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Cycling Racing News and Opinion
July 27, 2014

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Tour boss Christian Prudhomme gave a very perceptive interview to the AFP that was posted on lavenir.net. Of course Prudhomme would be defending his franchise, but some of the his remarks are spot-on.

First of all, there is the question of Vincenzo Nibali's victory in the absence of his two most capable challengers, Chris Froome and Alberto Contador. "I'm not at all convinced that we would have another winner if the others were there. Nibali was already far ahead in their presence. He built [his lead] methodically with great intelligence, success. Last year, he turned back to the arrival of the stage of the Vuelta Peyragudes to say 'next year I will come to do the Tour de France and I want to win'. That meant he was obsessed with the Tour. He dominated steadily but not overwhelmingly...His demonstration on the cobblestones was exceptional."

With an Italian and French podium, he was asked if this marked the return of traditional cycling countries. "I am convinced that traditional cycling countries must have champions. Similarly it is essential to have champions in the new country. This was the case with Cadel Evans in 2012 to Australia, then with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome for Britain. If there is a sport where the roots are important, it is cycling."

prudhomme at the coppi monument

At the Coppi-Bobet monument: from left, Bernard Thévenet, Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx, Christian Prudhomme.

I would add it is probable (no one can know for sure) that French Tour success marks a cleaner era. French cycling has been subjected to rigorous longitudinal testing that, in effect, has meant that in the war against performance-enhancing drugs, French racing has unilaterally disarmed. This has resulted in what French riders have complained of as racing at "two speeds". Explanations such as Bernard Hinault's, that French racers haven't been hungry or willing to work hard enough make no sense. Hinault's explanation was every bit as reasonable as the traditional blaming of the French loss in the Franco-Prussian war on cowardly, weak-limbed French soldiers when the real reason was the refusal of the French general staff to buy modern, breach-loading steel artillery. Modern German cannon destroyed the French fortifications (defended with muzzle-loading brass cannon) at will and no amount of brave French soldiering would have sufficed. Likewise, no amount of training by rigorously-tested French racers would have been enough to beat Lance Armstrong.

This in no way indicts recent high placers. Grand Tour GC riders are extremely rare men and their genetic gifts will always cause them to to be the recipients of unwanted attention. It was Armstrong's utter lack of any stage-racing talent or time trial ability before he came down with cancer that made his doped post-cancer performances stand out.

Tinkoff-Saxo's Daniele Bennati will be in the hunt for today's stage win. I just got this press-release from his team:

"Stage 21 to Champs-Élysées is, for many of the riders in the peloton, a contrast to the hardships they’ve went through during Tour de France. But for the sprinters, it’s the most important and prestigious stage of the entire Tour. Tinkoff-Saxo’s powerful Italian Daniele Bennati won on the final straight in Paris in 2007, when he beat Thor Hushovd and Erik Zabel.

"'I have such good memories from Champs-Élysées. It was an amazing experience and I will go for the win again today. I know it will be difficult but if you don’t try, you’ll never win. I know the circuit very well and it’s a matter of entering the final corner in the right position', says Daniele Bennati on his way to the airplane that will transport the riders from Southern France to the outskirts of Paris.

"Daniele Bennati was originally intended to ride the Tour as a quality support for Alberto Contador on the flat and hilly stages. But since the captain’s exit on stage 10, Daniele has taken his chances in the final sprints with several top-5’s as a result.

"'I spent a lot of energy during the first half of the Tour and took a lot of wind riding in the front of the peloton. So it has been difficult to make the transition and focus on creating results in the sprints. But the Tour is tough and the strongest guy on Champs-Élysées is not always the one, who was the strongest at the start of the Tour. It’s about recovery', explains Daniele Bennati and continues:

"'During the last two years on the team, I’ve had other obligations than focusing on the final sprint. I feel good in a lot of different terrains but at the same time I still feel strong in the sprints', concludes Bennati."

At the Tour de Wallonie, Giacomo Nizzolo has won the second stage of the 2014 Tour de Wallonie and Gianni Meersman has taken over the GC lead. I'll post the complete results and GC this afternoon.

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