To be sure, Spartacus didn't disappoint me. (Photo by Micki)
OK, I’ll say it. This year’s Tour de France really left me feeling underwhelmed. Sure, we saw an incredible battle between two great riders, Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck. We saw several heroic stage wins. But I can’t help but feel that the best rider didn’t win. Schleck rode the best race. He was the real hero.
Contador really disappointed me. I’m not really bothered by the fact that he didn’t win a stage. I’m troubled more by how he failed to really stamp his name on the race. There were no monster attacks in the mountains. He didn’t blow away everyone in the time trials. He seemed to be on defense all the time, playing it safe on the back of Schleck’s wheel. He took over the yellow jersey because of Schleck’s misshift or mechanical – whatever you want to call it. Contador won’t be the man we will remember the most in the 2010 Tour. Schleck’s performance will be the most memorable. That doesn’t seem right to me.
I was surprised to see that Pave - which consistently provides some of the best cycling analysis in the English language – called this year’s race “the greatest Tour in over a decade.” I can understand the point of view, but I must respectfully disagree with it. In my mind, the best tour in the past 10 years happened in 2003. That’s when Lance Armstrong – riding for a record-tying fifth win – looked extremely vulnerable. He had a big bunch of great riders gunning for him: Jan Ullrich, Iban Mayo, Aitor Gonzalez, Tyler Hamilton, Ivan Basso, Alexander Vinokourov and Joseba Beloki. The blood was in the water and these guys were attacking. There was the feeling that Armstrong was about to crack at any moment and a new era of cycling was upon us. There was the horrific massive pile-up at the end of stage 1 in Meaux that broke the collarbone of Hamilton, who went on to win a stage and finish fourth. There was the crash in the Alps that finished Beloki’s career (OK, he came back but was never a contender again) and sent Armstrong on an off-road adventure through a farm field. Then Armstrong hit the road when the musette snagged his bars. It ended with a wet, slippery time trial, with Ullrich sliding across the pavement. There was much more memorable drama in 2003 than in 2010. (It’s a shame that many of the main characters eventually got busted for doping.)
One of the best things about this year’s Tour was that Schleck really proved to us that he’s the real deal. Last year’s second-place result wasn’t a fluke. He’s truly a contender, a real force who will make next year’s Tour even more thrilling.
Posted: July 26th, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Tour de France | 3 Comments »
The Tour ended only a few hours ago, and my withdrawal symptoms are already setting in. Today, after spending two hours on the bike and another five hours at the pool with the kids, I came home, plopped down, popped open a Fat Tire pale ale, grabbed the TV clicker and switched to channel 55 for my daily fix of the Tour on Versus. (I’ve been watching it live in the morning and the rebroadcast later in the day.) But what appeared on the screen was a red Formula One car. No bikes in sight. I sat there dazed, confused and wondering why they wouldn’t rebroadcast the action from the morning. I ended up mindlessly channel surfing. I eventually settled on ESPN, which was showing the U.S. women’s softball team getting their butts kicked by Canada.
I imagine the Tour withdrawal will really hit hard tomorrow morning. I’m a morning person to begin with, but the Tour made me love the early hours even more. The TV coverage usually started at 6:30 or 7:30 a.m. in my time zone. I’d have a nice pot of coffee brewing before then, and a toasted bagel or two before Bob Roll, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen joined me for breakfast. After spending the past 10 years in Greater China without live TV coverage of the Tour, I was so thankful to be able to watch it in realtime now. When I lived in Taiwan, I remember gathering in a bar that had a computer that was linked to Cyclingnews’ live blow-by-blow text coverage of the race. Last summer in Guangzhou, one of my cycling mates rigged up his TV to the Web via a VPN connection that allowed us to watch live coverage of the stage on Mont Ventoux. He invited everyone in our group to his home for a BBQ feast, followed by a Tour viewing. It was great fun until the Web connection started acting buggy, and we ended up huddling around a laptop to watch the rest of the race.
I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to be able to watch this year’s race live in the comfort of my home.
Posted: July 25th, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Tour de France | 1 Comment »
They put down their wrenches and gathered around the TV in the back of the bike shop. Most were pulling for Thor Hushovd. One rooted for Alessandro Petacchi. No one liked Mark Cavendish. “He’s too cocky,” one of the mechanics said. Another added, “My girlfriend loves him, but I don’t.” I ended up watching the end of the Tour in the bike shop because I had a morning appointment to get my bottom bracket sorted out.
In the final kilometers, the voices of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen sped up and became more impassioned. A Milram rider made an unorthodox move, swinging out of the peloton and soloing in the left lane. Paul remarked, “You put your head in the wind like that and it smack you in the face like a hammer.”
Everyone in the back of the shop seemed to gasp as Cavendish, with just a couple explosive pedal strokes, jumped out and took the sprint. Paul summed it up the best with one line: You can’t control that man when he feels a victory at the end of his fingertips.”
Posted: July 23rd, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Paul Sherwen, Phil Ligget, Tour de France | No Comments »
Lance Armstrong gets treated with great respect by our favorite English-language commentators, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, at the Tour de France. Today’s Stage 16 was a classic example.
After days of riding in the pack, Armstrong attacked today on a climb and was quickly joined by a few other riders. Paul noted, “This man still has a fine pair of legs when racing in the Pyrenees.” Then Phil added that Armstrong was expected to try to distinguish himself with a major attack or stage win in his last Tour. “We’re watching the death throes of one of the greatest riders in the Tour de France,” he said.
But Phil and Paul are professionals, not cheerleaders. When the younger riders in the breakaway accelerate and it appears that Armstrong is in difficulty and ready to be dropped, Paul said, “I think the man with the hammer smacked Armstrong in the face.”
Posted: July 20th, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Paul Sherwen, Phil Ligget, Tour de France | 3 Comments »
Another great stage in the Tour de France today, and there was a bit of drama between our beloved commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. But as usual, the two professionals handled it masterfully as gentlemen, and their disagreement only enhanced the experience of watching the race.
It happened on the last climb when Andy Schleck dropped his chain just as he was making a major move against Alberto Contador. The Spaniard saw that the yellow jersey was in trouble and shot past him. Paul thought that Contador should have waited. He said, “This is where fair play has been thrown out the window.” Later, he added, “Contador’s move was a move of panic.” He suggested that Contador had to exploit Schleck’s mechanical because his confidence had been shattered by Schleck’s ability to match all of his attacks.
But Phil insisted, rather bluntly, that Paul was being “unfair.” He noted that Contador was riding with two others, Sanchez and Menchov, who were setting the pace.
As Schleck got his chain sorted out and started hammering up the road alone to catch Contador, Paul said, “This is courage at its absolute best. Andy Schleck hasn’t asked for anything from any rider here.”
As Schleck started descending, Phil added, “Look at his face now. He’s going to rip down this mountain!”
One of the two commented on the speed of Schleck’s descent as he dodged the photographers on motorcycles: “Look at the way he’s using that road! Excuse me Mr. Motorbike!”
Phil and Paul had plenty of nice things to say about the Stage 15 winner: Frenchman Thomas Voeckler. As he soloed it home after a long breakaway, Phil said, “This has been a remarkable escapade by the champion of France.” One of them noted how Voeckler just “danced his bike over the highest climb of the day.” Paul added, “He really does rise to the occasion, this young man.”
Posted: July 19th, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Paul Sherwen, Phil Ligget, Tour de France | No Comments »
As a lover of language, I really enjoy listening to Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen do the Tour de France commentary. One of the great things about being an expat is that you often get to ride with a mixed group of people – Brits, Germans, Australians and even some strange Canadians. It can be a vocabulary-expanding experience. In Guangzhou, I achieved an amazing fluency in Australian. In Hong Kong, my daughters absorbed an array of Britishisms. When I eventually settle in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I hope I can find a diverse bunch to ride with.
Anyway, while watching the Tour today, I started jotting down some of the marvelous soundbites from Phil and Paul.
When one rider (I forgot who) was obviously just trying to survive the mountainous stage, Paul observed that the guy was just trying to get through his own “piece of purgatory.” Phil noted that tomorrow’s stage would be a “real cracker.” When it became apparent that Christophe Riblon would win the stage, Paul said, “The newspapers will dance with him tomorrow for sure.”
Then when it became super obvious that Riblon would win, they said, “The Frenchman at the front is really making a meal of this one.”
Posted: July 18th, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Paul Sherwen, Phil Liggett, Tour de France | No Comments »
My friend Micki used to ride the gritty roads of Guangzhou with me. Now she’s living the dream, working in Europe and doing things like enjoying a curbside view of the Tour de France as it makes its way through Spa, Belgium. Micki recently shared a bunch of fantastic photos, a wonderful collage of the riders and the fans – or tifosi – who love our beautiful sport and will wait hours just to get a glimpse of the peloton fly by. The above image is my favorite. Micki really captured the boys’ posture of anticipation: torsos leaning, knees bent, eyes fixed down the road. I bet the little guy in green banged up his elbow the day before in a kermis.
The picture also reminded me of the recent advertising campaign by the Belgian bike maker Ridley. One ad shows a motley group of people, mostly working class folks of every age, dressed in winter coats, standing on the side of the road in a drab town on a bitterly cold early spring afternoon, waiting for the riders. The ad slogan reads, “We are Belgium.” Cycling geeks in America will get the ad. But it would be lost on most normal people in the U.S. They still don’t know that Belgium is the holy land of cycling.
The photo also got me thinking about a funny anecdote in Joe Parkin’s latest book, “Come and Gone.” He likes to talk about how the average Belgian child has a deeper understanding and appreciation of cycling than the average American. In his book, he describes how after he finished his racing career in Belgium, he was competing in a U.S. event. He was trying to catch up with the lead group, and he wanted to know how far up the road the leaders were. So he asked a spectator, “What’s the time?” And the person replied, “1:45 p.m.” (or some other time, I can’t remember exactly). Parkin says that in Belgium, fans will instinctively time the gap between the leaders. Kids who don’t wear watches will count it out in their heads and yell it out to the riders. “Thousand one, thousand two, thousand three…”
Please enjoy a few more of Micki’s pics:
I was delighted to see this photo of my favorite rider, Sylvain Chavanel. On Saturday, Paul Sherwen shared an interesting factoid about the French rider. Chavanel is actually of Spanish descent. His family moved to France during the Spanish Civil War. Chavanel is having a great tour. As usual, he’s one of the most aggressive riders and is always looking for a way to animate the race. And he has already won two stages and spent a day in yellow!
Old, young, men, women, fat, skinny…they’re all out there. Fantastic.
When I saw this photo, I blurted out, “Spartacus!” Micki really got the money shot for the day.
Hmmm, wait a minute. Maybe THIS is what the two boys were eagerly anticipating. The Haribo candy truck!
Posted: July 17th, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Belgium, Joe Parkin, Sylvain Chavanel, Tour de France | 1 Comment »