Something’s up with the Tour this morning. The live telecast shows 188 cyclists who look like they’re out on a recreational ride. They’re actually going, well, slow. But there’s no explanation for it. The Versus Boys have noted the casualness of the day’s race; however, they’re only offering guesses about the cause: the pace has been dialed down because of a massive crash yesterday that left many riders battered, bruised and abraded; or maybe it’s the length of today’s stage, nearly 150 miles. Those reasons don’t quite wash, though: The one constant about the Tour for years, especially during the first week, is the furious pace no matter what the circumstances. (One more interesting observation about today’s pace, by way of journalist Martin Dugard’s blog: “But for some reason this morning, the riders displayed unusual reluctance to begin the roll-out, as the initial phase of riding is known. They lingered in the village, sipping water and coffee right up to the last minute. And then when it came time to begin, they clipped in and began pedaling casually, seemingly oblivious to the fact that this was an actual bike race.”)
My theory: This is a protest of some kind. After the crash yesterday, a couple kilometers from the finish in Ghent (Belgium), some riders complained about how narrow and dangerous they found the final portion of the course. Today’s stage features an alarmingly hazardous finish: within 2,000 meters of the finish, when the sprinters’ teams are usually driving at a high if not frantic pace, the field will be forced to negotiate two 90-degree bends in rapid succession. Then, just as they raise their speed again on the finishing straight, they’ll hit a section of bad cobblestones (pavé), followed by a couple hundred meters of what I see described elsewhere as “lumpy” asphalt. So maybe the message behind the lazy pace today is enough is enough — if you want us to put on a show at the finish line, don’t force us to risk life and limb to do it.
That’s today’s Berkeley-based Tour speculation … (and as I write, the pace in today’s stage has jumped as one rider makes a dash to try to grab the King of the Mountains jersey on the day’s lone climb. It’ll still be interesting to see how the finish develops, though.)
[Update: From the Tour’s daily race coverage: “17:53 – Well Behind Schedule: This is one of the slowest stages in the last 10 years of the Tour. The average after five hours was just 33.5km/h. It will be the first time that a stage has finished after 6.00pm since the neutralized stage to Aix-les-Bains in 1998.”]