Oh, ye of little faith. The status quo arises to dampen future hope. But in that dragon of a peloton, slinking and slithering across the countryside, there is ALWAYS one who thinks he’s fast, who will test himself against the dragon’s might.
What am I talking about? No. Me neither. No clue.
So most of you expect Mssr. Cavendish to continue to blow the wheels off the competition, and you know, that’s probably a safe bet. He’s young. He’s hungry. He’s got things to prove.
I hold out hope that an angry Hushovd is a strong Hushovd, and that once Cavendish first sought to rattle the bars of that Cervelo Test cage, it was wholly and fully on. I also believe that Tyler Farrar will mature. Quite what that means for a guy who puts his head down and pedals like his ass is on fire, I’m not sure, but I think he’ll win more races this season.
What many of you pointed out was that a certain measure of the Manxman’s might is in his lead out train, and that without Big George Hincapie ®, the Columbia train will be somehow less strong. Further, it’s difficult at this early juncture to gauge the strength and organization of the Sky set up. It stands to reason that they’ll be good, but how good is anyone’s guess.
Perhaps Mr. Brailsford of Team Sky will force young Cavendish to leave Columbia-HTC by denying him the easy victories he must have grown accustomed to in 2009.
And finally, let me just address the contention that sprint stages are boring. They are. That’s my opinion. I often ask myself what the point of riding 170kms was if they were just going to finish in a humping, writhing mass at the end anyway. Without a hill of any sort, a flat stage abhors a breakway. I’d rather they just gathered at the race start and had a 400m drag race, myself.
Oh, I know, there’s more to it than that. Heinrich Haussler and Philippe Gilbert showed us that, but there are exceptions, and there are rules. Let the lead out begin.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Andrei Greipel has laid down a marker. As the season cranks up and folks begin thinking about who is going to win what, the German sprinter, with three stage wins and an overall at the Tour Down Under, has reminded everyone that the Manx Missile isn’t the only show in (Columbia) sprint town. In the US, the media focus last season was on Tyler Farrar’s attempts to best Mark Cavendish, though Thor Hushovd showed that there is more than one way to skin that particular cat (Get it? Manx? cat? Alright, whatever.)
The standings from 2009 look like this: Cavendish – 23 wins; Greipel – 20 wins; Hushovd – 9 wins; Farrar – 9 wins; and just for excrement and giggles, Edvald Boasson-Hagen had 9 wins (B-H isn’t a sprinter, really, yet, but he’s fast).
So this week’s Group Ride looks at the flats. So many of the season’s tune up races are fodder for the faster fellows.
Who do you think has the best shot at toppling Cavendish? His teammate, Greipel? Hushovd? Farrar? Boasson-Hagen? Or perhaps a dark horse like Gerald Ciolek (Milram), Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank),Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Robbie McEwen (Katyusha), Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) ?
Who is the next, next thing, or the old, next thing or the right now thing? Who will save us from Cavendish’s inane victory celebrations? Who has the best shot at being the fastest man in the peloton in 2010?
I saw a number of new products today. Some of them were interesting enough to want to review. The one category I really saw explode were the number of new products recording wattage and displaying wattage data. There are a number of new products, including a system that uses Speedplay pedals which is currently in prototype. Photos of those as well as CycleOps new head unit for the bike will be coming tomorrow.
Mark Cavendish is as entertaining a sprinter as we’ve had since Mario Cipollini retired from the sport. As small as a Cooper S and just as fast, he’s as interesting on the road as off. Unafraid to talk a little smack before a stage, you can be certain he’ll back it up with an acceleration befitting a top-fuel dragster.
Just one problem, his mouth cost him the green jersey. No matter what you thought of the bunch sprint on stage 14 (it seemed no worse to me than many I’ve seen), Thor Hushovd thought Columbia-HTC’s Cavendish interfered with his progress and filed a protest. The race judges agreed and relegated Cavendish to the back of the group.
Had the result stood, Cavendish would have gained 13 points in the green jersey competition and Hushovd would have picked up 12. Instead, Cavendish got no points and Hushovd picked up 13.
Afterward, Cavendish said that if Hushovd were to win the green jersey of the points competition when the race finishes in Paris, it would be because of the relegation, suggesting that Hushovd might not be a worthy victor. Hushovd answered him on stage 17 by entering an early breakaway and taking the 12 points available in the first two intermediate sprints.
It was a gutsy move. It was real racing, apart from the larger considerations of the yellow jersey and even the inevitability of the stage victory by a climber. Even if Cavendish hadn’t been relegated, Hushovd would have increased his lead in the Green Jersey competition from 4 points to 16.
Had the relegation not occurred, and Cavendish kept his mouth shut, he would have gone into the final stage of the Tour just 4 points down on Hushovd. A victory on his part would have given him the Green Jersey for keeps. Without the stage victory, Hushovd would only need to finish a place behind him to keep the jersey,
But because Cavendish suggested that Hushovd could only win the jersey with the points gained due to the relegation, Hushovd got mad and, as the proverbial “they” say, he went on a tear. With the 12 points he gained during his breakaway he was 25 points ahead of Cavendish going into the final stage. The only way he could win the final Points Classification was if he won the stage and Hushovd finished in 15th place or lower. Oops.
History will show Hushovd won the Green Jersey by 10 points, two fewer than he gained on his breakaway on stage 17. Without those 12 points, Cavendish would have taken the Green Jersey off of Hushovd at the finish line in Paris.
Cavendish’s off-the-bike statements have animated the race as much as his legs have, making him arguably the most entertaining rider at the 2009 Tour de France, but I wonder if watching the Green Jersey slip away due to one remark might make him think more before speaking. We have to hope not; the race already has too many guys making guarded statements. The race is more fun if Cavendish speaks like he sprints.
Photo: John Pierce, Photosport International
In losing the 2009 Tour de France Lance Armstrong has experienced something many of us wouldn’t have dared guess. He’s feeling the love. The Lance backlash has un-backlashed for some people. People of every nationality who reviled Armstrong have turned about face and are, almost inexplicably, fans again.
Nowhere was this more apparent than at the Annecy time trial. Though one could hear the occasional jeer (and one guy did moon him) on the climb of the Cote de Bluffy, Armstrong rode to the cheers of thousands.
Some sports writer somewhere will attribute this to the French psyche, postulating that the French have such a history of defeat they could only love a loser, turning a profound event into the butt of yet another joke about the French.
That Armstrong would experience a turnaround in public opinion here in the United States isn’t as surprising, nor is it as apparent. Armstrong has continued to have legions of fans and those who did dislike him did so for a variety of reasons: that he was overexposed and no other capable cyclists got any mainstream media attention, that he was too dominant at the Tour de France, that there are strong allegations of doping, that he rained on Contador’s parade.
The dislike the French have felt for Armstrong (and dislike is putting it lightly) has been simpler and more uniform in nature, which is what makes the turnaround so much more dramatic and complete.
For the French people, if not the French media, their dislike of Armstrong was rooted in his dominance. Three is, indeed, a magic number. It seems to be the point beyond which the crowd begins to turn; it happened to Miguel Indurain, and for some folks, it happened following Mark Cavendish’s third stage win at this year’s Tour. When Armstrong took the yellow jersey at the 2002 Tour de France, French opinion began to change of the great champion.
By 2003 most of France was united against Armstrong and his dominance in their mind was intertwined with their belief that he must be doping. With each successive win his utter authority in the race only reinforced the belief that his achievement was superhuman.
Now, in defeat, he is human once again. One of us. People who haven’t cheered for Armstrong in years have been shouting for him to put in a big performance, ironically just the sort of performance that made people dislike him in the first place.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
In the early 1990s the cycling world rumbled with displeasure at the incredible success of mountain biker Juli Furtado and road racer Lance Armstrong. Furtado went a whole season undefeated until she DNF’d at the World Championships. Armstrong wasn’t winning everything in sight, but his shockingly successful season, culminating with a solo win at World’s had folks worried that he might corner the market on the V.
Every few years a rider comes along who initially stuns us with their brilliance. We revel in the miracle of their skill and bravado. We celebrate them as the newest confection at the candy shop, our latest favorite. Lance Armstrong’s 1999 Tour de France victory remade him for us. He was as fresh as a newly picked strawberry. The second harvest and even the third were just as delectable.
But invariably, we tire of the new flavor. My personal stomach upset came with Miguel Indurain’s fourth victory in the Tour de France. He was precise. He was consistent. He displayed nothing so much as data. I felt like I was watching a clock tick for all the emotion he betrayed.
On group rides talk of Armstrong has turned sour. While he still has some fans; my informal tally of what I hear is that most riders not only don’t want to see him win another Tour de France, they don’t even want to see him play his own card; support Contador or go home seems to be the dominant theme.
Judging from the comments here on RKP, Cavendish’s two successive stage wins threaten to cast him with the same distasteful brand of dominance that caused us to turn on Furtado, twice on Armstrong and Indurain; before them there were others we turned on, but it has been long enough that most are too young or too old to remember how we tired of Eddy Merckx’s unwillingness to leave behind table scraps.
The problem with a dominant rider isn’t success per se, it’s political. The rider who wins too much becomes a tyrant. We may not be socialists, but our sense of what is fair is that no one wins in straight sets day after day.
So what if Cavendish were to sense our reluctance to celebrate his brilliance and deliberately botch a sprint. As unlikely as that scenario is, we’d disdain him even more for not giving his best; the only thing worse than a gift used too much is a gift poorly used.
I like the bravado that comes with Cavendish. Clearly Columbia has developed the most effective leadout train since Cipollini’s; yes, I think they do a better job than Petacchi’s teams did. When he compared his competitors to juniors, it was a refreshing bit of smack-talk. Thems fightin’ words!
I do have one issue with Cavendish. He wins so much he seems to think he needs to keep changing his victory salutes to keep them fresh, or different, or something. As a result, they end up looking contrived. I get that Columbia-HTC has a new sponsor (the aforementioned HTC). What’s more: I get that HTC makes phones. What I don’t get is the need to remind us with a silly I’m-making-a-call victory salute. One might wonder if he was just phoning his victory in.
We love a true champion. And I’m willing to follow Cavendish as he takes stage win after stage win. I hope in the high mountains we get occasional glimpses of him suffering as he does what’s necessary to earn that green jersey he is wearing. But if I could ask for one thing from him, it wouldn’t be to win less, it would be to drop the predetermined victory salutes. Forethought is to passion what math is to art.
Cav, if you want to keep me, keep the rest of us as fans, show us how you really feel when you win. Drop the artifice and give us a guy who is just as thrilled to win this as he was his first race as a junior.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International.