It’s bike racing. Anything can happen. There were 194 starters for the fifth stage and 193 finishers. The missing rider was Chris Froome. The King of the 100th Tour is gone, long live his successor…
What is it that they say: ‘hindsight offers 20/20 vision’ – or something like that? Either way it’s easy to comment on what could have been or what should have been about a contest once it’s all over and done with. There’ll be analysis by the Dutch football team for a long time to come about its contest against Argentina yet, on the morning after the night before, surely the main consideration is how to remedy a sore head and find their voice again. It’s happened. Done. Finished. Over.
Shake your head all you like but it can’t change the result.
We move on, and the same applies for fans of Chris Froome. He was ready to defend his title in the Tour de France and for all the climbing of volcanos that he did to hone his form, nothing could be done to prepare for the crashes that ultimately forced him out of the race. His race is done, finished… over but there’s a long road ahead before we reach Paris.
By 27 July, will these incidents – the sequence of falls in stages four and five that netted an injured wrist that “made controlling my bike near to impossible” – be remembered for what else they created? Froome withdrawal is devastating for Sky’s original plans but there are options in 2014. It wasn’t quite like that when the team made its debut in the Tour three years ago. Incidents happen every day on this race, some have a major consequence on cycling others seem innocuous and yet the effect is significant. Consider, for example, the 180km mark of stage seven of the 2011 Tour.
Do you even remember what happened at that point of the race three years ago? It’s not often spoken about anymore but it changed the direction of the race and the net effect back then, it could be argued, is that it helped an Australian win the Tour.
On the road between Le Mans and Châteauroux in stage seven 2011, the pace picked up with 60km to go. The mood was anxious. There was a tailwind. And there was a touch of wheels. Riders fell as so often happens the once the peloton cleared off out of sight a few bodies sprawled out on the ground emerged. Chris Horner was one of them. An American on an American team, he is one of many from the ‘new world’ of cycling who has helped gain exposure for the sport in his homeland. But he wouldn’t finish the 98th Tour de France. Still, he’d return to the peloton and, as part of another team a few years later become the oldest winner of a Grand Tour in the history of cycling.
Another rider who crashed that day was Bradley Wiggins. He’d end the Tour in an ambulance.
An Englishman on an English team, he also gained exposure for cycling at his home. We know what else he’s done before and since, but not often do we reflect on the 180th kilometre of stage seven 2011. Still, the commentary of the incident sounds particularly familiar. “[He] was climbing with the best climbers, time trialling with the best time triallers and once the race hit the mountains we were very confident that he was going to challenge for the overall,” said Sky’s team principal, Dave Brailsford. “That’s bike racing, these stages are part of the Tour de France. That’s the risk you take as bike riders – it’s unfortunate but life goes on.”
That was Brailsford in 2011. He could have issued the same responses yesterday but replaced the name ‘Wiggins’ with ‘Froome’. Only the difference was, Sky didn’t have a substitute to step forward and take on the challenge of racing for a good GC result in 2011. In 2014, the team does.
In 2011, Sky’s original plans weren’t fulfilled but it didn’t have a completely disastrous Tour: Edvald Boasson Hagen won two stages and the logo of Murdoch’s company was often prevalent, but it didn’t appear a yellow jersey until the next year. Instead Cadel Evans finally had some luck go his way and he would ride to Paris in the maillot jaune. An Australian… on a American team, sponsored by a Swiss company would win the title at the 98th Tour.
Is this way they call ‘sliding door moments’?
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As we wake three years to day since Bradley Wiggins abandoned Sky is the dominant force at the Tour but it doesn’t have its original leader. There is, however, another option for GC and that man is Richie Porte. The Tasmanian hasn’t had the best start to the 2014 season. He was meant to lead his team at the Giro d’Italia but never got to the start. Instead he went to Tenerife and climbed a volcano… over and over and over again. He honed his form, recovered from his health woes, bonded with his team-mates, and found his legs. By the start of July he was sharing hotel rooms with Froome and the happy pair prepared to set off for Paris, the long way around a hexagon.
Five days later, the script has changed but the race isn’t over.
So far there have been three sprint stages, a day of racing over some of England’s biggest hills, and a muddy contest near the place that is often affectionally referred to as ‘hell’ (strange, but true). It has been far from a standard first week of the Tour. Even without a time trial, many of the usual the GC stars are already at the top of the overall rankings. Vincenzo Nibali is in command. An Italian stage winner on a Kazakh team wears the yellow jersey but we’ve seen enough to know that there are also challengers from Poland, Belgium, USA, Spain… and Tasmania.
It’s interesting to note that two of the four who had abandoned the 101st Tour after 862.5km of racing also happen to be British riders who helped lure millions to the roadside on the days le Tour was in England but the fact that Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome are now out of the race needn’t mean that interest should wane.
The effects of 2011 can still be felt and, once again, an Australian may be the beneficiary.
– By Rob Arnold