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Unfair and Unbalanced
Unfair and Unbalanced
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July 28: The extravagantly gifted sprinter Mark Cavendish has said he wants his name to go alongside those of Merckx, Hinault and Armstrong. Yes, he's won a passel of Tour stages, 20 so far and his 2009 Milano-San Remo win was superb. But when and if he beats Merckx's 34 Tour stage victories, I hope he's as humble as Mario Cipollini was when Cipollini broke Alfredo Binda's Giro stage tally. Cipo understood that Binda was one of the greatest bike racers of all time and that Binda's stage wins were not the products of carefully staged leadouts. Binda generally either won alone or simply overwhelmed his competitors with an engine of unbelievable power. Flats, mountains or time trials, Binda could beat you anywhere, any time.
Same with Merckx.
Beyond that, Merckx, Hinault and Armstrong didn't need special permission to stay in the Tour. Twice in 2011 Cavendish failed to finish within the time limit and needed special dispensation from the judges to remain in the race, which was granted only because the gruppeto was so large. He failed to finish in time, not because he suffered a crash or some other misfortune beyond his control, he just couldn't go fast enough. Yes, Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans and the other guys were busy at the pointy part of the peloton ripping people legs off. But that's the Tour. It's hard.
And that green jersey they gave Cavendish at the end of the Tour? This is the green jersey of Ferdy Kübler (winner 1950 Tour, World Champion, 2 x Liège-Bastogne-Liège), André Darrigade (22 Tour stages, World Champion, Tour of Lombardy and also worked as a domestique for Anquetil), Rik van Looy (only winner of all Classics), Jan Janssen (winner 1968 Tour), Eddy Merckx (the greatest ever), Franco Bitossi (3 x KOM of the Giro!!, 2 x Tour of Lombardy), Freddy Maertens (winner 1977 Vuelta, 2 x World Champion), Bernard Hinault (winner of everything), King Kelly; I could go on. To award the Green Jersey to a rider who twice could not make it to the finish line in time, the green Jersey that sat on the shoulders of these immortals, is a travesty.
The Green Jersey should have been awarded to the man with the most points who finished according to the rules. Cadel Evans.
I suggest the Tour go back to the rule used in the 1903. Tour father Henri Desgrange allowed riders who couldn't finish a stage to continue racing for stage wins, but made them ineligible for the General Classification. If a rider can't finish a stage within the time limit and there is no other reason such as a crash caused by others and the judges decide to let him continue riding the Tour, he shouldn't be able to compete for the yellow, green, white or polka-dot jerseys. It's not fair to the riders who do finish with the time lmits.
Thanks to Bertrand Duboux.
July 26: The long-expected ouster (the news was already circulating during the Giro in May) of Giro d'Italia boss Angelo Zomegnan has been confirmed. He's been kicked upstairs, probably to work on the 2013 Florence World Cycling Championships. This makes me sad. Under Signor Z's autocratic leadership, the Giro has finally taken it proper place in racing's hierarchy. His course designs were challenging, interesting and made for some of the best racing in cycling history.
He got help. The UCI's 2005 Pro Tour reorganization meant all the top teams had to send riders to the Giro. The effect of that re-alignment was dramatic. One year Alessandro Petacchi could win stages with startling ease. Then, with a higher quality field, winning became more of a struggle. Damiano Cunego also noted the change with the improved peloton, saying that the Giro is now too hard for him to win, despite his power numbers being what they were in 2004.
But Zomegnan took a good situation and made it better. After the Grand Tours won more freedom from the UCI to determine which teams got invited, Zomegnan refused to give invitations to teams which had historically used the Giro for training. You either came to the Giro to win or you stayed home.
The happy combination of Zomegnan's artful management and the internationalized field resulted in the Giro being harder than the Tour. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. Power meters in 2010 proved riders had to kick out more watts in a Giro than in the Tour. The long piano days of slow riding with an insane final hour of racing are gone. Last year, no one who rode the Giro finished in the Tour's top ten. This year, cycling's finest stage racer, Alberto Contador, was too tired from the Giro to compete effectively in the Tour. If the Giro's new management (a committee, for God's sake!) doesn't listen to the riders griping that the 2011 Giro was too hard, Marco Pantani is probably the last Giro-Tour winner for some time to come. Let's hope the Giro doesn't succumb to pressure and get diluted. That experiment was tried by then Giro boss Torriani in the 70s and 80s and it didn't work. The Giro lost a lot of its prestige which is only now being reclaimed.
Zomagnan rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Following his vision to making the Giro great meant he had to ruffle feathers. Shame to see a good man go. Nice job, Angelo! We'll miss you.
July 19: In bike racing, the time to kick a guy is when he's down. The Schlecks had their chance in the Pyrenees when Contador was nursing a sore knee, was obviously tired from a difficult Giro and had suffered several crashes. They are now paying the price for their failure to put the Spaniard to the sword. Contador's been allowed time to recover and on today's ascent of the Col de Manse he showed a bit of what is coming in the next few days. We'll have attacks both on the climbs, and given the Schlecks discomfort on technical descents, on the dowhills as well.
Andy Schleck thought people wouldn't want the Tour to be won on difficult descents and further suggested that such roads be banned. I do not know what planet Schleck is from, but some of bicycle racing's legends were written on the downhills of mountains. Gino Bartali was a fearsome descender and he believes it was his hair-raising ride down the Vars in 1938 that won the Tour for him. Gastone Nencini used his peerless skills to shake dope-addled Roger Rivière off his wheel on the Perjuret to win the 1960 Tour. Rivière crashed horribly trying to follow the Italian. Merckx, LeMond, Hinault, Pantani and Armstrong were superb going downhill.
I could go on, but descending is one of the weapons of the complete rider. I don't blame Andy Schleck for grousing that such a difficult road was included in the Tour. I would be scared pooless to follow brave and skilled men like Evans, Sanchez and Contador. But if you can't do it, you probably can't win the Tour de France. I write probably because the peloton's worst descender, Federico Bahamontes, won the 1959 Tour.
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July 9: I'm sorry for the silence on this part of the site. I've been busy on several projects that I hope the kind reader will find of more interest than my adding to the blathersphere.
1. Tour de France database. I now have results posted for every single stage in Tour history. That's every single stage of every single Tour. I also have posted the running GC. I'm in the process of adding days and dates for every stage, as well as an excerpt for each year from my Tour de France history. I am putting up hundreds of photographs going back to the Tour's origins as well. I think every Tour nut will find it useful. Once I have the Tour pages done to my satisfaction, I'll start in on the Giro. I'll try not to take fifteen years this time.
2. I've written the second volume of my Giro d'Italia history, and I'm now editing and revising the text. I've promised that it would be ready this winter and I still think that looks like a good prediction. Volume 1, which takes the Giro through 1970, can be bought as a print or Kindle ebook by clicking on the Amazon link above.
3. We just reissued one of the best-ever books on professional bike racing, Les Woodland's Cycling Heroes: The Golden Years. Les went on a tour of Belgium and Holland to interview some of the greatest riders ever: Rik van Steenbergen, Rik van Looy, Jan Janssen, Hennie Kuiper, Peter Post and others. These men were giants and Les' delightful book brings them to life. Again, you can click on the Amazon link to the right to buy it as either a print or Kindle ebook. Right now there is a bit of a glitch in the link between my UK printer and Amazon UK (print only; Kindle ebook is available). But if you order the book on Amazon UK, they've promised me that as soon as the bug is fixed, the orders will be honored. So give the book a look. Les is in top form here.
By the way, there's more coming from McGann Publishing. I have two more books in my inbox from Les, one is the story of his cross-country cycling trip, written as a sort of latter-day de Tocqueville, but one with a sense of humor; and The Olympics 50 Craziest Stories. But our very next book is a bit of a departure. In the 1950s, my wife Carol traveled with her family to live in the jungles of Colombia while her father worked as a supervisor helping to build a railroad. Her mother left a fascinating account of those years. Carol is getting it ready for publication.