In all seriousness, though, this is a Tour that has never wanted for drama or surprises—almost a shame, considering the fireworks we were treated to just over a month ago—and perhaps the best part of the excitement surrounding this year’s event is that so much of it is actually coming from the race. Uncomfortably thin margins separate the leaders in the GC, KOM and points competitions; battles among both the breakaways and the heads of state seem to be de rigueur over ever practically major climb, and hilltop finishes are no longer a pre-requisite for a GC shake-up.
On Chaingate, my feelings, while mixed, return to the earlier statement that this is Tour de France—not some Mickey-Mouse race. I’m personally disheartened at the break in protocol—more than can be said for the veritable murderer’s row consulted by French television—but as a racer, I don’t need to imagine too hard to see myself riding exactly as Contador did. Best to view the breach like Renshaw’s maneuvers last week—they’re split second decisions in the heat of battle, and the jury (or in this case, the peloton) is seldom consistent in their reaction.
At any rate, the biggest victim in Chaingate may prove to not be Andy Schleck, nor SRAM, nor even the time-honored traditions of the Tour. For all his reverence to the unwritten rules of the pack, Lance Armstrong’s decision to wait for his fallen rival carried a heavy psychological component: I can wait for you and still win this race. Considering how battered Contador looked on the climb to Ax-3 Domain the day before, slumping back down onto his saddle after every effort, I don’t think he could have sent a clearer message to his rivals about his own vulnerability than riding past the hapless Schleck.
And while Armstrong’s legacy may shine brighter in light of Contador’s decision on Stage 15, his great escape will be a net negative in the long run—feelings I will not elaborate on until after the Tour. I do credit Armstrong for a hair-raising first hour—one that apparently came as no surprise, as riders were warming up to prepare—but even with Horner convoyed up to him (along with Ruben Plaza, to neutralize the Team GC battle), Lance never showed himself as a serious stage contender.
With two men in the move, you’d think a tactician heralded with as much fanfare as Johan Bruyneel would have been able to come up with something better than having Horner pull while Armstrong sat on—especially in light of the fact that sending Horner up the road could leverage the suddenly-relevant Team GC lead against the two Caisse d’Epargne riders.
Instead, the “best” director in the history of the Tour sent two proven soloists into a 9-man sprint that included some of the most realibly savvy breakaway sprinters in the peloton, with nary a feint, misdirection or tactical flourish; copies of “We Might As Well Win” now making an appearance on a B&N closeout rack near you.