Saturday, 4 July 2009

Stage One

Stage One

A very excellent time trial today. Nice setting, good helicopter shots. There is a very slight tendency for time trials to be boring. Since they are “just” one guy riding on a road, all by himself, this slight tendency to boredom is understandable. Even though this one had a result that nearly everyone, even me, predicted, the stage still seemed to have some internal tension, some uncertainty. Although the media go on about how “something will be known” after the first TT, it just ain't so. Mostly things are just as murky.

One question that was meant to be clarified was whether Lance or Alberto was “the leader of Astana”. The funny thing is that Lance himself was beaten by two guys who are meant to be high class “helpers” really. Leipheimer and Kloden. I am sorry but this did not happen in the old days. Although you could say Contador, in his actually quite fetching Spanish TT champion's kit (Google to see it), showed he is actually the leader, as nearly everyone expected. But what is even more striking is that one team has four riders in the top ten, Astana. Admittedly the slowest of them was Lance, but being the slowest of four guys in the same team means you have a good team. Say for time trials and chases. Especially since those guys can also climb! The Astana situation is one made for the great gossip, political, sporting questions of the Tour. What happens after the Tour? What is happening during the Tour? And what happened before the Tour. Astana has it all.

So other than a very powerful but potentially fractious Astana, what else? Andy Schleck did loads better than anyone would have predicted. He is only forty seconds down on Contador. Menchov was a total disaster. It appears that no one can explain it, although I am sure somebody knows. Menchov was trounced by nearly anyone who had the least claim to being good at time trialling, and maybe even a sprinter or two. For a recent winner of the Giro and two time winner of the Vuelta, this is a total disaster. Maybe not total, but pretty hard to deal with. If you were the three time Grand Tour winner, one of the favourites for the entire race, and you have already lost more than a minute on many rivals, and 51 other riders did better than you did, you have questions to answer.

Nearly everyone thought Cancellara would win. So no surprise. Jalabert gave a bit of description of being behind Cancellara on his ride. Jalabert said that they were descending at 100 kph and riding along the seaside last two k at 70 kph. Fabian was taking the corners with a perfect line, perfection was his word in fact. I would be deeply upset if it was anything other than talent and training that allows him these massive bursts of power. I will always remember his powering up to the lead group in the Olympics, in the last few kilometres. Fabian (which is also the name of my son, who is older than Cancellara) is one of my favourite riders. I heard that his manager was also the organiser of the Tour de Suisse, which Cancellara won. But he is a high class rider, I am delighted he won.

Nice to see Bradley Wiggins win to warm British hearts. It is good to be part British now, as I no longer have to give support to “anyone who speaks English”, just to express my chauvinism. Now I can just support actual British cyclists, even if they are born in Finland or the Isle of Man, neither of which is English. I noticed the Liquigas duo, Nibali and Kreuziger managed the top ten. They appear fit and ready, along with Pellizotti, who excellent in the Giro. Hey, how about that Kloden? I also rather liked Tony Martin getting eighth. I support him because he has that kid of name that couldn't possibly be “German”. Yes it is. Tony Martin is not German, except things have changed. He also a good young rider to watch. Cadel Evans did about right. Better than practically everyone, but not awesome or amazing. Sastre lost time, but no one seems to think it can be otherwise. I am glad I don't have to explain to British fans why mark Cavendish, the great British hope in world sprinting, finished fourth from last. Discuss. Something has happened to Vladimir Karpets, He used to be a big hope, but not now. What DID happen to Menchov? I am sure by now you know.

The TV coverage, including some really stunning helicopter shots of Monaco, was a quite gentle way of getting into the Tour. In just three days I have to go see it live, with various people who either want to meet each other, or just to share a little conviviality around the Tour. Until yesterday, I had been reading, forum posting and thinking about the Tour, but now it is here. Good warmup day.

I tried to translate a few sentences from an article written by a guy called Gérard Ejnés in l'Equipe yesterday. Never heard of this writer. Thought it was a good piece of journalism, tapped into some of my most important sentiments. Bit flowery and French (which I sometimes like), but then so is the Tour.

“In 2009, does one still have the right to get excited about the Tour de France? In 2009, does one still have the right to get impassioned about this race, immersed as it is in all the pressures, all the "drifting", the wandering of our times? In 2009, does one still have the right to fantasize while looking carefully at the exact route of a stage, to get excited examining the list of riders? Well, by heck (eh, bien) yes, a thousand times yes. Not only does one have the right, but not enjoying it could be a big blunder. We (those of us watching the Tour) are making a part of this France which unrolls before us (in the TV coverage), of this overwhelming charming France … And after? The dogs will bark. The caravan will pass. The Tour will survive, the dreams will be reconstructed. Childhood is immortal. Right mates, you don't have to feel bad about loving the Tour. This old geezer (the Tour) carries inside itself, all the beautiful things. That includes the devil's beautiful things.”

Pieces of trivial information. Velo says that David Moncoutié JUST discovered and tried interval training this year. Can you imagine? French methods are NOT up to date, I fear. Fignon likes the new AG2R jersey, the Columbia and Cervelo ones, which he says look modern and good. The Columbia riders were sticking their right hands into a kind of hand fridge while they were in the start house. Lowering body temperature until the last minute, I guess. Did I hear that Lance and other Astana have electric shifting? Three Columbia riders in the top thirty. Not that great at all. Maybe saving themselves for the TTT. Maybe setting themselves up for a breakaway. David Miller, for me, just looks good on the bike. Like they grew up together. Roman Kreuziger shares that aesthetically pleasing posture on a bike. Huge coverage of Armstrong on the French TV, admittedly he went off early. Seems that when he gets beaten he is no longer a great story. My wife claims this overemphasis on Armstrong will were off. She does not read the cycling press.

Bad story. Some, a group of friends, just doing a project to benefit cancer victims or something, built a “chalkbot”. I am looking into this phenomenon, but I find it very unsettling, very disturbing. I am gong to investigate why and write more maybe.

I am really looking forward to this Tour.

PS My little bit of clever French literary analysis at the end of the last blog was, embarrassingly, wrong. I mistranslated the headline from l'Equipe, “A la vie, à l'amour”. The real quote that they changed for poetical effect in the sports page, meant “for better or for worse”. But the last word was “mort” not “amour”. Almost the same sound. Oh never mind, I got it wrong and should be very cautious to mention a lot about subtle French language things.