Thursday, July 21, 2011

July 21, Stage 18: Pinerolo - Galibier Serre-Chevalier 189 km

Maybe I'm getting tired of the Tour, but I have to admit that I don't understand where all the excitement about today's stage came from. Sure, maybe we've finally got a race, but it's certainly not interesting and entirely predictable. I know what you're thinking, but what about Thomas Voeckler? He did it before, you know. He struggled up a mountain and kept the yellow jersey by a matter of seconds back in 2004. So, honestly, while it was a surprise that he kept up, it wasn't like this was the first time he'd done something like this.

What's more interesting/bizarre to me is the fact that he and his teammate(s) are even up there at all. He's never been a strong climber or descender -- decent at best -- and yet here he is, keeping up with Cadel Evans' attack. I swear he almost considered going off after Andy Schleck, but wisely decided not to waste his energy. The back of the yellow jersey group was shedding riders like, well, something that sheds a lot and yet Voeckler was clinging on to Evans' back wheel for most of the climb. I'm hesitate to call him a wheel sucker, because if he'd had the energy, I'm sure he would've pulled, it's what you do. I'm a bit annoyed that Evans didn't ask anyone to help, but at the same time, he may have known it was frivolous and a waste of energy to ask when no one was going to be able to. But that's not the point.

The point is that I'm supposed to be impressed with Voeckler and I suppose I am, in the same way I'm impressed with Cavendish that day he finished only a few places behind Andy Schleck. Which is to say I'm impressed, but there's a little asterisk next to it signifying that, well, I'm not convinced. And, speaking of Andy Schleck. Yesterday he was dropped and day he zooms ahead like it's nothing and we all remember the last time someone attack like Andy did today. Not that I'm saying he'll test positive or anything, but at the same time it's kind of amusing. 

That's not to say that the only reason I didn't enjoy this stage was because, oh noes, these dudes might be doping. In fact, that's only secondary to the fact that, to be honest, nothing happened. A good friend of mine and cycling fan mentioned to me in an email that perhaps the cyclists are riding scared. Not, like, terrified kind of scared, but with all the crashes this TDF and Wouter's death, they're not taking risks. That makes a lot of sense, more than most other theories people are throwing around. It's not that I think we're seeing a new era of cycling, mostly that it's an unconscious thing and that, in the end, results in more crashes, not fewer ones.

What did I want out of this stage? Not a Schleck win, but that, too, was predictable. I wanted a breakaway winner. I want the days of people attacking for KOM points. I want cyclists who aren't afraid to leave it all on the road. Sure, that's kind of what we have in Voeckler, but as someone on twitter (I think) said, he's riding completely beyond himself. I suppose that's something to be admired and I hope it doesn't backfire, as it's wont to do -- I mean, some good things are too good to be true. But at the same time, I want the real folks who are going after the GC to at least attempt to attack. I guess Schleck was a start, but I don't see it. I can't figure out if he wants to win or not. He tries, but not hard enough and there's nothing about him that shouts I'm a winner. Say all the crap about Armstrong that you want (and I do), but he wanted it and he wanted it bad. The current crop of GC contenders don't seem to have that fire. Sure, Armstrong basically had his tours handed to him near the end of his career, but occasionally he still had a little fire in him. I don't see that, not in any of these guys.

Who does have that fire? People like Sylvain Chavanel (I'm biased), some of these Wiggins-free Sky riders. Boys from FDJ and even a few of the carrots. Hell, even Cavendish has more fire than most GC contenders! Perhaps I'm too cynical (I don't think so), but if there is a new era of cycling, it's full of apathetic boys who want us to think they care, but can't be bothered to show it. It's not the gruppetto guys, they seem to care. It's just the GC. Maybe they'll prove me wrong tomorrow and will have attack after attack, but I'm not holding out hope. At this point I just want the Tour to be over so I can stop caring about these guys.

Tomorrow isn't the queen stage, that was today (and what a joke it was). Tomorrow is a huge stage, it's got Alpe d'Huez waiting for the boys and if that can't motivate them, then nothing will. My prediction is that Cadel Evans will take the yellow jersey from Voeckler and wear it into Paris. I don't want that, but at this point it's the least annoying option and it's really, really annoying. Voeckler has hung on with the big boys far long than he should, but tomorrow's stage will be one stage too far. My hope is for a breakaway that smashes everyone and we have a winner, preferably French and from a team without a win. I don't hold out much hope, but you never know. This tour has been made for disappointment as much as for excitement.

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