The Tour de Suisse organizers could be forgiven for feeling slightly dismayed at having to take center stage after the brash upstart of 2014, the Criterium du Dauphine, left the stadium thoroughly trashed and the crowds baying for more sacrifices to satisfy their blood lust.
One quick peek at the first half of the Swiss race’s parcours left me a little dismayed too, as flat, flat and then more flat (relative to professional cyclists anyway) looked like the perfect recipe for une tarte de boredom. Yet miraculously this has not been the case, thanks to the sprinters and the wonders of modern technology – namely, the overhead camera.
Funny thing, sprinters, and not in the ‘ha ha’ sense. They’re just funny. Where every pro cyclist is a little weird and slightly off-kilter, the sprinter takes cantankerous eccentricity to a whole new Elton John-throwing-a-tantrum level.
Mark Cavendish is the living, breathing, race-winning embodiment of this, though I’m a little disappointed by what seems to be a new sense of maturity in him. Maybe it’s fatherhood. Or maybe it’s because he is now even more confident that he truly is the best sprinter of this generation, of the last one, the one before that and on, and the next one coming up too.
Either way, I miss the post-race rants.
His headbutt yesterday to the shoulder of the Lotto Belisol man next to him as they approached that mad last kilometer showed hints of the surliness of old, and though the commentators on Eurosport made it seem perfectly acceptable in that situation (it’s not really, and you hardly ever see it these days), I saw it more as indicative of Cavendish’s ginormous ego.
His attitude is this: ‘Why are you pushing in on me when you know I will win? What’s the point? Be off with you…’
It wasn’t so much an act of aggression as an act of derision. I wouldn’t be surprised if every time Cav’s seen anyone on a bike – and I mean anyone, from the granny down the shops on her electric special to the day he first encountered Andre Greipel and his unfeasibly large calves – his immediate thought was ‘Who the **** do you think you are?’
You had to laugh though when he was interviewed after winning Stage 4 and managed to annoy and patronize every one at the tour who fancies themselves as his competition.
“There’s no really big sprinters here – Sagan’s going for the green jersey but he’s not a pure sprinter – so although I’ve won and it’s nice, I’ll have to look at the power I was putting out and really analyse that instead,” he said with a gleam in his eyes.
That was the put down of the season so far and would not have gone unnoticed. Cavendish, love him or not, has one of those things severely lacking in this sport (actually, in a lot of sports), and it’s something a contract can’t get you, nor can it be supplied by a brand sponsor – it’s known as ‘a personality.’ The ubiquity of social media has had an undeniable effect on athletes, with many now very careful with what they say.
The upshot though is a rather bland desert of bien mots that do little to offer much insight into what it takes to be at the top level and indeed into what these guys are really like.
These sprinters though, I can tell you a little about them – they are fearless. Think about that for a second, so it doesn’t blow away in the crosswind. Without fear. Traveling at up to and over 70km/hr around corners and millimeters away from each other, barriers, flags and spectators’ flailing arms and camera straps, these guys are surfing giant 40ft waves, hurtling over flat black coral towards a sea wall of photographers with 30 other guys on the same wave.
Sprinting at any other level does not even come close to the mayhem unleashed at the ProTour level.
For every crash, as we saw yesterday when Matt Goss tangled with another rider and brought down the poorly placed Cavendish, there are probably sixty to seventy near–misses. And for every sprinter with nerves of steel, there are ten other guys in that peloton scared almost out of their wits.
While Cav was sitting on the tarmac a few hundred meters back with Goss discussing the lack of sprinters in the race, Sacha Modolo was sprinting to a fine victory.
The revelation for me at this Tour de Suisse has been the brilliant use of the overhead camera in the final straight. The flying lens offers a view of the chaos like no other and any young sprint wannabe out there should be studying these finishes.
On the stage that Cav won Movistar’s Lobato got boxed in way back but masterfully found a way through to the front to gain fast on the Manxman. Without the camera overhead his skill would have gone unnoticed and you’d have put his loss down to him not being that good on the day. Truth is however, he rode brilliantly in the circumstances and marked himself out as a rider to watch.
Going back to the social media, one man with no fears on that front is OPQS boss Patrick Lefevere. His twitter account was tweeting like a jacked-up tweetie bird yesterday before and after the stage.
“Another irresponsible finish in #TourdeSuisse how long are teams and riders will [sic] accept this” he asked.
Lefevere always likes to keep a close eye on proceedings.
Later, after Cav had crashed he asked “Do you know that those guys #TourdeSuisse #IMG are ex-riders??? Even worse.”
What can you say? He is right, the finish yesterday in particular was a death trap and yes, it was irresponsible planning. Cannot argue with that.
Onto the sprinter who’s not a sprinter, Mr. Peter Sagan. He does pretty well in sprints to say he’s not a sprinter, doesn’t he? And he has a few Points Classification wins to boot. The rumor mill tale is that he will be joining Tinkoff-Saxo and for them he will be a great acquisition.
He can win Classics, something the team can’t do right now, and he is the perfect sprinter for a team with a bona fide GC man, because he doesn’t need a lead out train to win stages. A genius bike handler (and I mean that), he darts through the packed throng like a barracuda in search of its prey. Which would be good for Tinkoff-Saxo because their lead-out team this week has been showing up at the front with a few kilometers to go every day but then disappearing when it really matters.
It wouldn’t be a Lowdown if I didn’t have a dig at a Sky rider but I cannot let this one go: the implosion of Sir Bradley Wiggins. He just could not be bothered on the third day and crashed on Stage 4 whilst loitering at the back, trying, as he said, to avoid a crash. First off, though he may be intensely annoyed to not be going to the Tour de France (and has that been confirmed even yet?), what kind of message was his performance on Stage 3 sending out to potential new teams?
Secondly, as the excellent Magnus Backstedt (best commentator working right now in my opinion) said, Wiggins knows full well that the place to stay out of trouble is the front.
One man setting an example that Wiggins might look at is Tony Martin, the race leader who is still doing his shift to help his teammates win the sprints. Wiggins pulled out yesterday and made no statement about letting down his teammates when he spoke about going home to recuperate ahead of the British Nationals.
Just not very cool, amigo.
One other thing I enjoyed this week was seeing Cameron Meyer win Stage 2. That kid has some talent and it’s time he got on with it, great to see him making headway.
Cam Meyer takes the win on Stage 2
That’s it for the first half of Lowdown on the 2014 Tour de Suisse – more next week after the mountains on the weekend where there will be no talk of sprinters – stay tuned!
Lee Rodgers leads a double life as a pro racer on the UCI race circuit with the Lapierre Asia Cycling Team, competing in the UCI Asia Tour as well as some European events and the likes of the Tour of Qatar and Oman, rubbing shoulders with the best the WorldTour has to offer, whilst keeping up a day job as a cycling journalist. The highlight of his cycling career so far was winning the Singapore National Champs – road race and ITT – as well as claiming the Green Jersey at the 2.1 Tour de Taiwan in 2012, and naturally, writing for PEZ. His writing appears in several magazines and websites and you can catch up with him regularly on his blog, http://crankpunk.com/