TTT. Speaking of which, Garmin-Cervelo has been pretty damn good - wins by Farrar and Hushvold, the TTT and the resurrection of Tommy Danielson.
Also good, the one-two punch of the Schlecks. I am convinced that Frank has better form this year, but whichever brother is going ultimately come out on top, they are riding really well. They still can't time trial their way out of a paper bag, but going up hill - damn good at that.
If you are looking for both good at going uphill and good at the time trial? Cadel Evans. I am sticking with my earlier prediction that the Schlecks and Evans are going to share the podium. I only have one complaint with this concept - every time Evans shows up on the screen, one of my sons makes a comment about Evans' butt-chin. I admit it is distracting, as is the Jimminy Cricket voice, but you gotta give the guy credit. Don't know whether he will win, place or show, but I will be very, very surprised if he isn't on the podium.
Phillipe Gilbert is also good (okay, maybe great). David Miller says that Gilbert is in the group of riders who are able to shine now that the peleton is mostly clean. I was really happy to read that because I think that Miller wouldn't say it unless he really thought it was true and I think that is great.
Liam McHugh - Sure, I wanted to start a "Bring back Kirsten Gum" movement, but that was in reaction to Al Troutface and Craig "Furry Speedo" Hummer. Didn't like either of them and still don't. So, I was suspicious when a new blondie showed up on Versus. They showed no signs of learning in their years of coverage, so I had very low expectations. And guess what? He is good. He is funny, reasonably knowledgeable and appropriately but not overly deferential. He really does show a good sense of humor and I was seriously impressed on the first day when the Cadillac Performance Predictions started and he said that he wasn't participating because no one cared what he thought. Yes, he was right, but it showed some class and no matter what happens from here, it is much better than listening to Craig Hummer drone on about anything.
The Bad - Crashes. Crashes. Crashes. And then some more crashes. A bunch of teams without their team leaders, a bunch of serious injuries including a shocking number of concussions and we, the racing public, are robbed of a bunch of serious protagonists who should be battling away against the Schlecks, Evans and Contador.
Speaking of Contador, he is also looking bad. I acknowledge that he might still turn it around and have some of those amazing accelerations and dance away for a stage or two, but with the deficits he has today, he is going to have a very, very difficult time getting onto the podium. In fact, I will boldly predict that he won't finish out the race. I think the crashes and the quietly reported saddle sore will eventually drive him from the race. Only Bjarne Riis' insistence will change that trajectory. On another note, there is a great essay in Rouleur this month about bad luck and crashes, with the premise being that bad luck happens when riders are "under pressure". Sure there are unavoidable pile-ups, but being under pressure is what puts you in a bad place in the group, puts you in out of position and generally puts you in a spot where crashes and bad luck increase. I think Contador is under pressure from a lot of directions and it is coming through in his crashes and the absence of that annoying bouncing on his pedals.
The Ugly - Thomas Voeckler. He just has an ugly mug that I can't stand to see on the screen. I don't hate him as much as Richard Virenque, but it's close. I just want him to go away.
Also ugly, the TV France car careening into Juan Antonio Fleche and Johnny Hoogerland. Thousands of words has been spilled on this, so I won't go into it, but it defines the difference between the bad and the ugly.
And lastly, for ugly - Radio Shack. I am not a fan of the win-at-any-cost Bruyneel, but I do feel sorry for the guy. I also feel sorry for Jani Brajkovich, Andreas Kloden and OMG Chris Horner. Levi fits in their also, since his top ten chances are gone too. How do you start with four potential podium finishers and 10 days in end up with three out of the race and one several minutes behind. Very ugly and sad for 40 year old Horner who was ready to have by far his best Tour, no matter what the outcome.
What's next? I gotta go to bed so I can get up early and start watching coverage of Saturday's race. I'm really looking forward to it. How about you?