First weeks of the Tour de France are notoriously misleading. [Ladees and gents, I give you Kim Kirchen, maillot jaune!] Mostly it's keeping about your chances intact, physically and in whatever classification you're after. So while some of you insist on discussing the battle for the maillot jaune, others prefer to pace ourselves. But the Devil makes work for idle hooves, so I asked Tourbecco about his five favorite story lines. He's a bit difficult to work with (if you've ever met a goat you'll understand), so what I got back were his five questions, which I shall answer.
Sadly, no. Heading into the Tour, the betting heavily favored a repeat of the AG2R polemics of last year, when John Gadret blew off team captain Nick Roche in rather pointed fashion when the latter needed a wheel change. Gadret has been superior on the bike to Roche, so if the memo went around the team bus that Roche was again the captain, Gadret was sure not to read it. Now, Gadret is over 18 minutes down, fourth on the squad, while Roche is enjoying more elite company, sitting a mere 3.45 down, thankyouverymuch. If Gadret draws anywhere near his 'mate, it'll be because the Irishman has blown more than a tire.
Polemics rarely repeat themselves, since they are fundamentally spontaneous in nature, so it was probably always going to require looking elsewhere. Omega Pharma had some brief tussling between Van Den Broeck and Gilbert, but that's solved several times over. Teams with multiple contenders -- the easiest source of strife -- are HTC, Garmin, Leopard and Rabobank, unlikely combatants. Surely someone, somewhere, despises a teammate, but unless it makes the news, it's no fun.
Ah... sure. Every year the Argyle Army offers up one big GC surprise: Christian Vande Velde, Ryder Hesjedal, Bradley Wiggins... and this year after a brief early mishap none other than Tom Danielson enters the mountains in excellent position, 4.22 back, just behind Alberto Contador. OK, maybe not excellent position but not too shabby and well in line for that surprise top ten result.
Personally, I'll believe it when I see it. I mean, yeah, it would be the surprise of the Tour if a 33-year-old American racing his first Tour de France after years of stunted growth at the grand tour level suddenly found himself in the company of the stars on Alpe d'Huez, chasing a podium spot. But with a proven leader on his heels (VandeVelde less than a minute back) the better bet is on Garmin getting behind the guy they've been waiting two years on. As opposed to the guy for whom we've been waiting forever.
Sadly, no. In fact, here is a recap of what I have said about Philippe Gilbert's green jersey prospects. First I said this:
Rating: Sleeper. My guess is that he stays out of the comp entirely and focuses on holding the yellow jersey in week one. But keep an eye on him.
And then I said this:
As hard as it is to pick between the competing approaches to winning... if they get real and give up on beating Cav so Gilbert can sprint and pad his points resume with top fives on the easy days, then I don't have to choose. Phast Phil can climb and sprint, so the competition is his to lose.
And some of you made fun of me, and then I backtracked on my argument probably, but none of that matters now. When does he pass Eric Vanderaerden on the All-Time Best of Belgium list? In Copenhagen, perhaps?
I see we have the internet now in the pasture? OK, then no. I suppose the parallel isn't bad -- he is certainly being left for dead. And the idea of a late surprise where he claws back the 5+ minutes he needs to the presumed favorites isn't without near-precedent. Levi hung around the back of the 2007 Tour through the first wave of mountains, then stormed the podium with second on the Col d'Aubisque and first in the time trial. Replace Col d'Aubisque with Alpe d'Huez and presto! Hey, there's nothing wrong with the guy. Right? Right?
What year is it again?
Sadly, no. Currently the competition is led by Robert Gesink, which is pronounced HES-sink. Or maybe HAY-sink. Next, a serious threat, is Rein Taaramae, which is anywhere from three to eleven syllables long. Then there's Arnold Jeanneson, which is straightforward French, and thus anathema to British tongues. Next is Rob Ruijgh, which is pronounced by saying "roo" and then clearing your throat. None of these guys is going away, except maybe Gesink, who's hurt. Roo(ahem) just bagged 14th in the Dauphine, so there.