Monday, July 06, 2009
Sticking to the Script
Most Tour de France previews, at least those that are published on nice glossy paper, are outdated by the time they hit readers’ mailboxes. That’s not an indictment of the work that goes into them, or of anything really, it’s simply a matter of long printing lead times combined with the reality of Tour rosters, politics, and court cases that continue to evolve right up until that first rider rolls out of the giant hot dog explosion. (Or is it some Birth of Venus thing? I’m torn.) Sure, there’s a good chance the dates and route maps printed in those previews will still be accurate when July rolls around, but the rest is a little more speculative.
Take the 2004 Tour, for instance, when Matt White, warming up for his prologue ride, slid out on an electrical cable cover and broke his collarbone, sending reserve rider Peter Farazijn on a police-escorted 200km road rally across Belgium to fill in. Farazijn is probably the only rider in the modern era to start the Tour with a few beers in him, and for that alone we love him, but that’s not the point. The point is that every magazine is obligated to do their preview and to speculate about rosters and the roles each rider will play, but doing so is like laying down a bet on the Superbowl after the first playoff game. You have a little information, and you have to try to pick a winner. Unfortunately, you’re just not quite sure who’s playing yet.
But the first two days of this year’s Tour? Those were a gift to those poor sots who, with some hesitation, put their pencils down back in May and gave the order to roll the presses. A 15.5k opening time trial? Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) sounds like as good a bet as anyone. Second stage likely to end in a sprint? Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC) is pretty much the only name you should write down. Those two prognostications had all the risk of picking Armstrong as a Tour contender in the early half of this decade, but I can’t say I blame anyone for making them. They were correct, of course, and besides, there’s plenty more stages, attrition, and dramatic collapses waiting in the wings to make a mockery of late race predictions.
While the clockwork reliability of Cancellara and Cavendish certainly endears them to people like pundits, team directors, and sponsors, it doesn’t make for particularly exciting news when they win. We all expected them to win, and they did. So I don’t have much to say about that, except to say nice job and just call a bit of attention to all the hard work those guys have to do to make it look so easy come race time. I’m also going to try to avoid the trap of demanding that they notch further victories or continue to win by greater and greater margins to “keep it interesting” or “dominate.” In an era that’s conditioned to value repeat wins, I think it’s worthwhile to remember what an accomplishment each stage win is. After all, numerous bars and cafes have been opened in small European towns on the strength of a single Tour stage win, the story of which is undoubtedly recounted over the rail every year around this time.
That said, nobody will be surprised to see either man on the stage winner’s podium again later in the race.
- If you’re trying to make a case that Lance Armstrong’s (Astana) opening time trial performance was a good sign (and I think you could argue either way if you were so inclined), I’m not sure comparing his performance to Kim Kirchen’s (Columbia-HTC) is the best way to go about it. Some of the other points are good, but that one rings particularly hollow, as Kirchen’s status as a GC leader holds all the same weight as George Hincapie’s in 2006. It’s a small point in the context of the article – less than 10 words worth – but the fact that it’s made at all seems a bit like “protesting too much.”
- Really, after all these years and all those tears, nobody double checks David Miller’s (Garmin) time trial bike before the start? In a post time-trial chat with Versus, Miller noted that his swashbuckling slide around one of the TT course’s hairpins wasn’t a stylistic choice, but rather due to a malfunctioning front brake. The lack of front stopping power led him to honk on the rear brake to scrub speed, causing to a slide that probably put a nice flat spot in what I’m guessing was a pretty pricey tubular. To his credit, Miller recovered well and only mentioned the brake issue in passing, rather than whining about it.
- If Miller finds a good mechanic, maybe he can help an Anglophone brother out and send him Mick Rogers’ way. The Columbia-HTC Australian apparently dropped his chain twice on the opening climb on the way to a 27th place finish. Miller debuted the dropped chain schtick in a TT a few years ago, and followed it up with a disintegrating disk wheel and a broken chain on a road stage. If Rogers wants to catch up to Miller in the mechanical sweepstakes, he's really going to have to come up with his own signature move.
- TV commentators often talk about all the banging that goes on in the final kilometers of a sprint stage, but it can be hard to pick out on the live shot. Not so with yesterday’s feed of the finale, which for some reason made all the grabbing, elbowing, and head butting exceptionally clear. The overhead shot also made Cavendish’s blistering finishing kick abundantly clear for those two or three people out there who didn’t already believe in it. Once Mark Renshaw (Columbia) completed his textbook leadout and Cavendish hit the front, Cavendish just rode straight away from Tyler Farrar (Garmin), who was sitting in ideal position on Cavendish’s wheel. Usually, the guy in second wheel can at least get as far as pulling out into the wind to make a try, but not this time. That Farrar gained and held that position in a finale that could be inadequately described as a “hectic” speaks volumes of how well Farrar has come along in his abilities, but there’s not much you can do against a kick like that.
- Skil-Shimano’s Piet Rooijakkers smacked Cavendish around a bit with 2 kilometers to go, but apparently only after Cavendish gave him a little jersey yank. In the end, most people seem content to put AG2r’s Lloyd Mondory on the tail end of the “he hit me first” blame chain and move on. Sure, none of it’s particularly sporting, but isn’t it comforting to have another Dutchman out there punching people during sprints again? Somewhere up there, Michel Zanoli is smiling.
- VeloNews' Chuck P. has apparently been dinged from Lance Armstrong's Twitter feed. It's pretty early in the Tour for Charles to be adding such achivements to his already outstanding palmares. I just hope he's saving something for the final week.
- Yes, I do know who won Stage 3, and how. But since this site is still just getting rolling and can use all the traffic it can get, I see no point in angering the TiVo freaks by talking about it just yet. And I apologize for calling you freaks.
Labels: Tour 2009