The countdown begins…

The twentieth day of racing in the Tour de France (Thursday July 22nd, 2010). Stage 17 – Pau Col du Tourmalet. This stage was 174 km. This final stage of the pyrenees included four climbs – the cote de Renoir (cat-4 at 13.5km), the col de Marie-Blanque (cat-1 at 56.5km), the col du Souler (cat-1 at 117.5km) and the final high pass of the 97th Tour, the ‘Hors Category’ col du Tourmalet. There was a braeaway of seven riders right from the beginning. S. Sanchez (EUS), who is placed third overall, crashed at 23km and spent considerable time on the road before remounting his bike and resuming the race. It looked to be a pretty serious crash, and that he may not even get to his feet. But he did after a few minutes flat on his back, and he was brought back up to the peloton by his team. However, it was clear for the rest of the rest he was in considerable pain and discomfort. Contador insisted that the peloton wait for the fallen rider but Sastre (CTT) ignored the request and set off in pursuit of his team-mate. The irony is Sastre met up with his team-mate briefly who gave up himself, and Sastre spent most of the race riding alone in the mountains just to be caught and eventually left behind by the peloton at the 140km mark.

Rabobank, Saxo Bank and Astana shared the work at the front of the bunch on the approach to the final climb. The seven escapees had a lead of 3 minute 5 second. Sastre was dropped with 20km to go. Schleck attacked a rapidly thinning yellow jersey group of 20-odd riders 10.5km from the finish. Only Contador could respond and with ease. Contador allowed Andy to lead him up the mountain from that point on until 3.8km to go when Alberto tested his rival with a quick acceleration, as he had no reason to attack Shleck but to sit on his wheel and wait. Schleck was able to respond with some hesitation, but Contador went back to following Andy’s wheel. The pair rode this way all the way to the summit and Andy crossed the line just ahead of Alberto to take his second stage victory in the 2010 Tour but gain no advantage on his main rival and the leader of the general classification who will wear the yellow jersey in stage 18. This pair gained time on all their rivals and confirmed that they are a class above the rest of the peloton in the 97th Tour de France.

The only thing that bothered me about Andy Schleck’s stage win was that Contador literally handed it to him. Shleck didn’t earn it. So he led up the mountain, and Contador rode on his wheel?! Who cares! That’s what bike racing is about – forcing the person who is not in the lead to work and try to gain time on the leader. It happens every stage, of every bike race, and not just in the Tour de France. There was no question that after some people had unfairly criticized Contador for passing and leaving behind Schleck on stage 15, he felt he couldn’t pass Andy at the end and go for the stage victory. Heck, he even felt the need to have to post an apology online before stage 16. Which is really the most unfortunate part of all – turning a great competitive sport of strong determination, endurance and athleticism into a sad game of political correctness.

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