TdF ’11 – Stage One

Unlike amateur golf, pro cycling does not use a handicapping system to give riders of unequal talent an equal chance at winning the race. That is why, Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme deployed the “dumb ass spectator” strategy to bring the peloton down, outside the 10k banner, with Alberto Contador caught up in the resulting mess.

Oh sure, it looked like an accident, but could Prudhomme really have hoped for more? From the moment the UCI cleared Contador to ride, he was instantly installed as favorite to win. Having watched Lance Armstrong ride away with the yellow jersey in the ’00s, Prudhomme HAD to do something to take his race back.

And so, on an innocuously straight road where the pack was just ramping up the speed to set up the finish, a spectator leaned out, looking up the road for some reason, rather than back at the swarming velo mass flying by, clipped Maxim Iglinsky of Astana and sent riders tumbling like a gym full of dominoes at the end of a long college weekend. Contador wasn’t injured in the pile up, but he lost 1:20 on the stage, slightly less to the other race favorites, Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans, Andreas Klöden, et. al.


Do not believe anyone who tells you Contador can’t overcome that deficit. He can. But that deficit is going to turn the 2011 Tour de France into a race.

Stage winner Philipe Gilbert perpetrated a half kilometer sprint to take the day. He dropped Fabian Cancellara. He gapped the entire lead group. A late breaking Cadel Evans couldn’t chase him down. It was exactly the sort of win that makes Gilbert the most exciting racer on the road today. On the podium, he pulled the yellow jersey over the Belgian champion’s jersey. That, my friends, is a bad ass maneuver.

Also, a big thumbs up for the new intermediate sprint rules. We were particularly surprised to see Mark Cavendish fall sound asleep in advance of the line, allowing both Tyler Farrar and Andre Greipel to come over top of him. Perhaps it’s true what he’s been telling the press, that he’s really only interested in stage wins.

The new set up for green jersey points turns 21 stages into 42. Sort of.

And on we go to the Stage Two Team Time Trial (TTT). I will be wearing a skin suit while watching from my couch. It’s an attempt to shave some time off the 3hr 30min live coverage that will keep the lawn from getting mowed and my children from getting parented.


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  1. James

    Ah! I was wondering about that spectator. I thought it was just a total moron standing in the road looking the wrong way. That Prudhomme is a very shrewd character. I suppose he will plant some mega-idiot “runners” on the mountain stages to create even more chaos! Brilliant!

  2. Author

    @James – No. The runners are actually idiots. BUT…the chalk on the road? It’s an acrostic version of Joyce’s Ulysses…in French.

  3. sophrosune

    I understand this was tounge in cheek, but I found Andy Schleck’s response to the turn of events as a real window into his character. He said something to the effect, “Contador needs to understand that cycling is not just about pedaling, but about thinking.”

    Really?! Fair enough but when you’ve been belly aching for the past year about how you attacked in a cross over gear and kinked your chain and Contador rode up ahead in the company of Menchov and Sanchez, you should probably avoid engaging in the most obviously hypocritical comments to the press. Let’s not forget that last year in Stage 2, Contador magnanimously agreed to “neutralizing” the race at the behest of Cancellera when the Schleck boys couldn’t keep their bikes upright along with a number of the other riders.

    Then in the very next stage Frank dumped the bike again, knocking himself out of the race and creating a split in the peloton that Andy made sure Cancellera exploited to the maximum on the cobbles.

    Contador’s reaction on Saturday was as it should be: “That’s racing. Sometimes you have good look and sometimes you have bad.” Not sure that he can make up the time. But I really hope that someone recognizes the poor sportsmanship that Andy Schleck exhibits time and time again while somehow being heralded as some kind of paragon of said sportsmanship.

  4. randomactsofcycling

    I’ve never heard of Schleck being held up as a paragon of sportsmanship but it does kind of irk me that ‘his’ team’s moniker is ‘True Racing’….because everybody else just races for the money.
    I do recall a certain Lance Armstrong criticising Contador for poor bunch positioning and that is really all it was. What the heck is the favourite and twice champion doing sitting anywhere other than somewhere in the first ten wheels coming into the final kilometres?
    I think he can get the time back. He’ll put 1:20 into Schleck just in the TT but this is good news for Evans who seems to be on form and has fresh legs….and can TT.
    BTW: who’s in the photo?

  5. Phil

    To me, Andy Schleck has gone from a potential winner to a certified weiner (I know, name calling is bad). It’s as though he tries to talk such a tough game and exude so much bravado, yet when it comes time to put in a really good performance, he’s not quite up to the job.

    I’ve been watching the Tour de Suisse over the last few days and his form in that seemed to be far from what it should have been to be making any serious challenge in Le Tour. Unless he’s superhuman, he’s going to have a tough time riding himself into form by the time the mountains arrive.

    I will take sophrosunes comments about sportsmanship one further and say that he is flat out a bad sportsperson. I can understand frustration at dropping a chain, but to drag it out (whether it’s him, the media or both) for over a year is borderline childish. That and his “one rule for them and another for me” deal is just silly.

    I don’t like Alberto Contador (mainly because of his smug smile and the pistol victory salute he does), but he at least seems a little more intelligent – perhaps that’s because he just doesn’t talk as much, and seems to only speak in Spanish.

  6. velomonkey

    I’m with Phil – Don’t like Conti, but I like him better than Andy. I used to dig Andy, now is he is just euro trash whinny. And the guy has ZERO panache on the bike – Conti not much more. As usual, the tour is the biggest, but it aint the best.

  7. Big Mikey

    Robot, not sure I agree. AC would need to spot those guys a lot more than nearly two minutes to make this interesting.

    For what it’s worth, I wasn’t an AC fan, but watching the panache he showed in winning the Giro, gifting stage wins, winning mountain stages, etc., he won me over. Just an amazing racer (assuming he’s clean, which is a big assumption).

    And using the press to make comments about AC is probably not wise. I suspect things are better for everybody else when he’s not pissed off.

  8. Souleur

    I for one am just glad to see it dashed up a bit

    I agree wholeheartedly Contador CAN overcome that deficit, but it won’t be easy and at least he will really work hard

    And Cadel, this time has no excuses

  9. C.Monaco

    Agreed that this is a delightful dialogue that I feel cannot end in Andy’s favor, much though the tempter-tossing will do to excite ambitions and stir the pot. Frank will always be the man in the family, one who learns from experience instead of sitting on it.

    For all of his ability, Contador really is a family man. It is written of his generous nature towards his direct family, lives in the town he was raised in and, though there are myriad of ways to see the Giro stage “gifts” he has given, they were always given to riders of teams who deserve and need the press, the money, and the acclaim. Say what you will about his boisterous salute but I think it is an affectation that doesn’t seem to fit the rest of him, as a publicity suggestion from someone who perhaps didn’t understand El Pistolero. Wow, I’ve really turned into a fan of lil Berto.

  10. LD

    finally some intelligent comments to read. unlike other sites, the level of journalism and readership of RKP is refreshing. I have never been a fan of Schleck. Super talented but what has he done? I am a big fan of Contador and believe he has a huge battle on his hands. However, the only thing stronger than his engine is his mind. He reminds me a lot of one certain motorcycle racer, Valentino Rossi in that respect. It’ll be interesting for sure and the combined tactical acumen of Contador and Riis will be fascinating to see unfold.

  11. Adam

    I’m going to defend Andy Schleck for a moment here. To the comments of what has he done; well, he did win L-B-L solo. That’s kinda cool. He was the one person to put Gilbert in difficulty this Spring in going solo in Amstel. Two 2nds in the Tour and one in the Giro (behind a likely doped DiLuca) ain’t bad either.
    If you can find any other rider in the last two years who has had the nerve and strength to attack AC, let me know.

  12. sophrosune

    Aside from character analysis of Schleck, and back to the tounge-in-cheek question if the TdF organizers are trying to stick it to Contador, I am wondering about the rule that Carlos Sastre recently referenced. That is if the stage finishes with a climb, it doesn’t matter if you crashed, you are given the time that you finished with. In this case, riders like A. Schleck and Wiggins would have received the same time as Contador. It was a Categorized climb (Cat. 4) and the crash appears to have occurred on the climb. Why then was not that rule applied by the race officials? Any thoughts?

  13. Adam

    Thoughts on Sastre’s comments: they’re not out to get Contador, the 3k rule is decided before the race starts not after the finish. All riders know which day the rule is applied (it was not in effect yesterday). Had AS and AC’s roles been reversed the outcome for each would have been identical – they did not decide post stage to penalize AC on a technicality.

    1. Padraig

      Regarding the 3k rule and climbs: I don’t think that the ASO is out to get Contador, though they are clearly not wild about ongoing domination of their race by any one rider. First, rule enforcement isn’t up to the ASO, but race officials. The ASO only gets to create rules. The problem of enforcement is just more UCI BS. Stage One was a great example of inconsistent application of rules. I’ve read the rule and am not entirely clear on how it should have been applied. I can’t say I disagree with how it was applied, but I’m not confident that it was applied in exactly the spirit that was intended. I should add I don’t necessarily think the race officials were being deliberately capricious, but internally consistent logic isn’t part of their core skill set.

  14. Sophrosune

    It seems also they are changing their decisions on a few riders times from Stage 1. Two French riders (Sandy Casar (FDJ), Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervélo) have profited from the jury’s decision.

    Anyway, as a Contador fan I like that he has been given these hardships. He may not overcome them, but if he does I think he may win back some fans who may have dismissed him.

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