Yesterday's time trial up the Plan de Corones was one of the year's more anticipated days on the Cycling calendar, and with nip-and-tuck results in an already tight race, along with some incredible scenes of beauty and suffering, it certainly didn't disappoint. I can only guess, but I'd say most fans probably loved it. So, cue rider complaints in 3... 2...
“It’s a stupid race - I don’t like it! We are at a ski area! Leave it to the mountain bikers!” said an angry Voigt.
VeloNews has the most thorough but hardly the only such roundup of opinion. Enrico Gasparotto joins the chorus:
"It is too hard. It is not a normal day. It is impossible. This stage is not cycling, if it was on a mountain bike then okay. This is a ski pass, not a road for cycling."
David Millar, not an unknown on the lecture circuit and famous for (among other things) his expression of opinion after a similar climb in the Vuelta years ago, was only slightly more nuanced:
This race is just insane!” said Slipstream’s David Millar as he climbed into a cable car to take him down the mountain. “Taken individually it’s a good idea, but on a total, it’s not a good thing after the two mental days we’ve just had and the two hard weeks we’ve had before that. This race is just ridiculous.”
And his teammate Hesjedal:
That last kilometer is just brutal,” said Ryder Hesjedal (Slipstream-Chipotle), an ex-mountain biker who rode a 38x27. “I’m a little more used to the loose gravel than some of these guys. I just got up it the best I could. If it was raining, it would have just been a slaughter.”
And on it goes. While the comments, taken together, aren't favorable, you get the sense that the complaint has more to do with the endless transfers, including two hours leading to this stage and another four to tomorrow's. Also, the fearsome climbing is taking its toll on a peloton that, compared to its predecessors, seems significantly less ... "enhanced." [Then there's Jens!, whose complaints included the fact that he only got to ride his bike for 45 minutes. Classic.]
Angelo Zomegnan, the mind behind the corsa rosa, sums up the counterargument nicely when he stated "Cycling needs spectacle like this to lift it out of mediocrity." This cannot be overstated. The list of teams desperately searching for title sponsors is headlined by CSC, High Road, and Gerolsteiner. I can't recite the numbers but TV audiences have been bottoming out in recent years, with Germany pulling the plug on the Tour de France. You all know the story: doping -- by the riders -- almost killed the sport. And while things are getting better, nobody's doing a victory lap yet.
I know the course is hard, and the organizers have to find ways to challenge the imagination of fans without driving the riders back to the shady medical clinics. And the transfers... again, everything in moderation. But if stages like this bring back the fans, there is no question they belong in the race. Or, more bluntly if you like: it's your livelihood, boys. Lump it.
Honestly, I think the riders know this -- Millar called it "spectacular" at one point. Maybe the real problem is that the reporters keep interviewing tired guys. As my 4YO son, a/k/a DS Little Bear, can attest, you can't ask exhausted people questions and expect a cheerful response.