Friday, July 22, 2011

Do It 'til It Hurts (Pt. III): The Tour de France

I'm guessing that the Tour was decided earlier today on l'Alpe d'Huez, when Andy Schleck, coming off yesterday's "epic" stage victory, translated a 15-second deficit into a 53-second adavantage over his brother, Frank, in second place. Thomas Voeckler finished three minutes down at 20th in the stage, and is now more than two minutes off the lead. In a reprise of his 2004 Tour, Voeckler kept the yellow jersey for 10 race days.

 Schleck in the lead, Col du Galibier (Stage 19)

The only thing that might change the outcome now is the third man, Cadel Evans, who at just under a minute off Schleck's pace, could pull off an amazing time trial and unseat the evident winner. Frank Schleck and Evans are both within striking distance of the yellow jersey, but Frank will not be the man to take it. His official role is as Andy's domestique, the lesser of the Schleck duo - even though his showing in this race had been stronger than his brother's until stage 19, which as I said was epic enough to get Eddy Merckx onto the podium with Andy in a rare appearance.

I'm not a betting man, but I'd bet on the family dynamics here (were I a betting man I'd have bet on Thomas Voeckler, but mainly out of sentiment rather than good sense, which is why I never gamble for money). The results to date are amazing - Andy made history with his attack on stage 19, 60 km remaining in the stage and two climbs beyond categorization left to go. Equally epic has been his determination on the descents, where he left his trepidation behind, reversed a pattern of timid descending to gain four minutes on the field at one point in the stage. It was mainly Evans, in a nearly solo effort to pursue, who saved the small pursuit group the embarrassment of having been so badly outpaced.

Still, we like races to go to the final stage (meaning tomorrow's time trial, not the ceremonial ride into Paris). We don't necessarily want to know in advance that the guy in second place won't suddenly jump and go for first. Drama happens only when blood is at stake, as when Saturn devours his own children . . .

"Don't watch."

 . . . or when we think Cain is at least willing to clobber Abel (even if he doesn't). If the Schlecks were Italians and Verdi were a modern-day journaliste du sport, there might be an opera in this Tour (maybe "Cain e Abel").

The Counterfactual Schleck Brothers
(Think about it, Frank)

Thomas Voeckler, Cadel Evans and the Schleck brothers have made this a memorable Tour de France. And though it's probably all over but the shouting, I for one am glad that Cadel is still in it. Any one of the three has shown enough grit to stand on the top step of this year's podium in Paris.

UPDATE July 23: Cadel Evans did indeed ride a strong 42.5 km time trial today to take the yellow jersey from Andy Schleck, allowing him but a single day to wear it. Cadel finished 7 seconds behind Tony Martin's best time and leads the field by over a minute and a half. At the end of tomorrow's (largely ceremonial) stage, Cadel will have won the Tour. CadelMageddon is upon us.

No comments:

Post a Comment