Saturday, July 18, 2009

Stage 14: Colmar - Besançon 199km

This was the weirdest, most fucked up stage ever and most of it didn't even happen until after the stage. It started out simply enough with a breakaway that was decent sized, though not large. What was pretty awesome was that George Hincapie was in the break and the virtual yellow jersey on the road. If he managed to keep the jersey at the end of the day, it would have been awesome. Except there was this little thing called hardcore drama going on. There were three bizarre events that happened.

1) A 60 year old woman was killed when she crossed the road on the Tour route. Apparently she crossed after the breakaway, but before the peloton, came through. First of all, let me say this was absolutely horrible and the last thing anyone would want to happen. Especially since after the police motor bike hit her, it slid into two other people, injuring them both. But let me just add that the only thing worst than crossing the road in front of cyclists is to cross between the peloton and the break. I really, really wish that that didn't happen. I also don't like the fact that the cyclists were forced to ride by her body by the side of the road (not only do I know that this happened because some cyclists were twittering about it, but also because there were pictures of her body – which is completely horrible – being passed by cyclists). It's a horrible accident that overshadows the rest of what I'm going to write about this stage.

2) The sprint finish that my friends and I are calling The Mark Cavendish Incident. Basically, the sprint for points after the rest of the breakaway crossed the line or was caught was dramatic on every single level. Columbia did a little train for Mark (which I will talk about later, but not how it relates to the Green jersey) and things got weird and basically it looked like Mark was boxing it and then interfering (?) with Thor's chances at the sprint. I don't know if anyone complained (though I think Cervelo must have) or if the race officials decided to look at it again, but it's seriously hard to tell what happens. At full speed and from the front (aka, looking to the sprint from the finish) it's almost impossible to see what made the official DQ Cav (docking him points and giving Thor the Green). When you look at it from above, it kind of looks like Cav glances back, sees Thor (in Green) and then moves over in front of him. They have a brief argument, but again, it's hard to know if it was Cav, Columbia, a Cervelo (not Thor), the barriers, or some combination of all of those that forced Thor ... toward the barriers, since he didn't crash. I think it was unfair to DQ Cav, but what's done is done and I'm not the Tour expert.

3) Five seconds from glory. Seriously, all he needed was five more seconds and then George Hincapie would have raced Stage 15 in yellow. Except, of course, he lost five seconds. As I mentioned earlier, George was in the breakaway that stuck together up until the very end. He crossed the line 16 seconds behind the Russian stage winner and then played the dreaded waiting game. It's what happened after that's strange. First off, let me just say that George's tactics in break weren't the best (and I think he's admitted that). He didn't attack either at the right time or hard enough, I'm not quite sure. Which meant that instead of winning the stage, he came in fifth or whatever and lost those 16 precious seconds. But then what happened next was odd. Astana had been doing tempo for most of the stage, but once it seemed like George might end up in yellow, AG2R took over the work. As happens in stage races, when one team goes, the rest have no choice but to follow. It looked like Columbia, George's team, was doing it's part to slow things down, but it wasn't working. From what I can piece together, Garmin started working with AG2R and so did Astana and eventually Columbia. Armstrong himself blames AG2R and Garmin, and Columbia a little, for making George not get the yellow. I call bullshit, though.

Here's the thing. No one, not anyone deserves to be in yellow. Yes, when someone gets the jersey, pulls it on in the podium, we can say 'oh, he did all the work today, he definitely should be and deserves to be in yellow.' But first and foremost, this is a RACE. As in, team against team and rider against rider. I don't care what anyone says, there was no reason for Astana and Garmin not to race. There was no reason for AG2R not to race (George did not complain about them, because he's not entirely stupid), after all, it's their boy in yellow. But for people to point fingers and blame Garmin or Astana or whatever for not racing to put a cyclist NOT ON THEIR TEAM in yellow is completely ridiculous. I'm sorry, but you don't win races by being nice. Garmin's tactics were to make sure they didn't lose time. Astana's were to make sure they didn't lose time. AG2R's was to make sure that the yellow jersey stayed on their team. All of those things happened because that's what happens in a stage race. You don't look out for the other guys in the peloton. Sure, you might do nice things for them occasionally (see: Fabian Cancellara and David Millar), but that doesn't mean that your teams work together, nor does it mean that you try to get someone else in the yellow jersey – someone not on your team.

I don't care what Armstrong or Matt White or Johan Bruyneel might have said, because they are wrong. Sure, you might want George in yellow after the stage. Sure, you might be able to claim that you didn't do anything to stop him from getting yellow, but during the stage that's not the case. You react because that's what you do. The whole point of the Tour de France is to RACE THE GOD DAMN RACE. I don't care what kind of history you have with George, there are no favors in cycling. And as much as I adore George, and as much as I think he has a right to be angry about those five seconds, it's no one's fault but his own and maybe Columbia's.

As for Columbia? I have no idea what's going on with them. They had a terrible day. George didn't win the stage, missed out on yellow, while Cav was busy getting DQ'd and all but losing the green jersey.

All in all it was a wild stage. Perhaps stage 15 will be just as wild, but who knows.

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