Saturday, July 10, 2010

Le Tour and riding the cobbles... LeMond and Anderson. And Cancellara called a bully

Both Greg LeMond and Phil Anderson have said it - the Tours of the 80's regularly included cobbled sections; indeed it was a great and exciting part of the race. A painful one, though, and one to be avoided if at all possible. But if it's part of the race, so be it. Like the mountain stages and the flat stages, the slippery roads and the crosswinds: it's what makes up a Tour de France. Yes, it adds risk - but surely no more so than racing down a mountain pass or taking on a twisty, narrow sprint finish. Phil (on SBS TV) called modern riders a bit "precious" about this year's re-inclusion of cobbles whilst admitting it makes a great spectacle for the viewer rather than an easier, safer ride for the pro bike racer.

Phil 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.

Cobblestones, Crashes, And Potential Winners Of The Tour |
Anyway, the inclusion of cobbles was a controversial move in this year’s race, and led to a lot of complaints. What people forget is that up until the mid '80s, the Tour regularly featured a Paris-Roubaix-like stage. By the time I raced in the Tour I had already competed in three Paris-Roubaix races.

One difference between then and now is the fact that many of the current Tour riders have no experience on the cobbles. But when I started racing, the fascination with cycling wasn't just the Tour de France. It was the photos of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix which hit my imagination. That was a big part of the romance of the sport. And that’s why, just after the first Junior Worlds I rode, I jumped at the chance to go race in Europe with Kent Gordis. We were competitors in my first year of racing, but by this time we were friends.
addicted2wheels: On conflicts of interest and cycling - or how vested interests can pervert an event
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.