Today we were once again reminded how wonderful cycling is. A stage packed with all the drama you could possible imagine. Celebration, sorrow and pain. Emotions in sports meeting the cynism of professional sport. I have no doubt that this stage will be remembered and debated for a long time. To me, it was one of the best stages in years.
Now, which hat to wear, the objective one who refers to professional sport and the business point of view or from a fan perspective?
|Froome tows the GC contenders - doing a mighty good job too|
Photocredit Joel Saget (Afp/Scanpix) downloaded at Procycling.no, here
Race director Jean-Francois Pescheux had set up a stage which energised "attack". Being only 148 kilometers long it is rather short but the climbs makes it a monster and a giant. It seems ASO have looked to RCS when deciding the parcourse of this year's tour. The stage today was great, and provided a frame for fireworks, and as promised it was. Race favourites Nibali and Evans trying to attack, only to be reeled in by Sky. The battle at the front of the break was equally interesting and entertaining.
There have been so many domestic battles in cycling, probably more than most of us know to. That is one side of cycling I truly enjoy, the personal sacrifice riders make. Giving up own chances for others is special in today's society, call me a romantic but that's how I feel. Every now and then leadership within teams gets questioned or challenged if you like. Bear in mind that being a successfull cyclist is demanding, being a professional rider is an indication that you probably pocess more of certain abilities than most don't. Being a star or a star in the making isn't making things easier. It can even split a nation, like it did back in 1940 when Fausto Coppi was brought on the Legnano team by Eberardo Pavesi to ride for Gino Bartali. Bartali representing the traditional and rather conservative south part of Italy versus young Coppi from the modern and industrialized north.
Cycling will ever forget the 1986 Tour de France where Hinault had publicly stated he would support LeMond but that didn't turn out the way anybody expected, least LeMond. Hinault broke free and got a five-minute lead on his teammate. LeMond got the lead back eventually but Hinault never stopped attacking. On stage 19 Hinault was brought back by his teammates Hampsten and Bauer with LeMond as the race leader. That said, the two shared leadership in the La Vie Claire team but the lack of leadership/guidance from the team manager the tone, quickly became umistakenable.
More recently we've have the 1997 battle between Ullrich and Riis, where Riis was leader and Ullrich was supposed to work for him. It didn't take long before Ullrich realised that Riis was in trouble as he couldn't take the tempo set by Pantani and Virenque. On stage 10 Riis was dropped again and Ullrich dropped back to the team car asking for permission to attack and leave Riis behind. Ullrich got the permission and went ahead to win the tour.
When is it allowed to attack the team captain and the yellow jersey? Today we saw Christopher Froome blowing the tour up with his superpowers. It was just amazing to see him and his performance. He made many proud today, including himself although it might take time to realise. However, it was clear he was stronger than Bradley Wiggins, tour leader and team leader, today anyway. I tweeted earlier that this is a part of professional sport, not just today but that's how things have always been. Team Sky was created to put a Briton on the top of the podium in Paris, they even presented a timeframe when they established the team, within five years. Yes, Froome is Briton too so that can apply for him as well, but the team is build around Wiggins.
Will Froome get his chance in the tour as the lead character? No doubt, and it can even happen next year while he's on Sky. This year's course fits Wiggins better than anyone (besides Froome..) and next year we will have Contador back from his doping ban, making the competition better. Wiggins have five riders designet to help him win the tour. After that, anything can happen. One should also remember that this was just one stage so it's impossible to rule out that Wiggins had a "bad day", if you can call it that. That said, I believe Froome is the best climber in this year's tour without a doubt, but what can you do? It is not abnormal to see people more clever or doing a better job than their boss, but this is totally different or at least totally different rules. This is sports and we link so much emotions to it. At the same time it feels so wrong to see a rider who has been sacrificing so much through the years, having trained, slept, ate and dreamed about achivements and when his finest moment is within reach, he's not allowed.
After the stage Froome took the wrong way down from the mountain, when he finally realised, Norwegian TV2 was there and got some interesting words from him, here.
"Sean Yates said stop, wait for Bradley." "So it is important to follow team orders?" "Yes, if everybody did their own thing it might as well be an invidual sport." "So no mutiny?" "No mutiny, not now." "But you will get your chances?" "I'm certain I will get the chance some day, I see the big picture and know my work will get noticed."
The objective part in me says that this is something Froome probably had foreseen. At least if I was his mental coach I would prepare him for this. He may not like it, but he's there with one purpose, to support Wiggins. That he's doing so well is great, also for Sky because they have one more card to play if their leader for some reason falls through. If there is any comfort, Froome won many fans' heart today. He has just performed the best job application possible, both internally in Sky and for other team owners.
Can Froome do what others have in the past, attack their team mate to possible win the tour? I doubt that, because he could find himself on a flight back to Monaco the next day. Froome is a professional athlete and would never come to the tour with another purpose. He is #2 in line and he is very much aware of this.
But, if he continues this way, arguably he can finish the tour knowing himself as well as proving to others that he is the moral winner of the 2012 Tour de France. Remember, Paris is still far away.