Friday, July 15, 2011

'I Don't Believe What I Just Saw' - Tour de France Stage 13 Recap & 14 Preview

There are fewer things in cycling more beautiful than a high mountain stage in the Tour de France. Ascending a Pyrenees or Alp giant in good weather or bad is inspiring, the descent, thrilling. The high mountains are for the specialists, the mountaingoats of the peloton. Riders who can fly up a mountain, in part to their power to weight ratio, but also their tremendous heart and spirit when the road turns upward. The mountains are not made for the big men of the peloton, the sprinters or the one day classic riders. These guys make up the autobus', the group of riders that forms at the back of the peloton on these types of stages and band together to try and finish within the time limit cutoff and subsequent elimination from the Tour.

Another beautiful sight is when the Rainbow jersey, worn by the current World Champion, takes a stage win. A confirmation with hands raised, resplendent in white, that they can best the world's elite in the world's hardest race. The Rainbow Jersey rarely wins a stage. They are just too easily identifiable, too easy to keep an eye on and just are not given any leeway or freedom to seek victory. Oscar Freire - "The Cat" (Spain) did it in a stage sprint in 2002 and before that Five-Time Tour winner Bernard Hinault - "The Badger" won a stage in 1981. Three time Tour winner, Frenchman Louison Bobet, won a stage while wearing the Rainbow jersey and went on to win the Tour in 1955. It just doesn't happen very often.

So today when sprinter, one day classics rider, and World Champion Thor Hushovd (The Norwegian 'God of Thunder) passed Frenchman Jeremy Roy (my hero of this tour) to win today's stage, I immediately flashed back to 1988's Major League World series. If you remember game 1, Kirk Gibson (my boyhood hero and former Detroit Tiger) hobbled up to the plate, in his only plate appearance of the series, pinch hit a ninth inning, 2-run walk off home run. Nobody could believe what just happened. Even announcer Jack Buck could only haphazardly, albeit beautifully, expressing what what remains a lifelong memory for me "I don't believe what I just saw."

Finding himself two minutes off the pace of two French riders Jeremey Roy and David Moncoutie after cresting the Col d'Aubisque, Thor (isn't that a great name?) spent 30 km chasing down Roy, finally passing him with just 2km to go. It was a heartbreaking moment for Roy, who had tears in his eyes as he punched his heart, indicating that he gave it all he could, as he crossed the finish line. His consolation prize for just missing glory was that he earned the Polka Dot jersey as the new leader of the King of the Mountain competition. Neither Roy, Moncoutie, or the cycling world would have put money on a Rainbow jerseyed sprinter to take a high mountain stage. Another reason why I love this race.
Photo: Graham Watson |
  • It was communicated post-race by Gamin-Cervelo managment that Thor hit a top speed of 112km/hr during his descent of the Aubisque. (that's 69 mph for those on imperial measurements) 
  • Roy will also wear red jersey numbers on tomorrow's stage, as he obviously was the most combatif today
  • Further endearing himself to the cycling world, especially to those who know the heartbreak of losing, despite their best efforts Roy said, “I had great legs on the climb, unfortunately I got caught on the descent. I’m not a big champion, so I do what I can with what I’ve got.”
  • Andreas Kloden (Radioshack) abandoned today in a devastatingly sad scene on the roadside, when he had to be helped off his bike, manually clipped out of his pedals, and had to be helped to the team car, as he could barely walk.. At least he didn't have the indignity of having his raced numbers ripped off his back, as team support gently took his jersey off his pained body that had clearly given all that it could to the German rider.
Johan Bruyneel, Director of the decimated Radioshack Team, reminded us with a tweet today that every winner of the Plateau de Belle stage has gone on to win that year's Tour de France and wondered if history would repeat itself. The thing about the Plateau de Beille climb is that there are steeper, longer, and more punishing climbs, but this one is just plain brutal and unrelenting (averaging almost 8% over 16km). Watching it on TV, it just seems to go on forever. You can watch these guys just seem to crawl up the long slopes and can almost feel the pain in their legs. Stage 14 has 'the Beille' climb as a mountaintop finish at the end of a very long day, with some very hard climbs (Six tough tests: the Col de Portet-d’Aspet, the Col de la Core, the Col de Latrape, the Col d’Agnes, the Port de Lers ) beforehand. This climb might suit Cadel Evans, but my guess is that he'll be watching the Schleck bros. try and put Contador on the ropes, then try and flip him out of the ring. I just hope the race doesn't bring me to tears two days in a row. Well actually, I wouldn't mind. It's why I watch. Adieu.

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