Sunday, July 25, 2010

Le Tour 2010 - Stage 19 - Hesjedal and Menchov impress, but the expected happened. Except for Van Summeren's spectacular tumble

Forget the private race between friends Alberto and Andy, it was Menchov and Hesjedal that made the running. The usual Phil and Paul TV commentary was appalling and made it all sound more exciting than the fizzer it really was. But that's showbiz and the game we are playing these days. If you want to make money, make it dramatic - be it politics or sport, it all comes down to the artificial: the soap-operatic drama of it all. Thus we get the endless inquisition on the so-called "mechanical" and now how the race - a 3 week race, mind - was "really" lost on day 1 (the prologue, I mean) because of a wet road for Andy.

Perhaps we should hold Le Tour inside on single-speed bikes under controlled conditions to save ourselves from sloppy gearchangers and the vagaries of weather?   

OTOH just imagine the race we may have had if Cancellara hadn't annulled stage 2. Imagine if Andy Schleck was left holding his arm on the side of the road, waiting for a new bike - and was significantly gapped by a host of riders. Imagine if Hushovd and McEwen had got a significant swag of points instead of nothing. Just imagine. And unlike the hamfisted "mechanical" or the state of the weather it was Andy's teammate Fabian who changed the direction of the whole race. We shouldn't worry about the little details, it's the bigger fish we have to fry instead.   

Contador Elated But Admits He Struggled |
"The truth is there's a lot of emotion. I think it's the first Tour to give me this much emotion. You can't imagine how much I've given. Yes, there were few days when I wasn't in my best form, and that might be why I'm so emotional."

"The last year has been difficult for all kinds of reasons," the Spaniard said. "This year I've not been at my best all the time and that was the case today. But of course in the end I'm very happy with how the year has now turned out. All the victories this year have been the result of a lot of hard work. It's been said that I've not competed in a lot of races but I've spent a lot of time away from home preparing for this objective."
Contador Elated But Admits He Struggled |
"But this year I've not been in my best shape. Today I didn't feel too well. I didn't sleep well and woke up with stomach ache, but ultimately the day turned out pretty well for me, although I suffered more today than at any other time this year."

He would not be drawn on how far he was below his best or what his worst days had been. "I can't really say what percentage I was below my best, but there were some moments that I had the same good sensations as last year. I wasn't at the same level as last year, but I still managed to win. I won't say which my bad days were. I'll keep that to myself for obvious reasons.
PezCycling News - What's Cool In Pro Cycling
The wind makes Denis Menchov’s ride all the more impressive. He was the fourth from final rider to leave the start house and he managed to finish 11th in the time trial and take two minutes out of Sammy Sanchez. He was the top-placed rider of anyone in the top 10 overall, and his performance moved him ahead of Sanchez and into third place overall. For years, Menchov has been talked about as a potential Tour de France winner, but in each of his previous attempts at the race he’s cracked and fallen out of contention. This year he quietly rode a nearly-perfect race. He wasn’t able to stay with Andy Schleck or Alberto Contador in the mountains, but with the 2009 Giro d’Italia victory in his back pocket and a really strong performance in this year’s Tour de France, he could very well return to the Tour in 2011 as a very serious contender for the overall victory. This would be especially true if the 2011 edition of the race has two long individual time trials and/or a team time trial.
PezCycling News - What's Cool In Pro Cycling
There’s also no doubt that the chance to take the yellow jersey off Contador’s back today provided immense motivation, perhaps more so than last year when the two riders entered the final time trial separated by 2:26 (a gap Schleck knew to be unassailable).

But I have a hunch that Schleck’s result today was not an anomaly. I don’t think he pulled a once-in-a-lifetime effort out of his body today, but that he’s significantly narrowed the gap between himself and Alberto Contador in terms of time trials. And if Andy Schleck continues to improve in the mountains (he and Contador were equals in the mountains this year, where Contador could accelerate away from him last year) and in the time trials, he could very well beat Contador in the 2011 Tour de France.

Tour De France: Stage 19, Route Maps & Results |
"I did the first 40km really, really fast," said Schleck. "I lost more in the final 10 kilometres than in the rest but I fought to the end."

The Luxembourger accepted his defeat, even more so because it did not come down to the mechanical. When asked about the 42 seconds he conceded to the Spaniard on the Tour's very first day, three weeks ago, Schleck said, "The prologue was terrible for me but it's part of the Tour de France. I haven't got any regrets. Anything can happen in the Tour. I know that. I'm satisfied and I'll be back next year to try and win," he said.
Tour De France: Stage 19, Route Maps & Results |
Menchov will thus be the third man to feature on the famed podium on the Champs-Elysées Sunday evening, with the rest of the top ten classification unchanged except for Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions), who moved up from eighth to seventh: an excellent performance for the 29-year-old Canadian.
Tour de France Stage 19
Garmin team rider Johan Van Summeren of Belgium falls at the start of the individual time-trial. Photo: Reuters
Hesjedal into 7th overall, DZ takes 5th on day – Tour de France, stage 19 – Team Garmin-Transitions
Hesjedal’s amazing run up the overall began after the crash-marred stage 2 that saw Christian Vande Velde abandon.

“On the morning of stage 3, Matt White said, ‘It’s open, give it the best you can.’ I didn’t wait around,” he told Velonews’ Neal Rogers.

“I went for it, and I wanted to keep that going the whole race. I didn’t want to be high in the standings and fade away through the Tour de France. I wanted to stay up there.”

“I’ve always believed I was capable, and here I am now.”
I guess yesterday's - or last night's - debacle at Le Tour can be blamed on too many riders on too-narrow roads. Add some rain and maybe a sprinkle of oil and bingo, they all fall down. Well, some had better luck than others. Chavanal made his own luck and kept well clear, making his win a deserved one - but the points and time gap were not a "real" result and I'm sure even he feels a bit cheated that the remaining riders - and not just Cancellara, although he spontaneously took up the 'lead coordinator' role - turned off the chase. Yes, it was the right thing to do when big names were splattered all over the road - it's meant to be an athletic contest, not a smash-em-up derby after all. But many of us have been in bike races where conditions were bad - rain, hail, dirt roads, crashes - and still the race went on. So why last night was different I'm not sure. It was bad and riders were confused, but did it need to be neutralised all the way to the end...? What if Cancellara and others were not just seeking to be "fair" to the fallen but also hoping that their teammates made it back, too?

Phil (Anderson) was also asked about Cancellara's 'control' of the "risk" on the stage won by Chavenal, at the expense of those who had suffered and clawed their way back to the front in search of points (like McEwen and Hushovd). Rightly, Phil pointed out the obvious conflict of interest in a rider seemingly annulling a stage (his teammate Andy Shleck had been gapped for example) and pointedly called Cancellara a "bully". Well Fabian may actually be a very nice guy (Scott Sunderland said so earlier this week so it's probably true) but he certainly displayed a degree of self-assured "Tour Patron" aura not seen since Lance was the Boss. Or maybe not since Hinault last pulled on the yellow jersey and gave the peleton a piece of his mind.

OTOH there's money on the line here and decisions were made on the road by individuals with a vested interest in the final result. Now if the riders were not connected by radio to team directors I'd be less inclined to question their motivations, but in any event it was obvious that neutralising the stage was in the best interests of several teams - and perhaps the majority. And the minority who were coerced into following what the Saxo Bank team wanted could do nothing. Oh sure, they could've attacked when the main field regrouped but they would also have been chased down by the man with the yellow jersey on his back and given at least some sort of tongue-lashing, or worse.