Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Questions from Newbies; and, The Heat Is On, Baby!

Today, I take a moment to address a few burning questions posed to me this morning by a dear TdF newbie, intrigued, but befoozled by, a sport not involving three strikes, peanuts and Cracker Jacks. Reasonable people may certainly disagree, but then, I'm not one of 'em anyway. So here we go:

Q. What the hell is all this I keep hearing about problems on Armstrong's team?
A. Here’s the scoop. The opening day was a time trial and Alberto Contador beat his teammate Lance Armstrong, which made it look like Armstrong might ultimately have to concede team leadership over to Contador. Monday should have been a routine sprint, but it was very windy, which split the peloton into two groups. 20-odd riders, including Lance but not including Contador or GC contenders the Schleck brothers, Cadel Evans (2nd last year), or Denis Menchov (winner of this year’s Giro and 2 Vuelta a Espanas) made the front of the split. The controversy: Astana, Lance and Alberto’s team, should’ve just chosen a damn team leader before the start of the race and backed him 100%. Instead, Lance and Alberto are infighting for team leadership, and the whole team is in disarray as a result with some domestiques backing Contador and others Lance. So when Lance made the split, Johan Bruyneel, the team manager in charge of picking the team leader, told two other Astana riders who also made the split to pick up the pace for Lance, therefore hurting Alberto who was in the second group, so that Lance ultimately gained about 40 seconds on Contador (though in the overall Contador is only 19 seconds back, which he can probably pick up in the mountains in the third week). The upshot: Armstrong was smug, Contador (who should have quit this team the second Lance announced his comeback) is ticked, and the whole team is a demoralized angry trainwreck. Fun!

Q. Why do the French hate Lance so much? Who would the French like to see win instead?
A. The French press hates Lance’s guts because they all think he’s a doper; of course, so are their own riders, but that's perfectly fine with them. The fans are a little nicer to Lance since he learned to speak French the last couple years. Mostly though they all just hate him because the French riders have, for several years running, pretty well sucked. Can you say "displacement," boys and girls? They are looking to French riders like Sylvain Chavanel and Christophe Moreau for stage wins and a decent finish overall. Barring that, they will probably root for Contador—he’s very handsome and has a really flashy style in the mountains—tres chic!

Q. What is this "domestique" thing? Do they *do* anything?
A. Domestiques are the “worker bee” riders on a team whose job is to support the team leader. For example, on a flat stage, they will surround the team leader like a cocoon to keep him from being jostled by other riders so he won’t crash, and will keep him towards the front of the peloton, as most crashes happen in the middle of the group where it’s most crowded; in the mountains, they will go to the front of the race to set a very fast pace to try to exhaust and distance the team leader’s rivals, and will also ride right in front of the team leader, taking the brunt of the wind resistance for him, so the leader can ride in their slipstream and conserve his own energy so he is strong enough to attack later. If the team leader crashes, and the team support car is too far away to bring him a new bike right away, they’ll even give the team leader their own bike so he doesn’t lose time waiting. If you're really low on the totem pole, or if later in this year's race, you're, oh, say, Alberto Contador, you have to schlep back to the team car to get water bottles for everyone, which you shove down your shirt like a spandex-covered camel. Your only consolation: covered in your sweat and skank from hours of riding, that's what your boss gets to drink from. Sweet!

Q. So who is going to win the Tour? Who do you want to win?
A. If I were betting, I would bet on Alberto Contador—-he is absolutely the best Grand Tour racer in the world right now, and he is not only a great climber with amazing acceleration, but he has learned to time trial, which you need to be able to do to win. He is still very young and needs some better tactical sense but he is learning. He deserves to win but if Armstrong bushwhacks him the rest of the race he may not. However, I would like to see Carlos Sastre, the defending Tour de France champ, win again. He likely won’t though-—he is a “pure climber”, and the best he can do in the time trials is try to limit his losses. He also has worked quite humbly for other guys his whole career, like Ivan Basso who got busted for doping, without any complaint despite his own capabilities and deserving leadership before that himself, so, in keeping with my neverending backing of losing causes, I am dreaming of a karmic victory here. Allez allez little Carlos!

The Hosed and the Beautiful: meantime, as the Astana boys and team management trade barbs, backtracks, and damage control, the team time trial today made certain things clear: namely, Cadel Evans is unequivocally jacked. I mean, when a pack of mountaineer munchkins like Euskaltel-Euskadi kick your squad's !@# in the time trial, you *know* you might as well go home. Poor baby--was anyone else just heartbroken watching Cadel drive his own team to the line? Nor do things look much better for Denis Menchov, or even the aforementioned we love Carlos Sastre for that matter. Not to worry folks--at least my boy can actually attack in the mountains!

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PJ said...

Your assessment of Lance, Astana and the split in stage 3 is right on. When Contador wins---I hope he does--he will have really earned it. He's not in a fair fight right now. He does not have team support. That sucks in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Poor baby--was anyone else just heartbroken watching Cadel drive his own team to the line?

Um, no!
Allez Kid Conti!
Love the Astana domination.

And the next time you mention the poor babies, please mention Klodi. Thank you. : -)

Rosemary said...

My husband thought Ben Stiller should have borrowed a button-up shirt or something. I was a bit more focused on his hair. But we both thought his appearance and expression were a bit disrespectful.

Mary said...

I think Contador is going to take the whole thing, but would be very happy to see Lance and Levi join him on the podium - mostly as an "f- you" to the ASO for so stupidly banning them last year!

And, while we are rooting in vain for the lovely Carlos to win, I'd also like to throw a vote in vain for the lovely CVV to land on the podium! He finished 5th last year (and got bumped up a spot after doping pos above him), but after all those broken bones in the Giro I'm just impressed he's on a bike and able to ride with these guys. Allez Christian!

(and, yes, WTF was that with Ben Stiller on Lance's bike?? He was trying to be cool about it, but LA looked like he just might kill Ben for touching his bike. Not that he could be blamed - it seemed like VERY crappy behavior!)

Anonymous said...

but LA looked like he just might kill Ben for touching his bike. Not that he could be blamed - it seemed like VERY crappy behavior!)

Yeah, even I know not to touch Lance's bike. Never.ever.never.

Anonymous said...

Part 1 -
As usual over this past 6 months, you are WRONG about Lance & so it should be no surprise you are WRONG about the split & WRONG about Hissyfits Hothead.

EVERYBLOOMIN idiot in the race knew about those winds in that area. It is FAMOUS for them. It was the SAME area where Vino & the then-Astana team employed the EXACT same tactics in 2007.

Lance & Fab PAID ATTENTION & were where they needed to be when Columbia got pissed about having to do all the work bringing back the break. ANY GCer finding himself in the same situation would have gunned it, to GET AS MUCH TIME AS POSSIBLE on ALL other contenders. Duh - that's what this race is all about! However, Lance NEVER pulled. And Popo & Zubeldia did NOT pull for quite some time, until it was certain that this group would stay away & Johan/Lance saw the fluke GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY to put time into ALL the other NON-Astana rivals. AC didn't have to work back in the 'chase group' as Lance was up there, so he could sit back & let the OTHER GCers kill themselves trying to bridge back.

Also, SEVERAL accounts by various other racers have now confirmed that it was CONTADOR that couldn't hold on to the wheel in front of him & thus, was the REASON for the split.

And after the stage, instead of congratulating his teammate for a JOB WELL DONE & that he could learn a lot from his esteemed colleague, he whines & throws a snitfit, using the EXACT same phrase in the press as when he unforgivingly slagged Levi after the Vuelta last year : "I don't want to express an opinion on the tactics of the team. I'll let everyone draw their own conclusions" he huffed. Yeah, that he's a MYOPIC WHINY INFANT, who is ignoring HIS probable one-time golden opportunity to learn from the MASTER. Observe & learn how LA deals with the press, the peloton, the team (leadership & relationships), the tactics, THE RACE. Hell, he only WON 7 TOURS in a row, maybe, just maybe, he KNOWS a thing or two.

PLUS, about designating a team leader at the start & that's that, you call yourself a cycling fan? It's all decided on the road. For example, in 2007, LEVI was the designated leader of Discovery but some early problems lead to AC leaping past him & he THEN became THE leader. That's how it goes when you have two or more contenders. One thing more about Levi - it was how Levi dealt with that disappointment that truly made me a fan of his. EVERY damn day, there he was, PRAISING the guy who passed him on the road & taking over the team leadership, while his lifelong Tour hopes were crushed. AND instead of sulking & giving up, he hunkers down & eventually gets his legs back, so he was able to not just support AC in the mountains, but claw his own way back onto the podium. Do you think there is a chance in HELL that Hissfyfits Contador would have the CLASS to do that? Not on your life.

Anonymous said...

Part 2 -
ONE more thing - are you living under a rock? Do you not realize the shit hole the GLOBAL economy is in? Without Lance Armstrong being back in pro-cycling THIS year, who knows how many sponsors would have pulled out already from teams & races. HE is a HUGE, HUGE pull. He brings attention & MONEY to this sport. Something EVERY sport desperately needs at the moment. And the ASO should be getting down on their frickin KNEES that for the 1st time in 4 years, the mainstream media is obsessing over something OTHER than doping in cycling & specifically in the Tour de France. It would be too strong to say Lance is saving pro-cycling this year, but his impact should not be underestimated. I guarantee you - the hotel & tourism industries in France, at the very least, are THRILLED he is there.

I used to be a fan of AC. I cheered for him in 2007 & was outraged that he & Levi & the rest of Johan's boys were egregiously kept out of last year's Tour. But, over the last 9 months, respect & admiration have been replaced by dismay & disgust. I realize he was PISSED, & rightfully so, about last year's lost Tour opportunity. And that having THE BEST TDF rider in HISTORY suddenly show up on HIS team out of the blue, was not exactly on his To-Do List. However, he should have embraced it, like Levi. LEARN from the guy. Praise him in the media. And how dumb is AC to constantly be talking trash? Has he never read ANYthing about Lance? You get him mad, he rides BETTER. If AC does not win this year's Tour, he will have no one to blame but himSELF. Which is why MY money is on LANCE.

Anonymous said...

Woohoo! Looks like someone's busted out the Lance kool-aide!

Tom said...

PERSONALLY, I'm just sitting back hoping we get to watch Alberto BUTT RAPE Lance.

But that's JUST ME.

Anonymous said...

I love Contador! Go Alberto!

Can't help myself. Devil made me do it.

maryka said...

Re. "The French press hates Lance’s guts because they all think he’s a doper; of course, so are their own riders, but that's perfectly fine with them."

Give this a read, it's a thought-provoking look at cycling and the American/Euro split: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/the_bonus/07/07/tour/1.html

As for Lance being a doper... well, have a look at Ashenden's interview and then decide, http://nyvelocity.com/content/interviews/2009/michael-ashenden

Tom said...

And read Velo Vortmax to see where Ashden maybe tweaked the truth.