Five observations after le Col de la Madeleine.
A few thoughts after the epic and brutal stage 9 over the Madeleine that basically destroyed the field except for Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck.
1) Cadel Evans will never win a grand tour.
While I have immense respect for Cadel’s talent and perseverance, I think he’s a psychological beaten man after fracturing his elbow, yet another grand tour undone by bad luck. Something always happens, a slow wheel change, a bad cold, an ill-timed crash, you name it. He’s simply cursed in the Giro and Tour de France. I suspect that this is the tour where he admits to himself that a podium is an unlikely goal ever. A shame, really.
2) Who the hell is Jerome Pineau?
And more importantly, the follow-up: why is he wearing the coveted polka dot jersey of best grimpeur in the tour? This is laughable because it’s doubtful to me he’d make the top 30 best climbers in the ProTour.
Okay, I get the silly game. The first week of the tour some ambitious second tier dude goes full gas and sucks up all the easy points on the early climbs when the real climbers don’t care. Pineau is King of the Mountains compared to who? I know the tour organizers need to spice up the action on those early climbs for the fans but give it a different jersey. It should have a vacuum cleaner on it and we’ll call it le maillot aspirateur.
On the tail end of his career, Laurent Jalabert played the suck up mountain points game in the tour. That was forgivable because Jaja was a big talent and a former top GC rider. Jerome Pineau? Reminds me of my new fave French expression: permit de rire. Excuse me while I laugh.
3) Where were the Americans on la Madeleine?
Having watched the Tour de France many years on the boob tube, I’m used to seeing legions of crazed Americans cheering for Lance and the boys. I walked down from the summit two — if not two and a half — kilometers and didn’t see one American flag or Texas long star. On the flip side, I saw a minimum of two dozen Norwegian flags. Little Norway taking care of business!
I looked carefully because I hadn’t eaten lunch and had nothing to drink so I was scanning for Americans to take pity on me. Again, passed hundred of parked campers and not one Go Lance sign. I did see a chalk message or two supporting Armstrong but I’m convinced they were left over from a previous tour. Did everybody just fly home after he dropped out of contention?
4) Schleck and Contador are in a higher universe.
Thee two riders are head, shoulders and anaerobic maxs above everybody else who dares pedal a bike in their vicinity. As I mentioned in my Madeleine post, every single rider had a grimace on their face except Andy and Contador. Note the post stage quote: the Spaniard called it a “nice stage” Nice is not what the word others like Sastre, Wiggins, Evans and Sanchez were selecting. In the old days, you’d need a dozen bags of fresh blood and two new legs after a stage like this. The top two podium steps are set and that third step is 100 feet lower down.
5) Jesus, I’m tired.
On a personal note, hey, this is hard. So far this has been both a dream trip and an exhausting experience. People have no idea how hard the tour is for the journalists covering the event. They have my immense respect.
As Richard Pestes of the pezcyclingnews web site told me, he has three teams covering the tour, one team per week because after a week, they’re blown and the next fresh team takes over. Each writer has a driver because I’d say the average is 4 hours a day in the car, chase riders all over France, write for two or three hours, reach hotel a 10pm, try to find dinner, bed. The logistic alone will kill you.
Tour vets have so many hilarious disaster stories I don’t even feel bad any more about my own snafus, rookie mistakes and logistical screw-ups. They lose passports, destroy rental cars, get beat up, have beer bottles thrown at them by drunken mobs of Basque fans — you invent a crazy story and it’s probably happened at Le Tour. James Raia of Versus told me by the third week he’s seen journalists fall asleep on their laptop keyboards, they’re so fried.
My clothes are filthy, I stink, I’m sore from running up and down mountains on foot. You have to make a choice: do you go the journalist route and try to do every start and finish AND get to a mountain top or you you dial it back and play blogger just dipping in and out, not stressing about missing something. I started with option one and I’ve learned that option two is better. If I had daily assignments (besides my own blog) things would be different but I decided to up the fun quotient. More wine, more good food, more clean clothes.
In short, the guys that cover the tour all three weeks writing everyday are pretty impressive. Almost as impressive as the riders.