Andy Schleck of Saxo Bank nearly lost the Tour de France today. Then again, maybe he did.
When he crashed hard on the descent of the Stockeu, the situation appeared disastrous. He stood on the roadside, dazed, cradling his left arm in his right, making no move to remount.
Gingerly he climbed onto a teammate’s bike and, with barely enough pedal force to keep the bike upright, slowly rode off. It was a decent bet he’d never make it back to the front end of the race.
He was falling again — down the GC, tour slipping away. A 40 second deficit to Alberto Contador in the prologue was now over four minutes on the road to Spa. An extremely unhealthy thing to do in a town famous for rejuvenation.
A year of planning, training, dreaming of that top step, a tour win for all of tiny Luxembourg hung in the balance, tipping badly. He was having a spa experience but it was far from pleasant.
Brother Frank and the indomitable Jens Voigt began to pace him back, the German driving so hard he blew, forced to drop off the pace. Panic and urgency lined Andy’s face. He rode with the fury and desperation of a man about to lose everything. His tour flashed before his eyes but he pulled himself back from the brink.
Chapeau, as the French say. Hell, a dozen chapeaux and maybe a new helmet, too. Disaster averted except for possible lingering injury and worse, an exhausting expenditure of energy the day before the stage everyone fears: the seven sections of cobblestones between Wanze and Arenberg – Porte du Hainaut. Carnage guaranteed, according to Lance Armstrong.
The last thing Andy Schleck wants to do tomorrow is deal with Paris-Roubaix cobblestones while recovering from aches and pains from his crash. He’ll feel the fatigue and be gun-shy about hitting the deck again. Anxiety is not a good tool for dealing with stones.
Andy Schleck could have lost the Tour de France on the 200 kilometer stage over the famed roads of Leige-Bastogne-Leige. He fought hard to finish with the other tour contenders. But in an important way he lost just the same.
It’s an enduring platitude of Le Tour that a rider must measure out every effort carefully, not wasting a drop of precious energy he’ll need for three grueling weeks, the mountains, the final time trial. It’s an endurance sport — which by definition also means it’s a game of conservation.
A crash is the kind of bad luck that drains energy, both mental and physical. Schleck knows he paid today dearly today, not simply in blood and skin, but fuel.
It’s a calculation you can measure in watts. How many accelerations did Schleck lose today that he’ll need on the Col du Tourmalet? We’ll see whatever was lost in two weeks time.