First week of the Tour: anything but sleepy

Author Joe Parkin shares his take on the week that was

Former professional racer-turned-author Joe Parkin is writing a few Tour de France blogs for BikeRadar, providing his keen perspective on the week that was, while looking ahead to the race action beginning July 14.

Parkin, author of A Dog In A Hat and a forthcoming book this fall, shares his perspective on the first week of racing.

"People often disparage the first week of the Tour de France as being a parade for sprinters and unknown riders – a week that typically does little to drastically change the overall race.

While it’s true that the Tour isn’t over ‘til the big mountains punish every rider to climb them, the first week of the Tour is anything but sleepy and this one has been one of the best that I can remember.  

To start with, Stage 1 got to be called “Stage 1” and not “Prologue.” From what I saw, it was a true stage indeed. Watching Fabian Cancellara warping downhill toward the finish after muscling a huge gear over the “big” climb brought chills to my spine. Descending the big mountains when you’re “recovering” a bit is one thing – even at 60- to 70-plus miles per hour – but taking turns flat out, with elbows nestled in the aero bars is something else.

We were also treated to some amazing sprinting in the first week of the Tour. Mark Cavendish certainly looks like he has the goods to be one of the finest sprinters the sport has ever seen. His win on Stage 3 into La Grande-Motte showed just how fast the man is, though if I were judging, I would have to take points away for his goofy “telephone call” victory salute.

A good sprinter can be riding flat out and accelerate one more time – a great one can accelerate two more times. I think Cav might have another one or two on top of that.  

I tip my hat to the organisers of the Tour for bringing back the Team Time Trial. For me, a TdF sans TTT is about as crazy as a TdF without the Champs Elysees. The TTT is really the one race in the Tour where the domestiques get full credit for what they do and are recognized accordingly in the race results. Astana obviously came to the race with a full quiver of fast bike racers and put on an impressive demonstration.  

For those out there who are unimpressed by the long breakaways, let me offer up a small bit of insider information: setting out on a all-day mission that ends up, most often, as a suicide mission is not only engrained in the very fabric of professional cycling, but takes tons of guts.

Put it this way, each day of the Tour or any other big stage race is roughly the equivalent to the hardest days of work or school – the days where you absolutely have to be spot on, awake, alert, prepared, etc. Going out on one of these all-day breakaways is a little bit like knowing you have to make a presentation before your company’s board of directors tomorrow, but staying up all night drinking booze and eating chocolate – you know it is nearly going to kill you and that tomorrow is going to be painful.

Each one of the all-day fugitives knows that he will hate life tomorrow – might even get dropped on some little climb halfway through the stage and fail to finish within the allotted time. It is for that reason I enjoyed seeing an underdog like Thomas Voeckler hang on for a win in Perpignan, Brice Feillu take top honours on Arcalis and Pierrick Fedrigo bring one home in Tarbes. These three stage winners, though barely on the radar of any of the Tour’s general classification contenders, are heroes in my book.  

With one week in the books, there seems to be a bit of storm brewing that will soon find itself creating a ton of pain for a lot of riders. I believe that once the cork is pulled out of the Astana bottle and the trio of teammate contenders start really racing, we’re going to see some history.

At least that’s what I am hoping for.

Stay tuned for more from Our Man Joe once again next Monday after Stage 19.

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