When Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme presented the 2010 route, everyone naturally looked at the mountain stages and time trials. They were blind hamsters and I blow a cloud of Galois cigarette smoke in their general direction.
Sadly, conventional thinking says that’s where the tour is won and lost, the famous hors category climbs, the long time trials, or perhaps a trap stage, some cobbles, vicious cross winds, Belgian tractors in the middle of the road.
Twisted Spoke gives a dismissive shrug of the shoulder and a big Gallic non to all that. Doesn’t matter whether the Alps or Pyrenees come first. Pointless whether the start is in Rotterdam or Rio de Janeiro or Cincinnati, Ohio. The length and location of time trials will have little bearing on the final outcome of the 2010 tour.
No, the key to victory in the 2010 tour comes down to just two pivotal, absolutely crucial, massive days on July 12th and July 21st. Be at your best those two days and the tour and the maillot jaune are yours. These two days along should strike fear and trepidation in any rider who hopes to take the victory lap down the Champs Elysees. Beware the days in Morzine-Avoriaz and Pau. Yes, it’s the two rest days.
Rest and recovery are the crucial elements in any tour victory, especially when you’re almost 39 years old, Mr. Armstrong. Rest and recovery are mandatory when you’re exhausted because your Astana team barely exists and you’re forced to do all the work, Alberto Contador. A young Andy Schleck loose in town on a rest day with no strategic plan of action is a recipe for disaster.
Top Director Sportifs are already examining the two rest days carefully. What is the hotel situation? Is there a Posturepedic mattress to be had in this town? Are there or are there not fluffy, absorbent towels? What’s the cappuccino situation? Is there team bus parking and how are the parking meters set up?
Morzine is a ski town high in the Alps — what’s the fresh fruit and vegetable scenario? Are there those alpine cows with noisy bells clanking all night? One web site states that the “nightlife is good by French standards.” That’s a disturbing issue. What if Alberto Contador feels like going bowling? Suppose Lance needs to de-stress– is there a good wifi cafe where he can twitter? Is there a decent bike-shop in this town? Do these facilities in fact exist? Catastrophe lurks around every rest day corner.
As the old tour saying goes, you can’t win the tour on a rest day, but you can lose it. The second rest day in Pau has all the tell-tale signs of danger. Sure, it’s a bigger city but that just means the risks will skyrocket.
Pau has the first golf course in Europe but is that a rental situation or does Lance need to bring his own clubs? The Chateau de Pau is fantastic but July 21st is a Wednesday — has anybody even checked the hours — and does Armstrong get a tour by electric cart or does he have to use his tired legs like the rest of the tourists. Is the chateau open? So many unpredictable situations, things you can’t train for, things beyond your control.
The race stages are simple to map out, predict, game plan for. A mountain is a mountain even if it’s Tourmalet or the Col d’Aspin. You know who the enemy is, where the attacks will come, who your allies are.
By contrast, rest days are chaotic, unstructured, you’re at the mercy of a hungry press corps, your schedule in the hands of strangers. People steal your time, suck your energy, take your blood and don’t give it back. The great champions come out of the rest days stronger, revitalized and ready to destroy all challengers. But woe to the rider unprepared for the rest days. For them, the tour is irrevocably lost.
Lance Armstrong, known for his meticulous preparation, is already planning to scout the rest towns with Johan Bruyneel. Get the lay of the land– the hotel, the laundry facilities, test the mattress, pat the pillows. He’ll know what to expect on those tour-defining days. But will Alberto Contador, el pistelero, be ready? Will Andy Schleck and manager Bjarne Riis overlook the dangerous “down” days?
Forget the misnomer “rest day.” There is no rest for the man who wants to win the 2010 Tour de France.