Bradley Wiggins has all but wrapped up this year’s Tour. He is the strongest overall rider with the strongest team surrounding him. No challenger can stay with Wiggins during the solo race against the clock in the long time trials. Wiggins builds his lead, then marks his rivals amidst the safety of a strong Sky team. Only something catastrophic can keep Wiggins from being the first from England to win the great race.
Two of the best riders to threaten Wiggins missed this year’s Tour, and his other rival, last year’s winner, Cadel Evans, seems impotent to do anything to take back time despite his constant efforts. Really, the race itself has been boring compared to past years. Ah, but that does not mean it lacks drama. With only a week left, here is a look back from the comfort of my couch at some key points of interest and controversy over the course of the first two weeks.
Race Radios: Connecting riders and their team directors, some say radios do not allow pure racing since riders are constantly informed of any moves and can react accordingly. Defenders of the two-way communication claim safety is foremost on their minds in spite of their cheerleading cries into the microphones dangling from the mirror of the team car.
Why then are the radios blamed for some of the horrific crashes that left riders on the French pavement, piled on top of each other in a bloody mess, alongside their carbon fiber frames snapped like twigs? Distracted by the bug in their ears, riders lean over to speak into microphones taped inside their jerseys and lose concentration in the amoeba-like peloton. Packed so tightly, one twitch off-line can cause terrible damage.
Photographers: Would someone please inform NBC announcers Phil Ligget and Paul Sherwen that a fan standing in the road with a camera is not a “photographer”. They are only idiots that happen to have a point-and-shoot camera in their hand. Stop blaming photographers for some of the crashes. A real photographer would know better. Morons cause crashes.
Hooligans and Tacky Times: Even before Sunday’s incident when tacks and nails thrown on the road felled riders, crazed fans have affected the outcome of many Tour stages. Hooligans are nothing new. However, thanks to television we see them more now because getting on television is of prime importance for the majority of fans, no matter the sport. Waiting on a mountain all day for the riders to pass by for just a few short minutes means nothing. Running wildly beside the riders gets you on television even though you never actually see the race. On Bastille Day, Saturday, some fans even ran with flares sending molten matter into the air along with a dangerous fog of smoke. Leader Wiggins suffered a burn on his arm. What to do? Well…
Don’t Taze Me, Wiggo: Why not trade race radios for tasers? Nothing like a little neuromuscular incapacitation to put fans in their place. An idiot running alongside Wiggins suddenly going down in wreathing mass, for example, would still be good television and put fans right back where they belong alongside the road cheering for the riders and watching out for a swift voltage kick in the pants. Same after stages. American Tyler Farrar barged into another team’s bus searching for a rider he felt had crashed him that day. Square off with some tasers and settle all differences.
WAGs: If the riders cannot defend themselves, then leave it to the “Wives And Girlfriends” to do the fighting. Loose lips have sunk many a ship as we all know, but now it is loose fingers tweeting away. Wiggins’ wife, Catherine, got into it with the girlfriend of Chris Froome, Michelle Cound, after last Thursday’s mountain stage.
Froome, an Englishman born in Kenya, is Wiggins’ most celebrated teammate and personal escort in the steep mountains. Froome’s job is to protect Wiggins, but his unlimited potential got the best of him near the finish. Froome rode off briefly, leaving Wiggins to struggle alone. Froome was quickly called back to help Wiggins by those darn race radios, which he dutifully did.
That did not stop Wiggins’ wife from thanking everyone for her husband’s success, save for Froome, on her twitter account. Cound’s swift reply that her boyfriend is a most loyal “Froome Dog” but should have been given the chance to ride on his own. Another English rider, David Miller joined the fray when he tweeted, “Oh SNAP! Sky have WAG WAR on Twitter.” Hard to believe only 140 characters can stir such hard feelings, but it surely is fun to follow.
Sportsmanship: During the tack attack, sportsmanship thankfully ruled the day as riders sat up and waited for defending champion Cadel Evans, the unlucky victim of multiple flats, and others to catch back on to the main group. Classy move. There is nothing finer in sport than the handshake exchanged between riders on the road for a battle well fought or for such sportsmanship. Evans and his BMC teammates waving to each team car in thanks as they returned to the front was another beautiful moment only shared by tough, skinny men taking part in the most taxing sporting event in the world.
The Bottle Carrier: In another example of the importance of team work, World Champion Mark Cavendish has spent more time going back to the team car gathering up water bottles for his teammates than contesting sprints in this year’s Tour. Cavendish is prepping for the Olympics being hosted in his home country. There is no reason to join the fray this year. It still is something seeing the world championship jersey on the back of the fastest man in the sport filled with bottles.
Hin-ca-peace: Never have been a Bob Roll fan, but his Road ID ads are actually funny this year thanks to many top cyclists playing very non-cycling characters to go with the usual stupid looks from Roll. Roll begging hippies in a VW van, played by various riders, to help him get to a ride with George Hincape has grown on me thanks to a drug-hazed “Hin-ca-peace” reply from American Levi Leipheimer. You can check them all out on You Tube.
I am Specialized: By far the best commercial on television. Most everyone dreams of hitting the winning shot, smacking the big home run, running a super fast race or even holding off the great Tom Boonen on the cobbled roads of France. Wonderful to watch again and again because even an old man still dreams of doing the same on the country roads of Kansas. Of course with age comes reality, but I still say to that young rider, “Never let your dreams die.” I will be telling my grandson, Jake, the same thing the moment he learns to ride.