Monday, July 11, 2011

Tour de France Rest Day Re-cap

My last couple of posts have been about the Tour and I am going to indulge myself by adding a few more comments.  Before doing so, I should take a moment to recognize that there are lots of kinds of cyclists, many of whom don't care anything about the Tour.  Last week I was in and out of Steve's On Cannon Street a number of times and observed at least 10 distinct different species of riders, at least 7 of which would think of musicians or shows on tour ahead of a french cycling race being the "Tour".  Nonetheless, it is my prerogative as the guy who owns the keyboard to comment upon whatever I feel like, so non-Tour fans, please avert your eyes.

Day 1 - Interesting and apparently non-TV related to have the race start on, but not race on, the Passage du Gois.  I guess they thought they were making it safer.  A week later you wonder why they didn't just start out with a demolition derby, mad max thunderdome style cage fight with half the field eliminated on day one.  We would have gotten to the same point as we are now, but in a much more straightforward and logical way.

As for the actual race, Phillipe Gilbert continued his dream season.  David Miller is quoted in the the most recent Rouleur saying that Gilbert is the kind of athlete who has been allowed to shine in a "clean" environment instead of being swamped by doping riders.  Being Belgian, this is harder to believe, since they embody the take-no-prisoners, anything-to-win mentality, but I hope so.  Great start and tight gaps on GC except for Contador.  The confusion over crashes in and out of 3 km to the finish causes confusion for newer fans, but not very many people outside of Spain were unhappy to see Contador with a deficit.

Day 2 - Local boys do good.  Okay so Garmin-Cervelo isn't that local to us, but they are mostly Americans and Vaughters is trying to be the best feel good story of cycling world, so I thought their triumph in the TTT was marvelous.  I initially thought the course was too short and gaps insignificant, but credit where credit is due; the organizers did a great job with a course that created some gaps, but not so much that the lesser teams were completely out of it.  As it turns out, these gaps mean little compared to the various crash gaps.
It would have been nice to see what happened if HTC HighRoad hadn't lost Eisel 42 inches into the stage, but as they say, and we have had to say a lot this tour, "that's bike racing."

Day 3 - Garmin Cervelo strikes again.  The dream tour of Garmin Cervelo lasts another day with an actual local (yes, Wenatchee is local when we are talking about a french race), Tyler Farrar (Can someone tell me how to pronounce his last name? Phil Ligget pronounces is differently every time he says it. Actually, Phil pronounces every name differently every time he says it, which is part of his charm, right?) winning the stage.  I had discounted Tyler this year after the emotional difficulty of losing his training partner, but his form obviously came around.  Hushvold in Yellow, Tyler with his first stage win - it doesn't get any better, does it?  Turns out, no, it doesn't.

Day 4 - Little Cadel Evans does good.  Actually, anyone besting Contador deserves a soft spot in your heart, but Cadel is the little engine that could.  Or actually, for years he has been the stocky little engine that almost could.  This could be Cadel's year though, particularly if he isn't doing too much too soon in the race.  And, helpfully for him, the GC favorites have or will lose time and have or will all have crashes, injuries and head traumas all around him for here on out.  Also, we get to know Johnny Hoogerland's name for the first time.  Soon to be famous.

Day 5 - By day four of a three week race, many people (mostly idiots) were counting Cavendish out of the potential winner circle.  Seriously?  Whether you like his brash style (aka, run at the mouth style), much like Cippolini previously, you can't help but give him credit for riding the last 200 meters of a race faster than anyone around him.  Cav proved it on Day 5 and the haters had to shut-up for another year.  Sure, his speed will dessert him and then no one will put up with his mouth, but in the meantime, stand back and watch that dude wind it up.

In crash news, one of Radio Shack's four leaders is out.  Watch for this to continue.  Tom Bonnen, a fast guy who's legs have started to let him down (by the way, where does cocaine fit into a training schedule?), is also on the way out.  I hope Tornado Tom gets it together next year and transforms himself Jalabert-style into another type of winning rider.  And lastly, what is sure to be the most horrific vehicle/rider accident of the tour takes place when a motorcycle rips the bike out from under Niki Sorenson.  What, there is more to come on that front?

Day 6 - How can you not like a guy named Edvald Boassan Hagen?  I can't not like him and was glad to see this rouleur take the win ahead of another strong guy and Milan-San Remo winner Goss.  Hushvold in yellow, Eddie Hagen winning - what is it with these Norwegians?  There are only 3 famous Norse cyclists ever and two came up winners today.  Also, Johnny Hoogerland continues to attract attention.  He is getting good at it.

Day 7 - Not a banner day.  Cav does his thing and is on the way to being the winningest stage winner ever.  Hard to believe, but true.  On the other end of the glory stick, Wiggens (or Wiggo, as we anglophiles like to call him) is out.  Shit.  I didn't think he was a podium guy, but I wanted to see him try.  And, Radio Shack's four prong attack, already down to three prongs, loses one to two more prongs with more time delays for Leipheimer, but at least he knew he was still in the race.  It was tough to see Horner not knowing what happened to him and it is hard to believe that they let him finish the day that way because head injuries should be respected a bit more.  Horner, like Wiggins, was in the best shape of his career and deserved a shot a glory.  This is tough, but don't worry Radio Shack fans, it will keep getting worse, won't it?

Day 8 - Another local, this time born in Tacoma and raised in Montana, but with a distinctly non-American sounding name, Tejay Van Garderen, came out to show his potential.  A guy we will hopefully be talking about for years to come, he showed his 22 year old-ness, but also his big engine in a climber size frame.  He took the Mountain Jersey and reminded us that we should learn his name well, because he will be around for a few years.  Amazingly, Hushvold held on for yet another day when he was assured to lose the yellow jersey and Vinokurov fly the Kazak flag for the last time (although we didn't know it at that moment).  Cadel Evans continued to look good and somehow Contador managed to stay upright for a whole day.

Day 9 - This is one for the history books.  It is hard to focus much on the racing or the winner with all of the serious crashes.  The Garmin Cervelo dream turned into a nightmare.  Dave Zabriskie was leading the Garmin group back to the breakaway group when he "overcooked" a corner and led much of his team into a guard rail.  DZ broke a wrist, Miller, Vande Velde and Hesjadal all fell and lost GC time, the last standing Radio Shack leader got a serious but not tour-ending back injury, and most seriously Vinokurov broke his pelvis and femur in what was supposed to be his last tour anyway and may mean he never races at the Pro Tour level again, among several other significant injuries.  Contador had a minor crash but banged up his knee enough that all together he may be out of contention.  And these were not the worst images.  Certainly taking the prize for the most horrific pictures, a car driven by a french television crew veered into Fleche, which then sent Johnny Hoogerland into a barbed wire fence.  The fact that either was able to get up and get back on their bikes was nothing less than extraordinary.  Hoogerland had taken back the Climber's jersey and was in tears accepting it; which was right before having 30+ stitches from his barbed wire injuries.  It was a messy and ugly crash in a day of messy and ugly crashes.

Bike racing does involve bike crashing, but this year's Tour has been much harder on favorites than any I can think of as almost every GC contender has lost time, been on the ground or is watching the rest of the race on television.  Look for the Schlecks and Evans to try to dodge the bullets and maybe make up the podium together.

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