Biggest loss so far in the Tour de France: the Man of Orange, the Basque hope for world recognition, Mr. Polka Dot, the Olympic champ Samuel Sanchez.
Twisted Spoke misses Ryder Hesjedal but he has his Giro d’Italia win and thems the breaks, the hip shots, the hematomas. We’re disappointed that Robert Gesink of Rabobank again fared poorly in week one of Le Grand Shindig and didn’t get to showcase his skills. Too bad about those guys that got caught behind Alessandro Petacchi’s shoe-cover induced carnage and lost their shot at the big prize, the French yellow, that major maillot that determines fame and fortune. Screw them, it’s a nasty race and shit happens.
We miss Sammy because he was one of the few wild men of this time trial heavy Tour that’s also heavy on calculation. Sammy is the undisputed kingpin at Euskatel-Euskadi, a man who would attack on any climb at any moment, tactics and circumstance and odds be damned. Sammy was one of the few guys who “animate” the race and by golly, with the big budget Team Sky acting like the US Postal of old and setting a brutal tempo, it takes a little freak climber like Sanchez to stir things up.
Sammy was also a manic descender and we’d hoped that he and Vincenzo Nibali would find a moment to attack a dangerous downhill and make Wiggins and Evans risk their lives for a maillot jaune. Sammy is not a guy that thinks in terms of marginal gains or fractional benefits. He goes for the jugular and rolls the dice. Losing Sammy removed a lot of color from of Le Tour and we’re not just talking about orange.
The Double E Crew is a tight knit bunch and everybody rides for Sanchez. He’s not just top dog but top symbol for Basque independence and cultural celebration. While he isn’t Basque by birth, he’s a joyfully adopted son, and this is the only squad he’s ever ridden for despite bigger offers and fatter dollars elsewhere.
With Sanchez out of the race, Euskatel is like a chicken without the head. They’ll ride the next two weeks just trying to figure out what to do. They had no plan B, no Post-Sammy, no fall-back. They might as well call up Garmin-Sharp-Pain and make common cause — “can we ride with you guys?”
Last year at Le Tour we spent plenty of time with the Basque fans roadside in the Pyrenees. It was three days of fun, enthusiastic inebriation and nationalistic pride. Those cheers just lost about 20 or 30 decibels and plenty of passion.
Sammy is gone, broken finger, bruised body, messed up shoulder. He cried on the roadside and in the ambulance — he knew instantly that Paris and podium hopes were shattered. “As soon as I hit the ground I knew it was over. I didn’t even try to continue. Cyclists know when they’ve done themselves some serious damage.”
“I cried in the ambulance, and I cried a lot, but that was because I knew what I could have done in this year’s Tour,” he said, “even though I lost some time on Saturday’s stage, I could tell I was getting better and better.”
Sadly, the Tour moves on without Samuel Sanchez and it is not better for missing him. This Tour has quickly become a two man or three man game and Sammy was a dangerous man who thought otherwise. We needed Sammy for no other reason than he wasn’t Denis Menchov, the Silent Assassin, the Bore from Russian.