As Padraig prepares to board a flight for Fantasy Island, where Mr.Roarke and Tattoo will set him up on a dream bike and point him at the sorts of Alpen cols that spend most of their time being mailed around as postcards, the Group Ride turns its attention to the world’s great rides and wonders where YOU would most like to Tour.
To me, the Cairo to Cape Town ride documented in this film is awfully appealing. In my mind ‘adventure’ is usually found very near the intersection of fun and misery.
One of my neighbors is working on a project with his kids where they ride every inch of every street in our town, documenting it on a map as they go. They’ve been riding for four years and have about ten percent of it done. On the flip side, this fellow rode his bicycle from Sweden to Nepal, and then climbed Mt Everest without oxygen or Sherpa support.
Everyone has their own idea of adventure, and hardcore fans, such as ourselves (because let’s be honest, if you’re not a hardcore cycling fan, you’re probably not reading RKP), often dream of taking in the same climbs as our heroes, the Tourmalet, Aubisque, Zoncolan, Mortirolo, Ventoux, Galibier, Izoard, Marie Blanque, Blockhaus, Peyresourde, Alpe de Huez, Portet de Aspet, Superbagnéres, Stelvio, Gavia, and on and on and on. There is a not small industry of tour operators who cater to the desires of freaks, such as ourselves, who wish to spend their holidays slowly draining every last bit of energy they’ve got across an inert and oblivious mountain range.
So do tell us. Where do you dream of riding? Or, what tours have you taken that shifted your paradigm, blew your mind and rearranged your auntie’s quilt collection? Speak to us of hill and dale. Spin us yarns of legendary ascents and the drops on the other side, the ones that left you bowel-clenched and shaking, but ultimately satisfied that you’d done something special.
Beginning Sunday, I’ll be undertaking the most ambitious bicycle tour I’ve ever attempted. I’m joining Erickson Cycle Tours for the Route des Grandes Alpes. This famous tour was devised by the Touring Club de France the year after the Tourmalet was added to the Tour de France (1911, to be exact), back when all of these roads were as-yet unpaved.
In broad strokes, the route runs from Geneva to Nice. Along the way, it hugs the French border with Italy and takes in the highest cols in the French Alps. In just 14 days I will (theoretically, at least) ride 1000 miles and climb 100,000 vertical feet.
A typical day will involve words like Galibier, Iseran, Izoard, Cayolle or Bonette.
Such is my sense of fun that I’ve fantasized about riding this route for a good 10 years.
I’ll try to update as often as possible, and I’ve got a few equipment-related posts I’m hoping to finish up along the way, but I probably won’t be too prompt about responding to comments.
I’ll also do a post on the bike I’m riding, a rig perfect for traveling to the mountains.
Have fun out there,Padraig
The end of the Tour de France gives most of us back our lives, but not Bjarne Riis. The erstwhile Dane spent much of the Tour answering media questions about his next team sponsor and what he’s going to do if (when) Fränk and Andy Schleck leave to start their own team. After announcing software giant SunGard as one of his future sponsors and confirming that he does, in fact, have a new title sponsor lined up as well, Riis goes back to trying to convince his other stars to stick with the cause.
With SaxoBank exiting the picture, we’ll have yet another iteration of the Bjarne Riis show, much the way we had 7-11, which begat Motorola, or US Postal, which begat Discovery Channel, or Reynolds, which begat Banesto, which begat Illes Balears, which begat Caisse d’Epargne, or the Rabobank team which went this way: Kwantum Hallen-Decosol-Yoko to Superconfex-Yoko to Buckler-Colnago-Decca to Wordperfect-Colnago-Decca to Novell Software-Decca to Rabobank.
Between fickle sponsors, inconsistent management and unstable rosters, one might argue (I am right now) that pro cycling teams have, at best, a loose grasp on coherent identities. We’re calling Bjarne Riis’ team SaxoBank at the moment, but we’ll call it something else next year, all the while aware that it is, at root, Bjarne Riis’ team. He is, for better AND worse, their identity.
This state of affairs stands in somewhat stark contrast to other sports where clubs or franchises maintain a consistent character for decades on end, an attribute which allows them to develop quite loyal followings based on a set of characteristics which transcends the current management, ownership and roster. It also allows them to sell a lot of merchandise.
As a result of its erratic nature, cycling is a harder sport to write about than others. So much of the shorthand that’s available to media when discussing soccer or baseball for example, just doesn’t exist for cycling. The current “rivalry” between HTC-Columbia (Team Telekom, T-Mobile, High Road, etc.) and Garmin-Transitions (Slipstream, Chipotle, Jingleheimer-Schmidt) contains a kernel of the sort of narrative that can emerge from a more stable peloton, but that kernel disappears once a title sponsor leaves and a few riders defect to other teams.
Instead of teams, cycling focusses very much on personalities, usually the transcendent riders like Merckx, Coppi, Anquetil, Hinault, Indurain, Bobet, Stablinski, Indurain, LeMond, Gimondi, Cippolini, Kelly, etc. etc. etc. For a team sport, the stories of individuals far outstrip the stories of great teams, and when we do talk about great teams, the stories are these ephemeral whispers about groups of men that came together at random, crushed all comers, and then slowly slipped away into the mists.
There are myriad reasons for the sport to have developed this way. The governors of the sport, from newspapers to private companies to the UCI and national federations, have never had a clear vision of what they wanted pro cycling to look like. Perhaps no other sport has undergone the transformations cycling has in terms of equipment, rules, team structures, and tactics. The current iteration of the Tour de France, as but one example, bears very little resemblance to the races of 30, 50 and 100 years ago.
In as much as cycling has survived and succeeded, it has done so in spite of itself. With its ever-shifting structure, the races have emerged as the true stars. If the teams have, by and large, failed to hold themselves together, to market themselves effectively, the races have, by sheer force of persistence, elevated themselves in the eyes of the fans.
We may, on a rainy, spring day, cheer on this rider or that one as they approach the velodrome in Roubaix, but none of us turns off the television when he, invariably, crashes out. The drama and spectacle of the events stands in for the tribalism of team support.
Perhaps this is at it should be. We may not have a favorite team (at least not one that lasts very long), but we have the races. You can not paint without a canvas. You can not ride without a race. And maybe, in the end, the fluid nature of a team sport dominated by individuals is best organized by the current system.
Still, as Bjarne Riis puts together the next version of his traveling circus, one has to wonder if a system based on franchises might not make more sense for pro cycling. The UCI already sells licenses for ProTour teams. The next step would be to attach some identifying characteristic to each license, a color, a name, something that would stick with the team, regardless of sponsorship. This would allow identities to form and grow. It would allow shirts to be sold, memberships offered.
There are a million possibilities, and if cycling is to go on, it will need to avail itself of some of them, for the UCI needs new ways to sell our sport in the wake of the doping era, the Age of Armstrong and the brief, wondrous life of Team SaxoBank.
Felt introduced its 2011 line of bicycles yesterday at its headquarters in Irvine. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine how a company of just 58 employees can do so much in a year. They have a new full-suspension mountain bike called the Edict. There’s a full-carbon version of the company’s ground-breaking Virtue. There’s a redesigned DA (and I’m glad I’m not a time trialist because it would make me a covetous letch).
They’ve got as many new bikes and products as you’d expect from a company the size of, say, Trek. Perhaps even more.
However, it was the company’s redesigned F1 that most intrigued me.
It’s rare that a company dumps their top-of-the-line bike and designs a replacement from the ground up. For the record, I rode the 2010 F1 and found it to be one of the most impressive road bikes on the market this year. It made the short list among the sport’s most elite bicycles, such as the Specialized SL3.
Gone is the 68mm bottom bracket. Gone are the ribs. Gone is the one-size-fits-all rear triangle. Gone is the 1 1/8″ headset. Gone is the 900 gram weight.
The new F1 is BB30. It uses a blend of carbon fiber that results in extraordinary stiffness and strength, but more on that in a minute. New, proprietary removable polyurethane bladders used inside the layup allow the frame to be constructed without fillers that traditionally smooth transitions around sharp corners. Every one of the eight elements used in each of the six sizes is specific to that size. Why eight? Well, they’ve molded hollow carbon fiber dropouts for the frame. And because each of the three polyurethane bladders used inside the frame is size specific, that means that there are some 66 different molds used to make the full size run. That’s a fortune in tooling cost.
Oh, and that offhand comment about the bikes not weighing 900g anymore? The new F1 weighs just 800g in a 56cm frame. It’s important to note that most frames in this weight territory—sub 950g—feature unidirectional carbon on the outer layer. While unidirectional carbon is structurally sound, it’s not so good at impact resistance for things like dropped water bottles or worse—wrenches. Felt went with a 1k weave to give the bike some amount of impact resistance. They say it’s more than you’ll find in bikes of comparable weight.
The fork features a tapered steerer with an epoxied-on crown race. The upper part of the fork that you see is the aluminum race on which the bearing turns.
I noticed immediately that the tube shapes had changed a fair amount. The top and down tubes were fairly square in shape at the head tube. Head of engineering Jeff Soucek says that’s to keep the bike stiff in torsion. The top tube is round where it joins the seat tube because FEA analysis showed that the top tube was twisting rather than suffering torsional loads. The down tube is round in its midsection but returns to its squarish profile at the BB.
My ride on the bike was short, shorter than I wanted. It was, however, extraordinary. I’ve never experienced a bike that was so stiff and lively at this weight. The key to the bike’s extraordinary character is its exceptionally thin walls throughout the frame. Tap a tube and it resonates the way a great steel tube does. That sound reflects high density and thin walls. There is no substitute.
I’ll review this bike as soon as I’m humanly able.
So Alberto Contador won the Tour de France by a margin slimmer than many said was possible, a margin equal to what he clawed out with the aid of Dennis Menchov and Sammy Sanchez on stage 15. We can argue about all the places each rider gained or lost time, but really, the race comes down to two fateful events: Schleck’s mis-shift on 15 and his later 39-second gap in the final time trial. The symmetry of the two events is more difficult to ignore than the economy.
And just to be ultra-clear about this, yes, I’m saying that without help from both Menchov and Sanchez, Contador wouldn’t have won the Tour.
I should also point out that even though he twice went for stage wins for himself, Alexander Vinokourov proved to be both valuable and loyal to Contador in the mountain stages. Vinokourov sat on Schleck on stage 15 and never rode for himself by taking a pull at the front of the group. He’ll always be an unpredictable element in my mind, but he demonstrated his value to the Astana team repeatedly. He deserves to be recognized.
But individual performances aside, if we back up and look at the 2010 Tour de France as an elaborate chess game involving 22 players, some interesting questions emerge.
First, what the hell has Johan Bruyneel been thinking? He fielded the most experienced team in the Tour de France, sure, but it was also the oldest team by an Egyptian pharaoh. The most youthful element of the team was the management company’s formation documents. Even if we accept the possibility that the fight went out of Armstrong following his daily crashes so that by the time the time trial came around, he really wasn’t trying—which is why we didn’t see the form necessary to win the race overall anywhere in the same time zone as him—we should still ask the question: Why did no one else other than Chris Horner ride like his career was at stake?
Speaking of recognition, let’s hope that Horner feels some satisfaction and vindication at his stellar ride. It’s one of the best performances by a rider over the age of 35 ever at the Tour, and is his single best performance there. It was his misfortune to sign for a French team when he first went to Europe and his worse fortune to have his career coincide with Armstrong’s. Had he hit Europe five years earlier than he did, he could have led Motorola in its quest to do something significant in a Grand Tour. Or not. There have long been reports that Jim Ochowicz (director of Motorola and now one of the powers that be at BMC) had issues with the formerly feisty San Diegan.
Back to Bruyneel. His reputation as a kingmaker able to deliver a worthy rider to a Grand Tour victory has suffered its first setback. Even with the triple-barrel shotgun of Armstrong, Andreas Kloden and Levi Leipheimer he was unable to deliver any one of them to the top 10. Horner’s performance was the sort of showing that the French teams generally hope to luck into but can plan no better than a chimp considering retirement.
With that much talent and so little to show for it, the brass at The Shack might be understandably perturbed.
This time last year many of us were beginning to rethink what might be possible age-wise in a Grand Tour. Now, the near complete waterlogging of Radio Shack has most cycling fans thinking that, yes, age really does slow you down. Too much to deliver a win on the world’s biggest stage.
And cast in the light of failure, Armstrong seems less ambitious, less hungry, less focused on highlighting the cause of cancer than just gluttonous, a corpulent ego.
But that’s how we play it isn’t it? When our heroes fall, we pounce.
But even if the Radio Shack board is less than thrilled, imagine what’s going on in the boardroom at Sky. Isn’t the question there whose head rolls first?
Seemingly a world away, Bjarne Riis has proven that he knows how to bring the race to anyone he wants. He’s delivered Tyler Hamilton, Carlos Sastre, Ivan Basso and Andy Schleck all to podium finishes at Grand Tours, though his record of wins (just two) is rather slim despite the obvious strength of his team.
Yvon Sanquer, a name you may not be very familiar with even after his team’s success, is the director of Team Astana and has kept a profile nearly as high as that of newly mown grass. His previous best result as a team director was after being brought in to rescue Team Festina (not unlike what he was asked to do with Astana) and his riders (mostly Marcel Wüst) were able to take a stage of the Tour de France along with four stages of the Vuelta plus some stages at lesser stage races. Before 2010, his riders’ closest association to the winner of a Grand Tour was if they had chatted with him.
And yet, somehow Sanquer brought together what seemed to be an underpowered team and saw to it that Contador was rarely without help in the mountains.
Despite the Astana team performing as if it were still run by Johan Bruyneel—admit it, it was an impressive performance that very few thought could truly deliver the goods as a cohesive unit this past January—I am surprised by the number of people I hear from who just plain don’t like Alberto Contador. To the degree that maybe many cycling fans were less than enthusiastic about him, it seems that even if his counter attack on stage 15 didn’t rile people, the fact that he lied about not knowing what was going on with Andy Schleck seems to have sent some fans around the bend. I’ve not been a fan of some of his tactics, and have thought some of his interviews with the Spanish media were whiny and meant to play the pity card, which strikes me as unseemly—like the Super Bowl winning team sniffling about playing hurt, but it struck me as insulting to fans everywhere for him to claim he couldn’t tell there was anything wrong with Schleck.
Which brings me to Jonathan Vaughters. Of the teams bidding for Contador’s services last year, Vaughters’ Garmin-Transitions formation was one of the teams in the running to sign the diminutive Spaniard. There are reports that after all of his efforts to leave Astana he is now considering a new contract and staying.
Contador would do well to leave, so long as he left for Vaughters. Of the many team directors at the Tour de France, Vaughters is the one that seems to have an uncanny ability to help riders achieve greatness in the GC that he never could reach on his own. In three years of competing in the Tour de France Vaughters has delivered three different riders to top-10 finishes, first with Christian Vande Velde’s fourth place, then Bradley Wiggins fourth and now Ryder Hesjedal’s seventh place. In each case the riders were uniformly believed to be talented, but no one—other than Vaughters—considered them real GC vehicles on which to pin a team’s hopes.
Sanquer’s success with Contador suggests competence, nothing more. After all, if you can’t guide a previous Tour de France winning to yet another victory, what kind of team director are you?
Bjarne Riis has consistently put together one of the strongest, most cohesive teams on the planet. That he hasn’t won more may be a question of formula more than anything else. The question seems to be, ‘Why didn’t he win?’ rather than, ‘What’s it going to take to secure another win?’
Bruyneel is the great curiosity this year. He’s ripe for criticism. How should he deflect the charge that he went with Armstrong less for career than paycheck? If he didn’t go to Radio Shack for the paycheck, then why? It’s hard for Bruyneel to charge that Vinokourov is a more tarnished rider than some he has worked with. Contador clearly has a greater future than Armstrong does. Maybe the question is just how loyal a guy is Bruyneel. Some folks are loyal to a fault. Could it be so with him?
Even if he didn’t go to Radio Shack just for a bigger paycheck that is virtually guaranteed not to dry up mid-way through the season, where does he rank his ambitions as a director? Twelve of the team’s 26 riders have had their 30th birthday. Six of them are older than 32. The only rider on the team who is showing talent and is early in his career is Janez Brajkovič. Taylor Phinney doesn’t count because he’s only a staigiaire.
How else do you wind up with that many riders in need of a retirement party than by selecting a crew that can be depended on being utterly devoted to Armstrong? Now, there’s nothing wrong with being committed to supporting your team leader, but it is fair to ask how smart it is to construct a team for a single year’s performance. Even if Leipheimer, Klöden, Horner and Rubiera plan to ride Grand Tours next year, how capable will any of them be? Horner is the only guy I’d bet on as a good support rider for the simple reason that he is obviously still proving his value and talent long after most guys have quit.
You want to make the 2011 Tour de France really interesting? Get Vaughters to sign Horner.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. When Lance Armstrong announced he was coming out of retirement in September of 2008, many presumed he would take up his career where he left off—winning the Tour de France.
Popular speculation was that Johan Bruyneel’s protege, Alberto Contador, by dint of his young age could conceivably rack up a longer streak of wins at the Tour de France than Armstrong. And if there’s anyone who hates to be beaten, it’s Mellow Johnny.
Some took a more cynical view. At the point of Armstrong’s retirement, Team Tailwinds, the company behind the US Postal and Discovery Channel Team was facing a fair amount of investigation related to doping. Dissolving the formation took the heat off all involved. And with the investigations into the various scandals sufficiently exhausted, Armstrong returned to the sport with a seemingly fresh start.
But 2009 wasn’t 2005. Armstrong was accustomed to being boss, getting his way—and was willing to use whatever tricks it took such as intimidation or outright firing to get his way. The peloton has more than a few riders who got crossed up with Armstrong and saw their careers suffer for it. Anyone remember Chad Gerlach?
But Alberto Contador didn’t step aside. With three Grand Tour victories under his belt, it’s not surprising. By any reasonable standard, Contador had come of age and was within his right to believe that Armstrong had had his time and should stay retired.
History is full of examples of wars in which one side fought by conventional means while the other battled back by guerilla tactics. It’s what the American colonists did during the Revolutionary War, what the Vietnamese did during the Vietnam War and what the insurgents are doing in Irag and Afghanistan. Guerilla tactics are the object lesson of the story of David and Goliath.
Armstrong always liked to portray himself as David in his matchups against Jan Ullrich, but with Alberto Contador, he was the proverbial Goliath: slow to adapt and inadequately defended. While Armstrong appreciated Contador’s physical strength, he underestimated the Spaniard’s force of will. Contador is certainly not the first rider to go rogue within a team in a bid to win the Tour, but he is arguably the rider who had to fight the hardest to do so and succeed.
Of course, Armstrong fans reacted to his third place with a “not bad” and waited for the 2010 Tour like a bunch of fanboys waiting for the next Spiderman film. The Lance would be back and he would whoop some ‘Murkin-style ass.
What he didn’t count on was that his return to the pro peloton would coincide with Floyd Landis’ snub by same. The crazy math going on inside of Landis’ brain believes light speed travel is totally doable and that the U.S. government was behind the fall of Troy. Most of us learned long ago not to mess with crazy. What Armstrong didn’t know was that Landis was at the breaking point. How could he? And while he didn’t go looking to lock horns with Landis, his return to the ProTour seems to have been read by Landis as insult to injury. It’s fair to wonder if Landis’ e-mail screed would have taken place if Big Tex was still banging one of the Olsen twins and surfing with Matthew McConaughey; after all, what else could have squarely placed a bullseye on Armstrong than his resumption of the very thing Landis wanted most and was being denied.
And while Landis may seem to be crazier than Amy Winehouse, bat-shit crazy doesn’t preclude what he says from being true.
Running high is media speculation that Armstrong’s crash-filled spring and summer is as a result of distracted riding. Conventional wisdom is that he’s so preoccupied with Landis’ allegations and defending himself that his mind just isn’t in the game. No matter what the cause, at this Tour de France, we seem to have seen an old Armstrong, not the old Armstrong.
The latest twist in this unfolding saga is Armstrong’s retention of Brian D. Daly as his defense attorney. Daly, a former federal prosecutor is an ideal choice for a vigorous defense. He is intimately familiar with the techniques and strategies used by prosecutors, and while that is certainly useful, the long list of ex-teammates who have been subpoenaed and are alleged to have agreed to cooperate with the investigation could be … well, let’s just say that throwing one very good attorney at this problem could be like trying to hold back flood waters with a stop sign.
Complicating matters is Greg LeMond, who seems eager to step from the wings. What LeMond can contribute to these proceedings beyond a he said/he said mudslinging with Armstrong is unknown at best and even somewhat doubtful at worst. But it is LeMond’s participation that has brought about what is one of the ugliest statements Armstrong has made.
He told France 2, “We will have the opportunity to tell the truth to the authorities, and Greg LeMond will tell the truth about 1989 I hope.”
So far as I can find, this is the closest Lance Armstrong has ever come to calling another rider out as a doper. For a guy who has been notoriously mum on the activities of other riders, even those convicted of doping, it seems oddly incongruous that he would suggest that LeMond has a hidden doping past.
The moment we choose to believe a rider is clean we make a leap of faith. However, unlike the irrational leap necessary to believe in God, the demise of Greg LeMond’s career coincides neatly with the rise of EPO.
LeMond’s attitude toward doping has always seemed so Boy Scout, in part because his career has been marked by betrayals perpetrated due to his naivete, that considering whether or not he doped smacks of thinking Pete Townshend took up guitar just to get chicks.
LeMond’s victory in the 1989 Tour de France was very likely the next-to-last Tour de France won by a clean athlete.
It’s ironic that the one cyclist Armstrong would seem to suggest doped is one who could easily be accepted as clean.
Stranger still is the fact that Armstrong’s comeback may ultimately do more to damage his legacy than strengthen it.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
It’s early yet. There is still plenty of time in Grande Boucle 2010 for a violent plot twist and/or turn. Tours de France (see how easy it is to pluralize that?) are pretty much plot twist machines. You just start one up and out come the thrills.
And so, even though it’s early, this week’s Ride is about the Tour that was. This Ride has got to last us all through the weekend and into next week, by which time we’ll have the benefit of about ten minutes of hind sight.
Clearly, this race will be remembered as the one where Lance Armstrong went out with a whimper, rather than a bang, the one where Andy Scheck tried hard, but couldn’t quite ride Alberto Contador off his wheel. We’ll remember Fränk Schleck down on the pavé. We’ll remember everybody and their brother down on the Stockeu. We’ll remember the World Champ riding into Paris with a broken elbow and scores of riders (ok, a few) going home with broken wrists. Mark Cavendish? Poor form, his lead, lead out man expelled, and he still took four stages. Old man Petacchi in green. Chaingate. So many stories here.
Will this be the year that Tour organizers realized their route was causing just that little bit too much pain and suffering? Or is 2010 the year that heralds the return to grand tour as survival race, the way Henri Desgranges envisioned it? Will this be Jens Voigt’s last Tour de France? Egads!
Wrap it up for us, people. Who was the biggest surprise? Who was the biggest loser? What was the best story? What will you remember?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
I’m not sure I really ever experienced ambivalence until I became a cyclist. Prior to cycling, my world was one of startling clarity. As a musician, I either liked a piece of music, or not. I either liked a performer or band, or not. Same for foods and movies.
But as a cyclist, I came to experience the thrill of seeing an utterly dominant ride by a guy I didn’t like, such as Andrei Tchmil. Everyone I know in the industry uses the D-word to describe him. But dude, seeing him in action at a race like Paris-Roubaix was a thing of beauty.
More recently, I’ve had to contend with performances such as Alberto Contador’s in stage 16 of the Tour de France. I plain didn’t like the move. However, seeing that acceleration and watching him keep the pressure on left me breathless. At the end of the day, what we want of our champions is a performance so impressive their dominance is apparent.
My real education in ambivalence came with regard to my own body. During my periods of sharpest fitness my hardest workouts leave me shattered. I’ll be able to walk when I get home; I can get through the shower, dress and eat without any real difficulty. But an hour or two after the ride ends the desire for a nap—a consciousness-blotting entombment of body—comes at me like the villain of a horror movie. Escape is as uncertain and tenuous as survival is in said movie.
While I marvel at the destruction I can impose on myself in just two hours, the fact that my legs feel like the Ninth Ward for the rest of the day really isn’t any fun. In fact, the only reason I can tolerate it is because I know what it does for my organic savings account. It’s embarrassing to walk around like a physical therapy project and the leaky concentration while I attempt to work is as frustrating as trying to win the lottery.
Like I said, there’s one reason I tolerate this feeling: At some point in the not-too-distant future I’m going to be fast—at least, faster than I’ve been—and that’s fun enough to pay for in blood. My own, in fact.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
What should or should not have happened following Andy Schleck’s chain-throwing attack has been sufficiently argued and discussed and even apologized for. I don’t wish for it to be discussed any further here. That said, John Pierce sent me a sequence of photos he was able to capture in the seconds following the race’s now most infamous attack.
In and of themselves, the photos are fascinating. Will they or should they change your mind in any way? Let’s hope not; but for those of us who like to dissect things, these images freeze a race-changing event.
I’ve uploaded the full-size images so you can see them in rich glory.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International
This was a moment that has been coming for a long, long time. Were we to take a trip with Sherman in the Way Back Machine to visit any of the editions of the Tour de France prior to, say, the ascendancy of Ken Kesey, we’d find a peloton made up of working class men who operated by the Code of the Road, a set of rules granite hard, literal as a genie and without loophole.
These men shared work, bidons, pee-breaks and more. They preyed upon weaknesses of flesh and will, but never the machine. There’s plenty of footage showing guys waiting for everyone involved in a crash to get up and remount. Just like the start of your local group ride.
We remember these times because many of us think of these riders as honorable, as guys we’d like to ride with, a set of friends who will wait for us should we flat.
Lance Armstrong was asked why he waited for Jan Ullrich after he ran off the road during the 2001 Tour de France, endo-ing his way past a guardrail. While I can’t find his exact response, the point was that he didn’t want to win based on a crash, but rather by beating the athlete.
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? A true champion wins on a level playing field so that their performance bears no asterisks, no footnotes, no abiding questions.
So should we call Contador names for squeezing by Schleck while pedaling out-of-the-saddle furiously?
This is a day that has been a long time coming. For all those of you who think I’ve had it in for Contador for more than a year, this is where I nearly give the guy a by. He’s simply a product of his time.
In 2001 Armstrong waited for Ullrich following his crash, but he was only able to sit up for so long before being passed by Virenque and others who would have gladly gutted Ullrich like a deer to climb another spot in the G.C. Faced with the prospect of giving up time to an opportunist like Virenque, Armstrong marked his rival but sat at the back of the group, waiting for Der Kaiser.
In 2003 Armstrong went down on the climb to Luz Ardiden after hooking his handlebar on the bag of a clueless spectator, taking Iban Mayo with him. Inexplicably, Ullrich kept riding. The leaders kept the bellows to the coals until Tyler Hamilton (yes, everyone’s next-to-most hated doper ever in the history of the known universe)—yes Tyler “Vanishing Twin” Hamilton, went to the front and gave the universal bro’ sign for chill—palm down waving … pretty much the same hand signal that some folks didn’t like coming from Fabian Cancellara a few stages back.
What’s significant isn’t that the riders waited for their brothers in arms on either of those occasions, but that they had to be reminded it was the right thing to do.
The evaporation of the Code of the Road within the peloton shouldn’t surprise us. The mob’s abandonment of its omerta and the obscene greed we read about on Wall Street are simply bellwethers of change in society.
Alberto Contador signaled last year that winning was far more important to him than listening to his team director. Those who dislike him will seize upon this and dislike him more. Those who see him as a great champion will see this as an example where a man with a destiny simply rose to the occasion.
Was there a double standard at work when Frank Shleck was left for dead on the cobbles in stage 3? Well, because Schleck was left by his teammates more than his competitors, it’s hard to make that charge. Regardless, one of the hallmarks of Paris-Roubaix (which served as the spiritual forefather to stage 3) is the reality that mechanicals are a legitimate and unavoidable challenge within the race. If you race Paris-Roubaix, you had better be prepared for the fact that if you flat, no rider contracted to another team will ease up by a single pedal stroke for you. Period. Tough.
Whether you agree with Contador’s counter attack or not, one troubling detail remains. In quotes to l’Equipe, the AFP and others, Contador claims not to have had any knowledge that Shleck was in trouble. The Saxo Bank rider was nearly at a standstill as Contador passed him, so he had to know something was up, even if he didn’t understand it was a mechanical. Comprehension and understanding aside, Contador was aware that something was wrong with Schleck and was curious enough to look around on more than one occasion. All we can derive from his looks back is that he was concerned that the gap wasn’t being shut down.
Contador’s denial strikes me as an issue of integrity. I’d rather he be honest and say, ‘Yeah when Schleck dropped his chain I knew I needed to hit it full gas. I was au bloc to the top of the climb to keep him from coming back.’
To say he didn’t know Schleck had a problem is BS. That may explain why Pistolero received as many boos as cheers at the podium ceremony. Again, don’t blame Contador; he’s a product of his time. Many schools of thought hold that all that matters is victory. It’s the same attitude that begets doping and books like The Prince, but the history of the Tour de France is full of guys who are remembered less for being jerks than winning.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International