Go Dad Go!

A self-important blog about riding bikes, raising kids and the all-too-rare nexus of these two pursuits.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Stage 20 Update

Today presented bike racing fans with a spectacle to relish -- even those of us for whom this year's Yellow Jersey raced proved less than gratifying.

Mt. Ventoux is an imposingly, famously merciless gray rock, void of the treescapes and snowscapes we see from the helicopter when the Tour passes through the Alps or Pyrenees. And it didn't fail to impose its harshness on the Tour today, as every rider -- even Contador, from the looks of it -- evidently suffered terribly on its slopes. Tony Martin appeared painfully penitent, trying to make up for losing the White Jersey and falling from the high expectations he set for himself early in the Tour. Pellizotti looked immediately regretful for having taken a flyer with about 5K to go. The Andy and Frank Schleck looked like the most frustrated, agonizing pair of brothers since the Karamazovs, even as they pushed their podium rivals Contador and Armstrong, respectively, right to the observation tower at Ventoux's summit. And Wiggins was surely regretting ever leaving the track as he struggled mightily -- and ultimately triumphantly -- to retain his fourth spot in the General Classification.

Which brings us to just why this stage was so exciting to watch: These guys were turning themselves inside out not to win the Tour, or even the stage, but to hold or gain a spot. Armstrong was riding for the pride of appearing on his eigth Tour podium; Wiggins and Frank Schleck were riding just to hold off one another and, possibly, to unseat Armstrong. Kreuziger rode to satisfy some very high, early and mostly unmet expectations, and Andy Schleck was riding mostly for...brother Frank. No one today was dreaming of winning the Tour, unless Contador was feeling so secure in his spot that he was able to lose his head for a few minutes in the reverie that will be fulfilled tomorrow.

And as to Contador: for all my carping about the suspicious nature of his wins, I sure enjoy watching him ride a bike. He's not smooth, but he's not gangly either; to put it tritely, he comes as close to truly dancing on the pedals as anyone in the peloton today. And regardless of how he's achieved this status, he's arguably the best bike racer we've seen in generations: today Armstrong stated that had the Spaniard been in his prime in the years of the seven Tour wins, things might have turned out differently.

Almost every aspect of this Tour is thus sewn up: Contador in Yellow; Andy and Armstrong on the podium with him; Pellizotti in Polka-Dots; Andy in White; and...probably Hushovd in Green. Remaining to be decided are the stage win on the Champs Elysees, the Most Aggressive Rider designation, and yes, the Green Jersey. Should Cavendish win tomorrow, and should Hushovd end up more than a few places behind him, the Manxman could end up with the Sprinter's Jersey after all.

Should Cavendish manage to come away with the Maillot Vert tomorrow, he'd more than pay for Thornton's hefty investment -- but not if he falls short. Otherwise, our winners and losers, earners and owers are all but settled. I'll send out details in the coming days, as this is going to require an audit: if things indeed end up the way it seems they will, I need to be certain of my calculations.



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