And So We Enter Endgame

Jul 22 2009

3747094004_bbf8b2dfe9I wouldn’t call it a white flag of surrender, but I feel like today, the road brought something of a resigned armistice between the top two GC squads. Astana sacrificed the potential of a 1-2-3, or even 1-2 podium to all but guarantee a Contador win, and in exchange, SaxoBank got the marketing gold of two affable brothers on the podium beside him.

It’s not like any official accord was reached—though I’m certain Riis and Bruyneel have each other on speed dial—but I couldn’t help feel that, in effect, that’s what happened today. As Contador was seemingly uninterested in waiting for team support, content to sit back for the sprint, and offer a friendly push to his breakaway companions as they came into the line, I don’t really see another logical explanation.

The “Contador is a loose cannon” storyline is garbage, the overripe end of actual tension subverted into a Trek marketing campaign. No maillot jaune can do wrong furthering his GC with two meaningful stages to go, even if it comes at the expense of his teammates. The prize money for an overall win is more than twice that for second place—and according to Bob Roll, Andy Hampsten is the only modern-era cyclist to keep his cut of a Grand Tour prize.

While there may have been some genuine strife inside the Astana team bus before Verbier, Lance has since doffed his cap to Contador, calling the young Spaniard “invincible“, and instead using his overwhelming media pull to focus the eyes of the world on next year’s event.

Sadly, this sudden detente between Astana and SaxoBank has come at the expense of Brad Wiggins. I think, among all the GC contenders, he’s been the most inspirational of this years’ event. Lance, Contador, the Schlecks, Sastre, Evans—they’ve been up and down mountains like these more times than even they care to remember. Wiggins has spent the better part of his career twirling one stinking gear around a 250m ellipse. I’d love to see the scrappy Brit on the podium, but even if it doesn’t work out, he’s got a beer on my tab anytime.

Wiggo’s best-known compatriot, however, is another story. I’ll give Cav due credit for sticking out stages that his watts merchant forbearers (*ahem* Cipo’) couldn’t be dragged over with a team car and two pints of reinfused blood, and I even support him in his dissent against the relegation that likely cost him a shot at the Points title. But in response his attitude toward one Thor Hushovd, I direct him to the words of many-time World Champion cross-country skiier Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset:

“If Hushovd can’t climb, then I must not be able to ride a bike at all.”

The somewhat-oversized Norweigan drove home his class with deafening authority today, smashing various groups that tried to form around him, and plowing a lone furrow over two first category climbs to lock up enough points sprints to secure himself the Green Jersey title.

In the future, you’re almost certain to see pint-sized climbers duking it out with their emaciated rivals for the glory of the yellow jersey. You may even once again see great champions come out of retirement, and muscular trackies starve themselves into GC contention.

But a solo break through the mountains, for little more than pride, from a heavier-than-most rider already securely clad in green may yet prove to be the most unique moment of this year Tour de France.

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