The Tour de France is an unusual sporting event in that it takes, in comparison to other sporting events, a LIFETIME to unfold. It's three f-in weeks long, and during that time, each Tour builds its own story, its own serialized account of the race—essentially, the Tour is the "Sweet Valley High" of sports.
And as fans we crave drama with every stage. We want GC ramifications with every climb, with every descent, and when this drama isn't available, we concoct our own drama, especially when the race for yellow is not necessarily the most compelling story on the road. Stage 14 was a perfect example of the drama that the Tour can create, with all the essentials of an awesome Sweet Valley High book, stage 14 had heroes, villains, danger, intrigue and crying (well, I didn't see anyone actually cry, but I had to think someone shed a tear yesterday).
Firstly the heroes, LL Sanchez was able to pull off a perfect tactical race and drop the Evil Sandy Casar, Gilbert and the irrepressible Peter Sagan, who is now climbing, yes, climbing. The breakaway had about 15 minutes, so the race for the win was a done deal for the guys up front, and because they couldn't drop Sagz on the climb, it was up to someone to attack and drop the Slovakian Slaughterhouse. Sanchez did this and rolled in for a win that proved his tactical acumen.
Then the villains showed up. The only real villain of the day was the ding dong (or dongs) who threw tacks onto the road, as if they were a European Wile E. Coyote. But like the toddler that finds out that banging someone on the head with a frying pan is, in real life, a terrifically bad idea; the road side tack tosser found out that, yes, there are actual people on those bikes, and bad things happen when you act with the sensibilities of a cartoon character. Robert Kiserlovski crashed due to a flat and was out of the race. Cadel Evans had his Tour placing jeopardized due to three punctures and his team car being delayed by the thin roads and mayhem behind. All this due to the actions of some roadside Wile E Coyote, but we all know how the cartoon ends for Wile E., don't we? I would suggest that the fool (or fools) responsible watch out for falling anvils.
This series of dramatic event also brought forth some hasty (and probably ill-advised) decisions. First there was Tejay Van Garderen's "un-hearing" of Cadel's cries for help. In what has become a Zapruder Film-like analysis of the events, it seems that Cadel yelled for a wheel, and Tejay turned his head around a few times before continuing with his race, with both wheels intact. In Tejay's defense, he said that the crowd was loud and that he thought he had another teammate around to give Cadel a wheel. I cannot guess what Tejay heard on the summit, but I'm pretty sure just after that he heard Jim Ochowitz squealing like a burst bearing in his earpiece, and was probably REALLY hoping that Cadel caught back on before the stage ended, because the dinner table after the stage would've broken the 1986 La Vie Claire team record for the number of silent awkward minutes spent together while chewing pasta.
And while we had Tejay making a hasty decision to stay with the group, we had Pierre Rolland making a hasty decision to try and screw everyone over. Just after the crest, Pierre saw that, miracle of miracle, everyone seems to simultaneously slow down while Bradley Wiggins was saying something in English about something. Rolland used his tactical acumen to discern that this was the perfect time to attack and, noted descender that he is, jumped out to about a minute's gap. Here his take on events (via cyclingnews):
"I wanted to attack on the Mur de Péguére to take some time on the GC. People have reproached me for having attacked on the descent but I didn't know about the mechanical problems behind me because my earpiece was not working. I am not the type of rider who likes to benefit from other people's misfortunes to gain places in the GC," he said on his team site.
Ah, is there any piece of sporting equipment that takes more blame than the malfunctioning earpiece of cycling? There's nothing close is there? While I enjoy this bit of writing done by the Europcar press officer, it doesn't seem to pass the smell test. If things were normal in the race, does Rolland think that Liquigas and Lotto would just fold up and die after Pierre attacked once? Does he think that Nibz would miss out on the opportunity to attack on a descent? Pierre, in your youthful exuberance you tried to slip one past the goalie, and while that's not illegal, it frowned upon. Cycling is the only sport where competitors can collaborate with their foes, and sometimes opponents can create alliances to benefit both parties. Sometimes you need friends in cycling, and Pierre, you lost a lot of potential friends yesterday.
After Liquigas and Lotto learned that Cadel had al his teammates (except one) bringing him back to the field, they finally got to the business of catching Rolland. They brought Pierre back, and he was greeted with the same warmth Ted Nugent would get at a PETA fashion show.
And then the stage ended, we were granted our allotment of drama, but unfortunately it was all of the Sweet Valley variety and none of it was about actual racing, because that drama was stolen by some fool with the mind of a cartoon and a pocketful of thumb tacks.
You know that old box of bike parts you've put in your closet?
Recorded inside the press room at Grenoble Velodrome, we bring you Episode #8 of the Insider from the 2011 Tour de France, our final podcast.
Recorded 1,850 metres above sea level atop the famed Alpe d'Huez, we bring you Episode #7 of the Insider podcast from the 2011 Tour de France.