The best quote of the cycling season so far comes from the entertaining Brian Holm, the head DS for Omega-Pharma QuickStep. When Levi Leipheimer crashed out of Paris-Nice, Holm was thrilled that the American wasn’t more seriously injured because, “Levi, he is made of chocolate.”
In fact, Leipheimer, Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Janez Brajkovic (Astana) are all made of chocolate and the dire question is whether they can survive what is always a dangerous first week at the Tour de France.
At last years’ Tour, Wiggins broke his collarbone on stage seven to Chateauroux — the flattest stage in the entire three week jaunt through France. Brajkovic didn’t even make it that far, suffering a nasty head injury and concussion that knocked him out of the race on stage five — the same crash that took down another piece of chocolate in Robert Gesink of Rabobank.
Leipheimer himself did what he called “guard rail surfing” and went down hard at least three times and losing large chucks of precious time. He said at the time that “the tour is being decided by crashes.”
Skinny little climbers don’t have much padding to cushion the impacts and the first week in France features narrow roads and too many riders with fresh legs. It’s Le Tour and even the domestiques think they might get lucky.
Bradley Wiggins has had a dream season so far and the absolute perfect build-up to the Tour. His team is stacked with high priced talent and climbers galore. It’s all wasted if he can’t make it to stage seven, the medium mountains on the way to La Planche Des Belles Filles. There’s nothing Mr. Kerrigan, his genius former swimming coach can do about some Euskatel or Cofidis rider slamming on the brakes right in front of Wiggins. They don’t bust collarbones in the pool.
Over at Astana, the news is that Brajkovic and the notorious Alexander Vinokourov will both be riding La Grande Boucle. “Brajkovic will be our man for the GC but I do not want to set any specific goals for him,” said team manager Giuseppe Martinelli. “I know that he will give everything to get a good result, both for himself and for the team.” That’s if his luck is better this time around and he somehow survives the craziness and crashes that plagued the 2011 Tour.
Leipheimer is back on track after his Paris-Nice crash and later his near death experience — and broken fibula — being hit by a car after a training ride in Spain. Omega Pharma boss Patrick Lefevere said they’re bringing a strong team to support Leipheimer and that the little guy from Santa Rosa is “enjoying a period of crescendo.” Let’s hope that doesn’t all come crashing down on the tarmac. You can’t glue pieces of chocolate back together and not even Jedi physiologist Allen Lim and his bag of recovery tricks and save Levi if he goes over the bars.
They always say it’s the strongest man who wins the Tour de France. It’s also the man who isn’t made of chocolate.