If you’ve never ridden the ribbons of tarmac that lace the Yorkshire dales and moorlands you’d be forgiven for thinking, on the evidence of the first two stages of the 2014 Tour de France, that the county is a warm, welcoming cycling utopia where the sun shines as if on command.
If however, like myself, you’ve ridden them in December, January and February (and the rest of the months, come to think of it), you’d have hardly recognized them from the images seen on televisions worldwide over the weekend.
In a land where the word ‘barbecue’ has been banned for the deluge of cats and dogs even the mere mention of it results in, somehow the weather turned all Mediterranean, the crowds came out in their millions and those viewing at home got a chance to see the sheer, unadultered grandeur of one of England’s most beautiful areas.
The roadside spectators deserve a paragraph all their own. With some 6 million estimated to have come along for the first two stages alone, even Bernard Hinault was moved to say something along the lines of ‘Hmm. Not bad’.
And that’s saying something.
Actually, what he did say was that in 40 years at le Tour, he’d never seen a Grand Depart like it. Now that truly is saying something. However, the gathered mass of fans and the curious were not all praised by the riders, with some of those annoying ‘selfie’ takers drawing the ire of the peloton.
Tejay van Garderen called the whole craze “a dangerous mix of vanity and stupidity,” though I personally was just a bit jealous as my iphone4 could never capture a speeding object so clearly. Time for an upgrade it seems.
Marcel Kittel saw his greatest sprint rival carted off on the back of a Stupid Wagon as the result of a crash but he has no intention of following suit, and he too had a word or two to say on this selfie business.
“There is the classic one where they are all in the road and when the peloton comes, they move off, but they leave grandma in the wheelchair still there,” he said. “We are very happy to have them and it was an amazing crowd today but they have to take care to stay off the road.”
These publicity-hungry folk truly do put the ‘selfie’ in selfi(e)sh.
With regards to Cavendish, what can you say about him? The move that caused the crash that saw him damage ligaments and bring down Simon Gerrans (amongst others) was straight out of a Jackass movie. The hunger and desire were there, but the space wasn’t.
Cavendish apologized to Gerrans and told everyone he did, as though that would get him brownie points. “He’s a good lad” said Cav of Gerrans a tad patronizingly, and quite what the Aussie thinks of the Manxman we don’t know but it was telling that Gerrans’ OGE team were angered that Cavendish was not penalized by the UCI for his reckless riding.
So, Cav is out and Kittel reigns supreme. The German is peerless at the moment, and we might have been saying that even if Cavendish hadn’t decided to jump off his bike at 68km/hr too, for the Giant-Shimano rider looks to be in similar shape to the first week of the Giro.
The Stage 1 victory was followed by a brilliant win on Stage 3 in which his Giant-Shimano showed they are the best lead-out men currently plying that hairy trade in the top tier. Mesmerising stuff.
When you’re coming into the last few kilometers the pressure on position is insane, as can be seen from the great Giant-Shimano videos currently on YouTube. To hold your place you have of course to be fast but also rock solid and, of course, fearless.
The Giant-Shimano boys tick all those boxes and in Kittel they have a rider who will invariably win if they deliver him right, and who may win anyway even if they don’t. It would have been fascinating to see him square off to Cavendish but, if the Manx Rocket is going to mindfully endanger the safety of his fellow professionals as he did on the weekend then the race is better off without him.
Alexander Kristoff went so far as to accuse Cavendish of crashing “on purpose,” a claim that will surely draw a response from the OPQS camp.
“It’s not the first time he’s done this,” Kristoff said, and no one disagreed with that statement. It is the first time though that he’s crashed out of the Tour when it was on his home turf and he let down not only his teammates and the other riders his actions affected but also those that turned out just to see him.
One rider who never disappoints is Jens Voigt. Great to see him on the charge alone and capturing the KOM jersey, and you’d be hard pressed to have heard a bigger cheer than when he received the jersey at the start the next day. Stirring stuff.
Tejay van Garderen got his face on the box with some hard riding on Stage 2, a tough stage that was a reminiscent of Liege-Bastogne-Liege in many ways. The up and down nature of the route and the narrow roads made it a nervous day for many, but the young American looked very composed and very businesslike throughout.
His 5th in the 2012 Tour promised much and perhaps he’s ready to deliver. The top echelon of Grand Tour GC guys needs some new blood (don’t excuse the pun) and he could be just the man for the job.
Speaking of the (Italian) job – Nibali. What a corking ride on Stage 2 to claim Yellow and to get a massive boost in confidence. There was a noticeable lull at the front to the select group with 1.8km to go to the line – the perfect time to attack – and he took advantage of the chasers’ lack of organization to claim a very good win.
He might not want to defend it so soon however – or rather, his teammates might not was to do that – but we’ll have to see what happens on Stage 4.
Finally, word is out that Dave Brailsford is on the lookout for a French rider to hoist on to the top step of the TdF podium.
“Yes, I would like to win with a French rider,’ said Brailsford. “I think it needs to happen. For the Tour, for France, for the French, for the sport, having a French winner would be massive. I think about it often. France deserves a French winner.”
The French will love that, an Englishman delivering the Holy Grail. I wonder what Hinault would have to say about that?