Go Dad Go!

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

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Tour Stage 3


Yesterday I wrote that all was going according to plan. Then today’s stage delivered a surprise, an complete non sequitur, a moment predicted only by the few who were in on the joke and enjoyed by all those who got to watch – but definitely not those who watched from behind.

This – this is why I love bike racing: because not just suffering and fitness but physics and physiology, strategy, topography and meteorology all combine to shape the course of events. If this were a running race, the fittest racer would prevail nine times out of ten. But because these racers are borne on bicycles and travel much faster than on foot, and are thus subject to the vagaries of the elements and terrain, there’s far more at variance.

Don’t get me wrong: I love a time trial. Rider against the clock; man against man on the same course, with typically the same variables at play (though a shifting weather pattern can play differently as the day wears on). But in the pack, where being able to follow another rider’s rear end can mean the difference between insouciance and ignominy, and where a shift in the wind might mean a shift in the outcome, things are less predictable and often far more interesting.

Which is all why today’s stage, otherwise a yawner – four guys break away early, only to be gobbled up in the closing kilometers, after which Farrar and Hushovd make a good show of it but Cavendish emerges with his arms overhead – quickly became a fascinating study in tactics and physics: with about 25 kilometers to go, a bend in the road brought a shift in the wind, and Columbia-HTC seized on the opportunity. They rode to the front, grabbed the first five slots at the head of the peloton, left just enough room to maneuver behind and around one another – and little else for anyone caught inattentive. Riding with savvy, moxie and a lot of strength, the entire team rode at the front, forcing about 155 riders who weren’t paying enough attention into a panic as fissures formed among them, pried apart by Columbia’s efforts and a mistral that more experienced – or lucky – riders saw coming.

Joining Cavendish, Michael Rogers, Tony Martin and the Columbia-HTC team were Cancellara, his massive legs powering him into the break; Armstrong, seemingly innocently making use of his experience not to send a message but just to be in the right place at the right time – and few others. Contador, Evans, Sastre, Leipheimer, the Schlecks, the entire Garmin-Slipstream – all left out. Boonen too, and many of the sprinters. Hushovd was there, and gave Cav’ a good run about 200 meters from the line – but never really came close.

I have to say: I loved watching this stage. I ate it up. I watched with half an eye, mostly attending to work, but as I heard Phil & Paul’s volume edge up I paid a bit more attention, and then, when that first gap formed – just ten meters, but widening fast – I keyed in, fascinated, and watched it unfold.

By the time they’re in Paris, or probably by the second day in the Pyrenees, this stage won’t turn out to have mattered much. Any time that the climbers and GC contenders lost can likely be gained back on those who gained it –Martin, Armstrong, Rogers – within a couple of mountain stages. But it made for some great drama. Watching panic set in over the peloton as they wound their way back and forth across the road, like the surprised snake I saw while riding in Tuscany – like Phil Liggett said of himself, I had to catch my breath when it was over.

The impact on our game isn’t much either: Tom takes home another 1% as, like Spartacus maintaining a purchase on his shield, Cancellara keeps hold of the Yellow Jersey, and Thornton rides Cavendish’s win number two to another 1% himself. These guys are a ways from paying off their investment – but every day gets them closer!

Tomorrow may bring more surprises. Perhaps Columbia’s efforts today will cost them the team time trial win tomorrow, or maybe the Hinault-LeMond dynamic on Astana will prove so severe that one of its protagonists will crack. Or maybe things will play out just as the book says they will.

Regardless, today was a lot of fun.



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