Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Tour No More
So that’s it for another year’s Tour de France, and for now, Carlos Sastre (CSC-Saxo Bank) appears to be the winner. But we’ve been burned before, so let’s not go crazy until Sastre shows up for all of his post-Tour crit contracts – because we all know what it means when you don’t turn up for those cash cows. In all seriousness, though, Sastre seems as likely as anyone to remain rooted in the list of winners once all the final tests are in, so we here at the Service Course will go out on a limb and extend our congratulations to him.
I have to admit, I would have never picked Sastre as a Tour winner, but I don’t think I’m alone in that. As several media outlets have pointed out, he’s always been considered the consummate fourth place man – the kind of guy outfits like Quick.Step hire when they want to be able to claim they’ve a man for the GC. But a winner? Nah. Shows what I know.
A lot of other people have been shown what they know too, after Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) failed to bring back even half the time he needed on Sastre in the final time trial to take his much-anticipated Tour win. I have to say, I think those who were crowing that the minute and a half lead that Sastre forged over Evans on L’Alpe D’Huez wasn’t nearly enough were mislead by the media’s Tour de France hype machine. In the absence of a true five-star contender like an Armstrong or an Ullrich, someone has to get the five stars, and that was Evans, at least for the Anglophone press. Faced with a rider who is, by his own confession, not very exciting in the mountains, the press chose to build up his pretty good time trialing to Indurain proportions, which objectively it has never approached. If you were sucked in by it, don’t feel bad – Evans seems to have bought into it himself, and it may have cost him a Tour win.
The handicapping of Sastre and Evans’ respective strengths was correct on the broad level – Evans is typically better than Sastre in the time trials. In hindsight, however, it’s easy to see where things got pretty distorted in the name of making the story. Sastre was the mountain man, the spindly climber, facing off against avowed time trialist Evans. It created a battle of styles, of strategy, and with it, suspense. Would the gap be enough? But if we’d all paid a little more attention to history, it would have shown that, just as Evans is no Indurain against the clock, Sastre is no Rasmussen. Which is to say that Sastre has never been as bad at the discipline as people may have made out, and with a yellow jersey in the balance, anything is possible. Along with making a caricature of both rider’s strengths and weaknesses, many of the final week speculations also failed to take into account another pretty evident truth – that Sastre was getting better as Evans was in decline.
The Bizarro World Report
Had Evans clawed Sastre’s Alpe D’Huez gains back in the time trial and eked out a comfortable Tour win, there still wouldn’t have been much room to criticize CSC’s teamwork during the race. It was nearly flawless. But if Evans ended up with, say, a 7-second victory over Sastre, we could have looked squarely at some strange decisions on L’Alpe D’Huez. Why did Sastre sit up and celebrate when he knew he needed every second for the GC? Everyone would want a good photo of victory on that most famous mountain, but I hear the one on the take of the winner on the Champs is pretty good, too. More importantly, why did Andy Schleck, who did a phenomenal climb of the Alpe, especially considering he was mostly facing backwards, go after Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) in the finale? Though he was clearly assigned to chase down anything and everything that moved, by taking off after Sanchez, he only accelerated the group of GC contenders behind, potentially eating into Sastre’s advantage. Sanchez didn’t pose a threat, and even if he did, it would be one of the other contenders that needed to chase him down long before A. Schleck did on his team’s behalf.
Of course, A. Schleck’s move was likely a last minute attempt to gain time on his white jersey rival, Roman Kreuziger (Ligquigas) who was back down the mountain a bit. It worked, and apparently it was necessary, as A. Schleck barely held that jersey after the final TT, so there’s not much point in second-guessing the team. But I bring it up just to point out that if defending white or doing the two-arm salute had cost CSC yellow, you’d be reading much different articles regarding their tactics than you are now.
The Sequined Jersey Award
As we pointed out above, Evans is no Indurain when it comes to the time trials, but the three weeks of the Tour did reveal that he’s cycling’s Zsa Zsa Gabor. The Australian’s weird and bitchy temperament made him a darling of cycling’s little corner of YouTube, where fans have graciously immortalized his journalist swatting, head butting, general complaining, and other assorted jackassery from this year’s race. Unfortunately, none of the clips seem to address his abnormal relationship with the stuffed lions given on the podium, but it’s this clip, in which he threatens to cut someone’s head off if they step on this yapping pocketbook dog, that puts him in Gabor territory.
Sure, that evidence looks pretty damning, but if you came out of the Tour thinking Evans is a total dick, you’re wrong. Cyclingnews.com notes in its own gentle way that he is, in fact, only half dick, by pointing out that his mother, Ms. Helen Cocks, was on hand for the team’s Tour afterparty. OK, that was a cheap shot.
All of Evans’ histrionics make Sastre seem like even more of a bargain. The veteran campaigner, backed by a ridiculous amount of horsepower from his CSC-Saxo Bank team, made all the right moves to win the race on his own terms, and managed to not come off as an asshole in the process. Chapeau! Maybe that’s because, while he’s always ridden at a high level, he seems to have never had people telling him he’s a star. The mindset of the veteran campaigner showed through in his interviews, as well as his final stage attire – the yellow jersey, some celebratory bar tape, and that’s about it. Just enough to do the job, without being flashy. Let’s hope his less garish fashions on the Champs return cycling a more modest time. If Mario Cipollini comes back and wins the GC, I’ll reconsider my stance against all yellow clothes, frame, and wheels, but not until then.
- Good on Geert Steegmans for saving Quick.Step’s horrible Tour by winning big in the world’s biggest criterium. When his new Russian Katusha team collapses, which it almost certainly will, he can always pay the bills at SuperWeek.
- Yeah, that stage-by-stage guide to regional drinks didn’t work out too well in the end, did it? It was a last minute, seat-of-the-pants operation this year, but next year we’ll make an effort to get ahead of the game and give the people the information they so desperately need.
- We talked a bit about sponsorship in our last post, and a host of brand new sponsors have to be pretty happy with what they got. Saxo Bank will be inheriting the Tour winning team from CSC, and Garmin had a surprise GC contender for most of the race in Christian Vande Velde. Columbia? Well, for their buck, they got time in yellow, time in green, and over a quarter of the stage wins on offer.
- With Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) dominating the time trials and some shady characters accounting for a good portion of the mountain wins, it was looking like we were headed for an overall winner with no stage wins. But Sastre saved us from that with his great ride on L’Alpe D’Huez. This year’s group of contenders was pretty uninspired, but the winner having at least won a stage helps.
- Four doping positives and one team withdrawal? The way the last few years have gone, I’ll take that. Despite the bad news, everything kept rolling on. As I said before, the mainstream press seems to be starting to realize that catching people is good. If they weren’t catching onto that already, I think those writers’ upcoming trips to Beijing would be even more of an eye-opener than I believe they’re already going to be.
Thanks to all of you who’ve come to visit this site over the course of the Tour de France. We’re not a large site by any means, but we’ve seen our numbers go up a bit over the past several weeks, and frankly, we like the attention. Our posting frequency will likely go back to a couple of posts a week now that all the Tour fuss is dying down, and life will likely interrupt service every now and then, like it did during the last week of the Tour. But we hope that both our longtime readers and those of you who visited us for the first time during the Tour will continue to check in and, if you like what you read, tell a friend.
On to the fall classics, the Worlds, and cyclocross season…