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July 20, 2010

It’s all about the he said she said…

So there we have it. Bert is sorry for what happened yesterday. After the absolute plethora of abuse he took from the Twitter universe (although, really, how much do you think he cares about that) after yesterday I thought to give as neutral an opinion on the matter as humanly possible. Right from the offset, I need to clearly state that neither of these riders even make my Top 3 favorite riders at the 2010 Tour de France. So far my favorites have been Chavanel, Van den Broeck and the always giving Jens Voigt. I have nothing to gain from either of these riders winning Le Tour even if I have had the privilege of riding with one of them for a few days here, in Cape Town. If anything, I should favor Andy. I think they are both young and will both continue to make mistakes, much to the delight of the cannon fodder with 140 characters to comment without considering all angles.

So here is the rundown, in my opinion, of the said events.

Andy attacked, without success, the first time. He couldn’t hold tempo high enough to keep the followers and quite quickly, the group swelled to about 15-20 riders again. Stupidly, Bert and Andy were sitting near the back of this group. A gap appeared and Andy went right, Bert was left and seemingly attacked just a few seconds later, following Andy and wanting to go by as he slowed. Andy got a gap on the group by virtue of having the clean line. As I saw it, Vino was the only Astana rider on the right and followed. Bert launched the same attack on the right, but was a few seconds behind Andy, invisible to the camera angle. Then came the stupid mistake, but we need to go back in time a little, just quickly.

As any decent rider will tell you, a power shift (read: shifting a few gears while applying massive power or even worse, changing front and rear derailleur at the same time) will result in catastrophe. In this years Cape Epic, we saw many of these and even experienced one within our own team that cost us roughly 90minutes in overall time. Read here about it too. It often happens when you are in a rush or when you are not 100% thinking. Now, 15 days into a Tour that has been marred by crashes galore, 40 degree heat and record speeds has left the riders a little kaput. I bet 99.99% of people who watch the Tour have no real idea how big an effect this has on the riders. This, from one of the smartest guys out there, Garmin Team Director Jonathan Vaughters:

Twitter - Jonathan Vaughters- Super hot temperatures do ..._1279607921002

So the guys are a little fried, very antsy from being so close, a little frustrated at not being able to drop each other. Andy sees he has a small gap on an Astana rider (Vino) on the right and sees Bert coming on the left. He knows he has to shift to the big ring to keep momentum (he was visually slowing at this point) as Bert is coming hell for leather with the red mist going full tilt. He, from what I saw, was trying to move from the small to the big ring, as well as shifting the rear derailleur. STOOPID. His entire rear wheel lifted as the chain buckled under the pressure at the back of the bike. It then came off the front as well, as a result of this.

Rookie error. Power shift. Heat of the moment stuff. It happens.

In my opinion, he is lucky he lost 40 seconds yesterday. If he had been a big rider like a Hushovd, he would have snapped that rear derailleur into a hundred little pieces. His team car was about 5-10minutes down the road behind the group. I still believe it was a mistake on his part and he is a lucky boy to have got back on his bike. Had my Fretten been shifting like that, we would have seen a crying man on the side of the road.

Add to this the confusion of Bert, who goes by Andy as he is shifting (watch the video) to get his chain back (not even realising the problem lies in the back of the bike yet), has just launched his attack.

Menchov called it: “I can’t explain [what happened with Schleck] because I didn’t see what happened. We know that Alberto and Andy play with each other. We have to follow one of them. I saw the reaction of Contador and I thought it was decisive, so I tried to follow him,” Menchov said.

So Menchov (The Russian), who was behind Contador, couldn’t even see Andy’s problems. Dirty (Sanchez) followed too, as he is only 13seconds clear of The RussianI felt so bad for Shleck as his mechanical could not have been timed worse. His main rival had just launched the best attack he has made all Tour, taken the two guys in 3rd and 4th overall with him, and he is left to ride back to them on his own. If I were the yellow jersey, I would have been mad, at that moment, for a few things:

1. I should not have shifted like a tool.
2. I should have got the chain on the first time.
3. I should have shouted that I had a mechanical.

But these pro’s don’t all think like me. I am tough on myself.

By the time Bert, Dirty and The Russian would have realised there was a mechanical, they would have been 40 seconds up the road. Were Dirty and The Russian going to wait? HELL NO. If they get within 2 minutes of Andy both of them could see the podium in Paris. They know that. So they pushed on. It’s not like previous tours our there, even Big Tex agrees with this comment: Armstrong recalled when he waited for Jan Ullrich in 2001 and when Ullrich waited for him in 2003. However he pointed out that the race was ‘on’ and so the unwritten rules of fair play and sportsmanship do not count in the heat of the moment, when other riders are attacking and other placings and jerseys are at stake.

At this point I felt bad for both guys. The perils of yellow, the win at all costs and the confusion of being tired, burnt, frustrated and finally getting the break you need. They were both making silly errors even if the blame was going to go one way at that point.

Asked for their opinion on the incident, Laurent Jalabert, Bernard Thévenet and Bernard Hinault all described Schleck’s incident as an inescapable part of racing and said they were looking ahead to see how Contador and Schleck will respond. Those are 3 of the most respected names in the cycling world. They are not on the couch at home rooting for a favorite underdog. I think the reactions were very one sided when there were 4 guys involved here. Shleck, Bert, Dirty & The Russian. When 3 guys are off the front going hell for leather there is no way they stop to ask where the 4th guy is. They are going to keep going and ask afterwards what happened.

If you have ever raced that deep into your limit you will know this. I hardly remember talking to people at Ironman SA this year. There are people I passed who I don’t even remember seeing. When you are “all in” there is a tunnel vision that occurs.

Nobody waited for Chavanel when he had two mechanical incidents in yellow on the cobbles. Fabian was on the front, killing the pace. He came back the next day and took it in style, with panache and determination. Further proof of being tunnel visioned is Vino riding Bert off his wheel on the same stage when Bert punctured, 1km to go. Vino was so in the zone he didn’t even hear his radio over the noise from the crowd and the deafening pain in his legs. That cost Bert 20seconds as well. Being so in the zone, you hear nothing. 50 000 people in that last kilometer, limited radio cover, I don’t think they knew until it was too late and even then the info would have been sketchy. With less and less cash to go around for sponsors, the podium is huge in Paris and the Team Directors in the cars would have been driving their guys to keep pushing.

To give you a full idea of how complicated and emotional this situation was for the general public, even Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen were at war, live on air. Paul was lambasting Bert as if Andy were his long lost love child who held the keys to Atlantis. I thought we might hear a big crash and no more coverage as they were in fisticuffs. I would be willing to say that the dinner conversation was light and short after the show.

Overall, a great stage filled with confusion, rookie shifting errors and desperate hot headed guys in lycra. Viva le Tour. Headline news, trending topics on Twitter and public apologies via YouTube so we can all see it unfold in front of our eyes. If anything, be grateful for the most exciting Tour in the history of me watching it. Feel free to comment below.

One Comment on “It’s all about the he said she said…

J Redelinghuys
July 20, 2010 at 11:48 am

Great writing. Can’t wait for the next few days! Nothing is ever set in stone, but rather we tend to react towards our favorites and against their enemies/opposition. What makes sport great? The controversies, the tension, the fact that we can whole heartedly raise our opinions as if we too are a part of the race and then most of all: the long awaited conquering of our foes!
Man I love sport and you too: great research and thx for the time you took to put this together! (I still hope, as slim as the chances may be, Andy kicks some Bert butt!)

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