I’ve never understood people who complain that “this Tour is boring”. The Tour is three-weeks long and it’s impossible to have non-stop action for that long of a period, unless one wants to go back to the bad old days…there are of course ways to insure a livelier race but they’re not very good for the health of the riders nor legal.
I think of the Tour as a three-week film festival linked to a common theme with heroes, villains, tragic figures, treasons and intrigue. Plus, every stage – or movie – no matter how apparently calm in the beginning (it’s never calm, it’s always war in the peloton) has a great and exciting ending, something almost no other sport can guarantee. Penalty shootouts in soccer anyone?
You wouldn’t want to watch a rockem-sockem like “Iron Man” every day, it would become numbing. Viewings of films such as “The Beguiled” with its slow pacing and beauty building to an interesting ending would break up the series and make the days of explosive films that much more effective and exciting. It’s the same with the Tour.
The transition stages with their doomed yet brave breakaway riders fighting against all hope as the sprinter teams plot their demise are some of my favorite races. I root for the break, watch the sprinter teams decide how and when to run the risk of taking up the chase, and enjoy the magnificence of France rolling by. Sometimes things go off-script as with the powerful Pole Maciej Bodnar who, after 200 kilometers in front, was tragically caught with only 200 meters to go. That was deeply satisfying entertainment in my book.
Today’s racing cyclists are all at a very similar level. Their positions are all the same on their bicycles thanks to fitting programs like Retul, they all have the latest training information and the speeds they can go are wildly fast. That’s why the sprints are so difficult to manage as no team has the power to dominate the 65-kph lead outs. It’s now a matter of timing – start the train 500 meters too early and it’s game-over. The top riders then, must pick the races where obstacles (mountains, narrow roads) are hard enough to break up the field and then race that much harder to make the difference. That’s your rockem-sockem and what we saw on the stages into Foix and of course Sunday’s blockbuster of non-stop action, one for the memories.
Floyd Landis once told me that it takes three-weeks to really sort out who is the strongest and we’re now in the final week when the truth comes out. I’m loving watching Michael Matthews fight and scrape for every Green Jersey point – I’m writing this before the stage starts today but watch for an explosive start as he tries to get away in the first, hilly part of this stage before the windy last section where dangerous echelons may very well form– and Dan Martin is completely exemplifying “fighting Irish spirit” as he tries to make up for his terrible luck – although not so terrible as Richie Porte’s. I’m still liking Rigoberto Uran, his team is rallying and the Colombian hasn’t put a wrong foot forward this entire Tour. But, watching Froome and Landa’s return on the Col de Peyra Taillade yesterday, the fight for second and third might be the real action ahead.
John Eustice, is the organizer of the Thompson Bucks County Classic in Doylestown, Pennsylvania and a long-time cycling analyst who has contributed to ESPN, ABC Sports, Time Magazine, and CNN among others. The Bucks County native resides in New York City. He was a pioneer on the European racing circuit and is a two-time United States Professional Champion.