“…the Tour goes on day after day after day. It’s the only race in the world where you have to get a haircut half way through.” Chris Boardman – Yellow Jersey wearer, World record holder, legend.
I’m fatigued! Every year I say I’m not doing that again and inevitably I do. I stay up late watching way too many live stages of Le Tour- dragging myself off to bed at one or two in the morning….day, after day, after day. Some days I even get up a few hours later and go for a ride. After three weeks I’m tired, I’m cranky and I’m run down. Then I get what my wife calls my ‘Tour flu’. It’s dumb but I can’t help it. For 49 weeks of the year I’m on the wagon save for the odd Spring classic here and there (and let’s face it, anyone can recover from the occasional late night bender). But for three weeks in July I have no control over my sleeping habits or my coffee consumption. I’m a Tour junkie.
My first memory of the Tour de France in ‘moving pictures’ was in 1987. I remember watching a Wide World of Sports segment on a Saturday afternoon when the entire three week race was condensed into a 15 minute summary. It didn’t matter, I was hooked. I remember watching Steven Roche win but deciding I was probably more of a Pedro Delgado fan. That lasted until 1989 when I became a Greg Lemond fan which lasted a bit longer…. at least until I became a Miguel Indurain fan in ’92 and so on. Back in the day country towns like the one I grew up in only had two TV stations, the ABC and one other that changed from year to year. Needless to say Tour de France news was hard to come by. So other than that 15 minute segment on Wide World of Sports my Tour updates came via the sport shorts in the Sydney Morning Herald that I checked in the school library each day. The pictures came three months later via out dated European cycling magazines that the local newsagent used to order in especially for me. But now I can watch it as it happens, so I do… because it still feels special to do so.
So what did I get from this year’s Tour? Well, a lot actually. I could pick it to bits stage by stage but I don’t really have the time to write that much. Even more so, I’m pretty sure no one has the time or interest in reading a blow by blow analysis of a three week event written by yet another ‘keyboard expert’. So instead I’ll offer up just a few of my observations. Maybe they’ll give you something to think about. Maybe you’ll agree with them and we can high-five each other over a ‘great minds think alike’ moment when you’re in the shop next. Maybe you’ll disagree with them and that’s ok too- just so long as you’re thinking about it. So here goes….
No. 1. This was a good Tour.
I’ve heard and read that a few people thought this Tour was a bit dull. To this I need to quote the great man Jens Voigt after his final Tour of California appearance in 2014. When a reporter suggested that Jens had had a quiet tour he replied with “Quiet tour?…WTF! Were you even watching?” This particular Tour de France was a good one. Maybe not as memorable as Lemond’s eight second win in ’89 but certainly better than what we’ve seen in the previous five years. Even the most ardent Team Sky fan would have to admit that watching them pedal for 3000km at a virtually predetermined speed/power output in order to achieve a result at the end of three weeks is hardly inspiring viewing. It’s effective but boring. It’s nearly as bad as watching golf (relax people I said ‘nearly’). Sky were good this year. They did, after all, win the teams classification. But they didn’t quite have the same vice like grip that we’ve seen in the past. Maybe it was due to losing Thomas early, or the potential volatility of Landa. Whatever it was it gave others a ‘sniff’ and it made for better viewing.
No. 2. The Sagan saga- my two cents.
It seems everyone has had something to say about this so why not throw in my two cents worth? Do I think Sagan was in the wrong? Technically ‘yes’ as he was drifting off his line. In context of nearly every other sprint finish you see then ‘no’, he wasn’t nearly as erratic as many other riders that don’t get sanctioned. Do I think Cav was in the wrong? When you isolate the incident purely to the Sagan/Cav contact then technically ‘no’- but he did make a really dumb choice and when you make dumb choices on a bicycle at 60-70km/h you may fall off. When you watch the footage in slow motion Cav has already made contact with Sagan when the elbow comes out and you could argue that the elbow is more reactionary than aggressive. Lastly, do I think it’s right that Sagan is punished in such a way that is generally reserved for drug cheats? Absolutely not.
No. 3. Did Matthews do a Bradbury? I think not.
Matthews won the Green – pure and simple. There are multiple ways to win the most consistent rider competition (yes, I know sprinters usually win it but it is not technically a sprinting competition). One, you can out horsepower your way to the most stage wins a-la Kittle and Cav. Two you can be calculating and methodical whilst playing to your strengths and preying on others weaknesses, hence accumulating points as you go. That’s Matthews. Or three, you can be creative and do a bit of each. Only a rare talent like Sagan can manage this. Now let’s put everyone back in the race. Kittle and Cav could have ended up sharing the early stage wins as opposed to Kittle dominating them. Both riders may have actually ended up with fewer points each. Sagan himself may have stolen a few whilst Matthews’ approach would have been relatively unchanged. Given that both Kittle and Cav struggle to climb out of bed let alone up mountains they would have both needed a virtually unassailable lead prior to the road getting lumpy to be guaranteed the Green in Paris. This is unlikely, after all Matthews was only one intermediate sprint away from taking the points lead when Kittle had to withdraw as it stood. It may have actually ended up being a very tight four way battle where Matthew’s was still a major player. In the end it’s all hypothetical. Matthews made it to Paris. Matthews won! Chapeau.
No. 4. Sunweb were the team of the Tour
Turn up to the Tour de France without a major GC contender but win both the Green and the Polka Dot jerseys via some of the most tactical and creative team riding I’ve seen in a while. Enough said.
No. 5. Cyclists can’t fight!
Bouhanni loses his temper (again) and takes a swipe at Jack Bauer with all the force of being slapped with a wet lettuce leaf. Degenkolb, upset at Matthews in the sprint tries to discipline him with some kind of bizarre neck grabbing move….What the… All that these incidents proved is that cyclists really can’t fight – particularly whilst on their bikes. Maybe they should introduce a cage fighting element to the Tour. Got a grievance? Then get in the cage. I’ve no doubt that people with no interest in cycling would show up to watch two guys who were too skinny and too uncoordinated to take up ball sports sort their differences out in the cage. Could be a real money spinner. Quick, get ASO on the phone.
No. 6. Stage 9 was the best stage of the Tour.
Stage nine had everything. We lost Porte and Thomas in spectacular crashes. Aru committed a ‘mortal sin’ by attacking Froome in yellow whilst he had a puncture, we saw AG2R throw down the gauntlet with some seriously impressive riding on the wet descents and witnessed one the gutsiest rides of the tour from eventual Polka Dot jersey winner Warren Barguil. Add to that a sprint finish between all the eventual contenders and you have a cracking good stage. And just on the Aru situation, can he attack the yellow jersey whilst he has a mechanical? Yes he can, but should he? I don’t think so. Compared to sports like Rugby or Cricket cycling has a pretty thin rule book (with the exception of some fairly convoluted equipment rules). Most of the rules are based around commonsense and are designed to ensure a smooth, safe race. The rest of it is governed by ethics. If this bothers you then I’m sure there is some illegal cock fighting you could tune into where ethics are not so highly regarded.
No. 7. I like Froomey- there I said it.
I’m no Team Sky fan but I will admit that Froomey is one classy bike rider. Good in all situations, near impossible to crack, generally keeps himself upright (for the most part) and prepared to fight all the way to the end. This was the first time in a long time that the Tour wasn’t won with a sucker punch (ie. win one stage by such a margin that all you need to do thereafter is defend). Froomey, whilst generally keeping control of the race still had to fight- and fight he did. An impressive rider and a worthy winner in my opinion.
So that’s it- my two cents worth, although some of you may thinks it’s worth a little less than that. I can now resume normal programming, maybe even ride my own bike again- at least until the Vuelta!