Tour Rant – Introduction
Most of you who discover this blog will know me well enough. Later, maybe strangers will see what I am writing. So a quick review of how I see the Tour is a good way to start. This will be a long post, others will be shorter.
First of all I am really annoyed with the Tour. If I were not a totally committed fanatic, I would probably stop being so interested, stop devoting big chunks of my July, every year, to reading, watching, talking about the Tour. Maybe I should ride my bike more, swim most days, write about more important things or visit my friends. The day I am starting this, I read about another “business deal” between the Tour of California and Amaury Sports Group (ASO) who “own and manage” the Tour. They are a multi billion euros business. They just 49% of the tour of
However, if Astana had been excluded because Kazakhstan is a dictatorship, represses dissent, or because it builds stupid cities in the middle of nowhere (Astana) with huge oil profits, as a memorial to the revered leader, who is a guy who was the former leader before there was democracy. Which there isn’t. Or if they thought that having the permanent Minister of Defence be the head of the cycling federation is a bit off. Or if they were concerned about the condition of women, or the distribution of income or the pathetic wages in public service. Or perhaps were concerned that the country has not even signed, much less implemented, the European Convention on Human Rights. Or were concerned about the beating up of gay men, often by police. Although not as bad as places like
Plus there is all the medical reading I have to do. I DID NOT sign up for this. No other sport goes into quite such detail as to what drugs cause what effects and exactly what controls there are. The story of who controls the Tour and why is so boring that I won’t even give you details. Was Pettachi’s overdose of what he was entitled to use as an asthma inhaler performance-enhancing or not? An accident or not? Did Klöden make a mistake singling out the second string team that won quite a bit in the Giro for “maybe” being dopers? Can they detect homologous blood doping? What have they got that we don’t know about yet? Does the biological passport mean shit? What does it mean that the Tour is not using the biologicval passports but using some system or other invented by the French Cycling Federation that no one knows about? I really am (almost) totally fed up.
Of course if you don’t read up on all this stuff, you fail to catch the details and end up with a garbled version of what happened. Or feeling stupid. Exactly what did Rasmussen do wrong? And exactly how is it that Astana was excluded, when other equally suspicious teams were not? And does the Tour have the right to care about if Boonen snorts some coke in his own time?
Who needs it? I would rather just ride my bike. There is nothing wrong with riding a bike, even riding it faster and further. I do that all the time, so do lots of people. And following the Tour is always interesting, no matter who is the favourite or if there are several favourites. Watching countryside slide by on the TV, with a helicopter and motorcycle perspective, on a hot afternoon, in the shade, is a treat that even the filthy rich could never buy. Many people watch the Tour just to see places they went on holiday, places they lived, where family and friends live, roads they cycled themselves, all perfectly valid reasons. But all this politics and fighting and rule applying gets really tedious. Nothing good will come of it.
Is there is no medical visit before the Tour? True. They say the public got confused about what it meant. So there also will be no accurate stats, publicly available, about weights, heights and resting pulse rates, and all the stuff us geeks like to know. They must be trying to save money and increase profits. The punters are confused? What kind of reason is that?
Then there are the stories about the fight for power and influence and profit amongst the various Tour owners, the UCI and other bodies like national cycling federations or the World Anti-Doping Association. Presently it looks like the Grand Tour Alliance has broken down. The evidence is the last minute invitation for Astana in the Giro and the long standing invitation of Astana to the Vuelta. They were supposed to have agreed ages ago, amongst themselves, to exclude Astana. Now that ASO owns some of the Vuelta they can rule that race too. My theory is that the Giro was put under pressure by the Italian government, who were pressured by the Kazakh oil and gas dictator. Invite Astana or else you might have trouble getting any supplies of oil and gas from us. In any case, Astana is riding the other
However, there is also a race. An actual sporting competition, no matter what the controls are like, no matter who is in charge, no matter who takes what drugs. Maybe I should mention a bit about that. As a parenthesis, Jeannie Longo, at the age of 49, just won the French time trial championship, and followed that with a victory in the road race. At present, as far as I am concerned, she is the best cyclist on earth, although she can’t beat Contador up a hill or in a time trial. She is not riding the Tour however, as that is for men only, at present.
The route this year has the usual slight differences, some even “radical” by “normal” Tour practice. For example except for a tiny excursion into
So … a few mountain finishes, including Alpe d’Huez this year, plus the finish on the hitherto unknown mountain no one can spell, Prato Nevoso. Plus that stage that goes over the Tourmalet, and finishes straight up Hautacam. In fact, the four days before the finish at Hautacam are pretty difficult. Take a careful look at the route after the individual time trial, very lumpy. This lumpiness in the route during the first week is unusual as well. The Tour bosses say they want to inject a bit of romance into the Tour instead of having escapes caught by the sprinters for a week. It is an utter certainty that anyone who loses more than three minutes after Hautacam will have lost any chance at the yellow jersey in
No team time trial. THAT is a bit unusual, although not as unusual as No Prologue. In addition, there will be NO bonus seconds in the first week, so the sprinters might not be able to trade the yellow jersey during the first week, as they usually do. The first short time trial is early on, the fourth day. That is unusual. On the sixth day (quite soon really) they go over a very lumpy bit and finish at a summit, Super Besse. I remember that finish a few years back, when Stephen Roche emerged out of the fog to take a victory, his last I think. Good TV. Total mystery as to what was going on as neither the helicopter or the bikes could send coverage. But the finish was a great TV shot. Totally unforgettable. Back to the present, the start is three days in
If it is hot, they will be tired bunnies by the time they hit the
There is a “flat stage” near our home on the 18th, where the giants will ride, for a few minutes, on the very roads I ride on, but during the stage nothing much is likely to happen. The first little lump in that day’s profile is a hill I ride up often enough. They say it is fourth category. Nice to be on the route, you can be sure I shall ride the road from at least Roujan to Clermont l’Hérault during the next two weeks. I don’t know whether we will go to the feeding station in Clermont l’Hérault to try and grab some water bottles or musettes, or settle for a quiet spot in the one semi serious hill they climb near us. If we go to the hill, we will be with all the other fans in the area who don’t just walk outside their house. In Clermont, it will be hordes on the streets; They are starting at
There is much debate about who is going to win the yellow jersey. Nearly everyone says Cadel Evans is the man. He is the Australian guy who was second last year, by a few seconds. Last year’s first and third place finishers, Contador and Leipheimer, are not riding, being employees of the “axis of evil” Astana team. After Evans, people have trouble picking another clear winner, although names like Alejandro Valverde, Dennis Menchov, Carlos Sastre and the Schleck brothers are always mentioned. Probably Valverde is mentioned most often, he must be the obvious second favourite. I checked out a couple of those bike forums where people “pick their winners”, so that I could get a perspective on what “the informed punter” thinks. And some French mags of course. All the yellow jersey candidates I mentioned have some Tour experience. All are plausible winners. Others punters go for some
So who do I pick? Well, I have liked Alex, or maybe Al, Valverde, for several years. I am seriously disappointed that he retired from two
There is no clear favourite for the green jersey, the sprinters’ jersey. Boonen would have been overwhelming favourite. But he got caught with coke in his blood. Although technically he had not violated any cycling rule or civil society law at the moment he got blood tested, the Amaury Sports Organisation banned him from “their” Tour. He will not actually be busted by anyone, for anything. You could get to dislike those ASO people really easily. They are behaving very sadly, with such self-righteousness and lack of principle! In the face of great uncertainty and skipping over all the older guys with serious experience? I am going to go for Mark Cavendish as the winner of the jersey. He is the young Brit who probably has no chance, except he is really fast and could last to
The mountains jersey seems to be Mauricio Soler’s for the losing. The usual “if he did it last year, he can do it this year” type of analysis is by far the most popular. I am always uncomfortable with this analysis, although it is usually a good guide. I think one of the candidates for the yellow jersey might just get the polka dot one by accident. Or perhaps one of the other riders might actually target this jersey, make a long break over four big hills and then defend. This is called the Strategy of Virenque. Worked for Jalabert, almost worked for Rasmussen, so why not? This competitor for Soler’s jersey could be Moreau, Sanchez, Cunego, Ricco,
As for the young rider, the white I obviously pick Schleck, especially as Dekker is not riding. But just to be controversial, I reckon this guy Kreuziger, a Czech no one knew about until two months ago, could be some competition in the end. Soler is also still “young” and buy doing well in the mountains he might also do well on the GC, taking the white jersey.
As far as TV coverage, I am happy as Larry. In fact because Larry Fignon is doing commentary I am utterly delighted. If I watched French Eurosport, which you have to pay for here, I could get Virenque. By watching French “free to air” coverage, I get Larry, whom I prefer by miles. He is, apparently, the French equivalent to John McEnroe and
I seem to be at the end, in any case it is Friday and I should send this out. Although my level of excitement is tempered a little, it looks like a good Tour. Lots of unknowns, a slightly funny route, and everything the Tour usually has. Lots of people, including me obviously, grumble about the Tour, pretend they are not interested, vow not to care, but in fact, no matter what awful aspects it has, it will always be the Tour. And it will always be interesting. At least to “true fans”.
Click on http://tourtom.blogspot.com/ if you want to read any more. I forgot some things in this introduction, but just must get this off