This year’s Tour is “honoring” the Spring Classics races by riding a couple of the early stages over some of their famous routes. Today it was the farm-road cobbles of Belgium and France used in the epic Paris-Roubaix race. Cobbles are very dangerous because they are slippery, be it with mud or dust, and they cause compression punctures. The peloton, even the riders who are used to asphalt road surfaces, did a good job with the cobbles. And as so often happens in the Tour these days, a strong and brave long breakaway by one rider was caught close to the finish line.
Losing or gaining a half-minute on a race like this means nothing compared to the time gaps that can later open up in the mountains, yet the main contenders were in the lead chase groups all day. Those teams with dangerous sprinters tended to control the race at the end, though. As so often, their “race” was about winning the stage and getting sprinter’s points, while the contenders for overall victory were content to try to put a little time into their rivals and defend against large unexpected losses of their own. The third race was the breakaway rider, Canadian Ryder Hesjedal, who was just riding his heart out all day trying to keep clear of the field.
What can cause large losses? As in the old days, things like crashes, broken forks and flat tires. Nowadays, of course, there’s a replacement wheel or frame at the ready, so the loss of time is measured in seconds, not minutes or hours. But chasing to catch back up to the lead group is still very difficult, because at most you have one teammate to lead you on, while a bunch has a strong potential for drafting. So when Lance Armstrong flatted on the last section of pavé he could not catch up with the group he had been in, which also contained many of the other challengers. He put on a great show, though, with an all-out do-or-die charge that got him back to the bunch just behind his former group. So he lost 45 seconds to Contador, which is negligible one way or the other compared to the times to be gained or lost in the mountains.
Oh, yeah, he lost two minutes to Cadel Evans. Like that’s going to matter in two weeks.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.