Business as usual in the big cycle race
By Roger Childs
The first of three weeks in the Tour de France is over, and there has been the anticipated mix of fast racing, tight finishes and major talking points.
Scandal and controversy have dogged the Tour since it started in 1903. Corruption, tacks on the road, cyclists catching lifts, death threats and, of course, performance enhancing substances. In recent years the event has tried to clean up its act on the drugs issue, led by current champion and three time winner, Chris Froome.
Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven yellow jerseys, once the revelations about his systematic use of drugs and blood-doping were proven, however other druggies like Bradley Wiggins, Jan Ulrich, Marco Pantani and Bjarne Riis, all still feature as winners in the official records. 2005 and 2007 winner, Alberto Contador, also tested positive for drugs a few years back, however he is in this year’s field.
An eventful week
Düsseldorf in Germany was the starting point this year, and on the slippery surface in the time trial a number of cyclists hit the road. Sadly Portuguese star, Alejandro Valverde, suffered a shoulder injury and is out of the tour.
Welshman, Geraint Thomas, was fastest on the day and so became 2017’s first yellow jersey wearer.
As the stages moved through Belgium and Luxembourg into France there were the expected crashes and exciting finishes.
At the end of stage 4 there were crashes, a thrilling finish and controversy. Two legendary sprinters, Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan, travelling at more than 60 kph, clashed against the barriers on the right hand side in a bid to win the stage. Sagan was in front and any space on the right was closing, as the Englishman tried to come through.
Cavendish went down and two other riders catapulted over the top of him. The Englishman broke his shoulder and is out of the tour, but so is Sagan who was disqualified.
The cycling world has been debating the issue, but most commentators and cyclists think Sagan has been hard done by.
Cavendish tried to toothpaste through a space that he saw was closing, and got into trouble because of the chain reaction caused by a chase to be in the right slipstream. Sagan, in defending his space as any sprinter would, made a motion with his body to maintain his balance but also to define that space, the no-go zone that sprinters understand. Kevin Williams, Chicago Tribune, Friday 7 July
The tour rolls on and Froome comes out of the pack
It’s an amazing feeling to be back in yellow, but I am aware the race is far, far from over. Chris Froome
Sky team’s Geraint Thomas kept the maillot jaune until the first mountain top finish on stage 5. On the 9km steep climb to the final banner, Italian, Fabio Aru, broke clear to win comfortably, however, as expected, the favourites featured strongly.
Englishman, Chris Froome came in third; good enough to put him in yellow. Also in the top ten are likely contenders for the overall event: Australian Richie Porte, French hope Romain Bardet who was second last year, Spaniard Alberto Contador and Colombia’s Nairo Quintana.
Stages 6 and 7 were basically flat, with finishes designed for the sprinters battling for the coveted green jersey. With Cavendish and Sagan gone, German, Marcel Kittel, won both stages and is the comfortable leader in the classification for the fast men.
The race is far from over!
There are still 14 stages to go and anything can happen. Froome will be hard to dislodge from the top
spot, and he will be well looked after by his Sky team in the races ahead. Climbing is one of his great strengths and there are still nine hilly and mountain stages to come.
After stage 9 the riders get a welcome rest day and then it’s all on again. There are 3540kms to be ridden in total, and the smiling, appreciative crowds will be out in their hundreds of thousands along the way.
Meanwhile the international audience of tens of millions will watch the action and magnificent French scenery from home.