Go Dad Go!

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

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Stages 10 & 11

It’s tough to decide how I feel about the race-radio ban. When I first heard about the two-stage test-ban, I was all for it. Radios, I’d decided, lead to a lack of spontaneity and unpredictability. Besides, I don’t get a radio when I race! I have to watch the pack carefully, to notice who goes up the road, and perform on-the-bike calculus to decide whether to chase after them or not. (((Their speed – wind speed) x (1+ %grade of upcoming hill)/(Pack speed x (1+ Lactic acid percentage in my bloodstream)/# of glasses of wine I had the night before/temperature in celsius…))

I heard the arguments against the ban, and I wasn’t buying it: Safety? Start with the fact that there’s little that’s safe about what these guys do regardless of whether they have radios in their ears or not. And the people who’ve been barking most audibly about the ban, the directeurs sportifs, have to be one of the primary safety hazards on the road: You ever see those guys drive? They’re all retired racers, frustrated to be sitting behind the wheel of a car and not on a bike, and they drive accordingly. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as frightened as when riding with a former racer at the wheel – and we weren’t darting between racing cyclists over mountain roads shaped like EKG readouts. So if you’re worried about safety, maybe worry less about radio contact a little more about not driving your Skoda up the rear wheel of one of your riders.

Still, we do see breakaways slip away and stay there; witness this year’s win by Thomas Voeckler, probably my favorite stage thus far. And the riders must know something about the value of those earpieces; why else would they stage a subtle go-slow “strike” in stage 10, not the dragging near-stoppage we saw in Milan during the Giro this year, but also nothing close to the fierce racing we saw in earlier stages, particularly in the wind. A break of four, including three Frenchmen hoping to do their homeland proud on Bastille Day, tried to stay away but was reeled in quickly when the Columbia battering ram started flying towards the finish. Mark Cavendish nabbed his third stage of this Tour, thus moving within striking distance of Thor Hushovd, who donned the Maillot Vert after his uphill-finish win in Barcelona. Just six points separated the two after this stage, in what is the most interesting race-within-the race of this middle part of the Tour – though before long the races for white, polka-dots and of course yellow will become very interesting as well.

Stage eleven, while evidently harder-fought, ended the same way: with Cavendish crossing the line first. This identical outcome, though, came after a very different kind of finish, an uphill run into the town of Saint-Vargeau, a profile that looked better suited for Hushovd, Friere or Ballan. But the Columbians executed to perfection once again, launching the Manx Missile at just the right moment; the US’ Tyler Farrar came as close to winning as he’s been in this Tour but couldn’t close the last wheel-width to the too-powerful Cavendish, who took the Green Jersey back from Hushovd, who could only manage fifth. With another flat stage tomorrow, look for Cavendish to zip that jersey a little tighter.

The action in our game has thus been confined to Thornton, who now has 4% of the pot, thanks to Cavendish. Of course, whoever takes the yellow jersey from Nocentini will earn more than that for his owner, as the Italian has now been in the Maillot Jaune for four days, and isn’t likely to lose it until Friday, maybe even Monday or Tuesday. That’s when the other races-within-this race will get exciting once again.




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