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2016 Tour de France:

Show a Little Respect - Post-Stage 13 Thoughts

By David L. Stanley

Back to Commentary index page | 2016 Tour de France

David Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). He blogs regularly for Dads Roundtable. Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes.

His latest book is Melanoma: It Started With a FreckleIf you have spent time outdoors, you should read it. Really!

R. E. S. P. E. C. T.

One of my favorite places to follow the Tour de France is LiveUpdateGuy(LUG).com. Run by the ex-VeloNews Explainer Guy turned state of Wyoming legislator Charles Pelkey, Esq, and ably assisted by Patrick O’Grady, the famed cycling cartoonist and founding member of the Old Guys Who Get Fat in Winter Cycling Team, the LUGnuts gather every summer for text updates, Man on the Scene reports, limericks, and a wide range of non-race related blah blah blah from around the globe. It’s informative, it’s funny, it’s wise, it’s a community. I’m a regular.

I said something there today during stage 13’s time trial for which I am ashamed and for which I instantly apologized. With two serious climbs, and a keister-puckering descent, today was one hour, 38 kilometers, of self-inflicted red-lined Hell for everyone as they rode the Tour’s first Race of Truth; Contre le Montre. In a TT, the best placed riders, at one or two minute intervals, go off last. Ergo, if you are in 9th place, you start off 171st out 180.

Stage 13 profile

Stage 13 profile

As Tour fans know, Team BMC brought two men capable of a podium position to the race: the Aussie Richie Porte, and the US favorite, Tejay van Garderen. It is SOP that teams have a ‘nearly-man’ ride at the team leader’s side-for protection from the wind, to chase down late breakaway attempts, to provide pacing in the early stages of the climbs. All teams do this.

To be a team leader’s lieutenant is indeed a position of honor. You are amongst the strongest of the strong. In this year’s Tour, Alejandro Valverde, himself a Grand Tour champion, is there to boost his Movistar teammate Nairo Quintana onto the top step. Team Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali, a winner of all three Grand Tours, started the Tour quite willingly in support of Fabio Aru. Only the best of riders are capable of such a workload over the three weeks which a Grand Tour demands.

Within BMC, the plan was that both men would be equally strong, and force favorites Chris Froome (Team SKY) and Quintana to stare down an angry double-headed dog. If not, one rider would show himself as the leader and the other would become his lead support rider.

I was late to the LUGshow this morning. Knowing we were near the end of the running order, I blurted out, for all the internet to hear: “Well, tell me, how was Tejay's ride? Is he officially Richie Porte's caddy?”

Tejay van Garderen

Tejay van Garderen on his stage 13 time trial

A caddy. The guy who carries the pro’s clubs. The guy who holds the hero’s coat whilst he vanquishes the bad guys.

There are approximately 7.5 billion people in the world. Tens of millions of them ride their bikes every day; for basic transport, for work, for fun. Hundreds of thousands of those race bikes: organized or informally, on road, dirt, or some kind of a track. Thousands of those who race do so with prizes or money in mind. Perhaps one thousand, from both genders, can say they support themselves and their families with their skills on the bike. Of the eight hundred professional men, there are perhaps twenty men who are capable of doing what Tejay van Garderen can do on a bike. The skills of the top twenty riders are so otherworldly that they can’t even be listed accurately as outliers. Elite level athletes are outliers to the outliers.

Let’s do the math. 20 unbelievably elite men divided by 7,500,000,000 (the world’s population) equals 2.67 x 10-9. That’s 0.000000002.67 (I think- my scientific notation is sketchy).  That’s how exquisitely rare a talent is possessed by Tejay van Garderen. That’s how exceedingly selective is the fraternity of truly world-class athletes to which he and the top twenty in the Tour belong.

I’m not sure what I was in my mind this morning. I’d like to attribute it to a lack of adequate coffee. Most likely, it was just me trying to be witty. I know how extraordinary these guys are. I dedicated seven years of my life to this pursuit, and fell woefully short. To Tejay, and all the rest who have taken dead aim on the top step of the podium, chapeau and beaucoup de respect.

David L. Stanley

David Stanley working on his coffee...

For the record, TvG was 16th on the day, 18 seconds ahead of both his teammate Richie Porte and pre-race favorite Nairo Quintana. On the G.C., Tejay is in 6th place, just 34 seconds off of the third podium step.  Allez!