Second week of the Tour: Lessons from Bernie
By Joe Parkin, Guest blogger | Monday, July 20, 2009 6.36pm
'Listen up, people!' Tour leader Alberto Contador rides with a whistle during a light training ride during the race's second rest day July 20, 2009. JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images
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 resuming July 21.
Parkin, author of A Dog In A Hat and a forthcoming book this fall, shares his perspective on the second week of racing.
"The second week of this year’s Tour de France was kind of like a Thursday. You know; you’ve gotten through the first week (or first part of the week) based, to a large part, on excitement. Wednesday becomes the very top of a long climb. Thursday on the other hand, is painful. It's not Friday yet, but much of your energy is already spent. You’ve crested the col but are not yet up to top speed because you’re still grudgingly stuffing newspaper in the front of your jersey.
I loved the first week of the Tour. Honestly, I almost always do. Whether you're a fan who understands what’s happening or not, there’s always lots of motivation and excitement. But the second week ... I'm glad it’s over.
Hello? Is anyone listening?
First, there was the whole radio ban nonsense. We made it all the way through stage 10 without any of the riders inadvertently ending up lost in Prague and having to catch a flight back to France. What a relief! But of course, the stage was being ridden under a “soft” protest so the speeds were somewhat diminished, making it easier for riders to watch each other and, therefore, harder to end up in Prague.
Apparently, the disapproval on the part of the riders and teams was strong enough to end the radio ban for stage 13, which was a total relief, since that stage was even more boring than stage 10 (no disrespect intended toward its incredibly gifted winner - my personal favourite of this year’s Tour).
Riders -- I'm talking to you non-contract-having guys making the minimum wage -- stand by your grand patrons. Lance Armstrong has been advocating a strong rider’s union for a while now. GET ON IT so that we may dispense with the trial radio bans, “unsafe” courses, and whatever else you guys want. You all end up looking like idiots, and that's not the grand patrons’ fault ... it's yours.
If there is a redeeming factor for the second week of this year’s Tour, it's Bernard Hinault. Reading Hinault’s comments this week made me miss him and Claudio Chiapucci. Neither one of those dudes had the slightest understanding of the concept of “scripted” and made bike racing highly entertaining. They were both like Mike Tyson - sans wife-beating, ear-biting, and facial tattoos. They were both rabid psychopathic bike racers who would attack even when it made absolutely no sense at all.
My friend, ex-teammate and former TdF Green Jersey winner, Frank Hoste, once told me about an early season race in France where Hinault started to set tempo 100km from the finish. With just a few kilometers left in the race, the Frenchman was still setting tempo and Hoste was perched on his wheel. With 1km left in the race, Hoste started to prepare himself for a glorious victory salute. “He (Hinault) obviously didn’t know how well I was riding,” Frank said later. Hoste was unable to come around Hinault and finished in second place. Think about that: 100km on the front and Hinault still won the sprint. Incredible!
Yes, the sport of cycling has changed a lot since his retirement at the end of 1986, but the wholesale dismissal of anything The Badger says is a mistake.
My thoughts on the outcome of stage 14? Criminal, period. George, my friend, you transcended the yellow jersey for a day, becoming more important than it is. I don't care if you're American, French, Belgian or otherwise, in some cases the excuse, “racing is racing,” simply doesn't apply.
Comparing Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong to other cyclists is about like comparing Mt. Everest to a freeway overpass. I can’t help comparing this rivalry to the one between Hinault and Luis Herrera a little bit, though. And my opinion, from a comfortable couch 35,000 feet above the race, with a heart rate that only rises when I have to get up and walk to the refrigerator, is that since the second week of this year’s Tour was a bit less insane and vicious than it could have been, Contador being in yellow after Verbier was inevitable. Unless you're able to beat the pure climber into submission before the mountains, he’s simply going to be faster when you get there.
I always hated rest days when I was a rider and the same always applied as a spectator - except for today. I'm kind of happy to be not watching the Tour today. Today's intermission is necessary so that I can recharge, purge many of the memories of Week 2 from my brain, and look forward to the rest of the race. With any luck, Week 3 will give us some knock down, drag out, bare knuckles brawling.
If not, I’m going to turn it off and spend the week watching YouTube footage of vintage Bernard Hinault instead."
Stay tuned for more from Our Man Joe next Monday after the race ends in Paris.
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