Phew. A rest day. Time to catch our collective breath after what has surely been one of the most remarkable opening stanzas of the world’s most remarkable sporting event, certainly in living memory anyway. With the stakes so high the first week is always a nervy affair – but this nervy? Ten stages down, not even half way yet, and we’ve seen more crashes than the Nasdaq during the GFC, and more bloodshed than an end of season cleanout by the footy wooden spooners.
Gone are two of the three outright GC favourites in Froome and Contador; both lost to the race, after considerably bravery, as a result of broken bones. Also absent due to an ill-tasting bitumen sandwich way back on stage one (Harrogate seems years ago now, doesn’t it?) is Mark Cavendish, of course. Andy Schleck is gone, possibly forever. Plus many other fine riders on a list, currently 18, that continues to grow day by day. Given the epic amount of road rash on show each day in the peloton the local pharmacies must now be rationing bandages.
Clearly, the weather hasn’t helped things. But we’ve seen far, far worse. Besides dealing with the elements is what pro cycling is all about. The cobbles too weren’t much fun for many riders. But again, last week’s epic stage from Ypres to Arenberg was far from a first for most of the field, and certainly not the Tour itself.
Regardless, watching a forlorn Contador grasp the hand of team-mate Michael Rogers and gingerly dismount last night, signalling his premature exit from the 101st Tour, I couldn’t help but think of the ramifications. Not so much for who will win the race, but for how history will judge their triumph come July 27 in Paris.
“Ah, but he wasn’t the true champion. Froome and Contador weren’t there,” they will say. “Yes, he rode well, but don’t forget he only won because of their bad luck.”
Which is frankly bullshit.
This is hard race for hard men. Which is why most of us will never get close to doing it. Shit happens out on the road over the course of a race, a season and a career. Sometimes it happens to others. Sometimes it happens to you. That’s the cycle of life, and life as a cyclist. Given the incredibly testing goings on of the last week alone (and remember we still haven’t hit the Alps or Pyrenees) whoever stands highest in Paris will surely deserve nothing but our most heart-felt admiration and applause. Be it Nibali, Porte, Valverde or someone completely left of field I’ll be saluting through bleary eyes from my lounge room. Who’s with me?