This week, the 105th Giro d'Italia begins when the starting gun fires in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. After COVID-related issues forced race organisers…
There seems to be no Tour de France or Giro of recent memory that hasn’t been of the crash-bang-whallop variety straight from the off, forcing some riders to abandon the race of their season before it’s really even begun.
Stage 3 of the 2015 Tour de France has been no exception, with a phenomenal pile-up in the last third of the stage actually forcing the commissaires to call a halt to the race and seeing riders climb into their team cars not even halfway into the first week.
The crash was caused by William Bonnet of FDJ making a rookie mistake when his front tire crossed the rear wheel of the guy in front.
One thing any experienced rider will tell a beginner is “never cross wheels” and of course Bonnet knows that, so either he’s just a dodgy rider, or the unique pressure of racing in the Grand Boucle got to him – perhaps it was a combination of the two.
Either way it’s ended the dreams of several of his fellow professionals (along with his own), with Simon Gerrans among them, and left at least one other Australian, Matthews and his Kiwi teammate Henderson, in bad shape.
For Orica-GreenEDGE this is nothing short of a disaster. They turned up to this year’s Tour with their most rounded squad ever, only to lose one of their potential stage winners and see another limping in with the shirt ripped off his back.
For Fabian Cancellara it might mean the end of his Tour. He came in over ten minutes down due to an injury picked up in the crash and lost Yellow to Sky’s Chris Froome.
The race was neutralised then halted, which was done because so many of the race medics were required to sort out the victims of Bonnet’s mistake.
Sky, not knowing the reason for the stoppage, were visibly furious, with their riders seen gesticulating with the commissaires, which did little to enhance their reputation. Joining them were Astana, who really couldn’t do anything more to damage their own reputation.
Their abandonment of the principles of the Movement For Credible Cycling to shoehorn Lars Boom, he of the low cortisol levels, into the race, was something worthy of a chuckle and a shake of the head. Little that team does surprises me now but they still manage to disgust me on a pretty regular basis.
There are two reasons that the MPCC members agreed that riders with low cortisol should be withdrawn from competition for eight days, these being:
• Low cortisol levels could indicate that a rider is suffering from a serious illness and it affects the riders ability to recover from injury.
• Low cortisol levels could also be achieved by the use of cortisone, a steroid which does have performance enhancing benefits.
Now, it’s a shame the MPCC doesn’t have a rule about having no place among its members for teams that have had as many doping cases in the past 12 months as I have fingers on my hand, for Astana would have been kicked out last year if that were the case.
But no, fear not! Cycling really is changing. Yes. Say it enough and you just might believe it.
Also unimpressive were the actions of Cofidis once the race was halted. Viewed by the overhead camera, several of their riders could be seen playing tag-a-long behind a press bike through the stopped riders to get near the front. I’ve seen this type of behaviour often in pro races I’ve ridden in and the only adjective I can find for it is pathetic.
All a bit unclassy there, Cofidis.
John Degenkolb said in the end that the furore caused by the halting of the race came due to “a lot of pressure from the outside,” meaning sponsors, but more specifically team managers, shouting in their ears through race radio. Degenkolb, to his credit, said he agreed that the race should have been halted and said that he didn’t like to see people pressuring the commissaires to push on.
Back to Aussies getting banged about and ending up on their arses, just what the heck happened to Rohan Dennis on Stage 2? No wonder he “cut a forlorn figure” as one commentator put it. Forlorn? I can imagine that wasn’t the first word to enter his mind as he saw the chances of keeping the priceless Maillot Jaune riding off in an echelon up the road.
For a gifted time trialist that was all a bit unacceptable. He was also wearing yellow, the jersey that gives you an extra five per cent of everything, and still he wasn’t focused enough to be in the right place – the same place in fact, where every single one if his teammates was, for they all got into the lead group.
Joaquim Rodriguez was touted as the main favourite by some for Stage 3’s finish on the fabled Mur de Huy and said after that it was “the longest ride I’ve ever done up the Mur de Huy, it was really hard today.”
Long it may have been, but it was a bike length shorter for Rodriguez than it was for Chris Froome and even more for the other favourites.
Froome won’t be too fussed though, as he’ll be in yellow at the start tomorrow, courtesy of taking the lead by one slender second over Tony Martin. More interesting than that was the fading of Contador, Froome’s main rival for the lead, as the Mur de Huy summit closed in. He went backwards pretty quickly there and looked to be done and dusted.
Froome said “I never woke up today expecting to take yellow by the end of the day. Today was a lot like the Fleche Wallone earlier this year, up and down all day. I’m really happy to be in yellow and I’d rather be where I am than having to make up time, so yeah, really happy.”
I got the distinct impression that Froome was really happy. Less than happy might be the rider that Froome elbowed on the way up the Mur. Imagine an elbow from that arm – deadly weapons, those things!
Today’s stage will be fascinating as the cobbles feature heavily. Can Froome handle it? And what if it rains? It’s going to be a must-see, this one.
Finally, one of the things that strikes me as I watch the modern Tours is not just how often they crash but also just how much the mystique of it all has fallen away.
The combination of social media and an increase in the understanding of the depth of the doping problem in the peloton has stripped away much of the wonder of it all. This I think is one of the reasons many are still enthralled by the antics of Coppi, Merckx, Anquetil, and even still, preposterously, of the era of Pantani and Armstrong.
They rode in an era where there was a distance between riders and fans, where they couldn’t tweet stuff that might embarrass them later and the relative silence of the rider meant their legs did the talking. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the likes of Bartoli, Coppi and the other mentioned were seen as gods in the eyes of many.
These days we know too much. Or not enough, depending on whether you’re of the blue pill or the red pill crew.
Either way, the Tour de France is not going away. Let the madness reign!