It might be that turning one’s attention to the Tour de France in July is inevitable for the dedicated cyclist. If it’s July, we’re watching the Tour. So being among other cyclists for me means conversations that are as likely to include talk of the Tour as they are talk of the weather.
The conversations are different this year, as compared to other years. This is the first Tour in the wake of USADA’s Reasoned Decision, the first Tour since Tyler Hamilton’s “The Secret Race,” the first Tour since the fall of Lance Armstrong. As a result the viewing public no longer seem to be willing to watch with the general belief that the peloton is clean, that we can watch first and worry about positive tests if or when they turn up. We seem to be asking questions first and watching second.
And of course, the question on everyone’s lips is whether the yellow jersey is clean. It may be that Chris Froome is clean. It may be. However, we, the cycling fans that watch the Tour, are unsure what to believe. The old practice of accepting a rider as clean until a positive test has burned us badly. So while UCI head Pat McQuaid loves to tout just how much better the testing is now than it was when he assumed the office of the president. That may be, but if you’re injured in a car accident, the surgeon asks himself not whether the bleeding is less, but whether the bleeding has stopped. Imagine a doctor coming to you and saying, “Good news, you’re bleeding much less today.”
McQuaid just doesn’t understand that’s not acceptable. We don’t want a pretty clean sport, we want a clean sport. Reasonable people will understand that some riders will always cheat, always seek a shortcut to glory. The assurance we need is that the sport’s governing body is doing all they can to pursue a clean sport. It’s apparent that for many years the UCI has simply wanted the appearance of a clean sport, and this distinction helps to explain why in 2010 the UCI waited until October to reveal that Alberto Contador had tested positive at the Tour de France.
Following the stage 11 time trial, Froome has a lead of 3:25 over Alejandro Valverde. But within a minute of Valverde are Bauke Mollema, Alberto Contador, Roman Kreuziger and Laurens Ten Dam. Froome’s gap begs questions in this era. In watching the coverage we’ve seen how he amassed his gap, but we’re asking not how he got his gap, but what allowed him to get his gap.
The tragedy here is that Froome is being painted with a doper’s brush even though he’s never tested positive. Sure, we can talk about his third-fastest ascent of Ax 3 Domaines, but he’s not new to climbing with stunning talent in a Grand Tour. If Froome goes on to win the 2013 Tour, the ineffectiveness of the UCI will have cheated the rider of his deserved glory and us of the enjoyment of watching a true champion crowned.
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
My takeaways from the first week of the 100th Tour de France are as follows: 1) Corsica is beautiful, and despite the narrow, nervous, crashy, not-altogether-organized nature of the opening stages there, I need to put it on my “Places I Need to Ride My Bike” list; 2) As always, there are some tough sons-a-bitches in that peloton, including three of my favorites, Ryder Hesjedal, Ted King and Geraint Thomas; and 3) the sprint competition is going to be more fun to watch than usual, with Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Peter Sagan, Simon Gerrans and Mark Cavendish all taking sprint wins (and intermediate points) through the first week.
When you toss in that Daryl Impey has just become the first African to wear the yellow jersey, it is hard to argue that this version of the Grande Boucle lacks for drama, grit and flair.
You will note that I have not yet even mentioned the GC competition (Impey is in yellow, but he is not in the GC mix). On that score, rather than attempting anything resembling expert prognostication, a task better left to the right honorable Pelkey and/or his Irish partner in crime, I will only say that Nicolas Roche, Roman Kreuziger, Alejandro Valverde and a whole gaggle of Garmins are still comfortably within touching distance of the top.
That means, to me, that weeks two and possibly three will have more real players involved in the struggle for the jaundiced shirt than past iterations of this race have allowed. So that’s cool.
This week’s Group Ride asks, what is the story of this Tour for you so far? What are the surprises? What magic is yet to come? Take this wherever you want, the Tour does not submit itself to easy reduction. We could, quite possibly, talk about this all day. So start now.