by Neil Browne
Tour de France: Excitement and Heartbreak
With nine stages in the bag, the 2013 Tour de France has already been more exciting than the entire three weeks of the 2012 edition of the race. We’ve had seven different teams win a stage (stage 1: Marcel Kittel – Argos-Shimano), stage 2: Jan Bakelants – RadioShack-Leopard, stage 3: Simon Gerrans – Team GreenEdge, stage 5: Mark Cavendish – Omega Pharma-QuickStep, stage 6: André Greipel – Lotto-Belisol, stage 7: Peter Sagan – Cannondale, stage 8: Chris Froome – Team Sky, stage 9: Dan Martin – Team Garmin-Sharp) and five different yellow jersey wearers (Kittel, Bakelants, Gerrans, Daryl Impey – Team GreenEdge, Froome).
Each stage has been a battle and with the exception of stage 8 (I’ll discuss that in a little while) we never knew how the day’s racing would go down. The favorites in the team time trial fell flat. Peter Sagan had only won one stage. The same goes for Mark Cavendish. Many thought those two star sprinters would each have racked-up a couple of stages by now. Instead we had the cagey ride by Bakelants steal the day as well as Dan Martin taking a fantastic win in Bagnères-de-Bigorre.
We’ve also had heartbreak.
Ted King, one of only six Americans in the 2013 Tour de France, was cruelly a victim of a crash in the stage 1 cluster f**k of the Orica-GreenEdge team bus and the drama that followed (see last week’s Roadcycling.com post).
The injuries King had suffered in stage 1 prevented him from riding a time trial bike, so he rode his road bike with clip-on aero bars for stage 3’s team time trial. The Cannondale rider was dropped within the first kilometer and according to the Tour de France officials finished seven seconds outside of the time cut. He was gone from the Tour. Au revoir King.
His parents had just arrived from the U.S. and instead of racing in front of them, he was packing his bags for home. The Tour de France makes dreams, but also takes them away.
Of course in this new era of professional cycling what grand tour is complete without the specter of doping hanging overhead?
Team Sky showed why their captain Chris Froome is a favorite for the overall victory. In stage 8 Team Sky decimated the Tour peloton. Richie Porte paced Froome up the climb of AX-3 Domaines, taking the stage victory and the yellow jersey. Post-stage analysis of the Kenyan-born rider’s time clocked him as the third-fastest on the ascent in race history, only a few seconds behind a doped Lance Armstrong. In a cleaner era of cycling that comparison was awkward. (Want access to the same training tracking and analysis tool as Froome, Porte and the rest of Team Sky? Sign up for the Premium version of Roadcycling.com’s Training Tracker p/b TrainingPeaks).
It doesn’t help that team principal Dave Brailsford has sent mixed messages regarding transparency at Team Sky. He wants to do it, then changes his mind. On some points I can’t blame him. If he releases data from riders, these data sets can be misinterpreted by many of the armchair analysts out there. However, Brailsford does have a habit of throwing around the word “transparency,” so he’s going to have to expect some blow back when he keeps his cards close to his chest.
Speaking of blow back ... David Millar took to Twitter to defend Team Sky’s performance.
“Well, @TeamSky rode a perfect race, and for the record, I believe they are clean and they deserve respect and admiration for it.”
Continuing Millar wrote, “Just saying, because I don’t think they deserve to have mud thrown at them when they work so hard to do it right. It doesn’t seem fair.”
In theory a nice idea to tweet support, but the execution was all wrong. Complaining that people are suspicious of Froome’s performance which is directly because of riders like Millar himself. Honestly he needs to keep his head down and not make comments like that. He lost his opportunity to make statements like that when he stuck a needle full of EPO into his arm and then lied to everyone about it. He should be thankful he’s a member of a team that allowed him a chance for redemption. Coming to the defense of Sky, a team he isn’t a member of and with no idea what is going on behind closed doors, is naïve.
That said, I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon and say I’m one-hundred percent sure Sky is dirty. While stage 8 showed an extraordinary Porte, stage 9 showed he paid the price for that effort as he lost almost 18 minutes to the stage winner Martin. I’ve been burned before and I now reserve the right to view amazing performances with both eyes open. Also, Sky has a large budget which allows them to take their training up a notch in regards to ordinary such as bringing extra coaches, motos, and chiefs to training camps. In Sky’s case the jury is still out.
And with the UCI presidential election a two horse race, Pat McQuaid is shaking hands and kissing babies in an attempt at re-election. Like his opponent Brian Cookson, McQuaid has also published his own manifesto about his attempts at cleaning up professional cycling while on the other hand telling reporters to not ask questions about doping. Omerta much?
McQuaid’s plans include clean cycling, equality in women’s cycling, modernization, and global development. This begs the question, why in the past eight years hasn’t he done this? I was never a Cookson fan solely because the British candidate wasn’t McQuaid, but change is due. Cookson could be part of a transitional change in leadership to help the sport.
Speaking of change in sport, nothing is going to change unless we remove some of the vestiges of that era. McQuaid is one of those. Race announcers Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen are another. Like a prehensile tail, these two are relics of a bygone era. Both rode the coattails of Armstrong for financial gain. When it was obvious Armstrong was dirty, Liggett concocted a fanciful tale of “men in black” from USADA approaching a friend and offering bribe money in exchange for false testimony.
I can forgive the occasional mistake in commentating. They are speaking for four hours or more and honest mistakes will be made. However, when you routinely mistake riders’ names, misidentify, or have a “men in black” USADA story of being offered bribe money, it’s time to go. End of story.
I was further disappointed by Omega Pharma-Quickstep directeur sportif Brian Holm. The Danish director told Cyclingnews that Lance Armstrong was the fifth “coolest rider” in history. Holm admits he’ll get people hating him for that comment, but he backs it up by saying, as he twisted his beard nervously, that the American brought a lot of people and excitement into the sport. Sure, Armstrong inspired people to become involved in cycling, but the excitement was turbo charged by the doping. Remember Mr. Holm, we’re trying not to encourage that type of excitement. Holm should ask Emma O’Reilly, John Walsh, Paul Kimmage, or the Andreus how “cool” Armstrong is. How cool would the Texan be to Holm if Armstrong had put his target sights on him and made it his personal mission to destroy him. I suspect we’d get a different answer.
We’re only one third of the way through the grande boucle and I fully expect to see more surprises and drama. You know that’s why we watch Le Tour de France ...
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