Sunday, July 10, 2011

July 10, Stage 9: Issoire - Saint-Flour 208 km

If you know a cyclist (professional, commuter or whatever), please give them a hug and tell them how much you love them.

Today we had yet another stage that reminded us of how fragile we humans are and what kind of horrors the athletes we adore are forced to put up with. It's a complicated issue, one that I'm not going to talk about here because this is not the place. But I will say that this Tour de France is possibly the least fun I've had during any Tour. Even the one where Cofidis (with Sylvain riding for them) withdrew from the race. Even with all the other different doping dramas. I haven't seen anything like this, except perhaps at the Giro, but even then the big names were usually spared a lot of the grief. The only big names (so to speak) who've been spared have been on Leopard Trek, so make of that what you will.

Stage 9 was nothing short of a mess. People will blame the crashes on a lot of things -- and there were a lot of causes. From careless riding to careless driving to the weather. I won't speculate, at least not here, but I will say that today's crashes were some of the worst. It's almost as if nothing's been learned since Wouter Weylandt's death. Perhaps that's to be expected or perhaps there was nothing truly to be learned. But I must say that when the rider who is most loathed (in and outside of the peloton) has to be carried from the slopes of a small hill and out from some trees, something's not right. I don't know anyone who likes Vino, hell, I was going to have a good laugh as his expense yesterday (and perhaps did), but it doesn't matter how much you deny doping, no one deserves to crash like that.

But it wasn't just Vino. It was Dave Zabriske. It was Jurgen van den Brock. It was pure carnage, as people like to say.  I dislike that word, just like I dislike people who take great pleasure out of horrific crashes. It's one thing for a crash to happen and people to get up and keep going. It's another for three bodies to be laying on the ground and two ambulances to pull up. No crashes are fun, but these are some of the worst. But it wasn't just the peloton causing crashes. The break wasn't spared and broke our hearts in totally different ways. While crashes within the peloton are expected, rarely do crashes in a breakaway happen and if they do, it's usually from rider error.

Today's breakaway was full of break favorites. Two of those were supremely unlucky in the worst way possible. In a scene that could only come from a course on how not to drive next to cyclists, a car (a tv one?) tried to avoid hitting a tree and instead of slowing down (like a logical person) and waiting for the cyclists to pass, it instead surged forward and sideswiped Juan Antonio Flecha, causing him to hit the deck very hard and careen into Johnny Hoogerland. Flecha suffered, but it was Hoogerland who ended up a mess. The boy dude was flung into a field, but he never got there because the field was lined with barbed wire. There are pictures floating out there in cyberspace of his injuries, which I won't be linking to because they are horrible. The damage that was done to him was outrageous and part of me hopes that both Sky and Rabobank will be taking legal action against the car. Both men finished the stage, but I don't know that either will continue and the pictures of Hoogerland on the podium, bandaged up and in tears, are heartbreaking.

No cyclist should have to suffer being hit by a car and none should have suffer it during a race. This is the second time a race vehicle has been involved in a crash with a rider and as much as I love the coverage, something must be done about this. Sadly, I don't have enough experience to suggest what, but hopefully something will be done.

As for the race itself, it's hard to talk about it because the crashes overshadow everything else. Luckily Sylvain was not involved in any incidents and made it home with the autobus, of which I am grateful. I saw him in the aftermath of that crash, and it was almost as if he wanted to stop and help the Astana rider (who turned out to be Vino), but there was nothing he could've done. And in Vino's, he's another GC rider who's crashed out of the race. There was a brief bit of drama in the peloton, it seems someone was either attempting to attack and another group wanting to slow the peloton down. Everyone knows my thoughts on this, you never wait. NOT EVER. It's a race, not a charity ride. That being said, attacking serves no purpose either, until it's clear that the cyclists aren't joining back up, then attack all you want.

In the end, the breakaway won day, if winning is the right word. Luis Leon Sanchez took the stage win and Thomas Voeckler the yellow jersey. I got one thing right, which was that Thor wouldn't be in yellow, but that's about it. Tomorrow is a rest day and for that I'm grateful, because I'd like a day off from Tour and I'm pretty sure all of the cyclists do, too. May Tuesday's stage be better.

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