Go Dad Go!

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

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Knock knock? Who's there? Andy Schleck -- Stage 18 Recap

That’s right, friends: Andy Schleck answered today. He answered his critics and his rivals – and then he firmly shut the door to an Alberto Contador victory, and likely even a podium spot. (Thanks to Karen for the subject line idea.)

After my “better and better” message over the last couple of days, I’m not really sure how to avoid redundancy here; this is simply some of the best Tour racing I’ve ever followed. Andy’s attack on the second of the day’s three monstrous climbs was audacious, and it was old-school, heralding back to LeMond, and Hinault and even Merckx – who bore witness to Schleck’s feat today, standing through the sunroof of an official Tour car, following close behind.

Andy didn’t catch his rivals off-guard so much as he led them to question his sanity. Something motivated him to accelerate with nearly 10,000 feet of climbing still to come: either the doubters’ catcalls ringing in his ears, or a thoughtful consideration of the depleting efforts that the other GC contenders had put in over the past week – or both; but judging by the reactions of Evans, Contador, Basso and even Voeckler, they simply assumed he was nuts. It wasn’t until they were halfway up the Galibier that they realized they’d waited too long, and that Andy Schleck was back.

But if Andy’s audacity set the stage for this awesome stage, it was Voeckler’s tenacity that provided the captivating climax. Seven years ago I sat in a movie theater and watched a Tyler Hamilton Foundation-sponsored big-screen broadcast of a Tour stage, but it was Voeckler who stole the show that day, hanging on to the Maillot Jaune by 22 seconds over Lance Armstrong. But this year’s version, though watched on our little TV with (son) Declan’s incessant, irrelevant interjections interrupting Phil and Paul’s commentary, made 2004 seem like a crackly AM radio account by comparison; such was the spectacle of Voeckler finishing yet another stage in Yellow, well over a week after the first Pyrenean stage, when the script said he was supposed to lose it. His face contorting even more wildly than we’d seen in earlier stages, the Frenchman wrung every modicum of effort from his body; after that climax we saw the denouement: Voeckler draped over his handlebars, breath heaving and legs quivering. And yet, in an interview this evening, he vowed to fight another day: in a characteristic show of class, he described the successful effort that “we” (he and his teammates) had made, and pledged to “honor the jersey” by throwing himself at the stage once again tomorrow.

Tomorrow, which should give us still more exciting racing. For while Schleck’s 60 km breakaway was impressive, it was not decisive; Cadel Evans lurks close behind him in the overall standings, and with a time trial looming on Saturday – a discipline favoring the Aussie – Andy likely needs to put more time into this rival tomorrow. That should prove difficult, as Evans will follow his every move, as he followed Contador’s earlier in the Tour. Today Evans realized too late that Contador and Sanchez were having un jour sans* (Did I mention the BFF thing?), and that Voeckler and his teammate Pierre Rolland were in no position to ramp up the pace for 40 painful miles, so it all fell to Evans. Valiantly he slung himself over his handlebars, grimacing for the better part of 90 minutes, locked in that odd, hunched style of his. (Somehow Evans, a slight, professional bike racer manages to appear chubby when he climbs.) He towed many of his rivals up the Galibier, ultimately reeling Andy’s lead back to a manageable margin. Schleck had played it well, as teamwork, guts and a bit of luck all played to his favor, but over his last few kilometers he looked like he was pedaling through pudding – or maybe the snow that had covered the finishing road just days earlier. And Evans thus heads into the final days in as solid a position as anyone.

In fact, just as the Yellow Jersey competition is far from settled, so are the races for the other jerseys, as is the team competition. Cavendish should have sewn up Green by now, but he was docked points when he finished outside the time limit, and now is just 15 points ahead of Rojas. Yellow, White and Polka-Dot all also remain to be settled. Which makes this a lot of fun to watch.

And makes our game fun to follow! Today only seemed to solidify Phil’s spot atop the podium, as he added Schleck’s 11 points to his total – and six to his lead. But there’s real action below: Jon vaulted five spots, into third place, and he holds Voeckler and Andy – and Cancellara and Cavendish, with a time trial and a sprint to come. Jon’s so sure that he’ll finish in the money that he’s traveled from the East Coast to the Bay Area just to collect.

Audacity, tenacity…and loquacity. Sorry folks; I just find this stuff a lot of fun.

Alpe d’Huez tomorrow! It should be a national holiday.

A demain –


* Un jour sans: A day without. All cyclists experience it sooner or later, from the most hardened professional to the lowliest amateur pretender. It differs from the ‘knock’, when the body runs out of energy, and the remedy for the knock is simple: take on more sustenance. Un jour sans, or défaillance is something else, more insidious, its symptoms like a creeping dread. On a climb, one struggles to find one’s rhythm, or settle into the saddle and spin, to find a gear that feels comfortable, to follow wheels as they pull inexorably ahead. The remedy is also not immediately obvious. Overtraining? Undertraining? A myriad of other possibilities, physical or even mental. – from the blog “WV Cycling”


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