(two crappy titles in two days!)
So I’m watching the penultimate stage of the Tour De France (go Konig!), a Tour that has been blighted by the abandons of almost all of the pre-race favourites: Chris Froome crashed out after a few days; Alberto Contador heroically rode on a broken leg for an hour, before having to be dragged into the team car in scenes that probably resembled Stanis Barathian being dragged from the ramparts of King’s Landing by his troops as his army is decimated; and Mark Cavendish had his attempts to be a Brit winning a crap-ton of stages in a French race thwarted by, irony of ironies, the British weather.
But this means that the race has degenerated into a bit of a free-for-all: the unheard of Brian Coquard led a brief assault on the Green Jersey, and the podium, behind dominant leader Vincenzo Nibali, will be filled out by the young French hopeful Thibault Pinot and the 37-year-old Peraud, meaning that France will have a rider on the podium for the first time since 1996. And you know what? It’s been bloody brilliant!
On the mountain stages, there hasn’t been the sterile domination of Team Sky in the last few years, and the strong Saxo-Tinkoff squad was rendered pointless by the absence of Contador, so the fun mountain stages played out as pitched battles between isolated GC contenders, instead of the usual, ‘other riders try to chip away at the Sky domination’ malarkey, which resembles a group of rats trying to eat their way through a structure made entirely of particularly unpleasantly-tasting concrete.
This also let us see more of the other GC teams: I hadn’t fully realised the strength of squads such as Saxo-Tinkoff and Astana, because all their riders, bar their leaders, are squeezed out by the Sky machine. And while I’m not necessarily happy that Sky’s Galactic Empire-esqe plan collapsed around them – years of playing sports management games have left me with a soft spot for sports teams who suffer unbelievable hardship for no apparent reason – it did open up the race in a way that it hasn’t in the last two years.
And while the battles were smaller in scale – Pinot and Peraud fought to the death over podium places, as opposed to winning the damn thing – those goals are not any less important to these riders than the more ambitious targets of the pre-race favourites. Essentially, every rider was putting the effort in to hit their individual targets, which I admired and enjoyed watching.
So while critics of Nibali will point out that he won a Tour against riders who had no real hope of winning the race themselves, relatively neutral observers such as myself will, hopefully, remember this Tour as the open-ended, French history re-writing free-for-all it was, as opposed to the story of one man walking all over everyone else, a boring dismissal that’s insulting to both Nibali’s efforts, and the quality of the field around him
Vive le podium!