Random thoughts after the first rest day of the Tour de France while hoping that I’m never behind the Orica-Greenedge team bus heading into a tunnel ...
Two countries conspicuously absent? The United States and France.
A French rider, of course, hasn’t won the Tour since 1985, though France did win five stages last year and Thomas Voeckler was in yellow for 10 stages in 2011. American riders, however, have won only one stage in the past six Tours (sprinter Tyler Farrar, Stage 3 in 2011) and haven’t had anyone in yellow since Floyd Landis in 2006 -- a jersey he was quickly stripped of because of doping. Technically, the last American in yellow was Greg LeMond in 1991.
The U.S. won’t have anyone in yellow this year either, though Andrew Talansky, the current top American in the standings (25th and 11:15 behind Froome), could wear white as the top young rider.
Meanwhile, Christian Vande Velde crashed out and Ted King was eliminated by falling seven seconds outside the limit in the team time trial. Tejay van Garderen, perhaps the most promising American rider heading into the Tour, suffered from the heat in a terrible Stage 8 and is 50th, 35 minutes behind. Tom Danielson and Brent Bookwalter are the only other Americans still in the race.
I am hopeful that riders such as van Garderen and Talansky will return Americans to the podium in future Tours, and I also hope that the Lance Armstrong fallout won’t have a negative effect on cycling in this country. But mostly, I just hope we can get an American at or near the top so we don’t have to hear about Cavendish, Froome and all the other British riders all the time on the broadcast coverage. As my wife frequently says in jest as we watch the Tour, "But what about Cavendish?"
A Call Only Desgrange Could Be Proud Of: Of course, the U.S. would have another rider still in the race if the Tour hadn’t returned to the days of dictatorial founder Henri Desgrange by eliminating King because he finished seven seconds outside the maximum limit in the Stage 4 team time trial.
King quickly was unhooked from his Cannondale team because he was riding with a separated shoulder that he suffered when he crashed near the end of Stage 1. And a big reason he crashed was due to the too-narrow roads near the finish, along with the confusion and panic brought on by the Orica-Greenedge team bus getting stuck under the finish line banner. That’s the Tour’s fault -- not King’s.
Further, exemptions can be made on the time limit. If riding seven seconds outside the limit with a separated shoulder that was injured in large part due to poor race organization is not good enough for an exemption, what is? As Garmin team manager Jonathan Vaughters tweeted, "if we wish to encourage clean cycling, we can't impose very high minimum speeds. But ‘c'est le ciclisme!’ wins over logic."
The Tour needs to spare -- or at least apologize to -- riders like King, not punish them.
Guess We Should Just Be Grateful Pablo Sandoval’s San Francisco Giants Jersey Is Not Made Of The Same Sheer Material: I wrote last week about the glories of bike jerseys, including a desire that more pro teams include names on jerseys so we can more easily identify the riders. Sky is a team that does put player names on jerseys, but do these guys really need to wear jerseys of such sheer material that we can see through to the flesh when riders get sweaty? Seeing Froome’s cadaver-like torso really doesn’t add much for me.
Your Summer Reading Assignment: If you’re looking for a good book to read the rest of the Tour, pick up a copy of "Road to Valor," by Aili and Andres McConnon. Now out in paperback, the book tells the amazing story of Italy’s Gino Bartalli, who won the Tour in 1938 and again in 1948, the longest stretch between victories in the race’s history. In the war years in between, he did something even greater -- he helped hide a Jewish family and also delivered fake identity papers for others on his bike. Bartalli was a champion in every sense of the word.
The book also has a reminder that doping has been around a long time in cycling, quoting press reports that boils on the legs of rider Louis Bobet were the result of "overtiring, too much eating, and perhaps abuse of performance enhancing substances."
This is why I don’t judge Lance or any doper too harshly. Lance was not the first. He won’t be the last. But the Tour endures.
Of Course, I Didn’t Have A Domestique Bringing Me Water Bottles: Finally, when I’m on assignment and away from my bike (as I am now), I enjoy watching the Tour while riding a stationary bike in the hotel fitness room during the evening broadcast. Doing so in a poorly air-conditioned fitness room during the heat and humidity of summer makes me appreciate what both van Graderen and Richie Porte endured in Stages 8 and 9, respectively. Porte had a great ride in the mountainous Stage 8, only to crack in Stage 9 and fall out of contention.
I was privately criticizing Alejandro Valverde and Cadel Evans for not personally attacking Froome on the final climb Sunday -- until I noticed that my own speed and revolutions were declining each night I rode, forcing me to lower the resistance on the machine. If just watching the Tour is draining, what must actually competing in it feel like?