The Tour de l’Ain is not high up on the cycling radar.
You could be forgiven for drawing a blank on this French race. Not one of the “monuments” of cycling, not a classic or semi classic one day race. Yes, it’s the 2nd biggest race of the year (after the Dauphine Libere) if you live in the Rhone region of France. We’re guessing you don’t.
Nobody waxes lyrical about the Tour de l’Ain, no coffee tables books or stories about how Merckx won or Hinault ruled or how a young Armstrong first showed his greatness. Although Merckx’s son Axel did win in 2003. Bobby Julich won the thing in 1997 but that trophy is probably buried in the garage if not the backyard.
So what is the interest to the serious American cycling fan who follows the major races? Well, it’s got a good villain: Alexandre Vinokourov, back from his two year drug exile in the Kazaks. And you’ve got yourself a hometown favorite to root for in Chris Horner, back from injury and leading the 4 day stage race with one mountain stage to go. Someone to cheer, someone to boo.
And you’ve got a nice little sub-plot to chew on: Horner rides for team Astana, the outfit Vino put together himself with Kazak oil money. The same team Vino in currently in negoiations with to ride for again. Would helping Chris Horner to win the overall for Astana be the thoughful closer move he needs? That’s the hint he dropped. A tidbit that adds a little je ne sais whatever to the boiling pot.
Here’s where we stand so far: Vino won the stage three time trail, his first win since 2007. No word on how the riders feel to have VIno back after his blood doping. Riders returning from suspensions should be required to wear a black jersey to help identify the pariah. Unrepentant, brash and confident, Vino is de retour. He didn’t go quietly and he didn’t come back quietly either. On the flip side, he’s never dull and attacks like a chum-starved shark.
Then we have Chris Horner, whose scary crash and broken tibia in the Giro d’Italia knocked him out of the race and off the Tour de France roster. Add serious crashes in the Tour of the Basque Country and the Tour of California and you’ve got yourself a certifiable crappy year. So a shot at winning the Tour de l’Ain would put a smile on his face. Not the crazed grin of euphoria that comes with a Tour De France stage win, but a smile nonetheless.
Hero and villian — and perhaps a villian who would like to redeem himself. That’s all the story drama a cycling fan needs to get worked up. It’s that little snack between the French and Spanish grand tours. You want Chris Horner to win, baby.