Le Tour de Soap Opera

Jul 18 2009

hincaopSimple stage, big break goes, no one wants to burn any matches before the mountains. 199km later there’s more gossip and bickering than a middle school girls’ room between classes. It’s almost enough to make someone wish for a drug scandal.

Add to that the tragic death of a spectator, and most people watching have probably already forgotten the perfectly-delivered counterattack by Sergui Ivanov that won the stage. Of course, the fact the Versus was in commerical when the Russian made his move certainly doesn’t help that situation.

There was an unsettling absurdity about everything today, really—Jens Voight’s sloppy neutral service, the heads-over-shoulders leadout as Columbia attempted to protect Hincapie’s advantage, the crooked barriers with 50m to go that all but sealed the Green Jersey competition by means of a ticky-tack relegation.

And can you ever recall the yellow jersey squad being unable to manage a gap on mostly flat stage—the day before a string of high mountain passes is sure to grind the race lead off their shoulders, no less? Honestly, the only thing that impressed in a positive sense was Boonen’s dance through the team cars after a late flat—too bad it’s pretty much all the Belgian Champ has done right in two weeks.

As for the polemics, read up and be your own judge. Were I George Hincapie tonight, I’d be most mad at Astana for burning me to prop up their puppet leader for another day, though obviously Garmin’s alibi for the late tempo setting seems a bit weak.

Then again, there are those who think Astana was merely soft-pedaling during their turns the front. I must shamefully concede that I wasn’t paying much attention to the time gap, having assumed that the big squads would be more than happy to let George ride off with the jersey.

In the end, I think Columbia-Highroad learned a fairly valuable lesson today—a cycling team cannot serve two masters. Had they simply called off the dogs on the run-in, and risked having Cav drop a few points to Hushovd in the the sprint competition, they’d have toasted a Yellow Jersey tonight.

Likewise, had Columbia let Hincapie’s ride stand on its own, and barreled into the line in their accustomed style, the I think the race jury would have been far less picky in scrutinizing the tape, and Cav might still be the odds-on favorite for Green in Paris.

Instead, the greedily pursued two separate ends, and ended up failing at each. With the final selections looming, I’m wondering just how well this lesson was attended to from the Astana team car. With any luck, we’ll find out tomorrow.

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