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."

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