If you’ve never watched the Tour de France before, you need to watch this year. Only 3 Stages in and this years Tour is already heads and tails better than the previous 3 versions (except perhaps Floyd’s comeback victory in 2006, but that one’s now been erased). By comparison, last year’s Tour was a month long snooze-fest. But, this year, Team Astana is back. Contador is back. Lance is back. And the drama is back.
When Versus coverage of the Tour started at 8:30AM last Saturday with Lance declaring, “Oh, yeah. I’m here to win,” I got chills and realized, man I’ve missed this guy more than I thought. Watching him in the Individual Time Trial, I found myself hoping he would scorch everyone. Those 20 minutes while he was on course had me pacing my living room and shouting at the TV (and I usually save TV shouting for football season). He didn’t scorch everyone. He wasn’t even best on his team. He wasn’t even second or third best on his team. Perhaps he really did come to the Tour to support Contador? Lance as a domestique in Le Tour? That thought makes me nauseous. Then Contador set the best time in the ITT for Astana. I took some Pepto to settle my stomach.
Stage 2 – pretty much a formulaic sprint stage won by Cavendish. It would be more of a surprise if he didn’t win. Then, stage 3 comes. Which, by and large, was expected to be another formulaic sprint stage. And for most of it, it was. When Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin start explaining why French flamingo’s are white and not pink, or why the long horn bulls we’re looking at provide the best beef in the world, you know the stage has gotten to it’s boring point and there will be no action until the last few kilometers of the stage. So, you sit and wait.
And wait I did. I was writing random thoughts for this blog when I heard Phil Liggett’s familiar excitement. “There’s a gap! They’ve got a gap!” What? Who’s got a gap? “The peloton has been caught out. Team Columbia has turned the screw into the cross wind.” I looked up to find the entire Columbia HTC team in an echelon powering them selves into the wind. They were pushing so hard that a time gap opened up to 30 seconds. And, holy shit, Lance is with them…and he has 2 teammates with him! More holy shit – Contador missed the move, as did most of the favorites. What the hell is Columbia doing? There’s 30k to go yet. They must be pissed about something. I did not take my eyes off the screen for the duration of the race. By the end, the break had 41 seconds on the peloton – a significant gap on what was supposed to be a sprint stage. My breathing returned to normal and I basked in the glow of Lance’s unmatched ability to read a race. Have I mentioned I’ve missed this guy?
Whether the “duel” between Lance and Contador is contrived by the media or not, the drama of it all has already made this Tour one of the best in recent times. Today is the Team Time Trial. Astana is the heavy favorite to win. There is a high likelihood that Lance could end the day in yellow. Did he attack Contador yesterday? I personally don’t think so. This wouldn’t be the first time Contador read a race wrong. Lance didn’t make much of it after the race when he said (I’m paraphrasing here) – when the entire Columbia-HTC goes to the front, and you know your about to hit the wind, you have to expect they are up to something and damn, you better be at the front when it happens.
Well, there you go. It’s like Days of Our Lives. Except without Alison Sweeny’s teary eyes, illegitimate children (as far as we know), and the hair is shaved from the men’s legs instead of their chest.