FGR #12 Wrap

There’s a reason races have finish lines. It’s so the riders know when they can stop riding and everyone else knows who won. There are a few of us, myself included, who really think Alberto Contador is going to win Paris-Nice, but there remains the issue of that pesky finish line that’s got to be crossed.

And between here, where we are now, which is to say perched between Stages One and Two, all the GC boys packed together, and that big banner that signifies the end, are a million and two opportunities to lose the race. In fact, just today the Pistolero took a spill on the pavement that called into question, for me, his team’s ability to keep him out of harm’s way. Because the aforementioned contact between world’s greatest stage racer and asphalt occurred within the final 3k of racing, Contador was given the same time as the group he was riding in, so no major time loss. But other favorites, like Alejandro Valverde, Lars Boom and Luis León-Sánchez managed to stay far enough out in front to avoid trouble.

Not EVERYONE thinks this is Contador’s race to lose though. Randomactsofcycling thinks León-Sánchez will take the title, and Soleur and James can see Chavanel in yellow. No one picked Lars Boom. Except Lars Boom. Long live the underdog.

While Paris-Nice grinds slowly southward, the Montepaschi Strade Bianche, aka L’Eroica, wound its way across Tuscany, crunching across the legendary white gravel roads near Siena. L’Eroica is a tune up for Tirreno-Adriatico, but it is also Italy’s answer to the cobbled classics of Northern Europe.

Accordingly, many of the classics specialists showed up, hoping to add a win in this race, which is rapidly emerging as a big event on the calendar. They all lost to Maxim Iglinsky, whose biggest win to date is a stage at the Dauphiné in 2007. Iglinsky’s win puts paid to the notion that Astana’s Kazakh contingent is just pack fodder.

Hopefully, this race is going to get more coverage in coming years.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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50 comments

  1. Souleur

    One chink in the armor of AC, if you will, was evidenced 3k out yesterday, as his team was not protecting him, and a lone fellow-rider tossed him a bike, and in desparation AC finished, only then to be relieved at the line w/same time. Mentally, agonizing for him then, mentally today, he will be wondering…seriously wondering if a let down will occur again, wondering if he has support, the pulls, protection, a drink of water and that will pay out later for someone else in the peloton.

  2. Champs

    Yet so far he’s hanging in there.

    Only tangentially related to Paris-Nice, I’m wondering how it can be used as a TdF wildcard audition. There are six open slots, and it’s a lock for RadioShack and Cervelo, so that’s four. BMC, Sky, and Garmin leave one. I don’t really think Katusha belongs in that last slot. Vacansoleil and Saur are much more interesting choices.

    1. Padraig

      I’d talk to Dorian Gray’s portrait artist if I thought I could help secure Voigt’s win. As to the Tour wild cards, if Vacansoleil doesn’t get an invite after their performance at the Vuelta last year I’ll be back to thinking there’s no justice. I know a great performance at the Vuelta isn’t part of ASO’s selection criteria, but it was a classic performance of a little team taking the race to the favorites. The ’09 Vuelta would have been much less interesting without them racing.

  3. Robot

    Further evidence that Jens might target the overall at P-N: Saxo won’t send a team to Criterium International.

    Voigt: “Can’t I just start alone? I don’t need a team. All I need is a mechanic and a car!” Voigt told VeloNews. “I can take the jersey on the first day, then I can just hide in the bunch, then you do a time trial. You don’t need anybody else.”

    Classic.

  4. cthulhu

    As far as I know the ASO has a contract with 16 teams, meaning 6 slots are still free. Most likely these slots are going to be filled with the remaining ProTour teams, leaving two slots free. Cervelo will get one leaves one spot and four teams fighting for it, BMC, Vacansoleil, Skil & Saur-Sojasun. What does speak which team.
    BMC has definitely the biggest names with Cadel, Ballan, Hincapie.
    Saur-Sojasun is a French team, which is an important factor.
    Vacansoleil is a Dutch team and the Grand Depart is in Amsterdam. Also, they are fighting really agressively. Trying to be in every break and trying to to set Bozic into action in the bunch sprint. And they did win Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne.
    For Skil-Shimano the same can be said as for Vacansoleil, though they haven’t got the success yet.

    I personally think at the moment Vacansoleil has its nose in front, but there is still the whole march to correct this. But unlike Champs I do believe Katusha will start and also does deserve the start. They won the Strade Bianche just last weekend, and Pippo seems to be in good form just not having the luck yet, but he and Katusha are in front at those classics and half classic. Unlike BMC, they were no where to be seen yet and unless they do not crank it up a bit, there will pass another tour Cadel won’t win, because he will be watching it from the telli. You don’t buy your way into the tour, I seriously doubt Cervelo would have started last year if they performed like BMC up to this point. They were invited because they were on ProTour level (and better than many actual ProTour teams) besides being a ProContinetal Team, though it was no wonder considering their line up.

    On Contador:
    He is still top man in the field after the first stages and the one to be beaten, also that loss of time on the first stage won’t hurt him, much more the lack of team support displayed. So if anybody else wants to win the race he still has to beat AC. But there are a few out there flexing their muscles trying to take the victory from him. His hardest opponents imo will be Caisse d’Epagne. They send a really strong team and have with Valverde, who already won a stage race too, and LL Sanchez two dangerous men AC has to watch.

  5. Robot

    How does ASO leave Evans out? He’s world champ and a perennial podium guy. Not to mention Ballan. I think ASO looks more at personalities than performances. Sometimes those are the same thing, and sometimes not.

  6. Champs

    I’m generally in agreement with Cthulhu. Maybe what I mean to say is that of all the wildcard frontrunners, Katusha is the team I would not miss. There are some automatic berths I could also live without, but seeing how those teams are French…

  7. Champs

    Oh, except the bit about BMC. That’s where I’m with Robot. Hincapie is as much a fixture as the failed French breakway on Bastille Day. I don’t know if they’d have Ballan support Evans, but I don’t see how you could exclude the race’s perennial bridesmaid and world champion.

  8. SinglespeedJarv

    How do ASO leave BMC/Evans out? Easy, as Padraig says they ain’t done nothing so far. In fact Ballan hasn’t done anything since winning the worlds, that’s probably why he chose BMC, they probably pay him over the odds in the hope that he’ll help in the wild-card chase. Same goes for Burghardt, although some sense says that he and Hincapie looked to a team to give them their own chance in the classics.

    At present I reckon it’s between Vacansoleil and Saur-Sojasun and falling in with Padraig think that results will edge it for Vacansoleil as well as they have the Feillu brothers, who will be difficult for ASO to resist

  9. Alex

    The guy´s an animal. He´s proved that when the going gets really tough, he can deliver – with style. I´m not fond of him but I admit he stands in another level. Very dominating. And a couple more of his shows should be enough to lift spirits at Astana and bring his team into tracks just in time for the Tour.

  10. Alex

    And oh, does that “pistol” salute of him gets to my neves! I´m already sick but can already foresee the extreme annoyance I´ll have to stand this year watching him doing that stupid victory celebration everywhere hehehe… :-p

  11. Champs

    As for the salute, Mrs. Champs makes corny jokes all the time, and I love her for it.

    Contador’s win is at least as impressive as it is predictable. We can’t be too cynical about it.

  12. Robot

    I shouldn’t have used the word “disappointing.” The disappointment is from seeing Voigt dropped out of contention. He’s 38. I’m 38. What can I say?

    Saw this quote today: “There should be a grey jersey for riders 35 and older.” -Jens Voigt

    Having said that, Contador’s attack is exciting. It suggests that Lance might maybe turn his attention back to triathlons and curing cancer.

  13. Robot

    @Jarvis Now, as a Brit, you’re born with the cynicism gene. I know, I’m one too. It’s the sort of outlook that makes you want to sit in a dark pub, drinking syrupy beer and yelling at the tele while some yob in a horror kit kicks lumps out of your team’s best striker.

  14. cthulhu

    Seeing AC flying uphill as expected or feared, I really wonder if there is anyone out there capable of giving him a fight at least. I mean Lance took seven times yellow but it wasn’t boring because Ullrich at least came and gave at Lance a little challenge (and taking the public beating for not being at his best in time). One has at least to give him that much credit, even though he lost his chances of winning each year in the winter always eating two pieces of cake instead of one on the long distance low cadence rides.

    @jarv: though i do believe the inactivity and protection the Spaniards are granted in their country gives them more opportunities than their opponents, I doubt the top riders wouldn’t be much less strong, though I guess their teams would not be that strong as they are at the moment. But then again I’m not even sure if the others are much cleaner. I fear that is something we have to live with and constantly battle in all professional sports.

    @robot: yeah, if cadel proves to be the only one coming close to threatening AC dominance, then the ASO will invite him, because they need the battle, the spectacle to sell their product. But at the moment it would feel like they bought their starting slot and Vacansoleil got cheated.

  15. sophrosune

    The dislike of Spanish riders on this site is palpable. I come here and I can count on a consistent screed on the cheating Spanish riders. Look, the police broke into Fuentes offices without any crime on the books having been committed. I don’t think we’re likely to see that done in any other country for the purposes of catching doping cheats. It just so happens at the moment that Spain has some of the top riders in the peloton. In the past, Italy had the top riders, sometimes Belgium other times France. Live with it. It won’t last forever, or that long.

    At the moment, you are witnessing one of the great stage racers of all time (yes, I said it). With the exception of Paris-Nice last year he won all his races last year, and this year he appears poised to correct that mistake. He has an impressive string of victories going back to the Giro of 2008. And what do we get here, and frankly at many other sites, “Oh, those Spanish guys are a bunch of cheaters.” or “I don’t like him he attacked the Schleck brothers on a climb and dropped his teammate Kloden.”

    It’s just bewildering.

  16. Robot

    @sophrosune I agree with you that Contador is one of the great stage racers of all time already. He’s going to be writing a much larger legend as well.

    Really, aside from Valverde, about whom I’ve written too much already, I don’t see another Spanish rider regularly impugned as a cheat.

    My favorite Spaniard riding now is Inigo Cuesta, cause he’s doing it for the old guys.

  17. Lachlan

    @ sophrosune haha, yes theres a bit of that, but at least no one has yet claimed that the renowned climber Contador shocked and surprised his team mates and all impartial supporters with an unplanned attack on the hill top finish, thus demonstrating lack of loyalty/immaturity/etc :+)

    That craziness is kept locked up in contador bashing of July 2009 I hope :o)

  18. Alex

    Well… I can speak for myself only, and having a spanish ascendence on my family I have absolutely nothing against them. Don´t even think they´re cheats, at least not any more than I do about the rest (french, italians, americans, whatever). I admire and respect AC´s style and power, and yes – he´s already superb and a great, and sure enough he´ll be winning much more to be compared to the greatest of the greatest… Meaning that I like his riding, I´m just fed up of his salute. Since he´ll be winning quite a lot in the future, he could do away with it and look cooler. Maybe he does. Maybe that´s the press and the photographer´s to fault, but it´s annoying all the same. Then again… maybe it´s just me lol.

  19. SinglespeedJarv

    Not doubting Contador’s ability, but of the first four I’m thinking all of them were implicated in OP. But enough of them, what about the French Revolution? Le Mevel was the only rider to at least try to stay with Contador, the rest looked like they knew they were in a race for second. Then Voeckler appeared around the corner to take fifth.

  20. Robot

    @Alex I find Contador’s salute obnoxious, which is odd because I like Flecha’s archer salute. There’s just something so CORNY about shooting a gun. At least Flecha is named Flecha (shoots an arrow). Contador is not named “arma.”

    What’s wrong with just pointing in the air and smiling like an idiot?

  21. Lachlan

    @ all… and AC…. the pistol is definitely not cool.

    Or does anyone like it? Have not heard a defence of it.

  22. Souleur

    AC definitly has it, so I eat crow, thats fine. One more big day, but all appears now that he’s it. Good for him, and alot for LA to think about til July, for sure.

    Good for Voigt in the meantime, he is the man either way he comes up, and i hope to see him later.

    Where is VDV?? with waldo?? wow. I will be interested to hear his take on his performance.

    BMC I think will get an invite to the prom later, albeit, Vacansoleil is a worthy team also. The french however will treasure making this a disection between those who want them in, and those who don’t.

  23. SinglespeedJarv

    @sophrosune I haven’t got a problem with Spanish riders per se, much like I don’t have a problem with Italian riders, it’s just that both countries seem to have a problem with addressing the issue of not taking dope.

    @ all: AC’s salute is gash. Anyway, he’ll be packed away safely until July now. Did anyone notice how all the Astana team went out he back as soon as the road went up. I know they’d been on the front and AC doens’t need nuch of a team to win races, but you’d have thought one or two would have stuck around for a while in case there was a problem.

    Bottle bottled it. Radioshack are really going to have to hope that this isn’t as good as it gets this year, otherwise BMC might get to ride the Tour after all.

    VDV is clearly not fit enough yet and I imagine is working for Millar.

    Did I say I’m loving the way the French are riding really well this year? I’m over Team Sky, it’s all about the French now.

    Could someone pass my coat, it appears my taxi/cab is here.

  24. Henry

    I love the Pistolero salute. Why? Because it really pisses off all the haters. All those who declared him a dolt incapable of withstanding the tactical brilliance of Bruyneel and Armstrong. All those who declared him immature, not a team player, blah, blah, blah.

    As Contador is showing signs that he may be one of the all time greats it looks like we will be seeing a lot of that stupid salute. I hope he continues using it :)

  25. Alex Torres

    @Henry: AC is talking loud and clear with his extremely talented legs. He´s crushing the critics of his riding. Therefore he should not feel any need to talk with his hands, if that´s what you´re implying, or if that´s what he´s pretending with this pistolero crap.

    And IF he did that to piss off the haters, well then I`d understand and perhaps not find it as annoying as I do, for that would be an acceptable reason, albeit a corny one as pointed here. But whatever the reason I find it indeed immature.

    Every “great” has been disacredited before, in worse ways than AC, and none of them felt like firing away a stupid pistol every time the cameras are flashing to “prove a point” or something. I believe he does that only because he´s a champion trying to forge a style, and find it immature exactly because he doesn´t need it.

    My opinion ;-)

  26. Henry

    Alex that brings up the other reason I like the finger bang. It’s corny and lame. If Alberto had a media juggernaut preceding him and professional handlers to remold him into a slicker more media savvy Alberto 2.0 they would probably advise him to dump the pistolero thing. Didn’t do well in the focus groups. Something you’d expect from a country bumpkin not fitting to a 21st century sports enterprise.

    Like so many cycling greats before him he’s an unsophisticated working class hero (who still has his brother managing him). And when he takes flight on a mountain climb it’s a thing of beauty like watching Michael Jordan on a basketball court in his prime. He’s got discipline, talent and more cycling smarts then anyone gives him credit for. He’s earned his finger ban.

  27. Alex Torres

    Some interesting points Henry, I agree with most you said. Can´t argue about his talent, discipline and smarts. No one can, I guess. But I´m not judging the pistolero salute in view of his accomplishments, past present or future, but in and by itself. It´s not just a corny celebration of victory, I guess everyone would be OK or just didn´t mind if was just about that. It´s kinda aggressive but in an awkard way, if you know what I mean. That´s IMHO. Makes it out of place when you put it all together. And it´s just about everywhere, from the finish line to the podium. Anyway… maybe he´s ideed earned it.

    Salute! Hehehe…

  28. Robot

    Wor Alberto tightens his grip on the bouquet and stuffed animal this morning. Young Sagan confirms his rising star. He’s 20 and he’s just won his second P-N stage. Can you imagine it? When I was 20 my accomplishments amounted to making it to class on time two days in a row.

  29. sophrosune

    Regarding the finger bang, he has explained that he orginally did that as a salute to his friends and family so that they knew he was thinking of them. It certainly didn’t start as a chest-pumping show of arrogance, and really has only become one in the minds of those predisposed to think the worst of the young man.

    I agree that at this point it has become awkward mostly because he has come to the poor decision to make it his signature move. This likely came about from his lack of media savy despite having a PR person in his entourage. If you watched Spanish TV you might understand how it’s possible that such an unsophisticated media move could be recommended.

    But really? This is it? This is what keeps you from embracing this beautiful bike racer. Instead you feel compelled to defend and support the brutish antics both on and off the bike of America’s cycling hero?

    I think I am moving beyond bewilderment to pity.

  30. SinglespeedJarv

    @sophrosune what keeps me from embracing that “beautiful bike racer” is the widely known fact that AC appeared in Puerto documents. It’s the same reason I can’t embrace Piti and a long list of others. I’m also struggling to find the all the people on here who are defending the US’s cycling hero. Who is that by the way? Talking of the US, I see Bottle re-appeared yesterday, showing as much stage-race ability as Cunego.

    Anyway, how do we all feel about Tirreno-Adriatico? Never paid it much interest before and giving the defending champion is in the lead again, my interest has all but vanished again. I can anticipate what the outcome will be.

  31. Robot

    Good win for Contador. Rode a very mature race. Never panicked. Exerted himself where he needed to and nothing more. His Astana mates had enough to keep him out of trouble most of the week. Overall, I’d say this was an excellent rehearsal for July. We’ll see what they can do over three weeks with all the big guns working them over.

    Of course, if they’re smart they’ll let some other team worry about the yellow jersey for the first week or even two. The key to beating Contador, who is clearly the top guy by a wide margin, is going to be teaming up on him. The Schlecks might do it. Some unholy alliance between them and the Shack might do it.

    But Alberto showed this week that he and his squad can neutralize a team as strong as Caisse d’Epargne, who also had two strong horses in the race. If I were Astana I’d be very encouraged. Contador is as strong as he was last season, but he also seems to have internalized all the hard lessons.

    This is pretty clearly a legend in the making.

  32. Henry

    I think by Tour time Astana will be effective, highly motivated and ready. More then good enough for Contador’s needs.

    Now if Alonso could just get it together to bring Renault/Santander on board to replace Caisse d’Espargne as sponsor and build a Spanish super squad based on the Caisse squad with Contador at it’s head. Contador, Valverde, Sanchez, Pereiro, et al… It would be one of the greatest national teams in history.

  33. Alex Torres

    @sophrosune: I´ve fully embraced the beautiful bike racer that Alberto Contador is. But I fail to seem how this relates to his obnoxiously repetitive victory celebration, which is the only subject of critics here. I´m not supposed to find his pistolero move “cool” only because he´s an incredible bike racer, and I don´t.

    Now anything negative that is said about Contador (he´s not perfect) doesn´t necessarily mean support for the acts of any other rider, not even of the american hero. But somehow the supporters of Contador (or the detractors of the american hero) feel that way, and one just can´t bring one up without carrying the other along for any sort of comparison.

  34. SinglespeedJarv

    Paris-Nice this year definitely seems to have been used by some – mainly the Spanish – as a rehearsal for Le Tour. What I found disappointing was the lack of young riders and one-day riders trying to mix it with the Tour riders. This race used to be the domain of Sean Kelly and VDB made his name at this race, this year no-one really seemed to make much of an effort to beat Contador.

    I’m not sure I’ve mention this before, but has anyone noticed how well the French are going this year?

  35. Souleur

    Great job by AC! Clearly he performed as the expected favorite, although I wasn’t sure his team around him was up to the job, he was and they did.

    I agree, that now, others better be taking notice. July, will be hard.

  36. sophrosune

    @Singlespeedjarv Really? Well-known fact? Here you go. For your reading pleasure from a nice US-based publication. http://velonews.competitor.com/2007/07/news/on-the-list-off-the-list-alberto-contador-and-operacion-puerto_12964

    “…new questions are being raised about Contador and his presence on the Puerto list last year.

    Many are wondering how he appeared on the Puerto list and why he is racing in the very event that he was ejected from one year ago.

    The short answer is that it appears in a rush to cull information from the hastily assembled evidence, Contador was identified based on references to his name that appeared in the first review of police documents.

    A more thorough review when officials had more time, however, revealed no damning evidence that Contador was implicated in the doping scandal.

    A Spanish judge and the UCI both cleared Contador. Even the elusive Fuentes, speaking last year on Spanish radio, said he never worked with Contador.”

    As far as going back over all the blogs and comments and each of the defenders of the US cycling hero that follow along the lines of, “Say what you will about him, but he get’s poeple interested in cycling” or “He’s the guy who got me into cycling” or “He’s never tested positive.” I don’t think it’s really necessary. Do you? It is pretty thick here and in many other comment threads of other blogs, right? Or are you just pretending to be naive?

    @Alex Torres I wasn’t suggesting you find his move cool because he is a beautiful bike racer. I even conceded it has become awkward. But really this is the sum of what you, and many like you, can come up with when discussing Contador? It hardly deserves mentioning and it seems to entirely escape my mind until I see it brought up endlessly on comment threads like this. I can think of a half dozen obnoxiously repititive things that people do…like endlessly pointing out Contador’s finger bang…but for some reason Contador’s finger bang just doesn’t register high enough for me to make a comment about it.

  37. Henry

    It seems that when all the substantive criticisms of Contador’s character and talents are shown to be pure BS, we are left with the finger bang. As it’s all that’s left, this trivial gesture is imbued with a puffed up importance as a sure sign of some flaw in the make up of Contador. His climbing, his TT, his grit, his work with children, his comeback from deaths door… but what about the finger bang!!!

  38. SinglespeedJarv

    Yada, yada, Spanish judges, blah.

    As Henry says, the finger-bang. It is wrong on every level. That said, there aren’t many decent victory salutes at the moment. You could never go far wrong with Cipo’s salutes

    I like this blog, there is little reference to “The Saviour of Professional Cycling” TM. This is a good thing.

  39. Alex Torres

    sophrosune, of course it´s not the sum of what I have to say about Contador. In fact I´ve said many other things about him, expressing my perception that his dominating winnings early in the season should do the trick and elevate the moral of Astana, his turning into a legend, etc.. But that´s not even the point. And if you think it should be, I´m comfortable talking about that too.

    I just made a comment about the pistol thing that bugs me and some agreed, some disagreed. I´m not following other blogs where “others like me” make a big deal of AC´s pistol salute, so I didn´t even know it was… well, a big deal. That´s all. If you or anyone else feel that´s not a subject worth of discussion here then fine, no problems from my part.

    I sure didn´t pretend this to turn into a deep discussion with freudian analysis and stuff. And certainly, much less another pointless Lance X Contador debate.

    Peace ;-)

  40. sophrosune

    @SinglespeedJarv Well, I think you summed it up quite well yada, yada, blah, blah. It’s what makes your seemingly missing Henry’s point all the more amusing.

  41. Robot

    @ All Thank you for making this topic long and interesting. Paris-Nice was a good race (more on that later).

    I appreciate that each of you has strong opinions about the races and the racers, and I also appreciate that you express them here. I will say, however, that commenters who consistently denigrate and bully others will be asked not to participate. No one here is empowered to proscribe the discussion.

    Substantive arguments are welcome. Evidence is encouraged. Insults are not.

  42. Champs

    Wow, after seeing the final stage,Contador’s out there riding with Lotto as far as I can tell. Saxo Bank is going to pummel the field with the Sastre formula again. Put your money on the Schlecks while those bets pay anything.

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