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The Roar

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Tour de France Stage 7: Crashes, yellow jerseys and racism

Mark Cavendish is, as always, one to watch. (Image: Omega-Pharma Quick-Step).
Expert
10th July, 2015
2

I’m pretty sure I just watched Stage 7 of the Tour de France but I’m a little suspicious that it might have been some other race. No one crashed out, nothing truly insane happened and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse failed to appear.

Perhaps the reason we didn’t see the yellow jersey crash out, as happened to Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin, was because there was no yellow jersey in the race today, with Martin officially abandoning at the start.

Sky’s Chris Froome will be in it for Stage 8 after surviving unscathed here.

The stage win went to Mark Cavendish, the rider publicly criticised by his team manager earlier in the week for “stopping sprinting” on Stage 2.

Etixx-Quickstep’s big cheese, Patrick Lefevre, has not been overly impressed with the Manxman of late, vocalising what many others have been feeling – namely, that Cavendish has lost his edge.

“Everyone likes Mark, he likes the team but it’s about money and it’s about winning,” said Lefevre two days ago.

“He’s been winning a lot this year but things really start with Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo and Gent-Wevelgem. After that we’ll maybe start speaking but we can’t hide the fact that the Tour de France is also really important.”

He might be happier with his star sprinter after Stage 7.

“I had this feeling,” said Cavendish after the stage. “I wanted it, I just got this feeling. I knew today I was good and the team was motivated and to win after [Zdenek] Stybar won yesterday, and it was great to get a win for Tony [Martin] especially.”

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The fact that Etixx-Quickstep have so dominated the first week (Martin’s abandonment notwithstanding) is something of a surprise, but with three stage wins and the Maillot Jaune for a day is exceptional. No doubt that every road stage has been something like a one-day classic, but their aggression and conversion rate shows a great return for the effort they’ve put in.

Another rider who’s been in the headlines is Eritrean rider Daniel Teklehaimanot of MTN-Qhubeka. But as he was busy making history by becoming the first black African (and as far as I’m aware the first black man from any continent) to wear a classification jersey in a Grand Tour, a racism row involving one of his teammates blew up at the Tour of Austria.

Belarusian rider Branislau Samoilau, of Pro-Continental team CCC-Sprandi-Polkowice, called Eritrean champion Natnael Berhane a “fucking n*****” during the Austrian race.

You’ll note that the word ‘allegedly’ is missing from the above sentence, as even Samoilau isn’t debating the charge. In a bid to see his remarks buried, he’s donated a month’s salary to the Qhubeka, which is a charity that works to get African folk mobile by providing bicycles to poor communities.

Racism of course persists everywhere, but in a professional sport that is almost totally Caucasian, racist attitudes are seldom challenged or questioned. While racing in Europe back in 2010 I interviewed a Tour de France winner as his teammate stood in the background telling a joke about “this n*****” as other well known riders listened on smiling.

A few days later I was in one of the top pro-am races and saw an African guy get bumped all over the place by some riders, with several derogatory remarks thrown his way.

It’s not just from riders either. Earlier this year the MTN-Qhubeka team were met with monkey impressions coming from the crowds at some races.

Teklehaimanot’s fantastic achievement should not be tainted by the racism row, yet it is all the more remarkable considering the fight that black riders in particular have to put up to get to the top level.

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Back in Eritrea local authorities threw open the doors of cinemas to let people come in to see Teklehaimanot at the Tour, and the rider himself seems to be fully enjoying the experience.

Speaking on Eurosport, MTN sporting director Jens Zemke said that Teklehaimanot was supposed to come back to the bunch after he broke away to take the only KOM points on offer yesterday, but that he had ridden on in the break because “he’s having so much fun wearing the jersey”.

Quite brilliant.

The same cannot be said of all the crashes we’ve seen.

The Tour is literally eating its own, displaying a voracious appetite for wearers of the Maillot Jaune. One has to feel for Tony Martin, a popular rider among the pros and fans alike for his let-the-legs-do-the-talking approach to cycling. That popularity was on show at the end of Stage 5 after he’d won, with his teammates gathering about him and celebrating wildly.

He even made Mark Cavendish cry, without resorting to using his German sense of humour.

There are competing arguments as to why there are so many crashes at these modern races, yet in truth it is a combination of varying factors, one of the main ones being that there is no patron (boss) in the modern peloton, and we haven’t had one since Lance Armstrong stopped racing.

The top riders might be very fast indeed but they have about as much charisma as a customs officer on a bad day. To use a phrase favoured by Shane Sutton, they “couldn’t knock the foreskin off a rice pudding”.

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They don’t make ‘em like Bernard Hinault anymore, I can tell you.

This leads to a heightened friskiness in the bunch with no one to bark orders or to demand an easy day to calm things down.

Lotto-Belisol team doctor Jan Mathieu has an interesting theory, one he expressed back in April last year. Mathieu has said that the ongoing use of powerful painkiller Tramadol by some riders is a contributing factor in the recent spate of crashes in the opening classics races of 2014, and has renewed calls to have the drug banned.

Tramadol is an opioid, and like other substances in that group it causes drowsiness as a side-effect.

Mathieu says that it’s this that has caused riders to lose concentration and cause crashes. As of February this year, the doctors on pro teams in the Movement For Credible Cycling (MPCC) agreed not to administer Tramadol to their riders, but it is not yet banned by the UCI, meaning that riders that are taking it or other non-banned painkillers themselves are running the risk of causing more crashes.

So, a relatively uneventful day, and though some fans may be disappointed you can bet that the riders will be quite relieved.

Onwards and upwards. The mountains beckon.

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