Monday, July 9, 2007

TdF Stage 2: Alive and Kicking

I'm waiting as breathlessly as anyone for the Floyd Landis verdict, but whichever way it goes, it will be a shame when it overshadows the Tour for a news cycle or three. The Tour has had a fantastic start, with unprecedented crowds and brilliant racing. If an ounce of that could be conveyed to the general public, they would see that cycling and the Tour are very much alive and kicking.

The camera work was excellent today, stunning vistas in this wide-open area of Belgium and exquisite close-ups of a hard-working and good-natured CSC team at the front. For whatever reason, I don't generally crave a trip to Europe like so many people do. But today, when the peloton were streaming alongside the canal and Phil and Paul were extolling the many bike paths in the area, I was ready to pack my bags!

And the crowds were equally inspiring, out in force even when the weather turned cold and wet. Didn't seem to slow them down a bit, still lining the roads in costume or hanging off sculptures and scaffolds. The rain didn't keep the race from being thrilling either, as the breakaway went through some crazy maneuvers and attacks before being swallowed up.

The crash was as ugly as they come. Sliding and flying through the air have their disadvantages to be sure, but the one today was like hitting a brick wall, no room to save any part of your body. I can't imagine what that feels like, and I hope to never know. I've never seen so many similar excruciating poses crossing the line, one arm cradled uncomfortably across the body. Tomas Vaitkus got a steadying hand from teammate Alberto Contador as he finished, always a sad but moving sight. Fabian Cancellara didn't have a teammate nearby, but was talking with the group he was in. I'm sure any one of them would've lent a hand to the yellow jersey if needed. And the saddest sight was Freddy Rodriguez, dead last, already having lost his helmet and glove, and holding his arm the most gingerly of all.

Robbie McEwen gave us a fine preview yesterday, but today was an even greater example of the true grit of professional cyclists. They'll whip through the rain and cold, and when they fall hard, and must not want to move a muscle, they get themselves up, haul themselves back on their bicycle, and make it across the line. It reminds me of Dave Zabriskie on that fateful TTT a couple of years ago. You could practically see the smoke coming off his burned flesh, and yet he somehow made it through the long, lonely trek to the line.

It's when I see moments like these, and moments like Alexandre Vinokourov winning a race just days after his best friend is killed in that same contest, that I say no one but a fellow member of the peloton has a right to say a thing against cyclists and cycling. We fans appreciate it on some level, but you realize that we have no idea what they really go through, the pain and suffering and anguish, day in and day out. Who am I to tell them what they can and cannot do? It's a moment of blind sentimentality, yes, but there is something to it.

And so I was humbled and happy to see everyone alive and kicking at the end today. It looks doubtful for some, but I hope they are all back again tomorrow.

Random observations: as Robbie McEwen told Versus, Levi Leipheimer came up with Robbie's "Dumb and Dumber" salute (where he's pumping his arms, like he's running). The meticulous and proper Levi, a closet comedian, who knew? Favorite penalty of the day, as noted at VeloNews: Moreau (Ag2r), 100SF - compertemont incorrect for "stopping between the depart fictive and the depart reel to satisfy his call for nature"


cat2bike said...

Moreau got in trouble because of when he decided to pee?? I missed that! Robbie said in 2005 that Levi was the one who came up with the "Dumb and Dumber" salute; I thought then it was weird, Levi doesn't come across that way, I guess that's why everyone said it was DZ, because it's more his style!

I about cried when I saw Fabian and then Freddie come across the line. Freddie crashed in Belgium LAST YEAR when the Dutch rider went down with him, who was that, he went ahead and retired....and I think it was Stage 3. Bummer....Bummer...he's Robbie's lead out man. :( sniff sniff

Phil said...

Julie should seriously be commenting on VS. You just have a good style..I'm reading the blog daily now and passed it on to my son in Spain and definitely you should go to France during the Tour

Anonymous said...

My 1st viewing of a Tour de France was in 1984, a few years after I saw my 1st Ironman on TV. As amazed as I was at the event in Hawaii, I kept telling everyone that the TDF riders were the true IRONMEN. I couldn't believe it. Plus, it didn't even really sink in that they were racing over a HUNDRED miles every day. (Let's just say I wasn't so swift with the whole kilometer to miles thing...:).

I'm still amazed & awestruck just when I see them pedaling along enmasse, shoulders touching, zooming down the roads. And then when they crash & get back up, shrugging that "it's just some road rash".... And don't even get me started on their riding UP the Alps & then their death defying flights DOWN the mountains! :)

Anyway, I love to read your insights on each stage. You should join Sara, Cathy, & Bitch Kittie next year at the Tour. I can see it now - The Femme Fatales take on the Tour!

Oh, do you remember those commercials during the Tour in 2005 featuring Levi? I thought they were hysterical. I didn't know much about him except for those ads (I concentrated on Lance & Floyd for 5 years), so I thought he was a comedian. I was so shocked last year when I started hearing him interviewed.... Maybe those commercials really ARE closer to his inner personality than you would think! :)

susie b

Julie said...

Phil - will you come to translate? ;-)

Susie - yes, I loved those Levi ads too, good point. My favorite was where he was trying to sleep.

jessica said...

Julie - these are fantastic posts, you are an amazing writer and observer! I utterly agree with your "no one but a fellow member of the peloton has a right to say ". The detailed rules and penalties - this really is, for all it's demands of strength and perseverance, a *thinking* persons sport. "Getting the ball to the end of the field" sports seem so one dimensional. And you really do bring the Tour alive in words. Thanks for your writing!

Camille said...

I comPLETEly concur with you, Phil! Julie's got it goin' on with the Tour commenting, and she could definitely handle the gig. And she's not even THERE and look at all the great insights she's got to share already! No need to speak French, Julie, look at all the sportswriters there who don't. English is the first language of the world. (as much as it would *gaul* the French to admit to that...)

Julie said...

Easy, Camille, you're not going to win Phil's favor with that kind of talk. ;-)

Phil said...

I'd be honored to be your flack and my half assed translation. Heck, I'd go for the bread, cheese and wine alone. My cousin works for Liberation so maybe we could get press passes. And Camille, get off the island once in a while ya know?

Camille said...

Phil, um... didn't know you were French? oopsie... I was just going for the cheap pun (gaul/gall) and couldn't resist. Hey, I'm part French myself (maiden name LaRue) so I give myself permission to make rare digs at the French if it makes for a good pun. So uh... sorry 'bout that. Thought I was just whispering amongst Americans. I forget Julie is destined for international acclaim any second now. :)