Your author will be the first to admit that the following is an entirely subjective view, lacking in all objectivity. But watching the GC contenders on stage 12 of this year’s Tour de France, it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that they are somewhat lacking in, er, attacking-ness. Every move seems considered, thought out, carefully weighed against possible success and failure, all part of the big-picture plan for overall positioning. Chris Boardman called it “lacklustre” on ITV.
Yes, it was the first day in the mountains; yes, the Tour has a long way to go; yes, we don’t want a return to the ‘bad old days’ of wild, high-wire climbing. There was some improvement on stage 14, perhaps the toughest mountains day in the Tour, finishing on Plateau de Baille. The contenders showed some aggressiveness, but the two Schlecks failed to make their attacks meaningful. Sammy Sanchez made his move stick and although it was too late to catch Jelle Vanendert it was for a moment looking like he was going to take another fine, fine win in the Pyrenees. That Voeckler was still with the leading group, and looking frisky, seems to say something about the willingness of the GC contenders simply to sit in and look for gains in terms of seconds rather than minutes.
Perhaps it is all part of the strategy. For Cadel Evans, he can be comfortable just holding his ground and waiting for the final time trial. But what of the others? Stage 14 was a tough, tough day; Leopard-Trek are lacking real strength on the climbs with Jakob Fuglsang not having a good Tour so far; and with the riders obscured behind their glasses it is difficult to see just how much they might be suffering. Bernard Hinault may now be the genial host who zips up the jerseys of the winners on the podium, but in his racing days it is hard not to think that he would’ve made a petit-dejeuner of the Schlecks and then come back for Contador and the others before lunch. The feeling that the GC riders need to throw caution to the winds and put each other on the ropes (apologies for the mixed metaphor) will just not go away. Please let there be as much action among these favourites as there has been from many of the other riders in the peloton so far on this Tour.
What a relief, then, to see Thor Hushovd riding an old-school attacking race on stage 13, riskily attacking at the base of the Aubisque, holding an advantage over the climb (seemingly through sheer willpower), before a daring descent to catch David Moncoutié (who had just over a minute lead), and the tactically perfect final kilometres (dropping Moncoutié before catching Jeremy Roy, then immediately attacking again). And all the while wearing the rainbow jersey of the world champion. Scintillating racing. L’Equipe perhaps summed it up best with their race report headline: La plus belle. The best. Winning with style, indeed.
Spare a thought, though, for Roy, caught just before the line after riding at the head of the race for so long (and having been in breaks for over 600 kilometres so far in the Tour). “Jamais arrivée d’une course n’aura été aussi cruelle pour moi,” he told L’Equipe after his third place. Yes, very cruel indeed; despite getting the le maillot à pois, he really wanted to win the stage. Given that the race finished in Lourdes, the religious metaphors were artfully deployed, with L’Equipe suggesting that Hushovd had ‘crucified’ Roy and David Millar tweeting that Hushovd had put the “fear of God of Thunder” into the others. Still, they love Hushovd in France (given his many years with the Credit Agricole team, which included his giant visage painted on the team bus) and Roy undoubtedly still has some good racing years to go in his career.