Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Crashes, Cobbles: A Tale of Luck

So in case you've missed the past three days of the TdF, it can best be summarized thus: CRASHES, CRASHES, COBBLES.

Really. I just completely gave it away--sorry, I should have prefaced the beginning of this post with "spoiler alert!"

Yesterday, Stage 2, some rain later in the stage turned the Cat 3 descents into an ice rink, and after a Stage 1 day, marred by jittery cyclists shoving their carbon into each other, dogs, and ditches, the riders were starting to get a little pissed about constantly hitting the pavement, so Cancellara, being ever the leader, enforced a gentleman's agreement to protest the unsafe roads, thus barring a sprint.

The first week of the Tour is always sprinkled with flying 130 pound men in the air being catapulted off by fellow riders who are jockeying for position--but this year has been almost comical in the number of crashes. Paul and Phil aren't even breaking their stories about such- and-such castle's history from the 13th century to comment on a crash. Overheard: And now panning down we see, whoops, well, there goes an Italian in the ditch, so as I was saying, Paul, the Lords of Belgium's second most wealthy family owned this castle back in the 1500s, oh mercy, whoops a daisy! There goes a Frenchman crossing wheels with a Spaniard--and look at all that blood! As I was saying, the family sold it...

Almost every rider today showed up at the line today with white bandages and netting decorating their elbows and knees. You can bet those without said bandages were the first to be pushed in a ditch once those Belgian roads narrowed. That's just how cycling goes in Belgium.

And then the cobbles on today's race, Paris Roubaix, Stage 3 and the carnage. Basically, once Frank Schleck hit the deck, which is such a shame, it was an absolute chaotic battlefield of dust, flats, more crashes, and riders turning themselves inside out to chase back. Mass confusion ensued as Armstrong and Contador switched leads in their respective chase 2 and 3 groups, which were hunting the "national champions" chase 1 that included Cancellara, Andy Schleck, Cadel, and Hushovd--to no avail. It was a pleasant surprise to see some significant time gaps open up between the leaders in week 1 of racing--a week that's typically a rather predictable mix of breakaways getting caught just in time so the sprinters can pump their fists in the air.

Armstrong, in a post-race interview today, flashed some welcome humility about the reality of cobbles. He admitted he wasn't prepared for how hard the peloton drilled it, and that it was a day where he got nailed.

And that's the beauty of the cobbles: They don't care if a rider has a body fat of 3%, whether a rider has a phenomenal sprint, or can beat every other man in a time trial. The cobbles are a great leveler in that regard. There's already fierce debate heating up about the "unfairness" of cobbles in TdF--it's not a Classics race, after all.

But the Tour, ultimately, is about racing and drama and strength and luck. The cobbles don't take favorites. To see featherweights like Contador and Andy Schelck succeed today proves that. The cobbles favor luck.
And Cancellara.


Anonymous said...

I wait with bated breath each day for the Joanna commentary on the stage. Better than the 2 talking heads on t.v. Keep it coming, as we can't watch it up here, and it barely makes the radio. Keep in mind that I am still cheering Lance on, so don't be too hard on him.

tamara said...

I love your tour coverage, and unlike mom, I'm on your side and say dish it out to Lance, he's a big boy and can handle someone calling it like it is...