Monday, July 26, 2010

It's been great - now please go

We all have relatives and friends we love, are excited to see them when they visit, laugh, share great memories, eat, drink, but sooner or later, it's time for them to go. No disrespect, it's just time to move on.

Lance Armstrong - it's been great, really great - now please go.

ps - and take your friend Johan with you

I have, generally speaking, been a Lance Armstrong fan over the course of his career as a pro cyclist. Watching him light up the Tour de France has generated a great collection of memories over the past decade. Some of those memories have become iconic images of cycling and will enliven the pages of cycling history for the next century. And outside July Armstrong has amassed a pro palmares that by any pro career standard would be cherished - beginning with his 1993 World Championship in the cold and torrential rain in Oslo, Norway. I also have huge respect, far beyond the cycling, for what he has done for so many people who have been stricken by cancer; many of those lives have been energized by his remarkable story and rebirth from a situation so dire that it more often than not kills.

The 2010 Tour de France was your 13th Tour, unlucky 13 some would say, but you hung in there and showed some class - well until the last stage, 20, into Paris with that last minute change of kit fiasco. If you had only played with (the UCI), instead of against the other kids. Could you just not turn loose the lime light? Was magnanimity just too far a stretch? Was it Contador or just an ego that said this is my show and I'm going to take it with me regardless my position. Do you remember when your former teammate "Eki", Viatcheslav Ekimov, retired? During the final stage of the 2006 Tour de France, he announced that the 2006 Tour would be his last. Remember? He was honored by the peloton on the final stage, who allowed him to lead them over the line on the first of the traditional eight laps of the Champs-Élysées - the peloton acknowledged one of their own. That's how one graciously, with humility leaves a sport that has given him so much, more than he could ever give it, history tells that tale. In 98
Grand Boucles there has never been a rider, or director sportif, or team, or even a Tour director, that has risen above or outlasted the Tour itself - you won't, you can't, you shouldn't try.

America has several new and wonderful teams and cyclists on the horizon, your role in the sport has to some degree enabled that. Your career has built upon the triumphs of the likes of Greg LeMond, and Andy Hampsten, and their's on the unknown, unsung efforts of American cycling pioneers like Jonathan "Jacques" Boyer, Ron Kiefel, Mike Neel, George Mount and John Eustice that had to cross the Atlantic to earn places on European squads. We build, and move on, for others... for other dreams, for other memories.

So it's time for American pro cycling to blossom without Armstrong. It's time for kids breaking free from training wheels to discover new heroes. Look around your RadioShack team and toast a beer to all those under 35 years old who have had a chance to make a mark outside the Armstrong shadow - not many. If you want to further the Armstrong cycling legacy, then put your weight behind a true honest youth cycling movement in America - something you have never done - call it the Little League of Cycling - where kids of every socio-economic background can have the opportunity to ride, race, be coached, learn teamwork and maybe someday challenge for the top step of the podium after three weeks on the roads of Le Tour de France.

You said once "It's not about the bike." Now prove it.

One Last Look - TdF 2010

If today you woke to no Phil and Paul, stared blankly at the TV screen and wondered what next? The maybe these will help with the cold turkey come down. Here's one last look at the 2010 Tour de France courtesy of the Boston Globe online and the great photographers that also rode over 3,600 kms in rain, sun, wind, cobbles and mountain cols to remind us what a beautiful sport this is.

PS - be sure to check out Part 1 from the link on their page

above photo copyright: Bogdan Cristel/REUTERS via

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Rouge Report: Mano-a-Mano

And the winner is...
Italy's Adriano Malori, 170th, trailing in Le Tour de France by 4h 27m and 3 secs.

The TT, they call it the race-of-truth. Just you and your bike against the clock, and Saturday, for 52 km from Bordeaux to Pauillac, you shared it with the wind. After surviving three weeks, including one of the Tour's toughest final weeks in the Pyrenees it finally came down to this, the Individual Time Trial.

Mano-a-mano, the race was on the line, one man would walk away victorious, the other only his family and friends would remember the pain and suffering - after 3,642 kilometers the 2010 Lanterne Rouge had come down to this.

Unfortunately for Adriano, a respectable young time trialist with a young palmares full of U23 ITT victories, a bright future and despite trailing the human-rocket Fabian Cancellara by less than seven minutes as well as topping perennial TT strongmen like Andreas Klöden
, Christophe Moreau, Michael Rogers, Jens Voigt, and Cadel Evans, he was up against more than a mere mortal Lanterne Rouge contender, it was the three-time former German National and 2008 UCI ITT Champion Bert Grabsch - he was going to need a tailwind and "no chain", and maybe one of those mysterious motors to hold his 2 minute 1 second "lead" out of the Lanterne Rouge.

It was never to be.
Bert Grabsch, by virtue of the Lanterne Rouge position, was the first rider out of the gate at 10:15 Saturday morning in Bordeaux for the 19th stage. With light winds and his last shot at stage glory dangling like a bottle of fine Bordeaux Rouge 52 kms west along the Garonne River in Pauillac. Grabsch st0pped the clock in a blistering time that would hold up for several hours until HTC-Columbia teammate Tony Martin blew it away by a minute and a half, only to see that time fall to Cancellara.

In the end 11 riders finished within 30 minutes of the Lanterne Rouge. For much of the three weeks several of these guys were fighting, suffering, dangling near the back, and occasionally off the back, precariously close to time cut-offs and the sweeping sounds of the voiture balai as it low geared its way up hill and down dale. But this year many of the autobusers were pedaling broken, battered and bruised. For anyone who has seen a pro bike race in Europe you know that in the mini-convoy that trails the race an ambulance accompanies the broom wagon; for many riders dreaming of Paris in 2010 it must have been an ominously goolish sight many days.

How it all shook out - and names to watch next year:

159 Brett Lancaster (Aus) Cervelo Test Team 3:57:00
160 Dimitri Champion (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 3:59:45
161 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) BMC Racing Team 4:00:47
162 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 4:01:02
163 Jeremy Hunt (GBr) Cervelo Test Team 4:02:21
164 Daniel Lloyd (GBr) Cervelo Test Team 4:02:59
165 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team Katusha 4:08:28
166 Mirco Lorenzetto (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 4:09:12
167 Anthony Roux (Fra) Française des Jeux 4:13:37
168 Andreas Klier (Ger) Cervelo Test Team 4:17:16
169 Bert Grabsch (Ger) Team HTC - Columbia 4:23:01
170 Adriano Malori (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 4:27:03

Friday, July 23, 2010

Rouge Report: Grabsch looks for a good red in Bordeaux

Rumor has it Bert Grabsch quickly crossed the line today, hugged Mark Cavendish a quick congrats, then slipped past the team bus and jumped into a taxi. He was seen after Stage 18 visiting caves in Bordeaux and questioning shop owners for an appropriate 75 year old red to celebrate Germany's capture of the Tour's Lanterne Rouge.

I've been searching through this pile of books, old newspaper clipings and web-articles I got assemble for research trying to come up with odds for the current Lanterne Rouge leader Grabsch of HTC-Columbia losing his grip on the little lantern - it doesn't look good - although 2:01 could be lost a bad wheel change.

169 Adriano Malori (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 4:24:55
170 Bert Grabsch (Ger) Team HTC - Columbia 4:26:56

despite Adriano Malori's mysterious move today to lose nearly a minute and a half, Bert was keeping an eye out and did his job in the Cavendish leadout train just long enough to slip off and go milling about for Malori.

So it really comes down to how bad Malori wants this thing for Italy? Could we see the possibility of a track-stand between Bert and Adriano akin to that of Andy vs Alberto a few stages back on the slopes of Ax-3 Domaines
? Or does Grabsch get lost in his search of red in the more than 8,500 producers or châteaux scattered about the Bordeaux?

Once again the Lanterne Rouge race is complicated by opportunity and tradition. Wasn't it a lot easier last year when we had Kenny van Hummel just happy to suffer all the way to Paris and dine on his handlebars?

PS - I have to note that while Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise were seen all over the finishing area photo opp'ing it with Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador, even stage winner Mark Cavendish, not one hint was provided that they sought out the Lanterne Rouge. Although given the current state of Cruise's career, he may have desperately avoid showing any interest in others finishing last.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"it was a day to enjoy being on the bike"

I think someone once wrote - and entire book in fact - "It's not about the bike"
Actually, sometimes, that's exactly what it's about.
That's all its about.

"For some it was crazy, for others it was stupid, and others a day of courage and bravery. For me, it was a day to enjoy being on the bike."

The Journey is the Thing

The Journey is the Thing from Tony Blazejack on Vimeo.

Rouge Report: Surviving the Assassins

Legend has it - covered in mud and sweat, and laboring to push his bike up the steep goat-track, he spat, "Assassins"*, at Tour officials. That was eventual 1910 Tour winner Octave Lapize cresting the summit 15 minutes behind first summit winner Gustave Garrigou. Perhaps Lapize's exclamation was really into the thin air at 2115 meters and directed at the silent geant Col du Tourmalet piercing the sky above the surrounding Pyrenees.

Today the only thing piercing the summit's thin air was Andy Schleck's outstretched fist as he crossed the line a wheel length ahead Alberto Contador. The rest of the peloton are still pedaling squares up the foggy face of the mountain's west slope - coming across the line in dribble and drabs. It will be nearly an hour before we know on whom the red light shines in the race for the Lanterne Rouge. Rumor has it that HTC-Columbia has formed a Lanterne Rouge Leadout Train to insure Bert Grabsch get's home under the time cut-off.


Current Lanterne Rouge Bert Grabsch survived Tuesday's "Circle of Death" so took refuge in the company of a trio of his fellow HTC-Columbia riders to seek safety from any final Tourmalet assassins and finished 31:46 back on the day, enough to pry open his rest day margin in the race for rouge by an additional minute and a half over Adriano Malori. With little more than a few speed bumps worth of elevation on the flatish road Friday north to Bordeaux, it looks like we have a two man race for the little lantern with the German rider setting up a 75 year celebratory return to rouge. My only concern is Grabsch forms part of HTC's leadout train for the Manx missile and one twitch of wheels and it could be an Italian celebration in Paris. Here's where the race sits:
169Anthony Roux (Fra) Française des Jeux4:14:11
170Adriano Malori (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini4:23:14
171Bert Grabsch (Ger) Team HTC - Columbia4:26:56

(Some report the word was actually "Murderers".)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tour History and the Chain of Events

I'm not a big fan of Indy car racing, it's the noise, but I remember a race where the famous guy leading, like Mario Andretti or someone, only had a couple laps to go and was pushing the limits by not stopping for fuel - sure enough he ran out with a lap or so to go and lost.

Perhaps my favorite was the horse race where the jockey fell off because the saddle buckle failed, but the horse continued to run and won, but they didn't.

In every sport the clock keeps ticking, the race continues, the contest races on. I don't know who invented sports, any kind, but I'm certain the first contest had rules, well, maybe just one rule to start. I'm sure those earliest titanic battles, before the media hype and screaming fans and instant replay went something like - I can outrun you to that tree... ready...go! or maybe, I can throw my spear farther than you... see, did it.

The curious thing is we did invent rules. We got intrigued by them, then finally obsessed by them. Often, the more rules the better. They invested legitimacy in event via the person or group that could not only play the game, survive the ordeal, conquer the challenge, but could do so "within" the rules.

What's interesting is we really hate the rules - unless of course they help us, or our team, or our "guy." That's why we classify and subcatagorize the rules such as, "ethical rules", and "moral rules", and of course rules of "letter" and those of "spirit", because the actual rules don't always fit us, our team, our guy. Bicycle racing is a simple sport with lots of rules (only outnumbered by the number of banned substances a rider can't use), especially the Tour de France. And this edition, 2010, has been one for both the history books and the rule books.

Of course interpreting the rules is why we have officials, media, fans, and on rare occasion politicians - and maybe most importantly blogs, so we can rant and babble, over analyze, and debate, until the race is finally settled on the roads, the only place it will ever really matter.

What makes bicycle racing more interesting than most sports to me is the marriage of man and machine. Both can triumph and both can fail. Like man, machines aren't perfect and occasionally have mechanicals. Mechanicals are as much a part of cycling as tired legs and exhausted lungs. To quote Andy Schleck on the Tour's rest day, "the Tour is not going to be decided by a chain slipping.” I agree, but I think he meant to say "This Tour." If he had checked the history books, even as recent as his dad's time riding for Eddy Merckx, he would know mechanicals have decided Tours.

There have been dozens. The most famous of these mechanicals has been widely retold, with accuarcy and lore, about Eugene Christophe who had to walk and run for 14km down the Col du Tourmalet's east slope to the village of Ste. Marie-de-Campan (which was at the 55km point on Tuesday’s stage 16 westward route), where he found a blacksmith’s forge and took four hours to effect the repair before continuing. What most people don't know is he repeated this fork faux pas in 1919 while in yellow with one stage remaining - holding a mountainous lead of 28 minutes disaster struck on Stage 14 with over 160 km of cobbles (yes, this year's precarious pavés only totaled 13.2 km... hmmm, so much for history?) and Christophe lost nearly two and a half hours fixing his own forks. BTW... no one waited for the yellow jersey.

Ask past pros what their thoughts are when mechanicals befall your competitors...

"At my time, when others had mechanical problems, we would just attack," said Laurent Fignon, a Tour winner in 1983 and 1984.

"I would have given Contador a rollicking if he had waited for Schleck. That's the race," said Frenchman Jean-Francois Bernard, third in the 1987, a pundit for daily newspaper L'Equipe's website.
Stopping vs not stopping? The Tour is a bicycle race - game on. But it's also the Tour and the Tour has always been more than a race. It's human drama on the greater landscape of life, and in that drama you are judged ultimately not by what you win, or lose, but the class and character you show when life tosses you a mechanical.

Again from today's rest day interview Schleck said, “Yesterday Alberto spoke with me, and he apologized,... He said (attacking the race leader during a mechanical problem) was the wrong decision, but it’s hard to make a decision in these moments. I’m not angry anymore. That case is closed for me, and it should be for other people as well. I don’t like it when fans boo at Alberto, and yesterday I told every TV station that I spoke with that to get the message across. He’s a big champion, and for me, the case is closed. End of story.”

I think Andy Schleck's story is just being written, I think its hero will be one we admire for his character. It will be a class-ic.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rouge Report: "The Circle of Death"

Somewhere between a few hundred million and 6.3 billion of us populating our planet most humans lost our primordial priority - contesting for survival. Real survival, the kind where for example, your daily bread comes at the risky price of challenging large beasts which could turn the table and eat you. Survivors were immortalized on cave walls and in totems, they were heroes. Hardwired in us is the need to face deathly demons, survive the ordeal, so we invented sports and then imagined ridiculous challenges - Le Tour de France.

Exactly one hundred years ago now, director Henri Desgrange dispatched his trusted assistant Alphonse Steinès to determine the passabilty, better survivability, of sending single-sprocket riders over the spine of the Pyrenees. Steinès' liberally positive report (after nearly being lost in the snow) concocted an experiment that would be tested two months later on the Herculean Stage 10 of the 1910 Tour de France: four brutal climbs, peaking with the first ascent of the Col du Peyresourde (1569m), the Col d'Aspin (1489m), the Col du Tourmalet(2115m), and the Col d'Aubisque(1710m). A Tour legend was born. To the delight of Director Desgrange, the print press proved contributing accomplices to the legend by naming the new route that grueling day in the Pyrenees “The Circle of Death”, where hopes of a Tour de France victory go to die (Thursday that fate will be decided for Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador.)

A Circle of Death? Why?

In Desgrange's own words, "The ideal Tour would be a Tour in which only one rider survives the ordeal."

That ordeal, first for
Alphonse Steinès, included the now famous Col du Tourmalet, generally capped by cold and mist, crowning the Circle of Death. Ordeals of the Tourmalet pepper Tour lore. One story goes - arriving at the summit in 1947 Jean-Apo Lazaridès climbed off to wait for the others for fearing his 'ordeal' would include the challenge of Pyrenean bears. On the day I rode the Circle death had overtaken a local horse and vultures haunted the roadside scene - definitely inspiring this rider to pick up the pedal revs - cyclists are not the only ones challenged by the Circle of Death.

To be fair even generally uncompassionate Desgrange was apprehensive about the mountainous experiment; as a precaution, to protect perception of his race, he created a vehicle to rescue victims of the Circle and, in an extremely rare show of generosity, even allowed them to start the next stage, penalized of course. That vehicle was the voiture balai - Death's chariot was born - the broom wagon.

The Circle of Death wasn't quite as hungry today as in years past, but it did have an appetite, for two riders the journey was pockmarked by 'DNF'. For many in the peloton the Circle was more akin to the Bermuda Triangle; over 23 minutes adrift Sylvain Chavanel, Michael Rogers and Cadel Evans, all but vanished from camera view, leaving commentators to question if they had DNF'd.

One rider soared away from the mountains and apparently out of the Lanterne Rouge race, RadioShack's Dmitriy Muravyev, who once was considered a serious challenger for rouge. Going into the rest day in Pau things aren't sewn up:
159 David Millar (GBr) Garmin - Transitions 3:25:22
160 Nicki Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank 3:26:42
161 Dimitri Champion (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 3:27:19
162 Brett Lancaster (Aus) Cervelo Test Team 3:27:22
163 Daniel Lloyd (GBr) Cervelo Test Team 3:27:48
164 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 3:29:15
165 Jeremy Hunt (GBr) Cervelo Test Team 3:30:01
166 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team Katusha 3:32:26
167 Mirco Lorenzetto (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 3:33:16
168 Andreas Klier (Ger) Cervelo Test Team 3:38:41
169 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) BMC Racing Team 3:42:51
170 Anthony Roux (Fra) Française des Jeux 3:43:02
171 Adriano Malori (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 3:53:09
172 Bert Grabsch (Ger) Team HTC - Columbia 3:55:10


Jens Voigt, crashed again today, He was on the descent of the Col de Peyresourde, when he suffered a front tire blowout, out the window went his control and down he crashed at high speed.

Fortunately he eluded the Circle of Death chariot, or worse, by avoiding a repeat of the horrific injuries he suffered during last year's race when he landed on his face and head at top speed.

After waving away the help of race assistants in the broom wagon, Jens battled on to finish the stage with the autobus - and beat the time cut-off. After wards he told reporters, "I'm doing 70 kilometers an hour on the first descent when my front tire explodes," continuing with characteristic good humor, "Before I hit the asphalt I actually manage to think that this is going to hurt. Both knees, elbows, hands, shoulders and the entire left side of my body were severely hurt." Adding, "My ribs are hurting but hey, broken ribs are overrated anyway. Fortunately, I didn't land on my face this time and I'm still alive."

Regarding a broom wagon ride Jens said, "I was offered a ride on the truck that picks up abandoned riders but I'm not going to quit another Tour de France. Now, there's a rest day and Paris is not that far away."

Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday's Rouge Report

Call it what you like, "B" is for Brutal, or Belittling, or the Bast%*d, maybe the Beast, or just Big B, or perhaps plain - the Balès, the climb up today's Port de Balès is one of the truly great ascents in the Pyrenees.

Amazingly it was only included for the first time as recently as 2007. I was fortunate and happy to have climbed it that same summer, two months after the Tour had suffered over it. The road was still graffiti'd in hopes and heroes. Half way up the climb Didi the Devil's pitchforks poked at our tires just as the road kicked up and the real devil - the first of several kilometers at 10-plus percent - bit at your legs like a feral dog.

Today the
Port de Balès was only beautiful if you were named Thomas and you were racing away from the field in your National Tricolor (or you were exhuberant club rider and busting your friends in the final couple K's - the memory is still sweet!) for the rest of the peloton the Port de Balès is over an hour of suffering with the boys at the back of the bus and avoiding the hawking voiture balai.

Chapeau to former rouge contender Anthony Roux, you caught an express bus and made up 15 minutes over the Port de Balès, building a buffer for the next two killer stages and left the temporary honor of Lanterne Rouge to the HTC-Columbia rider from Germany Bert Grabsch. Also making a return to the rouge race is Stage 10 laster Adriano Malori (Lampre-Farnese Vini).

Rest up guys, tomorrow's stage is why Henri Desgrange invented to the
voiture balai - broom wagon. The voiture's siren will sing, but resist, the rest day is only 5 Cols and 199.5 kms in the distance - just be delighted you aren't a century earlier, the day would be 326km long, 0ver 14 hours in the saddle.

Backing up a full half hour for today's Rouge Report - they will all play a roll in the next two days:

157 David Millar (GBr) Garmin - Transitions 2:57:19
158 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team Saxo Bank 2:58:21
159 Nicki Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank 2:58:39
160 Dimitri Champion (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 2:59:16
161 Brett Lancaster (Aus) Cervelo Test Team 2:59:19
162 Iban Mayoz Echeverria (Spa) Footon-Servetto 2:59:24
163 Daniel Lloyd (GBr) Cervelo Test Team 2:59:45
164 Alan Perez Lezaun (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 3:00:54
165 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 3:01:12
166 Jeremy Hunt (GBr) Cervelo Test Team 3:01:58
167 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team Katusha 3:04:23
168 Mirco Lorenzetto (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 3:05:13
169 Andreas Klier (Ger) Cervelo Test Team 3:10:38
170 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) BMC Racing Team 3:14:48
171 Anthony Roux (Fra) Française des Jeux 3:14:59
172 Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Team Radioshack 3:16:17
173 Adriano Malori (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 3:25:06
174 Bert Grabsch (Ger) Team HTC - Columbia 3:27:07

Flying the Tricolor - A Centenary to Celebrate

All eyes were focused three kilometers down the north slope of the Porte de Balès, the fight for yellow was in full flight, attacks, counter-attacks, but over the summit and down the southern slope by a couple of minutes flew a diminutive Frenchman clad in the vibrant Tricolor, the colors of the champion nationals of his home country. Since 2004 we have come to love him for his affable smile and genuine verve for the sport, Thomas Voeckler was racing pell-mell for the lovely and historic spa-town of Luchon. Voeckler, of the French team Bbox Bouygues Telecom, scored not only a victory into Bagneres-de-Luchon for himself, but more importantly the 5th of this Tour for France, in Le Tour de France. In dropping the hammer and escaping his breakaway companions on the upper 10% reaches of the Porte de Balès, he help insure this was a day of double celebration. The victory marked the most successful Tour de France in a quarter century and Happy Centenary for Le Tour de Pyrenese.

For winner only mentality Americans there will be the inevitable question: So what's the big deal? Isn't this a race for the yellow jersey? And no Frenchman even cracks the top 10; in fact, John Gadret riding for AG2R La Mondiale trails in 15th at 14m 24s off the lead - that's about as close as the French will get to winning
their race this year.

The big deal is, this is their race. Le Tour IS a French race. Despite the occasional starts on foreign soil it is called the Grand Boucle because it annually swings its way around the whole of France. Those scenes you see the helicopters beaming around the planet in HD - that's France. Those castles and chateaus Paul Sherwin warbles on about - they're French. This great race was born 106 years ago in France and despite its recent globalization it is an expression of French sport, culture, economics, politics and passion. More importantly it must remain French -
Le Tour de France - and to do that it needs the French to love it, like they can only do if they feel a part, yes, that means winning.

The story of the birth of
Le Tour de France is well known to most - a French newspaper's (L'Auto) marketing ploy to increase circulation, insure survival and most importantly perhaps, eliminate the competition (L'Velo), whose publisher had opposing political views. Buried on the backpages of this new event was the patriotic passions of the founder, self-appointed director, and often chief chronicler Henri Desgrange. Desgrange loved France with obsession, consequently his race was and is a representation of all he believe France and the French people should aspire to be.

Over the decades, through, and because of, political strife, wars, economic good times and bad, shifts in sporting attitudes, and the coming of new medias, the race that first circled the rutted roads of the French countryside has been influenced by, and influenced, French life. I won't lead you down the long history of Le Tour, if you are interested read the excellent, LE TOUR, by Geoffrey Wheatcroft, but suffice to say for the Tour to remain Le Tour de France needs a French cycling resurgence. There will never be enough American or British or Australian or Kazakh cycling fans to create a living gauntlet up L'Alpe d'Huez, or engulf the Tourmalet like they will Tuesday and Thursday, or set a table of fromage, vin and baguette roadside in a small village in the middle of Provence and wait three hours for its passing - forget your own nationalistic pride for two seconds and you realize part of what you love about this race is it is French. And it is a more than a bicycle race, it is a human drama in an amphitheater of life, that no other country could have invented and no other country has ever equaled.

A few months before that first climb to the Pyrenean summits, that crazy idea of making cyclists on bicycles that invented the word, ascend over mere muddy goat tracks, to which the race officials were shouted at "assassins!" American President Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech in Paris, a speech entitled "The Man in the Arena". A speech that wasn't of the pen, but of the heart of Henri Desgrange and at the heart of his beloved Le Tour de France. President Roosevelt spoke,

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Today I smiled with joy for daring Frenchman Thomas Voeckler and
was proud to love my very French Tour de France.

Photo: AP

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Rouge Report: The ER fills up

Dawn broke on the Pyrenees to shine on a peloton bruised, battered, broken and beat. In the memories of many this has been a Tour shattered with the kind of suffering we haven't seen in years.

Yesterday Juliet Macur, for the NY Times wrote,

"As of Friday afternoon, 22 riders, including Farrar and two of his Garmin-Transitions teammates, have dropped out of the three-week race, which began on July 3 and ends on July 25, in Paris. Christian Vande Velde, the team leader, crashed in Stage 2, then pulled out with broken ribs. Robbie Hunter, a sprinter, quit after breaking his elbow in Stage 10.

Only six of the team’s nine Tour riders remain. And three of those — who rank 148th or lower in the standings now — are competing with injuries.

At their team hotel on Thursday night, the dinner table looked like a hospital waiting room. Hunter had his arm in a sling. David Zabriskie, the five-time United States time trial national champion, had tape around his injured left knee. Julian Dean, a sprinter, moved gingerly because of a deep bruise on his back. David Millar, one of the squad’s veterans, wore a protective girdle, from a Stage 2 crash"

After today's first-of-four forays into the upper atmosphere of the Geants du Pyrenees the peloton needs extra seats in the autobus - nearly 40% of the riders finished 37 minutes back of stage winner Christophe Reblon atop Ax-3 Domaines. Even Phil Liggett commented early on in the stage, while the riders were still on the slopes of the 2,001 meter HC monster of the Port de Pailhères, "we could see another 20 of these go before we leave the Pyrenees."

Well if that many more don't survive through to see Paris we will definitely "celebrate" one of the most destructive Tours in recent memory; as is we may have more bodies broken arriving on the Champs than ever before. But after day one in the Pyrenees, looking at the contenders clustered in the last 15 minutes of the GC we have familiar bedfellows, and Germans now holding three of the last six spots. If current Lanterne Rouge Anthony Roux should succumb to the climbs and one of these three inherit the red lamp then 75 years of abstinence would be broken for Germany. Not since Willi Kutschbach trailed in 7h 40m 39s, in 46th place, in 1935 (the final year founding Director Henri Desgrange would complete his beloved Tour) - has a German finished last in Paris:

169 Andreas Klier (Ger) Cervelo Test Team 2:45:10
170 Dimitri Champion (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 2:45:28
171 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) BMC Racing Team 2:49:20
172 Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Team Radioshack 2:50:49
173 Adriano Malori (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 2:59:38
174 Bert Grabsch (Ger) Team HTC - Columbia 3:01:39
175 Anthony Roux (Fra) Française des Jeux 3:02:36

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday's Rouge Report

Anyone seriously calculating the Laterne Rouge race had to take note of today's Stage 12, hidden in the lumpy hills of the southern Massif Central - where more than one rider has succumbed to the heat and torturous terrain.

And today a toll was taken - my ace in the hole is out, gone, headed for a little R&R, DNF'd - Tyler Farrar.

It was a case of climbing, as it usually is for Lanterne Rouge contenders, this time Tyler added a fractured wrist from Stage 2 to his challenge. Tyler slipped off the back and couldn't even hang on fellow drifter Lars Boom (of Rabobank), according to Garmin director Matt White. So, I'll admit to being a bit depressed about my day with the Tour - Tyler out and Andy Schleck missing Contador's wheel on the attack up the wicked "petit" Montée Laurent Jalabert.

Tyler told reporters after the race, "I am devastated to leave the Tour and my teammates. You never want to leave any race, but especially the Tour. It's the event we work for all year. I've been suffering since my crash on stage two and today the pain was just too much." Also going on early summer holiday with Farrar was Samuel Dumoulin, one of the bright French hopes for Rouge - dang! Sadly with the Pyrenees looming more devastation awaits.

So - with two great Lanterne Rouge contenders out below is what the race looks like heading to Revel and into the weekend, where the Tour de Soufffrance for our back-of-the-bus boys begins in full dread come Sunday as they face an HC and Cat 1 shaped tail-end of a mountainous demon. Don't look up - Monday it gets worse and Tuesday may the best man survive to enjoy the rest day in Pau. Good luck guys and may the grand sufferer finish last.

167 Stéphane Auge (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne 1:59:32
168 Jesus Hernandez Blazquez (Spa) Astana 2:02:03
169 Dimitri Champion (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 2:02:49
170 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) BMC Racing Team 2:04:02
171 Francesco Reda (Ita) Quick Step 2:04:20
172 Andreas Klier (Ger) Cervelo Test Team 2:06:35
173 Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Team Radioshack 2:07:51
174 Adriano Malori (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 2:16:59
175 Bert Grabsch (Ger) Team HTC - Columbia 2:19:00
176 Anthony Roux (Fra) Française des Jeux 2:19:49

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Today's Rouge Report

Whether it was the phone call Adriano got from his boyhood pals reminding him that their beloved footballers had exited the World Cup in utter disgrace or it was the post-Bastille Day hangover of the two Frenchmen Samuel Dumoulin and new rouge Anthony Roux, a stage that should have seen the statis quo in the rouge race indeed saw a bit of shuffling off the back.

After Stage 11 thing shifted around a bit - but the contenders are all still there - including American Tyler Farrar, although Mark Renshaw nearly sealed Tyler's fate by taking him into the barriers in the final meters of today's sprint - instead the officials sealed Renshaw's.

168 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Transitions 1:50:18
169 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) BMC Racing Team 1:50:56
170 Bert Grabsch (Ger) Team HTC - Columbia 1:52:23
171 Andreas Klier (Ger) Cervelo Test Team 1:56:25
172 Dimitri Champion (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 1:56:28
173 Jesus Hernandez Blazquez (Spa) Astana 1:56:48
174 Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Team Radioshack 1:57:10
175 Francesco Reda (Ita) Quick Step 1:57:58
176 Adriano Malori (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 2:04:09
177 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne 2:05:18
178 Anthony Roux (Fra) Française des Jeux 2:05:51

A footnote: Bill Strickland's piece on suggesting Lance pull a Lanterne - while it would be a first in many categories, and definitely turn up the international on light in the lantern - if we are going to have an American he should earn it in the grand tradition of rouge - go Tyler Farrar!

PS - all my Rouge Reports will be tag as such in the Labels if you want to compare riders/postings as a group

BREAKING NEWS: Renshaw to Work For BP

Bourg-lès-Valence,FRANCE - Executed in swift and decisive action today, in a move rarely seen by Tour officials, top race official Jean-Francois Pescheux disqualified cyclist Mark Renshaw of team HTC-Columbia. He said after the race: “Renshaw was declassified immediately but we have decided to also throw him off the race." Going on to say, "We’ve only seen the pictures once, but his actions are plain for all to see. This is a bike race, not a gladiator’s arena." Later adding his talents are needed elsewhere, but refused to elaborate.

As reported immediately after the finish today in VeloNews:

Australian Mark Renshaw has been thrown out of the Tour de France for trying to headbutt rival Julian Dean during a bunch sprint finish to the end of the 11th stage, race officials said.

Renshaw, the lead-out man for stage winner Mark Cavendish, was shown by television pictures trying to headbutt the Garmin-Transitions rider from New Zealand three times in the final 400 meters of the home straight.

Cavendish then raced ahead towards eventual victory, his third this year on the race and 13th in three participations, with Renshaw then seen trying to block Dean’s sprinter, Tyler Farrar, as the American tried to come up the inside of the barriers.

Elaboration on the disqualification came only minutes later in the official release from the Queen of England Royal PR Service. It said - that Her Majesty the Queen had been requested by BP senior officials, who were reportedly taking a break from the whole "Gulf mess" to catch the run into the line by Cavendish, to summon Mr. Renshaw, an Australian, as a royal subject, to assist in their growing dilemma in the Gulf of Mexico. An unidentified BP official was quoted as saying - we're in the crapper on this one mate, we need to know if this test will work and after watching Mark bashing his way through the peloton we are certain if our well head can survive that it can stand up to any pressure from below.

“The well integrity test will last at least 6 hours and could last up to 48 hours, as soon as Mr. Renshaw arrives,” BP said on its Web site. “Although it cannot be assured, it is expected that no oil will be released to the ocean during the Renshaw test. Even if no oil is released during the test, this will not be an indication that oil and gas flow from the well bore has been permanently stopped, nor that Mr. Renshaw has not headbutted the well head to the best of his ability.”

In a brief statement to the media, Mr. Renshaw said, "I'm bummed to be out of the Tour, but as long as Aussies fly the Union Jack on our flag, I'll be there for the Queen Mother, England, and any of its global multinational corporate giants that find themselves with a sticky wicket."

In an unrelated news story, HTC-Columbia announced that it has signed an agreement for a new long-term sponsor and its team colors will now be a pronounced green and yellow.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rouge Report: Lanterne Rouge Race Began on Col de Madeleine

At last we have a race for rouge. Adriano Malori, the young Italian riding for the Italian squad Lampre-Farnese Vini, turned squares up the Col du Madeleine yesterday to cross the line 151st in Stage 9 that included the race's first real gauntlet of ascents and the first HC climb. He rode in with more than 40 others in the autobus, nearly 35 minutes behind winner Sandy Casar and the other day's leaders.

Thanks to a break that stuck, the Italian finished Stage 10 in the main group in 181st and last in the field, trailing overall maillot jaune Andy Schleck by 2 hours, 2 minutes and 29 seconds. He's tightened the race to Frenchman Anthony Roux, who's in 180th place, by closing down two minutes today. It's time to start tracking the climbs and the ticking of the cut-off clock, we now have a race. We haven't had an Italian Lanterne Rouge since Roldolfo Massi in 1990.

Here's the contenders after Stage 10:

176 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Transitions 1:50:18
177 Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Team Radioshack 1:55:00
178 Andreas Klier (Ger) Cervelo Test Team 1:56:25
179 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne 1:57:37
180 Anthony Roux (Fra) Française des Jeux 2:00:46
181 Adriano Malori (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 2:02:29

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Class vs Concession

Anyone who has ridden through the mountains in Europe, the Pyrenees, the Jura, the Dolomites, especially the Alps can tell you the climbs and the descents are entirely different beasts, different from anything else in the world; they are long ascents, they are equally long all the way down. And in between, each climb is generally connected by a short valley, a lovely village and undoubtedly a scattering of round-abouts, or stumpy baguette-like isles of "road furniture", crusts of concrete to deviate the traffic - they're innocent unless you deviate your attention. So it was on the approach to Col de la Ramaz on Sunday - one last distracting deviation as the peloton's speed began to ramp, rider scrambling for front position, the ideal place to be; that coveted first dozen or so "out of trouble's way."

Sweeping through it at 60k's Lance became a momentary mortal cyclist, clipped a pedal and it was French radio shouts of, "chutes Armstrong!" Finishing a day unlike any other he had experienced in 12 previous years of Tour riding it would be understandable to be a bit frustrated, disgusted, demoralized, and well, completely distracted in your own affairs, but it's in those extenuating moments when little things spin forward and someone shows true class. At the end of the eighth stage Sunday the moto TV camera was leading Lance's every pedal turn up the Cat. 1 climb up to the ski station of Avoriaz - the camera is your companion in victory and defeat - this time there would be no dramatic music overlay, no just do it dissolving in the upper corner of the frame, and the only 'look' was one few had imagined over the past decade.

Armstrong finally crossed the finish line, accompanied by teammates, he was 13 minutes and 26 seconds behind new maillot jaune Cadel Evans of Team BMC.

But just seconds before Lance, riding abreast with teammates Chris Horner and Jani Brajkovic and un petit peloton of riders young and old, who will someday say to there children, "I rode with Lance Armstrong", crossed the line something subtle, maybe coincidence, maybe not. Maybe a personal, private show of class, happened - Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel clad in the yellow jersey, he had valiantly recaptured the day before, slipped a couple bike lengths forward or did Lance,
lead others and eased up on the pedals insuring the maillot jaune crossed the line to the applause of the Avoriaz crowd? Sylvain had fought back up to join the Armstrong group and could have crossed the line as one of many. Instead, perhaps, there it was, the kind of moment that truly defines great champions, the grand patron of past pelotons paying respect to protocol, history, and the thing that defines this great race long after he is but a prominent chapter in its history - the maillot jaune.

Photo: Getty Images

Monday, July 12, 2010

Rouge Review

Okay, I relent! I'll admit I started all this Lanterne Rouge discussion so I deserve your questions, but we are only at the first Rest Day so any real substantive discussion of the true contenders for the little lantern is rather pointless. The current back of the bunch is a newbie to the whole lantern affair, Team RadioShack's DmitriyMuravyev, who finished outside my 30 minute cut-off in TdF 2009 (yes, I impose my own time cut-off). So using my multi-decade rule of considering only the riders within 30 minutes of the victorious Lanterne Rouge you can see that with our current 45 "contenders" at the end of Stage 8 you can't really call the challenge "contentious" quite yet. Tuesday's stage should open things up a bit, even the autobus can't be forgiving enough to protect 45 guys - and believe me anyone who has turned a pedal on the beast called Mademoiselle Madeleine will tell you she won't be forgiving. We should be down to a couple dozen real contenders tomorrow evening and start to see clear chasms of opportunity glowing in the race for rouge.

PS - Lance if you are reading, here's your real shot at velo-immortality - you are already a third of the way back, just keep going and aim for Rouge - you will make history, the only seven-time winner of the maillot jaune AND Lanterne Rouge! Think of it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Rare Rouge-Race Double

Mathieu Hermans & Pietro Tarchini

With so many sprinters banged up so early in this year's Tour, many of whom have previously dangled off the back in the mountains and flirted with the coveted Lanterne Rouge, I thought it would be interesting to imagine them actually winning a stage, or two, and picking up the little lantern in Paris. And then it dawned on me, that might be one of the rarer Tour feats.

A handful have won Tour stages and in separate years basked in the reddish glow of the Lanterne Rouge, those include Roldolfo Massi, Jacky Durand, Rob Harmeling, Willy Derboven, Joseph Groussard and in 1983, Gilbert Glaus won the stage every sprinter dreams of, and in dream-like fashion. On the final stage of the 1983 Tour de France Glaus lunges his bike at the line on the paves of the Champs-Elysee to take Sean Kelly by half a wheel. A year later in the 1984 Tour de France he again finished on the Champs, but this time collected the prize of Lanterne Rouge.

After a bit of digging I found the feat is not only rare, but the odds are definitely stacked against you. Out of nearly 6,000 who have started the Tour since 1903 only two cyclists have managed to score a stage victory in the same year as winning the Lanterne Rouge.

That rarest of feats came first in 1947, on the launch of the “modern era” of Tour cycling. Possibly predicted, it came late in the game, on Stage 18, Les Sables to Vannes, 236 kms of perfect flat escape country leading north to Paris from the punishing Cols of the Pyrenees. The Italian Pietro Tarchini won out of a break-away sprint of 13 riders, who had been given their chance while maillot jaune
Jean Robic and the main GC contenders rolled in 8 minutes and 16 seconds later.

It would be 22 years before the next, and last, time a rider would accomplished the double, and again it was post-Pyrenees. This time from a double-doubler Mathieu Hermans, a Dutchman, and one of the rare two-time winners of the Lanterne Rouge, in 1987 and 1989. He won a single stage in 1989, a galloping sprint finish on Étape 11, as the peloton swooped down out of the Pyrenean resort town of Luchon to the outskirts of Toulouse in Blagnac.

So this year the historical gap, about 20 years, is there, and we have the right riders - Tyler Farrar, Andreas Klier, Mark Renshaw and Bernhard Eisel, all have the kinda speed, character and autobus experience to make history.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Something worth noticing

Yesterday was a Tour day to remember, not for all the usual reasons, but for some old ones, and one truly awesome display of raw human power and determination - the kind that can conquer cobbles and cancer.

On the last two sectors of cobbles, six and seven, 5,000 meters of the unforgiving granite, groups were splintering all over the pavés and Lance Armstrong was there, chasing back onto the lead group being powered away by the current King of Cobbles, Fabian Cancellara. And then as Paul Sherwin always cautions about cobbles, "it's not about having good luck, it's about not having bad luck" - bad luck struck, in the form of a front flat. What happened next was awing. After teammate Popovych worked like a dog, LA took over his own fate and rode the pavés like a man possessed. I have no clue what his watt output was over that last section, but the numbers must surely be beyond what mere pedaling mortals can fathom.

I have many mixed feelings about Armstrong, doping, his impact on the sport, etc. but on the Haveluy sector of pavés you saw why this man beat cancer. When he crossed the finish line, his face breaded in dust and shellacked in sweat for me his return to the Tour this year just became victorious.

Long time sports journalist Rick Reilly over on wrote in Armstrong Keeps Passing Tests,

"Look, I don't know whether Armstrong doped. He might have. He says he didn't, but athletes say a lot of things. Still, I do know he is the most tested athlete in American history. A man who's had people watch him pee more than 1,000 times, by his own count, and yet he's never failed one of them. The man is a test passer. He's had tests of scalpels and IVs, lungs and muscle, and now age and will. For 23 days, he will be trying to pass this 2,262-mile test against riders whose fathers he raced. He'll be trying to pass it every day, and it mesmerizes and astonishes me. But because of Landis, nobody's noticing."

Stage 3 Tuesday's route between Wanze and Arenberg Porte du Hainaut was peppered with pavés, seven section of classic cobbles, pavés shifting in their graves for hundreds of years before humans invented the bike - dice-like chunks of granite unkind to man and machine. It was a time for "noticing."

Jens Voigt, truly one of my favorite peloton-people, said Stage 3's pavés had no place in the race, on this point I am in 100% disagreement - pavés as well as occasional dust roads, wet descents, 300km stages, scorching heat, they are the chaotic real-world crucible in which this monument of sports was born 106 years ago; a wild concoction of human perseverance once penned the
Tour de Souffrance. Suffering is bike racing. And what we saw yesterday was bike racers really racing their bikes. Unlike the cobbled classic Parix-Roubaix, where time is of little consequence and fastest survivor into the Roubaix velodrome is all that counts, yesterday's detour through the cobbled countryside was about the ticking of the GC clock. Time played a factor, a deciding demon rearing up out of the crevasses between those historic pavés. From minute to minute leads exchanged, gaps opened and closed, hopes grew then faded with wheel changes, then surged once more in some masterful pieces of bike racing.

Ya, in the end the seven-time champion fell from fifth overall to 18th, 2:30 back of renewed leader Fabian Cancellara, and more importantly 1-2 minutes off key GC rivals. But if that performance on sectors 6 and 7 of pavés was any indication of the Armstrong we are going to be treated to over the next two plus weeks, then we may just see Henri Desgrange stir with pride from his grave - his Tour has been reborn, and that is definitely worth noticing.