Friday Group Ride #370

Friday Group Ride #370

In June of 1991, I met a Spanish couple in Yellowstone Park. They gave me a ride to one of the park attractions that was 40 miles from my campsite (and bike). We talked food, cycling and the looming Tour de France. When it was time for prognosticating, they picked Greg LeMond, which surprised me, not because I didn’t think he could win, but because Spain had so many great riders. And when they asked my opinion, I picked Indurain. When he won, I wondered if they thought back on the crazy American who thought a Spaniard would win.

The following July I was excited to see if he could do it again, and was thrilled to see him repeat when it was clear LeMond couldn’t find his form. We didn’t yet know about mitochondrial myopathy.

But come July 1994, Indurain’s countenance of marble had worn thin for me. I wanted almost anyone but Indurain. I wanted someone new, someone exciting, someone fresh, someone you’d want to invite to dinner.

I’ve tired of Chris Froome in much the same way, but for different reasons. Froome is personable, gives a good interview and is a genuinely likable guy. However, even though he displays none of the hostility Lance Armstrong had for the press, he delivers many of the same answers to questions about doping as Big Tex did.

Why the press bothers to ask riders if they dope baffles me. It sends all interviews down an incredibly awkward rabbit hole. But that’s not even the best reason not to ask: They all say no. Every last cyclist. So the question becomes, are you going to call them on it and provide some proof? No. Almost no one ever has anything approaching smoking-gun proof.

I’d have an easier time thinking that Froome was clean if Sky Team director David Brailsford hadn’t decided Cyclingnews writer Barry Ryan was an enemy and excluded him from a press conference. There’s no one in cycling that is more reminiscent of than Johan Bruyneel who, it’s worth remembering, has been banned from cycling for 10 years for the way he ran the U.S. Postal formation. Next to Armstrong himself, no one has had a more adversarial relationship with the press. But now we have Sir David Brailsford.

Of course, that’s not the only reason to question how he runs Team Sky. No, the simple fact that Sky can arrive at the bottom of the final climb on any stage with their team essentially intact and then drill the pace until two Sky riders are leading Froome and the other GC favorites is really what makes me uneasy. Watching that team race reminds me of trying to land a Cessna ahead of a big storm. They simply don’t make enough Dramamine on an annual basis. Seeing three Sky riders isolate the other GC hopefuls is a page straight out of the USPS play book and we know exactly how they achieved that.

There’s no doubt that cycling is the cleanest it has ever been. There’s also no doubt that riders still dope. To think there isn’t a single team out there coordinating the doping of their riders seems as naive as thinking the earth is flat. Oh that’s cute. 

However, whether Sky has doped half of London is not our concern. I don’t want to ask you a question you can’t answer. No, the question before us today is, can you set that question aside and simply watch the Tour de France and enjoy it?

Does the Grand Boucle captivate you?

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  1. Jacques

    Yes. I’ve always loved seeing the daily drama and achievements of the riders, both those at the sharp end of the field and those clinging on for dear life.

    I do agree that Sky may as well be U.K. Postal at this point but we aren’t seeing ex Sky guys getting popped like Postal. Who knows at this point.

  2. Rohit

    Less than it used to.

    I started watching the tour when LeMond battled Hinault on the Alpe d’Huez. We used to set the VCR for the 1am show and watch while we ate breakfast. LeMond was a compelling story. Almost straight out of “Breaking Away”, 1st
    American in rainbow stripes, 1st to win the tour, the aero helmets and carbon fiber bikes (oh so exotic in the 80s!). Plus Taco Bell.

    Then came Indurain from a small town in the mountains and Il Pirate (RIP Marco) and of course Lance. There were the sprinters like Cipplolini, Kelly, Zabel Mcewan and Abdujaparov to name a few. .

    All of this was brought to me by Phil and Paul with their crazy accents and legendary stories that were fresh at the time. while watching the boys “go into difficulty” I learned the names of legendary passes, cols, monts, tiny alpine and pyrenian towns that all of a sudden seemed like the center of the universe.

    Since those days, and it really tailed off when Armstrong exited the stage, the personalities are smaller, less compelling, less interesting.

    Sure, I absolutely appreciate the effort, the grace, the will, skill, and luck needed to complete even a stage or two. But the passion seems to have be bled out of the event.

    The tour lately lacks heroes and anti heroes. Limited battles of good and evil. The riders are for sure superhuman, but they are somehow simultaneously smaller than life. Yes, Sky has become a de facto evil empire. USPS then Discovery were as well, but without Armstrong as the love/hate of El Jeffe, it’s just hard to get emotionally connected to the entire race.

    For me, the stories of the people putting their wheels on the line in Emporia, Leadville, Moab, Old Caz and the like are more compelling these days.

  3. Shawn

    A little different take…

    I don’t know how you can say there is no doubt that cycling is cleaner now than it has ever been. When we stop doubting, we make it easier for cheaters to cheat.

    And that resonates with what is obvious (to me, anyway) about the cycling press: it’s an industry that owes its entire existence to pro cycling. The situation is not exactly like pro wrestling — whose correspondents are obviously troupe members — but the similarities are undeniable. The cycling press has every reason to remain superficial on issues, like doping, that tarnish its subject matter. Accordingly, with the exception of the few investigative journalists who have dared to dig beyond the platitudes offered by the riders and the teams, it’s a pretty good idea to treat the cycling press with as much skepticism as cycling itself should be treated.

  4. Fausto

    Many have complained of the tour being boring this year, even though Froome is barely leading the thing with 4 riders within 2 minutes. It is not boring, it is just predetermined that Froome will win and everyone else if fighting for crumbs. The history goes back to Jacque, Eddy, etc. all the big winners were at one time considered boring. Sometimes they even stayed away from the race. Sky has purchased its biggest rivals like Postal did. Former world champ, the best up and comers like Porte, Uran. But in the end you still have to ride the miles, stay upright and climb/descend the mountain. 99.9% will not win because they are not an all rounder but a climber, their team is weak and under funded, they are on a team that supports a sprinter and a GC contender. Porte, always the bridesmaid because of a crash, a mechanical, a bad day. TJ, Talansky, good for one week, not 3. The French, no team built just for the best rider. The rest can climb but not TT or TTT as needed. Like LA who could go through an entire tour with out putting a foot down, it takes something incredible to have the talent, the team, the confidence, the weaker rival. It only works out for one rider. Great champions need great rivals and the tension, Froome vs. Quintana vs. anyone just doesn’t have it. Personality, he is neutral. Form on the bike, ugly. Panache, none, it is all calculated. What bothers me about Sky is like Lance, they have had both Wiggins and Froome who are incredible engines but not Stage Racers transform into TdF champs. Add in the power meters, the race radio, etc. it has become a formula. Hate the asterisk next to a GC winner, but it would be nice if he wins the TT and there is a great finale in Paris since the Green jersey has been handed vs. won.

  5. Miles Archer

    Yes. I watch. I’m sure they dope, but with the current testing, it appears to be more of a level playing field. I’m sure they dope in just about every professional sport.

    These days with a DVR, it’s pretty easy to watch when I have time. And the US new media makes it easy to not know who wins each stage until I watch in the evening.

    I do kind of mildly dislike Froome for his boring consistent winning ways. One of the things that makes this year boring is the lack of Sagan and to a lesser extent Cavendish.

  6. Lyford

    Yes. I like the small moments — Uran trying to wind up his single-speed sprint, Eddy knowing the right side of the roundabout, Calmejane fighting off cramp, the body language of the riders as they run out of gas. Dan Martin’s spirit, attacking even if it doesn’t make sense. The joy of the first-time stage winners.

    The big picture? Meh. But the human side keeps me coming back.

  7. Jay

    I still watch the Tour, but it is hardly an exciting race, especially in comparison to the Giro and Vuelta. I think that some of that lack of excitement is due to tactics like that of Team Sky. That in combination with a generation of riders that seems unwilling to take risks in terms of tactics makes for a boring race. Obviously there a few guys, i.e. Contador, willing to do that, however, they are in the minority. Yes, the top of the GC standings is closer than it has been in a few years, but the likelihood of dislodging Froome from Yellow is a low probability.
    The Tour is still the biggest race on the calendar, but not necessarily the best or most interesting. That said, I still watch.

  8. Sid

    The New York Yankees have been accused of buying world championships because they have the biggest budget. Sky have the biggest guest budget. I am tired of people assuming they are good because of doping. If having the most money is doping then they are guilty. They have the best roster in cycling. This year they have a ex world champ, the Colombian champion, and two podium finishers in grand tours. They have multiple people who could lead a team elsewhere i.e. Richie Porte. In the mountains they have guys with Chris because of they were on another team they would be there to compete against chris. Stop saying they are doping. They are money doping if anything. That being said the stuff from this year is sketchy. But look at chris on the first steep mountain stage this year he cracked. He cracked in the dauphine and the vuelta last year. Just because they have a ton of dudes at the end of the race does not mean they are doping.

  9. J Flo

    To add to the above — Sky has a ridiculous budget, multiple riders strong enough to lead other teams, and is built and trains all year for one purpose, to win grand tours and this one in particular. So it is not surprising to see them consistently controlling the race. And Froome on his own has been dominant and up to most every challenge, except for stage 12 where he was dropped on that final 500m ramp to the top.

    Like many, I would like some more drama and a new champion. I wanted to see Porte or any of the other top 4 to somehow defeat the juggernaut, and the DQ of Sagan was outrageous and almost made me turn it all off.

    All that said, the Tour is still a ridiculously compelling event. I think the Giro was far more exciting this year but impossible to watch on TV in the US. If it were for a single day, give me Paris-Roubaix or Fleche Wallone or another of those often mind-blowingly exciting classics instead (which also are almost impossible to find on TV in the US). Froome has virtually no chance to win that kind of race.

  10. Harry

    The visual beauty, both the big vistas and the tight focus on racers, continues to delight me. The racing in its various forms is exciting enough. Phil, Paul, Bob & CVV are entertaining and so geeky. Are the riders clean, etc? That stuff, like current US politics, is too Byzantine to really figure out or care about – but both provide stuff to consider while pedaling for hours.

  11. Daniel

    Sky doesn’t necessarily dope. They have the biggest budget and can buy the best talent. They have world champions, national champions, grand tour podium finishers. They dope and it’s called dollar doping. Before comments of doping are hurled out look at their roster.

  12. John Kopp

    It’s sports medicine. Been around since Hercules! I assumed Froome would win so I really wanted to see Sagan go for the green again. Should not have been a DQ unless they also kicked out Demare for the same thing. He was much more careless than Sagan!
    I actually enjoy the Giro and Vuelta more. No one dominates, so it’s anyone’s to win. Just wish it had better coverage in the states.

  13. AlMac

    If you take away the top three on GC, it’s been a great race and worth watching.
    While Aru ran out of legs, it was good to see him attack on what was largely a solo campaign. His joy at wearing yellow was a pleasure to see. Fantastic.
    Barguil ran away with the Polka Dot but really animated his way there. It was fantastic to see him attack on the Izoard when he didn’t need to. A worth winner and a delight to watch.
    It was so sad how Kittel left the race, but Matthews and Sunweb were already in the hunt for Green. It would have gone down to the finish line. Kittel was already sagging before the crash and I think it was evident that he was unwell and working very hard to stay in the race.
    I think the “success” of team sky is more a product of the media and its focus on the Tour. I have read how Froome is the stage racer of his generation simply by winning the Tour. I simply don’t agree.
    Team Sky have a singular focus and bring the best they can, fully prepared, to the Tour. They are the GC team of the Tour and Froome is likely the GC rider of his generation at the Tour. But they are not the team of the Tour or the World Tour and Froome is not the rider of the Tour or his generation.
    If Team Sky replicated their success across the World Tour that would be a different matter. They don’t and I think that’s important context.
    I also think Team Sky do what they do very well. If Bardet was on Team Sky he would have arrived at the Tour a far better time trial rider – I have no doubt.

  14. Kevin McTighe

    Don’t watch the Tour. Watching a peleton ride for miles is boring. I follow the Tour and all pro cycling via written and video highlights.
    As for the Tour, first rider I check is Laurens Ten Dam. Any rider that finishes Tours after breaking his break, bleeding all over himself and bike or separating his shoulder, being declared DNF but finds someone to pop it back into place and continues … what will stop this guy ? Hasn’t happened yet.
    Adam Hansen. Did he finish ? He’s only finished all Grand Tours since 2011 Vuelta. 18 in a row.
    Adding Dan Martin after his crash related performance this year.
    Who can’t appreciate the Underdog Rides of Rigoberto Uran and Ed Boss Hagen. Rigo finishes 2nd by 54 sec, over min lost via ITT. Ed Boss Hagen has 6 podium finishes after team leader Cavendish crashes out. No one saw those performances coming !
    Frenchman Barguil wins on BASTILLE Day and final Mtn Stage atop Col d’Ozard in FRENCH Alps. Wow !
    Yates Twins win back to back White Jerseys ! Another first ! Speaking of firsts, Gronenewegan first Grand Tour victory is on Champs-Elysees. That’s fairy tail ending !
    So yes, I follow Pro Cycling. Men and Women. In UCI Sanctioned Pro Road Racing the US presently has an Olympic ITT Champ, World ITT Champ, UCI Pro Tour Points Champ and an Hour Record Holder.

  15. TomInAlbany

    I follow the tours via the live tickers – like Cycling News. Started with the LiveUpdateGuy (LUG) back when he worked for that other place.

    Phil and Paul have lost me, as has Bob Roll. Plus, the working for a living thing.

    So, I watch the NBCSN replay only if I know there’s going to be something interesting to see. And, I’ll read.

    Yes, I’m tired of Froome as well. Question is, are the Brits tired of their guy? Back in the day, I never tired of LeMond winning. Or Lance for that matter.


  16. Aar

    No, I can’t. There’s no joy in the Tour anymore. It’s always the same old winners doing the same old thing and whining about it. There’s too much on the line for any of the participants (including media and peripheral staff, not just racers) to have fun.

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