Friday, July 02, 2021

The tour -- it's okay to uncover your eyes again.

 Okay, so after the crashes of Bretagne, the Tour de France 2021 is back on its wheels.  Much to watch, and not with your eyes covered.

Mark Cavendish, the most exciting sprinter of recent times, was almost out of cycling the last several years, with physical ills and clinical depression, and rumours that he might return at age 36 were scoffed at.  He came back saying he loves the Tour so much he'd be happy just bring bottles of water forward (from the support cars to the key riders). Instead he has won two stages in rip-roaring edge of the seat fashion, leads the points competition, and seems to be having a hell of a good time.

It's true he's much helped that Caleb Ewen (the new me, Cav called him at the start of the Tour) went out with injuries.  It would have been great to see these two go head to head, and Cav's two victories would have been more contested, to say the least, had he been facing Ewen.  But now Cav has 32 lifetime Tour stage victories, and is just two away from the alltime record for stage wins -- 34, achieved by Eddie Merckx when a top cyclist could win mountain stages, time-trials, sprint stages and every other kind of stage, much unlike today's specialists-only regime. 

Today, stage 7 was supposed to be a dull "transfer" stage, a long day riding from western France (beautiful Loire valley chateaux yesterday!) toward the Alps.  Instead the peleton somehow let the maillot jaune and several other contenders get away in a break -- which never happens, when a few seconds is life and death -- and actually let them stay away right to the end. I meant to take a quick glance and blew the whole morning. Once again the standings are turned upside down -- and the mountains loom.

Michael Woods, effectively eliminated from overall victory on the first day by crash delays and injuries, has let himself get far behind the leading contenders in total time. But he never was a very likely overall winner, and lying back gives him opportunities to choose his day and go for stage wins on the mountain days that will suit him best.  So his options are good. Meanwhile Montreal's Hugo Houle placed twelfth overall today on the very long, very gruelling, very hotly contested stage, and is beginning to present himself as a potential grand-tour strongman, though this year he's as likely to burn himself up leading out the more prominent members of his Astana team on the big hills to come.  Roll on. 

And of course, France looks lovely every day. In the other Grand Tours, Spanish and Italian landscapes sometimes seem rocky, dry, and bleak by comparison to lush and varied France -- though I must admit this year's Giro, wheeling through Tuscany and parts of central Italy just north and south of there had me drooping a bit.  Is this a sports event or a travelogue?  Who cares?

Update, July 7:  Woods has not won a stage yet, but he contends.  And it's just been confirmed that Guillaume Boivin, Hugo Houle (named most combatitive rider yesterday for animating a long breakaway), and Woods, the three Canadians in the Tour this year, will be the Canadian entries in the Olympic one-day road race in Tokyo soon after the tour concludes.

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