Before the Tour rides into Paris, I have a few things to say
|Photo by Bettini. I confess, two reasons I love watching the Tour de|
France--and getting out on the roads and trails on my own bicycles--
is enjoying and experiencing the sheer beauty and wonder of the land.
It wouldn’t be July and I wouldn’t be John Franklin Hay if I didn’t bother you with some reflections from my annual Tour de France mania. Actually, I’m quite proud of myself for being more restrained this year. I haven’t filled friends’ inboxes with unwanted Tour de France email updates. I haven’t updated my “Tour de France for the Rest of Us” blog. I haven’t even Tweeted or updated on Facebook that much about it. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been tuned in and completely captivated by it, as usual. Here are a few observations and reflections as the Tour heads into its third and final weekend, concluding in Paris on Sunday.
1. A Brit set to win it. For the first time in the Tour de France’s 99-year history, a lad from Great Britain is set to win the overall title – the General Classification, Yellow Jersey. Bradley Wiggins has been close to the top in previous years, though he crashed out last year. He and his teammate Chris Froome (another Brit) have dominated in every aspect (time trials, team effort, mountain climbing) this year and, barring a disaster in the next two stages, they’ll ride in to Paris as 1-2.
2. Definition of sacrifice. Chris Froome, Wiggins’ teammate and right-hand man, could easily have won the GC/Yellow Jersey himself—he was that strong in the mountains. Several times during mountain stages, it seemed like Froome was hanging back just to pull Wiggins up the hills. Froome, who was born and lived as a child in Nairobi, Kenya, has defined sacrifice in the sport by yielding his own ambitions and clearly superior abilities to serve to advance another’s. Wiggins owes this one to Froome. Next year, I won’t be surprised if Froome is the one who is being heralded as the next TdF champ.
3. American in the wings. Remember the name Tejay Van Garderen. No, he’s not Dutch, he’s a 24-year old American. And he’s currently in 5th place in the GC and is wearing the White Jersey as the best-placed rider under age 25. Van Garderen may well move up to 4th place after Saturday’s individual time trial, at which he excels. Don’t be surprised if you hear of Van Garderen in ways similar to Lance Armstrong in coming years.
4. Lots of crashes. This year’s edition of the TdF has featured and unusual number of crashes, particularly during the first week. More than 30 riders have left the race with injuries suffered from crashes in the peloton (the large bunch of cyclists riding in close proximity) at high speeds. Of 198 cyclists on 12 9-member teams, it’s down to under 153 heading into the last two stages.
5. A new generation of cyclists is emerging. There’s been a changing of the guard since I started following the TdF after Lance Armtrong’s first win. This year featured more first-time cyclists in the Tour than I can recall. As new and promising cyclists emerge, there seems to be a higher commitment to guard against doping. In fact, there have been only two doping incidents in this year’s Tour (a new low, to my recollection). American cyclists like Van Garderen and Tyler Farrar continue to fuel hopes of a robust presence of USA-born cyclists in this mostly European event.
6. A word about Lance Armstrong. You’ve likely seen that the US Anti-Doping Agency has filed charges against Armstrong, the Tour de France's only 7-time winner. These are the same charges that were dropped earlier this year by the Justice Department after a two-year investigation found insufficient evidence to continue. Armstrong continues to declare his innocence, backed up by more than 500 clean blood and urine tests over his 20-year career. But this could get ugly. It’s a he-said, she-said guilty-by-association ordeal and it doesn’t sound like the standards in an American court of law are required or will be used by the USADA in the process. I hope Armstrong’s name is cleared. But if he has used medical protocols that are banned in the sport to give him and his teammates an unfair advantage, he should come clean (I’ve always said this). I don’t think he will. I doubt the public will ever really know the truth. To me, it’s just sad that the end of Armstrong’s cycling career and retirement from racing is playing out like this. One would hope for something better.