Cycling often lays claim to being the “hardest sport in the world”, as do many others, and I’m not really sure how one definitively measures that claim. But, especially after yesterday’s trip to Hades, cycling can certainly label itself as the cruelest sport in existence.
Right off, the tragic end for Richie Porte, a mere six-miles into the last flat stage before his Tour would really begin in the mountains. BMC’s second leader, Tejay van Garderen, in turn, collapsed in front of a world-wide audience. I could see that he was overwhelmed after his puncture, not reacting when Yves Lampaert came by the American at warp speed trying to get back on terms after a puncture of his own. In a cobbled race, when the Belgian Champ comes by, one reacts immediately as there is no surer TGV than that to pull you back to the front. Tejay’s later crash came as no surprise: once the confidence goes in a race like that one, bad things happen.
Then there’s the case of Lawson Craddock. Begin with the fact that he’s only allowed to take Motrin/Tylenol for his broken scapula. Can you imagine going to the NFL Players Union and trying to get a rule like that passed? The suit daring to propose that sort of rule would be physically ripped to pieces. It’s unconscionable, an unneeded cruelty visited upon its athletes by a hobbled sport stuck in a constant position of apology and weakness. Think of him bouncing on the cobbles, especially any of you who’ve had shoulder injuries – they hurt! But this beyond-brave Texan stayed with his Colombian leader long enough to bail him out on a mechanical, even, get this, giving Uran a push to get him going again.
Taylor Phinney, I’m certain, has been focused on this stage since it’s unveiling eight months ago. The former U23 Paris-Roubaix winner has been on a slow and torturous comeback trail since his dreadfully broken leg some four-years ago and he must have seen the stage as a place of redemption for him, imagining for months a scenario of staying with his leader until safe, then playing his own card at the end. He was in excellent shape yesterday and almost always well placed. What must it have been like for Phinney to hear on his radio that Uran was in trouble, and that he had to give up his dream, put on the brakes and wait. Then ride his guts out to minimize the damage, which ended up being pretty extensive in the end.
The French love to see suffering, that’s why the Tour is so hard. But one thing they did yesterday really stuck in my craw: in the final sections of cobbles, (cobbled roads often have little dirt or cheap asphalt shoulders to them which the rider jumps on whenever possible) they put three-foot high blocks on the shoulders to force the riders to stay on the stones. Not even to consider the danger they posed in case someone went slightly off the road – imagine had it been raining – and hit one, I just found it abusive.
Romain Bardet conquered French hearts yesterday. The man from deep France, Auvergne, showed such character yesterday, coming back after three, count’m, three punctures, to save his Tour. That’s what the public wants to see and as long as performances like Bardet’s continue, they’ll keep making the race ever-more difficult and dangerous.
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.