What's Cool In Road Cycling

TDF ’09: What’s Cool About Le Tour

While most folks are settling in for the winter ahead – we’re already making plans for next July and how we’ll cover the Tour de France. The route is examined, flight schedules checked, hotels booked… It’s the biggest thing in cycling, but before we get all pontificant on predictions, let’s just step back and consider what makes next year’s race cool…

The 2009 Tour de France route: the ASO never disappoints in their delivery of a uniquely French Affair. It’s true they do things differently (they even speak their own language!) but they’re accountable in presenting parcours that are at once intriguing and confusing – and worthy of many column inches as the world’s cycling scribes attempt to out-do each other with predictions of future triumphs.

So in our continued effort to breathe some new life into an old formula, the official PEZ Take on the 2009 Tour de France route will not examine each stage with our not unreasonable knowledge of the event and its history. And as we’re sans details on so many of the stages, it’s impossible to provide anything more than a cursory glance at best.

Instead, we’ll examine some of the hilights that will indeed make next year’s race a cool one. Let’s face it – we’re fans – and if we can’t get excited about the world’s biggest race, then we’d best join the mainstream media, or go back to our day jobs.

The sport of cycling is in turmoil – we all know that – but we choose to be part of the solution – because a better day for bike racing is coming… Maybe even next year. And the course laid out by the ASO last week in Paris could be the perfect place to start.

So without further ado, presented here in spectacular round-table format – several cents worth of opinion from the valiant PEZ Crew:

1. The Monaco Start
Guy Wilson-Roberts Sez: – Any fair-weather fans who start their Tour here then stay put for three weeks until the race circles back just a little to the north should be entirely forgiven. Why waste the time battling the white camper vans on the narrow roads of the rest of France when the beautiful beaches on the coast beckon?

I would say that Tom Boonen doesn’t have far to go to make the Prologue in Monaco, but I think he moved back to Belgium.

Gord Cameron Sez: Starting in Monaco … lots of beautiful people, and a fair few happy (rich) bike riders who’ll be starting from ‘home’. Gives me happy memories of inter-railing around Europe in 1996 where my pals and I would re-enact key scenes from the history or culture of places we visited. Got lots of funny looks from the Monegasques as we ran around the F1 circuit, then pooled our Francs to wave wads of cash at the people outside the casinos. Our ‘escape from East Berlin’ routine didn’t go down so well … ouch … or the ‘lion vs Christian’ spoof at the Rome Colosseum … oh dear, oh dear.

Matt Conn Sez: Magic. The TT course is much harder than it looks. There are moderately technical but potentially tricky sections, like the down hill right hander followed by the left-hand hairpin (after casino square and before the tunnel). But, the real killer will be the uphill section after the start that takes the riders to the Casino area. The F1’s make it look almost flat. It isn’t. Anyone who has walked it (or ridden an electric scooter up it with their wife riding pillion) will tell you it will be a lactate burner right from the off.
(I’m not sure if the balcony parties will be as expensive as they are for the GP, but I’m emailing Matt Goss today to book a place on his. With a bit of luck he’ll be racing and there will be space free.)

Pez Sez: Chapeau to the ASO for getting adventurous and starting from a corner of France that automatically eliminates that traditional clockwise/counter-clockwise circumnavigation of the hexagon. France is a huge country to cover in three weeks, and anyone who’s tried also knows the French highway system is just not made for fast transfers. Toss in roads clogged by half the country on vacation, some French bureaucracy, and it’s a wonder this Cirque makes it out of the parking lot.

Monaco will be great, but the first road stage won’t be bad either, as they head along the southern coast to Brignoles.

By trying to cover too much, you end up with not much at all – and confining the race to fewer corners of the countryside means we can enjoy specific regions a little more: 11 days in the south, 4-5 days in the Alps, and we skip the interminably dull, wind and rainswept traverses of the less scenic parts in the north. (There’s always next year for those).

Aside from stages 10-12 that carry the race from Limoges to the doorstep of the Alps, the race sticks to some of the most beautiful places France and it’s neighbors have to offer. That makes for a lot of nice tv watching for anyone not lucky enough to be there.

Poetry in Motion.

2. Team Time Trial
Guy Sez: – A surprise inclusion, given its falling out of favour in recent years. Without the complicated time regulations, this will be an important stage for the overall, and a treat for fans of the discipline. It’s Garmin’s to lose: Zabriskie, Millar, Vande Velde, Wiggins, and Tuft et al. Who’d want to bet against that line up?

Al Hamilton Sez: From a sporting point of view, I would say its a well planned route with some new destinations, the return of the team time trial will suit the stronger teams. Astana should not be worried and barring an accident Alberto Contador will be in Yellow on the Champs Elysees in Paris, with or without the Texan.

Garmin will be impressive no doubt, but if Lance joins Astana for Le Tour…

Pez Sez: Who doesn’t love the Team Time Trial? It’s pure poetry in motion that should be mandatory for every Grand Tour simply because of its spectacle, and also because it showcases the strongest TEAM – and this sport could use a little more of that ‘let’s work together’ spirit these days.

Gord Sez: Lance = publicity. As we all know, there is no such thing as bad publicity. Publicity = money. Someone is going to make a lot of cash. Let’s hope the new Astana jersey makes the right references to the cancer struggle. Hopefully, everyone wins if Lance rides ….

Love him or hate him, he’s back, and he’s still going to be really fast.

Guy Sez:
Lance may have the blessing of Bill Clinton, Bono, and Vanity Fair for a Tour comeback, but he forgot to check in with the ASO, Alberto Contador, and the rest of the world of cycling. He shouldn’t have been surprised by the tepid reaction. We all want to support his anti-cancer cause, but many fans don’t see how it fits in with a return to racing. Twice as much ink will be expended by the media if he does race, and many fans will cheer. But the ‘will he’, ‘won’t he’ saga (and if he does, how will he do) won’t overshadow the bigger picture. For many, the Tour has moved on.

One wonders how Bruyneel feels about all of this.

Matt Sez: It’s looking more likely that Lance will not go to the TdF as a supported leader for Astana. That will be a good thing in my humble opinion, as he seems to have other priorities now, and aside from the whole advertising thing that the Tour has become, the race is not about one person’s personal message (unless that is the “I am the worlds best bike rider and I am going to smash you” type of message as delivered by Alberto Contador – and formerly by Lance).

Pez Sez: Lance or no Lance – the Tour will go on and as long as the best riders are there (hello ASO!), we’ll be treated to a show we haven’t seen in some years. Lance’s return will be great for cycling because more people will watch again. I’ve watched his recent trading of statements with the ASO with some amusement, chuckling to myself that whatever is said now about his participation in the race and Astana’s leadership will certainly be undecided until just before the Tour starts – so no point getting our knicks in a bunch just yet. Yes, it will be fun to watch him race Le Tour against the new crop of contenders, but for me, it’ll be more fun to watch him race the uncharted ground of other races like the Giro.

Pez Sez: Every few years, the Tour reaches outside its own borders to visit foreign lands just past a passport checkpoint. The formula usually works to great success – the ’07 London start being a great example – and when cultures can be so different yet so close to home, why not drop in for a spot of bike racing? This year the race heads outside of France (technically) to stop in Monaco, Spain, Andorra, Switzerland and Italy – each with it’s own unique character and love of cycling.

A brief visit to Andorra will be fun.

Matt Sez: The mixed up map will save many a marriage as the family can now go to France for three weeks in July, “accidentally” bump into the race a few times and the non-bike fans in the family won’t feel like they’ve been dragged all over the Hexagon to catch a few glimpses.

Yum, Spain, I could go for some of that right now.

Al Sez:
[It’s cool] Obviously because it’s coming to Spain! Seriously, I think money seems to be the big pull (as usual), Monaco, Barcelona and North Italy; areas with money.

Gord Sez:
• The route in itself looks exciting. Not too many TT kms; interesting stages; great scenery; a couple of monster days after coming back from Switzerland and the final climb of the race is a beast. Cracking!
• Lots of stages in the sunny south to kick things off – the podium girls and publicity caravan girls might venture out of their winter woollies, unlike the Grand Depart in Brest in ’08!

• Barcelona – gives the Catalans a chance to show the Basques how it’s done. Then it’s into the Pyrenees so the Basques can show the Catalans how it’s done. Nothing like a bit of regional rivalry!
• Andorra – tax-free shopping! Expect a pretty fast race so that those bored pro riders can leg it to the shops to stock up on gadgetry at a fraction of ‘normal world’ prices.
• Skipping Brittany – it’ll mean the Bretons will be totally fired up for when Le Tour goes back the next time.
• Limoges (St.10) – very pleasant Ville Repos after a marathon trek north from Tarbes. Especially good if you love antique porcelain … or if you like to follow some fine meat dishes by getting smashed out of your gourd on top-notch Cognac! If you do, you’ll be sure to see legendary cartoon Gaul Asterix ……

Pez Sez: Everyone on our side of the fence (ie: the fans) loves the Ventoux – It’s got history, brutality, beauty and serenity all in one gigantic package. Its final ascent will be the only thing between the leader and victory in Paris the next day. However, it’s place on the penultimate day will either set the stage for a historic win, or neutralize the field into another group ride we saw too often in 2008. That huge transfer to the final stage start in Montereau-Fault-Yonne will be a beeyotch – Michelin maps says it’s 6 hours by car – better count on 7-8 from press room to hotel door – but what the hell – you can sleep in Monday.

Up, up, and away to the radio tower on the Ventoux.

Guy Sez: Mont Ventoux as the penultimate stage is a masterstroke, guaranteeing a thrilling finale. The Ventoux climb should not be underestimated: it’s long and steep and offers very little relief. The run-up to Chalet Reynard is shrouded in trees and relentlessly demoralizing. Then there’s the famous moonscape, which could be scorching under the sun or buffeted by high winds, or both. With tired legs already, this will be a very tough day. If Contador wants to win the Tour, he’ll have to do it here.

Al Sez: Mont Ventoux will either be THE decisive stage of the Tour or a big nothing, the race could be finished before then and the top riders will have nothing to race for or they will be too close to take a chance, but personally I feel that Contador, even in yellow, would attack on the slopes of Ventoux because it’s in his character. (I wanted to say “in his blood” but that doesn’t sound good these days!)

Matt Sez: I’m betting there will be a go-slow of sorts until the foot of the Ventoux, but there is still no escaping the fact that you can’t just roll into the finish and make the time cut. The race could well be decided here if some one has their one bad day with a day to go, or if the time gaps are close and one of the favourites has no team left around him (Hi Cadel!). It will change the face of the race from what we have been used to in recent years.

To sign us off – I’ll leave you with some words from Matt – our EuroTash Thursday editor who lives in Udine, Italy:

“I Love the Tour de France and no matter what route they took, I’d still go and see it. No matter who won, I’d still cheer for them and no matter what the circumstances, I’d never describe it as boring. Maybe that qualifies me as a ‘rose coloured glasses’ kinda guy, but better that than a cynic who is trying to out do the other guy with how much scorn he can pour on the race and why.
But, the best thing about the Tour…..is its in July and that means we get to see the GIRO FIRST.”

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