Go Dad Go!

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stages 17 & 18

Not long ago I wrote that I love the Tour de France. And I do. But I love this year's edition a little less than others.

Oh, it's no 1998, with the Festina Affair and an (allegedly) drug-addled Marco Pantani scorching the climbs, nor is it a '96, when "Mr. 60 Percent" Bjarne Riis sullied the reputation of Danes and aerodynamically bald men everywhere by surviving not only Jan Ullrich's challenge but nights of sludge-thick blood barely leaving his aorta. But 2009 is thus far not my favorite, offering nothing like the beauty of 1988, the touch-and-go unpredictability of 2003 or of course the thrilling suspense of 1989.

And I was feeling this way before fan and Fee-favorite Jens Voigt crashed horribly on the final descent of stage 17. After putting in a characteristically cojones-y effort to keep his team leaders at the front, his front wheel caught a divot in the otherwise smooth road and he went down, almost Beloki-like, though evidently not suffering injuries as severe as the Spaniard's in 2003. He'll be alright, but this Tour is a little less interesting for his departure.

Again, though, this edition has offered a lot of candy for the avid fan: the wind-shorn stages of the first week; Cancellara's opening time trial; Voeckler's solo victory; and, yes, Contador's climbing clinics. Soon I'll get over my dislike of the phenom, the best cyclist we've seen in a long time, remembering that I have no real evidence of drug use...but then I'll see him snap off that pistol-firing gesture as he crosses the line, and I'll revert to disdain.

But today offered another reason to put this year's Tour in the "Loveable" column: no, not the Schlecks' series of one-two punches up the final climb, which turned into Contador's rope-a-doping the brothers, but Thor Hushovd's picking up Cavendish's ill-conceived, ill-timed petulance one word at a time and shoving it back down his Manxian gullet. Watching the green-clad Norwegian jump off the front and, as if by force of will, determine that he would pick up every sprint point to be won today, was pure joy. Cavendish may still get the Green Jersey back, but it will take winning every flat sprint left in this Tour. My money's on Hushovd. (Actually, it's not; I wish it were.)

There was more to love yesterday and today: typically spectacular scenery over colorfully named cols; passing through three countries in one stage; VandeVelde giving it his all to ride his team-leader replacement Wiggins back into the race; and reading that today the Schlecks attacked "in Jens Voigt's honor." (Imagine someone attacking in your honor! Not singing, or writing poetry, or even running a marathon, but attacking. That's indeed an honor, and Voigt is deserving.) Oh -- and looking at my spreadsheet and finding that Frank Schleck's victory today won my brother 1.5% of the pot, and that Astarloza put our remote player Anetta in the black for the entire game.

So I'll wait to pass judgment. The Green Jersey competition alone makes this Tour worth following, as does the race for the podium. But the Yellow Jersey? That's sewn up, firmly on Contador's shoulders.


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