Go Dad Go!

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

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Update: Stages 13 & 14

I thought this might be a feel-good Tour. With Armstrong coming back (ostensibly) to promote cancer awareness, and with guys like the Killer and the Cobra out of the Tour (not to mention the Chicken), this one had the potential to be all high-fives and double-cheek kisses.

This didn't come to pass.

Instead, this is the Tour of division, dissension and occasional derision, with teammates, countrymen and even old friends turning on each other.

From stage three it became clear that Armstrong and Contador would be frenemies, not compadres, and that Brunyeel was no Phil Jackson when it comes to managing competing egos.

Meanwhile, the riders have been angry at the organizers for route choices and the two-stage radio ban. Kloden's mad at Brunyeel for not turning the bipolar Astana leadership into what surely would be the most fractious triumverate since Octavian, Mark Antony and Lepidus. Tom Boonen's angry at the world, which keeps flinging crashes and punctures at him; Jens Voigt nearly went apoplectic at the Mavic wheelman for a slow change; Denis Menchov must be furious at himself for not resting on his Giro laurels; and everyone's angry with the French because they've had the nerve to win a couple of stages.

I'm waiting for all-time peloton nice guy Carlos Sastre to start swinging spindly punches at the next person who doubts his ability to repeat his victory.

We're even feeling it close to home, where word on the Montclair street is that Howard is angry with me for swiping Contador (totally justified), and Thornton's wife is frustrated that he spent so much on Cavendish (unverified, but justified).

How refreshing, then, was Cancellara's mid-race gesture of generosity towards David Millar, documented by Tom Carpenter a couple of days ago. Then yesterday we were treated to the sight of babyfaced stage victor Heinrich Haussler, he of dual citizenship and mutually inclusive national devotion, giving in to tears as he crossed the finish line, having powered away from Sylvain Chavanel and taking Jim Rusk's "Best Descender" title along the way.

I have no idea if Haussler's actually a nice guy, and am not suggesting he deserves his win any more than a typically self-aggrandizing winner...but I'll admit to feeling a catch in my throat when I watched him roll over the line.

Today's stage, though, swung us back to this Tour's polemics (a favorite word of European cyclists, for some reason), and now they're hotter than ever: Fan favorite and surely-deserving veteran George Hincapie broke away with 11 others. Before long their margin over the peloton, including Tour leader Nocentini, had grown to much more than the five-and-a-half minutes that separated Big George from the Yellow Jersey, and many observers assumed that the other teams, with little to gain from an acceleration, would soft-pedal the closing kilometers and allow George to spend at least one final day in jaune. Instead Garmin pushed the pace, and even Astana spent a bit of time at the front, Armstrong's allegiance to his compatriot and seven-time supporter notwithstanding. Sergei Ivanov powered away from the break for the win, and George followed sixteen seconds later, having led the group for much of the stage. An easy pace would likely have left Hincapie in yellow by a narrow margin, but instead Nocentini crossed with five seconds to spare, and will spend tomorrow in the Maillot Jaune. In an interview five minutes after the stage finished it was clear that Hincapie was very disappointed, and very angry.

Add to that some jostling between Hushovd and Cavendish in the closing meters of the field sprint, leaving Hushovd pissed at Columbia and Cavendish relegated to last place for the day, and we have a Tour brimming with invective and frustration, with the two American teams, Columbia and Garmin, ready to start shoving frame-pumps in each other's spokes.

Which sets us up for tomorrow: A mountaintop finish follows a number of smaller climbs. This route may begin to answer the Armstrong-or-Contador? question, may leave us with a new leader, and may even give the riders something to concern themselves with besides who-dissed-who and whether to wear earpieces or not.

And if it doesn't? I'll be angry.


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