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 4 & 5

Oh, how I love the Tour de France! Perhaps that’s not the sentiment of a true cycling fan; it’s like a basketball aficionado saying he enjoys the NBA playoffs more than the NCAA tournament. But I live for July and the Tour.

Here’s why: First, it’s the World Championships. Meaning it’s not, but it is. It’s the most prestigious race, bar none. Nationalists or cycling nerds will chirp that the Giro is a tougher race, or that Paris-Roubaix is the strongman’s race (which is true, and I love P-R), but the Tour rolls it all into one, and attracts the best talent.

Usually. Last year, not really. But even then, there’s drama, typically narrated by Phil & Paul. Again, it’s probably hip (or hipster, really) to prefer other commentators, or to watch sans commentary, just the whirring of the wheels and the spurring by the fans, but I’m a sucker for the P&P Jargon Factory. Phil’s right about half the time when identifying riders, but Paul usually corrects him; maybe they can’t stand each other, but you wouldn’t guess it. They’re colorful, and most of all they’re enthusiastic; Monday I worried that Phil might go into cardiac arrest when the peloton split apart in the wind. A few years ago I followed the Tour on TV in England, where Sean Yates was doing the commentary with another British guy, and I nearly fell asleep. I pray that the Versus duo sticks with this for years to come.

And then there’s the route: Every year it’s a blend of tradition and iconoclasm, tried-and-true and new-and-different. Sometimes the innovation goes awry, as with the time trial up Alpe d’Huez, during which Armstrong was spat on and was followed by a snipers mounted on a chase car – or even yesterday’s team time trial on narrow, serpentine roads. Most of the disruptions to tradition are inspired, though, and often yield the Tour’s best competition and its most vivid memories, as when LeMond won by 8 seconds in 1989 on a (gasp!) final day time trial. We can look forward to more of these memories, as this year the route pays tribute to the riders’ stomping grounds in the south of France and the Spanish coast, plunging tomorrow all the way to Barcelona from cyclists’ playground Girona, and then later on the Tour’s penultimate day, when the race will surely be decided atop Mt. Ventoux.

As for this idea that the other Grand Tours are equal to or better than the Tour de France…I’m not buying it. Not after visiting the Giro, which I found to be less organized, less attended and just less. For all of Italy’s cycling glory, history and beauty, even the queen stage of this year’s Giro felt bush-league compared to Tour stages I’ve visited. And when the Giro organisers decided to route the centenary version through some of Italy’s most historic sites, the backdrops were sometimes picturesque, but the parcours themselves were often dangerous or even unworthy of racing – so much so that one stage the riders rode slowly to protest the dangerous route.

I was already gushing after Monday’s day in the wind, but yesterday brought more excitement as Astana sped so quickly through the TTT that Armstrong very nearly stole the Maillot Jaune from Cancellara; the Swiss’ Spartacan efforts at the front of this flagging team’s formation, however, earned him a couple more days in yellow – and maybe a third, depending on how he fares in tomorrow’s uphill-finishing stage. One fifth of one second separates Armstrong and Cancellara, and many more follow closely behind. Astana’s victory put Andreas Kloden across the line first, so he’s our game’s “winner,” earning 1.5% of the pot for Howard.

Today saw crowd favorite Thomas Voeckler, the peloton’s Paul McCartney (still “the Cute One,” even after all these years), finally live down his 2005 campaign, when he nabbed the Yellow Jersey – and many a heart as well. I love his derrings-do, always hurling himself into breakaways, even at the beginning of a long mountain stage where he’s sure to get caught; had it not been for today’s victory we might have started calling him Sisyphus to Cancellara’s Spartacus, but he earned it with aplomb, shaking the break with five kilometers to go, holding off an atypically late-surging pack and even giving us a scare when he started celebrating with 200 meters to go, Cavendish and his troops massing on the not-too-distant horizon. Voeckler’s victory wins – wait for it – three year-old Suzanna Fee 1% of the pot (thus doubling her investment – put it in the college fund!), while another day with Cancellara in yellow brings Tom another 1%; one more and Tom will be in the black! (With Cancellara; he has a ways to go on his other investments.)

All is not well with our various riders, of course: Howard’s Boonen continues his path of penance, this time flatting twice and having to chase back without team support on a windy day; in the TTT Jim’s Evans had to drag his team along, but still fell further behind his General Classification rivals, and today Robert Gesink, owned by Jeff Jarvis after I advised him of the shrewd pick, crashed and dropped out with a fractured wrist. Sorry Jeff!

And to think: things haven’t really gotten interesting yet. Friday we hit the mountains, and the race really begins. But I’m having fun now!



P.S. Check out #6 in the standings at http://www.probikepool.com/tours/tour-de-france/pool-standing/global-classification.aspx. If I can move up five spots I win 800 euros! Yes, I’m a supreme bike-dork – but I’d appreciate your advice and/or positive vibes!



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