Thursday, June 7, 2007

How Do You Spell Panache?

As the raids and accusations continue to fly, let's look forward. There's hope that the current difficulties are ushering in a new, cleaner era of cycling. So what does a clean Tour winner look like in this rosy future? Hmmm, a consistent rider, using measured efforts and tactical moves. Stays with the leading group in the mountains, but doesn't fly so far ahead that he can file his nails and still win the stage. In fact, he doesn't fly at all, he just rolls along, grinding it out day after day. Maybe he wins one or two stages, with one or two big efforts, and then is just consistent for the rest of the race. He's even likely to have one bad day, it's only natural, a big stage race wears you down.

Oh wait - we had that, last year, and his name was Floyd Landis, and people bitched that he had no panache. Make up your mind, folks, do you want it real or do you want it pretty? But let's set aside that question for now, and review how real it was for Floyd: he took yellow the first time by coming in 3rd on the stage. He knew that he and his team were human, so he let the jersey go on a leisurely stroll that would've seen him eliminated from the race if he didn't have the entire peloton with him. He regained the jersey by coming in 4th on the glory stage up L'Alpe d'Huez. Then he promptly lost it again on the aforementioned bad day. Definitely not pretty there. He got his one stage win with a solid effort as the peloton filed their nails. The final TT saw him regain yellow by coming in 3rd. If ever there was a picture of a non-doping winner, it's Floyd. (Yes, you've caught me with my hand in the cookie jar again, watching my DVDs of the 2006 Tour - all 12 hours.)

That one stage win, of course, was Floyd's brief flirtation with panache - hailed as brilliant tactics one day and held up as proof positive of a cheat the next. I remember 17 well, I couldn't tear myself away and when I arrived late at work, I happily proclaimed that I had just seen the greatest day of cycling in recent history. So I'm the last one who wants to break up the party, but in the cold light of day, the racing itself wasn't that spectacular. It was very emotionally satisfying, and a hell of a ride by Floyd - the descents were mind-boggling - but until CSC woke up before the final climb, there wasn't much racing going on.

After bridging up to the breakaway, Floyd noodled around with them for a little bit, catching his breath and looking for allies. He soon got back to his steady pace, but had company for quite a while. He was with one or more riders from that breakaway for two hours. He was alone again only on the final climb and descent, with about 24K to go, and for less than an hour. Meanwhile, the rest of the field was playing the Life cereal game - you chase him, no you chase him, I'm not gonna chase him. It wasn't until just 48K left to go when they finally found their Mikey - Jens "I'll chase anything" Voigt, god bless him. One imagines they had to strap him to another rider to keep him from going before then; I'd love to know what he was saying under his breath all those dreary miles. Probably something like, "Carlos could wrap this thing up today if they'd just let us drop the rest of these lazy bums now…" So the chase began, and lo and behold, the gap went down - sorry Dick, no Harleys here, just some really lame tactics.

Even USADA gave up the idea that 17 was some superhuman ride propelled by Testosterone. No, their theory was that Floyd took T throughout the race, in micro-doses, to recover. Yeah, that must be why he bonked miserably in 16. Oops, forgot to take it last night - I know, I'll take it before the parade stage into Paris, just to make up the dose.

Mr. Suh and Mr. Jacobs are still finalizing their summaries for the arbs, presumably. I think they should toss in the Tour DVD set for good measure. With all the science and the rhetoric and the legal tactics and the easy jokes at Floyd's expense, it seems many have lost sight of just what went on over there in France last July. And that is, Floyd took a dead hip and a less-than-ideal team and endured a grueling three weeks of racing in a steady, workman-like fashion with great skill and great humility. I don't know if that's panache, but I'd put him on my Wheaties box any day.

Random notes on reliving Le Tour: plenty of laughs, especially with the ever-dry duo of Gary Imlach and Chris Boardman hosting, but a few heartbreakers: Floyd in a "borrowed suit" for his hip press conference - those were the days! Axel Merckx working like a dog to attain his dream of helping a Tour winner; I hope he still considers that dream fulfilled. Floyd just so damn happy after the final TT. I hope he can still find that somewhere in the echoes of his mind.


daniel m (a/k/a Rant) said...


Excellent summary, and a needed reminder of the real, human side of Stage 17.

- Rant

cat2bike said...

Julie, beautiful post! The truth, that no one wants to look at. Even, King Lance said the peleton behavior was sad that day. It reminds me of the Tour of Georgia this year, when that breakaway got 29minutes on the peleton and changed the race! Jim Burrell(sp?) was pissed. He said this is a race, not a training ride! At Georgia it was easier to see the truth. At the Tour everything gets warped thru the looking glass of the TOUR.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Julie, and I agree wholeheartedly! It reminded me again of how fantastic it was to watch Floyd ride the day of stage 17 - a great moment. His entire Tour was a very 'human' saga.

Camille said...

Theresa, maybe a lot of the Tour of Georgia riders finally got off EPO, and just didn't have the energy to chase! ;)
Great post as usual, Julie!