The Thrill of the Race

Today was an example of precisely why the Tour de France is the greatest annual sporting event on the planet. We had a real bike race. While we couldn’t seem to have a day go without at least one significant crash (Andreas Klöden), the real thrust of the day was the racing not some tangential drama.

The biggest surprise of the day was being reminded that this was Samuel Sanchez’ first Tour stage win. He’s a rider of such colossal talent that a Tour stage missing from his palmares felt a bit like an oversight. Yet his ride was hardly the best of the day.

I’ve secretly had my money on Frank Schleck for this year’s race. I think he has the maturity his brother lacks and this year his form seems at least equal to his brothers, maybe even better. To watch him ride up the road and see the weak response reminded me of the sort of glee I feel when the bad guy gets killed in a horror movie, not that I think Cadel Evans or any of the other GC favorites are bad guys, mind you.

Which naturally brings me to Alberto Contador. It is my sincere hope that his performance today wasn’t hampered by his knee. I respect that a rider beaten is a rider beaten, but my personal belief is that whoever wins the Tour—should it turn out not to be him—deserves to know he beat him straight up.

I’ve suspected that Ivan Basso’s near-anonymous performance up until now was the result of him saving himself. Today’s late-race surge supports that. Seeing him work with Evans to try to pull back time on Schleck with Contador struggling to maintain contact and Schleck the younger dutifully playing the scavenger and just sitting on Contador’s wheel was, pardon me, a thrilling bit of racing.

Nearly as great a surprise as today’s win being Sanchez’ first Tour stage was how little time Thomas Voeckler gave up to Schleck and Evans. It was a stunning piece of racing and gave rise to my favorite performance of the day:

Pierre Rolland.

Long after every other team’s last domestique had Roman Candled their legs earlier on the mountain, Rolland not only stuck by his charge, but helped pace him back into the lead group following accelerations that were more than Voeckler could handle. It doesn’t hurt, either, that his service was such that the casual viewer of the Tour wouldn’t appreciate the work he put in, the difficulty of the task he accomplished. The finish line hug between the two was one of those private moments between teammates, not meant for our eyes, even if it did happen on the world stage.

As for the mighty RadioShack, they have two riders in the top 20 on GC. It’s not the sort of performance anyone expected from Johan Bruyneel’s team and probably not the sort of performance that would cause RadioShack to renew their contract at the end of this year.

And what would a day at the Tour without a little more love for Johnny Hoogerland? That he took off on the unknown Horquette d’Ancizan (a climb whose difficulty I can attest to) and attempted to build a gap to gain more points in the king of the mountains competition was the best. I don’t mind that he lost the jersey today; that was inevitable. However, I am bummed he didn’t manage to pick up a single point. I’d have loved the statement that would have made. His attempt was more than enough, though.

When Monty Python and the Holy Grail is finally re-made, Hoogerland will play the knight who says, “It’s only a flesh wound.”

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 comments

  1. randomactsofcycling

    It was compelling viewing and great to see Basso and Evans taking turns even before Frank took off. Frank does seem to have better form than Andy but I don’t see his best as being any better than Basso in the hills. And yet more panache from Gilbert and Voeckler. Great stuff all round,
    And as you touched on Monty Python, here’s one for another day: If they re-make The Life of Brian, to whom might the following quote apply “He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy.”?

  2. adam

    I’m pretty sure that Radioshack have already renewed their contract, in fairness, while this Tour has gone pear shaped for them they’ve had a surprisingly good spring leading up to the Tour.
    Sanchez is one of those riders who if you went through his palmares and replaced all the 2nds place finishes with wins he’d have been one of the winningest riders of the last five years.

  3. Souleur

    the real race started on stage 12, and now we are here and it is a great race.

    I just continually wonder the strategery that all the teams are using to try to figure who…what…when…where…plan B…C and D….

    seems like this years multiple factors have really dictated an unusual race, and there is much more to come.

    I too like Frank Schleck, yet have to admit my money was on Contador prior to the race.

    But what about Cadel? he is really there this go around, as is Sammy Sanchez

    tomorrows race will be a do or die for Contador

    Interesting that past winners of tomorrows stage up Plateau de Beille went on to win the Tour…..which are the likes of Pantani & Armstrong.

    Will history repeat?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Adam: Yes, RadioShack are renewed, which is why I phrased it as a conditional based on an assessment at the end of the season.

      Sophrosune: Just trying to acknowledge that I’ve been rough on the guy.

      This is a real five-man race. While I don’t think Contador can or will win, you simply can’t count him out for a second. The Schlecks are the greatest threat, but Evans and Basso are riding very well. The difference between the two is how Evans is already placed.

      Random Acts: We should pose the question of which rider best fits that quote at the beginning of every Tour.

  4. Big Mikey

    Great remarks wrt Rolland. That has to be one of the most inspiring rides of the tdf. He kept scratching and clawing back the front group, then taking the lead again. I love how hard Europcar are working to protect the jersy. Chapeau.

    If the favorites do more of this negative racing in the Alps, this tour will likely go to Cadel. He’s in scorching form, from what I’ve seen, and we’ve seen him absolutely tear across gaps to follow guys. Boring racing or no, if he can pull an Indurain and hang with the skinny folks, he has a real shot at bringing this one home. That would be awesome.

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