Monday, July 16, 2018

The Tour a week in

No Canadians in the Tour de France this time, instead of the two or three that has become common recently. And Chris Froome's drug-clouded Sky Team favoured to win, and few enough colourful rivals waiting in the wings. All the teams taking on new colours and new names, so it's hard work to figure who is who.  And kind of a dull opening, with many long flat stages that had even the usually discreet commentators talking about "a procession" rather than a race.  I miss Ryder Hesjedal

If only for the reputation of Grand Tour cycling, Chris Froome should never have been allowed to compete in this spring's Giro while under investigation for serious drug allegations. I was heartened by the way the Tour de France was about to keep him out -- when the results of the investigation came in.

And he was cleared. Not by some dodgy cycling panel but by WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, which surely had no reason to go easy or to fudge the results. It looks like Froome, who has lived with asthma all his live, did not exceed the regulated limits for his medication (which has no known stimulative properties anyway) during last year's Vuelta a Espana.  So he is a legitimate contender again.

With all that, a Tour fan simply has to buckle down for the long term.  The terrain for the first week wasn't conducive to exciting racing, but it surely hallmarked the lush, rich beauty of rural France.  You cannot help but notice, watching the Giro and the Vuelta, that Italy and Spain, for all their beauties, are in many parts hot, arid, rugged, and impoverished places. But France: the Tour always makes it look like paradise. Lush fields, flourishing agriculture, beautiful rivers and lakes,  breathtaking chateaux and villages at every turn.  I'd watch for the travelogue alone.

And in a slowish opening week, at least you get to sort out the teams and contenders, to find some promising new faces to watch for, and to figure out where the team strengths and weaknesses.  It's a rest day today,  and Tuesday they are into the mountains.  Sad to see Mark Cavendish, for a few years unbeatable in a sprint finish, slowly losing the twitch muscles that used to give him such acceleration.  Nice to see the numbers of South American riders, all terrific climbers, increase.  Could Awesome Lawson Craddock become the American hero the Tour has needed ever since that guy who cannot be spoken of anymore was exposed and banned?  And did I say I miss Ryder Hesjedal?

TSN, which took over the Tour broadcasting in Canada, has abandoned it again.  (Cycling coverage on television always did better on minor networks like Outdoor Life, which didn't really expect big numbers.) But tech takes away and tech giveth. The Sportsnet network is offering the whole Tour on its digital channel. For a month's subscription we can watch the whole tour whenever we want on the laptop, and to hell with whatever rival sports dominate the box. World Cup?  Wimbledon? Baseball All-Star Game? Ha.)
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