The Sprint Finish

Today’s Liggett/Sherwen call of the final 1,000 meters of today’s fourth stage in the Tour de France:

Liggett: Here comes the run by [team] Lampre now! As they try to bring Napolitano through! This is the first big sprint at the Tour and it is a free-for-all!

Sherwen: Julian Dean is there in the black and white and you can be certain that right on his wheel will be Thor Hushovd, one thousand meters to go, there is the flamme rouge, Quick Step [team] have got control now, they’re on the front but where is Tom Boonen? He’s not on the wheel of his teammates, there’s a line of [team] Milram, they’re looking after Zabel, there’s a lot of pink jerseys in there for T-Mobile, there’s a little bit of a switch, they’re going to start lining up for the finish line, they’re looking now at about 550 meters to go, Gerolsteiner [team] pulls off, still Quick Step in control. …

Liggett: Well, watch out for this little switch at 250 meters, it might disrupt the move here now, and still Robbie McEwen has not got through. I can see Robbie Hunter trying to get through, but they’re still not going to make a big sprint. And Julian Dean’s on the front now! Dean has found his man Thor Hushovd! Dean the champion of New Zealand! Hunter coming on Dean’s wheel! Hushovd opens the sprint in the center now! Förster trying to get through on the right here as now Thor Hushovd hits the line at last.

Sherwen: Thor Hushovd was perfectly set up for the win by Julian Dean, I just saw the black and white jersey, the Kiwi national champion was right in the right place, he sacrificed himself completely. You need a sprinter to lead out a sprinter. Big Thor has not been superb over the last couple of days but at the end of the day when you’re set up like that by Julian Dean you have to say thanks very much, mate, and you have to finish it off.

Comment: My reaction to these guys’ work usually ranges from mild annoyance to outright disgust — yeah, I ought to just chill; this is just a bike race on TV — but I’ll say something nice here. The end of a sprint stage is beyond hectic. The racers accelerate from 35 to 45 mph, there’s a mass of bodies flying around, and everyone’s madly jockeying for position. What impressed me here is that Sherwen picked Julian Dean out of the crowd a kilometer before the finish line; he knows the players well enough that he correctly predicted that Thor Hushovd would be on Dean’s wheel. That turned out to be the crucial moment in the sprint. To exit slack-cutting mode, though: Both Sherwen and Liggett missed the real drama of the last 100 meters, when Hunter, the South African sprinter, jumped from Dean’s wheel to Hushovd’s in a desperate attempt for the stage win. He timed his finishing charge about a half-second too late and lost by half a wheel. Hunter crossed the line shaking his head and fist in frustration.

Anyway: The point is that the Versus Boys do this part of the race pretty well. Things are moving at light speed compared to the normal baseball, football, or soccer game, and somehow they manage to keep up with it.

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