Welcome To Le Tour 2.0

Jul 11 2010

Even stepping outside myself and imagining the Tour through the eyes of a sunburnt American diletante, I think I still would have seen the inherent flaw in the way Versus and USA Today and even Bicycling Magazine tried to sell the 2010 Tour: what happens to “Lance vs. Contador” if either of them falls out of contention?

I’ve heard all the excuses—we have to sell papers. We’re building the audience. It’s what people want. I even got the press release about the record viewership in the first week. But as Lance shuffled meekly through the little door today with a torn jersey and shattered expectations, I think many purveyors of coverage in this sport will see exactly how poorly they’ve accomplished these things. You don’t develop someone’s taste for brie by deep-frying it.

The failure of this much-hyped rivalry goes beyond Armstrong. For all the talk of RadioShack being a stacked squad, they sure haven’t shown themselves much in the first week. SaxoBank split the race on the cobbles. On the first day of meaningful climbs, a Frenchman carried off the stage win and the maillot jaune, while BBox Telecom convincingly (and ultimately, idiotically) managed the gaps behind. Today’s mountain selections came courtesy of Team Sky and the much-maligned Astana.

Other than an unsuccessful attempt at a crosswind field split on Stage 5, and some inexplicable parading toward the front on Stage 4, they’ve had little impact on the race. Of their touted pre-Tour contenders, only Levi Leipheimer remains within five minutes of the GC lead. And despite Armstrong’s oft-repeated faith in the man, Leipheimer has not been known to shine as Grand Tours go on. That Vuelta exclusion’s looking like a mighty clairvoyant move right about now. And did I mention the dope investigation?

Levi LeipheimerSo, on Levi’s scrappy, under-appreciated legs, hinges the fate of one of the most successful brands in the history of all sports. Can you even imagine it? No more armies of dentists dragging the LBS out of the red each year with Lance-replica Trek purchases. No more Chris Carmichael promising phantom results to middle-aged racers about to train themselves out of love with the sport. No more laurel wreaths cast at the feet of DS whose prolific success in July has allowed him to brush years of downright miserable classics results under the rug.

Even Contador has struggled to uphold his side of the rivalry. On today’s first category climbs, he couldn’t turn his teammates’ ax-wielding into a time gap or even a stage win. The final 2k were punctuated by attacks from at least five different riders—few of whom featured in any state-side pre-race commentary. Contador is still an obvious favorite—I think this will be more clear on the tougher climbs to come—but he’s yet to show head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field.

The only way the Lance v. Contador storyline can be spun now is through leveraging Leipheimer’s high GC position to keep the hero-worshippers on board for stage wins or the role of super domestique. And frankly, I’m not optimistic—understanding the complexities of teamwork takes some appreciation for the tactics of the sport, after all, and second-grader storylines and American-only recaps are seldom an effective way to do that.

Today the 2010 Tour de France changed dramatically. And while it may be bad news for the current business model of bringing cycling to Americans, for those who follow the sport outside of July, today’s action was a promising sign for the weeks to come. Wave good-bye the Tour of Lance and Alberto; Welcome to Le Tour 2.0.

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25 Responses to “Welcome To Le Tour 2.0”

  1. rainbow 11 July 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    I gapped at with the ease of Lance’s capitulation after the first climb. If anything wasn’t natural it was that, had it been Hinault he would have been clawing on the jerseys of riders ahead to keep himself in contention. I took no pleasure in the fall of lance 2.0, there was no pathos shown no dogged application of will. He didn’t give me or any detractor a moment to savour the decline Just a quick fire Sale to got out of the GC market, perhaps that was what was planned?.
    The Liggett Sherwin band were still blowing him to the finish on the Titanic, stage wins, tactical nous, invaluable presence…those sycophantic voices trying to reinforcing the saleability of the LA phenomenon. It was so obvious from the past two years that it was going to come on the first real hill, yet so bizarre when it did.
    “And is I’ve got a real bad saddle sore” Lance code for bad news yet to come? Or was it the first signal of eminent failure.

  2. brufus 11 July 2010 at 5:42 pm #

    Andy is so refreshing: smart, calm, confident, playful, ego in check. No hype, no shtick, all Schleck. Huge chapeau to the post-exorcism Cadel too. Is it too much to ask? Maybe nice guys can finish first.

  3. Oliver 11 July 2010 at 6:16 pm #

    Those innumerable — and now oddly ironic — Nissan, Michelob, & RS adverts featuring Lance will go on throughout the Tour littering the net and VS’ “coverage”; they are a fitting reminder of what happens when you mix knee-jerk patriotism and corporate greed.

  4. orangekick 11 July 2010 at 8:28 pm #

    one thing for sure…Contador may be still suffering from the flu – that’s what the team was saying when his performance up the Alpe d’Huez wasn’t his normal flaboyant self – and he did skip on defending his Spanish TT title for this reason.

    I’m thinking that if he starts showing that spark that’s normally in his legs in the third week, his TT skills will be second to no one – so beware Andy…!

  5. Bryan 11 July 2010 at 9:02 pm #

    I certainly appreciate the exciting dynamic GC competition (as opposed to the often formulaic Lance era domination). With today’s time loss on GC I’d like to see if Lance will earn his endorsement money by jumping in an all day break and race like the two balled Lance once did.

  6. David Lewis 11 July 2010 at 10:53 pm #

    If anything, LA hitting the deck may be the best thing in terms of being good for the tour. Way harder to focus on a “contender” when he’s so far back. But, having said that, I wouldn’t be surprised (barring that he isn’t a total wreck from the crashes – riding with road rash ain’t fun) if the old man try’s to win a stage or two. That’d be a good ending.

  7. David White 11 July 2010 at 11:26 pm #

    First of all, I do follow pro cycling year round and have great respect for the history and complexity of the sport. Secondly, I acknowledge that there are perhaps many reasons for some to celebrate the end of Armstrong’s career. In a few days I may join you in your celebration, though probably more muted. But finally, allow me to say that, for me, this is a sad day. It was especially sad to see his career conclude with such enormous bad luck; not due to a lack of skill, training or experience. However, them’s the breaks–very few get what they deserve (ask F. Schleck). I realize that many despise Armstrong for various reasons–some reasonable, others entirely irrational–but there are many, like me, who have other reasons (I will resist telling my story of cancer) for being inspired by Armstrong. Not all of us can be discounted as “sunburned American dilettantes”, although there are many of them. In essence, I am saying that there are good reasons to appreciate Armstrong’s cycling career as well as his humanitarian efforts.

  8. Arjan Hulsebos 12 July 2010 at 4:56 am #

    The end of the “Era of the Maniac”.

    Nice to see Evens in the yellow, BTW. Hope he doesn’t relapse into his old passivism, so to speak.

  9. Arjan Hulsebos 12 July 2010 at 6:14 am #

    Oh, and I just realized, how in the world can a pro-tour rider get saddle sore? Boils and bruises I can believe, but saddle sore? Kinda like a marathon runner complaining about his shoes being too tight…

  10. Timothy Day 12 July 2010 at 8:18 am #

    You’re on fire, Cosmo. Keep it up. Great points and an apt indictment of the media’s coverage. This tour has so much more going for it than A vs. C.

  11. Sebastian 12 July 2010 at 9:52 am #

    I too have have found it extremely frustrating to watch OLN/Vs. spend an entire decade squandering the opportunity to build a solid pro cycling fan-base in the U.S. Instead of trying to get viewers interested in the sport’s complexities and history — to get them interested in things that transcend Armstrong — they have simply been stoking a personality cult that will inevitably fail to offer long-term payoff. I think the most annoying thing was the mantra that Armstrong’s return would “bring interest back to the sport.” Um, any interest that left with Armstrong the first time was going to leave with him the second time. Versus is about to find that out the hard way!

  12. cosmo 12 July 2010 at 10:02 am #

    @David White: I wouldn’t say I’m celebrating the fall of Lance—there are, after all, two weeks left in the race, and he hardly seems ready to pack it in. As David Lewis notes, the guy is absolutely a threat for stage wins, and I’m very excited to see him play the role of opportunist after 8 Tours of controlling from the top of the GC.

    As much as I hate to say it, I kinda want to see Levi lose time just so Lance has no other objective but FSU.

  13. Le Blaireau 12 July 2010 at 10:02 am #

    By the way Cosmo, this was an excellent post. Everything we were thinking about the (obscene) US cycling media scene and were afraid to say out loud is in it. Chapeau bas.

  14. Michael 12 July 2010 at 10:52 am #

    People like heroes & winners. The media give people what they want.

    There’s nothing special about the way the American press treats Lance Armstrong. He’s treated like another other superstar, winning athlete in any other sport. Sports are funded by sponsors and sponsors want popular people associated with their brand.

    It’s the cycle that keeps the money flowing and the sport going.

    Go to England and it’s all about Wiggins and Team Sky on the cover of every magazine. If you read Cycling Weekly, they might as well hand the yellow jersey to Wiggo right now.

    Look at the hype over LeBron James. American football is about to start, expect the same thing, cover stories that blow up 3 weeks into the season.

    Covering star athletes once they are past their prime is a common dilemma in sports media. The fans want coverage, the producers insist on it, and the reporters know better. The poorer the athlete’s performance, the hotter the push from publicists and image consultants to get coverage. It’s not unique to cycling.

    Look, this year’s Tour is great. After a thrilling Classics season, an exciting Giro, the Tour is full of great riders, each with a great story. I want to see Vino crush the peleton for no reason other than he can. I want to see Frenchmen win stages. I want to see Hincapie win something. I want to see Contador shred up a mountain like Pantani.

    The only things that bother me are seeing the fans slapping the riders on the back after screaming in their face and Phil mentioning the “rainbow jersey of the world champion” fifty times per stage.

    Other than that, thanks for the great blog. ;)

  15. asphalt_juheeesus 12 July 2010 at 11:07 am #

    First, I didn’t want LA to go down like this. Perp-walked, yes. Really bad day that most anyone who has tried competitive bike racing has experienced, no. That said, he’s had five times the good luck of most racers up until this year.

    Lance is still the ‘vehicle’ for importing UCI Racing to the U.S. Re-read that last sentence and examine it carefully. The goal is to import UCI’s racers and format at the expense of the racing going on here. Tour of California starring Lance Armstrong comes to mind. If the Tour of Colorado with Lance Armstrong as featured guest and UCI Continental squads ever happens, it’ll happen at the expense of Gila or SuperWeek, or some other longtime event.

    Weisel and Co have no interest in what’s happening in the U.S. Promoting it would require USAC to be something other than the UCI’s jail-b!tch.

  16. Billy Felt 12 July 2010 at 11:10 am #

    Lance and Johan have a plan that will blow the race apart:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrCmq3Z0uI0

  17. Dan 12 July 2010 at 11:38 am #

    Good post. The hyping of Lance vs Contador above all else is really annoying. I don’t think it is quite fair to rag on the team without mentioning that they had to chase for 5k at full gas to get back in contact at the base of the climb. Given that it is not surprising that those guys were getting dropped near the top of the climb.

    Despite all the hype around Armstrong, he has made it a much more interesting tour for which I am glad.

  18. Max 12 July 2010 at 3:20 pm #

    LA to me has always been a prime example of an alphamale and I’ve always admired that. So it was especially interesting to see how he would react to the miserable failure that was stage 8. I desperately didn’t want him to give up.

    The Dutch commentary said that there was a great mass of French on the climb shouting the usual hate, telling him to go home and quit, which i’m sure they would have done regardless of his state of luck. Isn’t it fornicating to think what must have been going through this man’s head and what his thought process must have been considering the whole buildup towards that day? There is only one thing he could have done and that is to face the failure and move on, and he did exactly that. I admire that as well.

    There is nothing I’d like to see more than to see the old man FSU.

  19. rainbow 12 July 2010 at 6:02 pm #

    Going over the stage results I noticed Chris Horner who was initially with Lance to helping him miraculously ended 7 min up the road at the finish, I initially thought he had blown himself apart in the chase, but not so, he’s rapidly transforming into the new voigt2 in my eyes! I can see a new Cosmo cause celeb campaign commencing!

  20. rainbow 13 July 2010 at 5:38 am #

    For Lance to win a stage a fair few stars will need to align and i don’t think it is possible considering the circumstances, crash and saddle sore withholding. Firstly it cant be mountain stage cant climb, can’t be a time trail same reason, can’t be a flat stage because the sprinters teams will be all over it. In an age where honour and respect in short supply there is of little chance a gift will be offered especially when the possible recipient has already stated that “it was wrong to give the gift” and king Eddie his Belgian father is also of the opinion you don’t gift stages either. This leaves favours owed, what can radio shark, call in, who owes them for their generosity, well i can’t think of any one there either. The big powerful teams (Astana Liquigas, HTC, BMC, Garman, Sky ) with GC aspirants won’t want a past it GC contended to re-enter the fold diminishing there players a place. Well Astana, actually I can see him up the road with Vinokourov but only for comedic value. The French people and teams especially Cofidis won’t want him up front. The American teams won’t want him to succeed when they are trying to fly their sponsor’s flag in that market. The numbers are shortening considerably all the time and we haven’t even looked at what stages would be suitable yet! Because let’s face it he will be made to guts it out alone without the help of Voigt2 or the rest of the team. This kind of leaves him in the hope of help from the Belgians, Quickstep ostensibly, Katusha and the cold war, Lampre, Footon- shitcolouro ( not an appealing fashion statement for TV viewers to look at, baby poo brown, with grey and red, yuck).
    What’s left to say, The BOSS is dead! long Loath the Boss!.

  21. AMR 13 July 2010 at 7:06 am #

    Great reading, thank you!

    But don’t discount Contador yet, he is in a completely different class (to LA). And if he comes to form, which could happen in the third week, even Schleck will have to bite his tongue to stay with him (big brother isn’t there!!).

    But, a great race I reckon.

    Enjoy!

  22. fila47 13 July 2010 at 11:45 am #

    @David White: Lance said that he clipped a pedal in a roundabout for crash # 2. He is only responsible for the crash and can only blame himself for that crash. You see this happening in low level amateur racing, in a crit sometimes but not in Pro level race!

    Also, Gila doesn’t need the pro tour guys like Lance, Levi, zabriskie since we talked. There is plenty of younger riders in NRC that are talented and should merit more attention instead of focusing one a few establish riders.

  23. Jan 13 July 2010 at 1:26 pm #

    Seems like we were hoping too early for a really great Tour – it’s not Contador v Armstrong but instead Contador v Schleck. Again, just a two-men-game, would have loved to see Sanchez Gonzales, Basso, Menchov – anyone really – to stick with them but no, not going to happen it seems. So probably Contador will take it in the final TT unless Andy can pull away by at least another minute in the Pyrenees…

  24. New York Tour 16 July 2010 at 12:35 am #

    I have met Lance, and really like him, but I feel like it’s time he passes the torch so that new rivalries can spring up.

  25. Karen Patrick 28 January 2014 at 8:28 pm #

    This years Tour de France schedule which I’ve been looking forward to.

    Monday the 7th of July:

    Our coach with bike trailer will make collections at the below points.

    * Leeds Queens Hotel (City Square)
    * Manchester Victoria Train Station
    * Knutsford Services (M6 Southbound)
    * Keele Services (M6)
    * Junction 7 M6
    * Birmingham International Train Station (N.E.C.)
    * Watford Gap Services (M1 Southbound)
    * London Redbridge Tube Station
    * Dover Eastern Docks (Ferry Terminal)

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