FGR Wrap #29

This week’s ride was about stories, the ones the race tells and the ones we wanted to hear. Fortunately, and this is the hallmark of a good storyteller, this 2010 Tour de France is spinning some of the most unexpected and strange yarns we’ve heard in years.

From the roads of Rotterdam to the hills of Flanders, nothing has gone exactly as we’d anticipated. Did anyone see Armstrong beating Contador (if only by 5 seconds) in the short prologue time trial? The Lance-in-decline narrative took a twist there, didn’t it? And how did Tyler Farrar ride himself into the top ten?

Stage 1 saw 36-year-old Alessandro Petacchi sprint for the win after dodging a series of crashes that took out his younger competition. Experience 1 Audacity 0. This stage also introduced us to this idea of big GC names crashing: Kløeden, Leipheimer, Basso and Millar.

If Stage 1 introduced the idea, Stage 2 elevated it to the level of a Mad Max sequel. Apparently, a motorbike went down on the already rain slick descent of the Stockeu, turning it into a virtual luge run for the tetchy peloton. Something like 80 riders crashed there leading Fabian Cancellara to organize the neutralization of the run in to the finish with the acquiescence of Tour management, an odd finish to an unexpectedly brutal day on the road.

And then came the cobbles.

We’ve been talking about Stage 3 for months now, and when the riders finally rode it, all battered and bloody from the previous days’ fun, things went from bad-to-worse/ good-to-great (circle one).

Between crashes (Fränk Schleck busted his collarbone in three places.) and mechanicals (An untimely puncture cost Armstrong nearly a minute to Contador, who looked like a natural on the pavé, and over two minutes to Andy Schleck.) Stage 3 was everything we expected it to be plus a whole lot more.

To be sure, the peloton didn’t relish their time on the cobbles, and we can argue ad infinitum about whether it’s appropriate to insert a mini-Roubaix into a Grand Tour, but it sure made for great entertainment to see them strung out across the countryside like a chain of Christmas lights with half the bulbs burned out.

Like the first week of this year’s Giro, where the riders complained of the shear brutality of the course, Tour 2010 is off to a harrowing start. “Harrowing,” in this case, is French for “incredibly awesome.”

It just goes to show that every effort we make to predict the race is foiled almost the instant the riders roll out of the neutral zone. This is a story with thousands of authors, the riders, the organizers, the roads, the spectators, and an occasional off-leash canine. The results vary wildly, but the quality of the tale seldom drops.

Please note: The word “carnage” was NOT used in the production of this piece.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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5 comments

  1. James

    I was watching the race this morning wondering if the riders could stay upright today! I didn’t get to watch the whole thing but it does seem they managed to have a fairly quiet day. I don’t like the crashing but I do like to see good hard stages. Hopefully things will stabilize a little for the riders.

  2. Jon

    I’m thoroughly enjoying this year’s TDF. I fear Le Tour and the Giro are engaging in one upmanship though… Surely there will come a time where this escalatory cycle will end up going too far and that would be a shame both for the fans and the riders.

  3. randomactsofcycling

    Thirty+ riders have been squeezing onto narrow, boarded Velodromes for decades in the Points Race. There is argy-bargy and plenty of skin lost. I’ve yet to hear anyone say it is too dangerous.
    However it does seem that since the Vuelta included the Angliru climb (2003 or 2004?), the Giro has been playing a game of one-upmanship and it’s just crazier every year. But hey, it’s also a heck of a spectacle. The riders always have the chance to ride the course before they race it (one of the great things about cycling) and no-one has ever been a ‘no show’ because the course is too dangerous.
    Will the story of the race be about the course or about the battles that it initiates?

  4. Robot

    @raoc I hear what you’re saying, and I agree mostly. I think the core of the debate is not about whether it’s dangerous or not. It’s about whether it’s appropriate for a Grand Tour. There’s a reason Alberto Contador doesn’t race the track. Or the cobbles for that matter. I mean, what’s to keep Christian Prudhomme or Angelo Zomegnan or Javier Guillén from including a cyclocross stage?

    So while I have enjoyed watching the Tour go over the cobbles, I also understand that the riders feel it’s not really what they signed up for. As with all these things, and I alluded to this in last week’s post about what makes a good Grand Tour, it’s important to get the balance right. There’s the issue of competitive balance, but also the issue of the danger vs. safety balance.

    The oil slick on the Stockeu for Stage 2 was unfortunate, and I think that served to amplify the perception that the route has been dangerous. I believe things will settle down now that the riders on more familiar terrain. It was like this at the beginning of the Giro too, when everyone was complaining about Dutch road furniture.

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