Saturday, July 10, 2010

Canada Rules at the Tour de France (this time for real)

For three years (check the July postings in the blog archives for the evidence), regulars of this blog, and I do believe there are some of you, have been putting up with my fanboy effusions about the Tour de France, offered on the thin justification that the presence in the race of a Canadian, Victoria's Ryder Hesjedal, makes them all relevant to this blog's themes.

A week ago, I claimed Canada ruled at the Tour de France on the basis of two Canadian participants this year. Well, we are a week in now, we have just seen the first of the mountain stages that will separate the big dogs from the rest of the pack. And my Canadian rider Ryder is ... THIRD OVERALL.

Lance Armstrong? Back in the dust? Alberto Contador? Back in the dust. Fabien Cancellera? Fifteen minutes back in the dust.

Still a long way to Paris, and every day has risks of disaster.  But Ryder Hesjedal is the real deal. Christian Vande Velde, the leader of his team, went down to a serious injury on the second day. Suddenly Hesjedal was freed of his assignment to support CVV and able to take his own shot.  Now the other riders of the team are supporting him, and he's been able to deliver.

A few more good days in the Alps and Pyrenees and everyone will notice it is so. You read it here first.

The news sources I normally follow are not much interested... but it's getting some coverage, such as here in the hometown Victoria Times-Colonist (it's their photo too).

Update, July 14:  Hesjedal seems to be working at being what you might call the elite-level journeyman. In Stages 8 and 9, both massive mountain-climbing stages, he has not kept up with the likely winners and he has lost both time and standing (12th overall) after stage 9. But he never lost touch with the leaders, and he has not been "broken" on any climb. That is, he has not fallen into the kind of disastrous exhaustion that can swiftly drop a contender many miles and many minutes behind the pack at the front. Hesjedal rides his race day after day, staying in touch, moving past serious contenders who do crack. Wiggins, Armstrong, Cadel Evens, and Cancellara have all had such days in this Tour alone.

Hesjedal's biggest limitation is that he does not not have his own Hesjedals. Carmin currently lacks a corps of team members strong enough to support him the way he used to support Christian Vande Velde. Most of Hesjedal's Garmin team seems to fall way back in the mountains (as far as one can tell from the selective coverage -- neither the French cameras nor the British-American commentators take much interest in a lone Canadian!). Most days only one Garmin team rider, Johan van Summeran, has stayed up with him, and even he seems to have faded in the big hills.

But if Hesjedal can keep avoiding catastrophe and limiting his time losses, he can still rank high at the finish.  Meanwhile, who knows who else will crack? I'm hooked.

Michael Barry, the Canadian Sky Team support rider is way down th standings but still in the race.  He's also writing commentary about the race for The Times of London -- but it's paywalled.
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