July is a magic month for the cycling fan, because it’s the month of the “Grand Boucle” (“big loop”), the best bike race in the world, the Tour de France. Ever since 1903, with a few years off for wars, intrepid cyclists have been racing looping routes around France specifically designed to break their strength and will. This is the one stage race where all the strong riders show up. To miss it puts you out of the loop, figuratively and literally. There are always surprises, always superb achievements, always pitched battles among the favorites. Just to finish this race is an achievement that honors a rider.
For much of the month of July I will be posting a daily response to the goings on at the tour. I’ll only skip it when I am not near a computer. Right now I am curling up with my special pre-Tour edition of Cycle Sport America magazine, a highly informative although annoying journal. It’s an American edition of an English publication, and it displays a pronounced anti-Lance Armstrong bias. What are they thinking, taking that tone in a mag they want to sell in the US? they must figure that most of us are down on Lance. It think, and hope, that’s wrong.
Cycle Sport America covers everything you want to know, from the routes of each stage to the historical moments of the race to the makeup and chances of each team to in-depth analysis of the main contenders for the yellow jersey, worn by the race leader. Plus of course articles on how terrible Lance’s season has been up to now and wondering if he’ll even make it to Rotterdam, the start point of the race, on this Saturday.
Lance Armstrong is 38 years old. It is virtually impossible for an endurance athlete at that age to beat competitors ten years younger of relatively similar skill levels. But Lance has unbelievable tenacity, concentration, racing intelligence, and skills. All that won’t give him the kind of legs he needs, though. The race favorite, Alberto Contador, is eleven years younger. Armstrong has a team of older riders who can still provide valuable support, plus a few impressive youngsters. Contador has a team with few outstanding riders. The best of them, Alexander Vinokourov, is (1) returning from a two-year blood doping suspension, and (2) the antithesis of a dependable support rider, a willful and erratic free-lancer.
Contador should win the Tour, with a variety of competent riders of slightly lower skill levels contending for the second and third spots, riders like Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre, Andy Schleck, and maybe even Brad Wiggins, though I doubt it. Lance may be “in with a chance,” as the Brits like to say, if he maximizes every opportunity and can bring his time trial times up just a notch. He and Contador were quite equal in their “tune-up races,” the shorter races of late May and early June they ride to get into Tour shape. Each finished second overall to somebody they could beat if it counted. Each did well, though not brilliantly, in their race’s Individual Time Trial. Each proclaimed himself ready for battle on the roads of France in July. It would be inspiring to see Lance on the podium in Paris at the end of the Tour, as he was last year. We’ll see; that’s what July is all about.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.