As Gertrude Stein should have said “Le Tour est Le Tour est Le Tour” and no doubt if lycra had been invented in her day, she no doubt would have. The sight of nearly 200 fit young men straining their hearts and minds, let alone their muscles, for three weeks through the French countryside would have been enjoyable art for La Grande Dame.
Well, she’s not with us, but thankfully the Phil and Paul Show is going strong, with the usual fabulous support from Gary Imlach, Ned Boulting and the utterly amazing World Famous King of the Hour, Britain’s Most Famous Cyclist Chris Boardman.
For our pleasure, these top dogs of commentary and presentation are working their little sweaty socks off to bring us the best of the action in the world’s biggest and best bike race. Chris has revisited the scene of his awful crash and managed to smile about it. Ned has ridden up a mountain and managed not to be sick in front of the cameras. Gary has avoided saying anything legally actionable about “le dopage” while letting us all know exactly what he thinks about certain riders. Paul and Phil have resolutely remained with some of their extraordinary but very welcome pronunciations – my personal favourite being the killermeter.
The “killermeter” is a particularly apt description of almost any specific duration of Le Tour. In the long flat stages when the breakaway looks like they might hold off til the end, then those last few ks when the peloton starts to hunch over the leaders like an eagle with the claws out, must feel like death to the leaders. “They will be caught, within the last few killermeters” say Paul and Phil, and sure enough, they almost always are.
The last 200 metres of the sprint must feel like death to the legs for the mad fuckers like Mark Cavendish who live and die in the wet and dry to get over the line.
On a sprint they are saying about Mark – got to have the doors wide open, got to keep the sprint wide open, but here is Zabal then the champion of France has found some power in those pistons we call legs as he races to the finish, but Kim Kirchen is leading them out, we can feel the pressure, Quickstep on the front, and Cav bursts out – Look at the speed of Mark Cavendish. He clearly is the fastest man over 200 metres.
In the mountains, most of the day must feel like torture as the riders attempt to drag tired bodies over ridiculous heights. It is a strange type – such as The Cobra Riccardo Ricco – who can find strength to sprint up an almost vertical mountain side.
So, where are we half-way through? Paul and Phil haven’t quite decided whether Evans is Cad-del or Cad-ell – if you know what I mean. But we have seen Cadel attack in the mountains despite a nasty fall (blood on the elbow and knee) and take yellow. We have seen Ricco spookily remind us all of Marco Pantani (and we didn’t need Phil telling us that he rides with a picture of “The Pirate” in his jersey).
We had a short time trial early on – just stage 4 round Cholet and won by Gerolsteiner’s Stefan Schumacher. This brought the first hints of controversy to this year’s Tour. Quickstep’s Sprint Specialist, Belgian Hero Tom Boonen had been refused entry to Le Tour a cause de an out of competition drug thingie (allegedly he took cocaine in a nightclub). Schumacher was also subject to some police interest prior to the Tour – as he said to journalists after his win in Cholet: “It was only a little bit of these substance [amphetamines] and I did not consume.” Yeah?
The French papers took perhaps as much interest in this as Herr Schumacher did in the substances – or maybe not. We must be careful.
“En Jaune Pale” was a headline in L’Equipe – as Gary Imlach said – “A couple of shades short of the full egg yolk”. A delightful translation, and one very very short of insinuation. Not.
But there we go – nothing proved, Schumacher rode on. We’ll follow his progress with as much interest as anyone else. Not.
To cleaner things – or anyway things of interest to GB Cycling fans who know exactly what the drug testing is for the cyclists riding under the GB banner.
We have seen two remarkable wins for The Manx Express. Not yet 24 years-old, this young man is a Commonwealth and World Gold Medallist. He’s decided to go road-racing (though if he gets through Le Tour without injury he’ll be in Beijing with our Brad going for gold in the Madison) and so far this year he’s got two wins in the Giro.
Matched now by his two Tour Stages. Respect. And if he can make it through the mountains there’s one more chance for a win next week.
With these four wins in Grand Tours, we may have seen the crown of sprinting pass from Robbie McEwen to Cavendish – and it would be apt as they are so physically similar. In fact, I cannot think of another young sprinter more fitted to take Robbie’s crown. I confidently predict many Green Jerseys for Mark Cavendish in the years to come.
We have seen the tiny wee country of Luxembourg punch way above its weight. Where most of its countrymen are busy doing banking things, three men have been really giving it beans in The Tour. Kim Kirchen has had yellow on his shoulders for days – and thus been given lots of those cuddly lions – and the Schleck Brothers have been up where it counts. Andy has had the White Jersey and Franck was within a second of yellow today.
Two teams have been outstanding in this half of the Tour. Team Columbia, formerly High Road, formerly T-Mobile, have their two stages with the Cav and in Toulouse they got a 1-2 with Ciolek following sprint-meister Cavendish home.
Saunier-Duval is my other star team: Ricardo Ricco has two wins and the team had a 1-2 on the Hautacam yesterday with Piepoli and Juan Jose Cobo Acebo.
Team CSC are working hard, but Alejandro Valverde is falling away – maybe the first of the really big names in the GC to do so.
Cadel has taken Yellow, Franck Schleck is second (Andy sacrificed himself on the mountains today), the surprise is to see Christian Vandevelde up there in third (though not to me – I had a bet on a year ago, but sssshhh!). Denny Menchov is in contention still and you never know. We have the Alps to get through and maybe, just maybe Alejandro can find a way back.
Personally I doubt it.
I’m not sure Cadel can get to Paris – he looked pretty banged about before the Rest Day, so if ain’t him, where would my money go?
Not being a betting woman I really don’t know.
Maybe Denny, Evans and Schleck on the podium, but don’t know what order. If Cav makes it all the way, I wouldn’t put it past him to win the sprint on the Champs d’Elysees. And if that happens, it’ll be an absolute bugger cos I’ll be away and not see it!!
Grrr! Oh and bad grrrr – there has been one positive drug test and an old Spanish cyclist has been chucked off Le Tour.
And the next day we hear of a cricketer testing positive for some substance so cycling is not the only villainous sport.
Enjoy the rest of a clean Tour.