Thursday, July 24, 2008

Stage 18 - Thursday, July 24: Bourg d'Oisans - Saint Étienne, 196.5km

Let me get one thing straight, most of the stage was boring. Not bad, mind you, just boring. There were four groups on the road, the main breakaway (two riders, Marcus Burghardt and Carlos Barredo), the chasing group of three (Romain Feillu, Christophe Le Mével and Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau), the peloton, and Team Lampre.

Lampre was spending a hell of a lot of time helping their former team leader. What happened to him? Well, basically a tragedy. About 28k into the race, long before we started watching, there was a crash. Philippe Gilbert (sadface) and Damiano Cunego went down. From what I can tell, and you can see from this picture, it was pretty bad. He hurt his chin pretty badly and scrapped up the front of his chest, ripping up his jersey.

No matter how you feel about Cunego, you have to feel sorry for him. Nothing's gone right for him this tour. It's just been one big mess. He hasn't been able to do anything in the mountains or the flat stages and then bam, he goes down in a pretty terrible crash. There is a real possibility that he won't even start the race tomorrow. And if he doesn't? I won't blame him. There comes a time when you should just call it quits.

Back to the race. Once that crash happened, the rest of the race, until about 5k to go, was pretty mild. The countryside was beautiful, as usual, and at one point the tour passed a flock of ostriches on a farm (in the middle of France, who knew?). Even the live blogging over at Podium Cafe was pretty dead, mostly it was people discussing Cunego being 22 minutes behind the peloton and transfer news (let's not talk about Chavanel, shall we?). There was some thought that Evans or maybe Kohl would attack Sastre's yellow jersey lead on one of the few mountains, but that never happened, which turned out to be a good thing.

Why? Because we wouldn't have had one of the most hilarious 5k rides to the finish I have ever seen. Hilarious in a good way, that is. There weren't any crashes or anything like that, it was just two men, boys really, fighting it out to the finish.

I was going to say that it all started with Barredo attacked, but that's not really true. It started much earlier on. 63k into the race, Barredo attacked and it stuck, eventually Burghardt stepped up his racing and caught up. This is when things really began. You knew something was going to happen when Burghardt were kind of wary with each other. And then, 5k to go, it got worse.

Worse as in awesome. It was Barredo who began attacking first, knowing that Burghardt would be far too strong a sprinter if they came to the line together. What he hadn't bargained for was that Burghardt would just be too strong all around. Every time Barredo attacked, Burghardt was right there. Eventually Burghardt got fed up with Barredo's near-constant attacking and attacked himself. It was almost hard enough to get away, but it didn't work. Again they were back together.

And then came the best part. You can see it in the video above, sorry for the crap quality, it was the best I could find. You see the attacking and then you seem them practically crawling up to the line. Burghardt leading Barredo because neither of them wanted to attack each other. Hilarious stuff! I love it when this kind of thing happens, because it brings such personality to the tour. Barredo was right, and you can see his anguish after they both cross the line. He has every reason to be upset, because he was right, Burghardt was the stronger sprinter. But this is a clear example of what makes cycling so great. You know what you have to do, you do everything you can and you do it just right and you time things perfectly and you can still lost. Why? Because sometimes cycling is a sport of individuals. And, in this case, it was Barredo who lost out.

Not that I mind, because I'm rather fond of Burghardt. He did a great job, gave some great interviews and had no problems being frank about what happened and how the last kilometers played out. I hope tomorrow's stage, which I'll be watching on tape delay, ends up being as fun (let's hope all of it is fun, instead of just the end!).

Both Gilbert and Chavanel finished the race, losing more time, but they crossed the line. I doubt Gilbert will attempt to fight for a stage win, no matter what he wants to do before leaving for Lotto. As for Chavanel? You never know. I keep my fingers crossed.

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