the Results list of the opening stage of the 2011 Tour de France is unlike anything I have ever seen. The top 31 riders all finished within 6 seconds of one another. That is not surprising in a close-fought, relatively flat, final dash to the line. But then the oddity begins. The 33rd through 36th finishers were all 1 minute and 20 seconds behind the winner. but the 37th, and 39th through 42nd, finishers were all just six seconds behind the winner, Belgian national champion and UCI #1 rider Philippe Gilbert. And so it went down the sequential list of finishers, with some of the later finishers losing less time than people above them in the order of finish.
How can this be? Well, the UCI rules are that anybody involved in a crash within 3 km of the finish gets the same time as others in the group they were with at the time of the crash. But for crashes farther away from the finish than 3 km, there is no such charity; if a rider is behind a crash at, let’s say, 6 km, he just has to take whatever time loss ensues from his having to work around the crash.
Today in the Tour’s first, nervous, day, there were two large crashes. The first was at 6 km from the line. The road was fairly narrow, and filled from side to side with riders desperately trying to stay near the front to avoid getting caught up in crashes. On the right-hand side of the road, a spectator very near the edge turned away from the action, apparently preoccupied with his cell phone. He thus did not see the rider near the right edge who clipped him on the shoulder, skittered back into the dense pack of riders, and started a chain reaction that quickly worked from right to left across the whole road, completely blocking the way with downed riders and bikes.
All the main contenders for overall victory (GC) were ahead of the crash. All but one: Alberto Contador. While some of the others were held up by the later crash inside 3 km, and thus lost no time, finishing 6 seconds back of the winner, Contador lost 1:20, about 30 seconds at the time of the crash, and the rest in the slower pack that followed the leaders in. Some of the other contenders, slowed by the later crash, finished in the same pack as Contador, but were not penalized because their crash was inside the 3 km zone.
So Contador trails everybody–Horner, the Schlecks, Leipheimer, Evans, Kloden–by 1:14 after one stage. He figures to lose more time to many of these contenders in the Team Time Trial tomorrow, because his team is not among the best at the TTT, while Radio Shack and Leopard-Trek are. Andy Schleck has his brother and the Hard Man of hard men, Fabian Cancellara, to pull him along. It’s not the first time Contador has found himself on the wrong side of a break. When wind split the peloton on an early stage in 2009, master tactician Lance Armstrong gained significant time by being on the front end when it mattered. Today’s events were less foreseen, but Contador’s inattention or inability to place himself properly in the pack cost him dearly.
It will be interesting to see if he can get his Saxo Bank comrades to do the ride of their lives tomorrow, or if he will have put himself behind the eight ball only two days into the race.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.