Tour de France: Learning to Love Cadel

Love Cadel? Just kidding. One of the side-effects of Tour watching is over-familiarity with the trials and tribulations of Cadel Evans. Which means: tipped as a perennial race favorite by the Brit commentators on Versus, he’s never quite shown up. But unlike some non-winning favorites you root for because they win sympathy in defeat through a show of panache or humor or some other token of class, Evans always seems to have had a whine ready about the tough conditions he couldn’t quite overcome, plaints about the long odds he’s always facing, or some other bit of unpleansantness. (Here’s the “You step on my dog, I cut your head off” moment from 2008 which shows Evans at his best; and here’s a brief review of Evans’s 2008 Tour, which thankfully he did not win.)

But there’s more to being a Tour fan than just hating Cadel. It stands to reason we ought to like someone in the peloton, and also that we dislike others nearly as intensely as we dislike Evans. Here’s a short list of who we love and who we find insufferable, with an attempt to rationalize our choices:

Guys We’d Ride With, If We Could Keep Up

Fabian Cancellara: Awesome power, but mostly he just seems like a cool guy. We liked what he did to control the peloton after the Tour’s big Day of Crashes (Stage 2) last week.
George Hincapie: The guy’s been in 15 TdFs and seems like the definition of the smart, selfless, capable rider. Again, he seems–and we’re aware how much we’re relying on the thin evidence of what we see on the telly–to be a cool, thoughtful, approachable human being.
Andy Schleck: The accent might be a barrier to understanding him, especially as he accelerates away from us on the first molehill climb of the day, but he seems like a decent sort. Great win on Sunday (Stage 8).
Jens Voigt: Tough and courageous, and seemingly never afraid to bury himself for a teammate or for an unlikely breakaway result.
Levi Leipheimer: A local (Northern California) guy who has stuck his nose into the elite ranks and has stayed there. I don’t seriously believe he’ll contend for the top step of the podium in Paris, but whether he does or not he seems to take each accomplishment or disappointment as it comes.
Svein Tuft: Who? Not a top performer in the Tour. But one hell of a guy. And no one has a better story.
Dave Zabriskie: We still remember his day or so in yellow. We still remember the story we heard of him borrowing a tube from a recreational rider here in the Bay Area. And we love his Yield to Life campaign.
Greg Lemond, Floyd Landis: You know, I saw LeMond at a regular old midwestern century once. He’d been hired as the honorary ride leader or something, and did the distance and hung out with folks in a park in downtown Milwaukee afterward. I remember him goofing around on someone’s hand-cranked recumbent. That was cool. More recently, he’s become a bit of a nag as the Cassandra for doping in cycling. As for Floyd: What a mess. But I’d still like to see if he’d talk about, ahem, The Stage, and whether he’s ever told the truth about any of it. One of these by themselves would be some kind of a treat. How about getting them together for a gabfest?

I’d Have a Beer with These Guys, As Long As It’s Not a Michelob
Really, we’re not worthy to kiss the hems of their jerseys. I mean, these folks seem sort of Olympian, and a couple of them are known to not suffer fools or second-place finishes gladly. Still

Lance Armstrong: Why? In his own way he’s the best.
Mark Cavendish: Our hearts go out to a guy who seems a little deranged by his emotions. We’d love to watch tape of some of his wins and hear him explain the strategy.
Alberto Contador: Tell us, please, what kind of guts it takes to attack on the most desperate climbs.
Johan Bruyneel: OK–not an active rider. But his book, “We Might As Well Win,” is a fine racing memoir even though it’s less than convincing laying out its strategy for success.

We Woudn’t Give These Guys Change for a Twenty Even If We Had It
We realize without being told that we’re being small and ungenerous in our opinions. But here’s a group that just rankles somehow.

Cadel Evans: Yes, we’re aware that there’s evidence to the contrary, but the guy seems like an unhappy, griping, pouty piece of work.
Thor Hushovd: Here we turn our back on our blind allegiance to one of our ancestral homelands, Norway, to deliver this verdict: Tour muttonhead extraordinaire. Just seems like a blockhead. Although it must be admitted he’s not to blame for the idiot commentators who persist in calling him “The God of Thunder.” But we never promised to be fair or reasonable in our judgments, did we?
Ivan Basso: It looked like he was the heir apparent to Armstrong, then he doped and couldn’t quite get his story straight about what he was or wasn’t doing. We have an expression for guys like this: dumbass.
Sylvain Chavanel: We should have a soft spot in our heart for this guy. After all, he crashed during one of the classics this spring, fractured his skull, and had to be put into a medically induced coma during his recovery. And now he’s won two stages in this Tour and twice worn the yellow jersey. Bravo. On the other hand, his riding seems to typify the strategically empty role of the French racers in the Tour. They seem to specialize in the long, desperate, and usually predictably fruitless escape.
Thomas Voeckler: Another hard-riding Frenchman. Next.
Alexander Vinokourov: He had a great Tour, once. It was 2003, he was wreaking havoc on the peloton and on his own team with his boundless daring, courage, energy, and lack of concern for tactics. In fact, he was the rider Armstrong and the ill-fated Joseba Beloki were chasing when Beloki crashed and Armstrong made his famous cross-pasture ride. Alas, “Vino” turned out to be a doper of the worst sort–the transparently lying kind. He was banned from cycling for a couple years, but last year appeared at the end of the Tour to announce he was taking control of “his” team–the Kazakh-backed Astana, run by Bruyneel, home of Armstrong, Contador, and Leiphemer.
In short, he seems selfish to the nth degree, though yesterday he did surprise by not attacking his own team leader (Contador).

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