Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Tour in retro

Mont St-Michel: some stadium to start a sports event from
All year round, the headline above says "..,and the Tour de France in July." But it's the last day of July and so far zip nada on that.

Combination of circumstances: our cable package is so trimmed of sports channels that I no longer get the one that delivers the Tour.  And we were travelling and offnet much of July.  And my longtime Tour protagonist Ryder Hesjedal was not competing this year and may be winding up his Grand Tour career.

Still, I followed the standings on and the daily video highlights on  And it looked like a workmanlike, serviceable tour.  If you have follow enough to be able to follow the basics -- no, those four guys fifteen minutes ahead of the pack are not going to win today's stage, yes the guy in the yellow jersey is sitting back in the pack and yet he's winning, etc -- then any brief viewing brings back the glories of the Tour:

  • the extraordinary playing field.  Let any moment of langour intrude and the heli-cams become "France from the air" for a few minutes, whether in salt marshes, rugged national parks, the grounds of stately chateaux and ruined fastnesses, or (as this year) landmarks such as the Normandy landing beaches.
  • the amazing physics of the peleton. How do 150 guys on high performance bikes power along at 40kph, a few centimetres apart, and operating collectively like a school of fish?
  • the endless complications of the race: overall strategy, individual triumphs, personal disasters, funny and asinine moments.
This year's winner was last year's, Chris Froome. He still seems a bit too robotic to be a fan favorite, and still carries suspicions of operating on a sophisticated and covert drug regime (With bike racing, who knows, still?  And Science of Sport has not yet said much about the Tour 2016). His Sky team is equally machine-like in its organization and operation.  But this year Froome faced a string of obstacles and challenges in the race, and each time stepped up and dominated like a maillot jaune is supposed to do.

What else?  Mark Cavendish, looking washed up as the god of sprints, came back and won a slew of them. Nairo Quintana, supposed to make Colombia and its high mountain bikers the new dominant nations, was top-ten but once more never quite dominant enough on the big hill stages. Several other potential contenders  -- Ritchie Porte, Bauke Mollema, TJ van Garderen come to mind -- were okay rather than spectacular. Froome was good, but not really up against a new or returning champion.

First time Canadian contender André Duchesne, working hard for his Direct Energie team and not supposed to be a contender, completed the Tour, and ranked 107th overall. A new star for me in coming years? I wish.
Pretty good Tour? Well, I wish I'd watched more. Maybe next year I'll stay home more in July.  And -- grrr -- up my cable package.

Update, August 2:  And indeed Ryder announced his retirement.

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