Big Continent

Today’s Tour de France stage, the 11th, was a relatively flat, windy one with a sprint finish. The final kilometer included several sharp bends — especially considering the predictable fact the sprinters would be winding up for their charge to the line — and naturally there was a crash. One of those who fell after rounding a curve and veering into the left-hand crowd barrier was Freddie Rodriguez, an accomplished Colombian racer who lives right here in the East Bay rider. He might also be known as Falling Freddie, because he seems to have a penchant for hitting the pavement hard.

So there was a crash, and one of the riders swept out of contention for the stage win was Tom Boonen, the leader of the Tour’s sprint points competition. Among those still upright and rolling fast was Robbie Hunter, a South African and leader of the Team Barloworld, sponsored by a Johannesburg-based industrial conglomerate. Hunter, who just missed taking the fourth stage, launched early and captured a relatively easy win. The victory inspired Versus television’s Phil Liggett (MBE) to note the historic dimensions of the occasion:

“A South African becomes the first African from that big continent to win a stage of the Tour de France.”

Which, among other things, made me think about the continents that have not produced stage winners: Asia and Antarctica. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing an Asian rider in the race (if the Chinese get interested, watch out). And Antarctic natives such as krill and penguins have not yet been admitted to the pro cycling ranks.

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