The delightful aspect of today’s stage: George Hincapie, in his fourteenth Tour, coming within a whisker of taking the yellow jersey. If you weren’t keeping score at home: At the end, the peloton brought back Hincapie’s breakaway just enough to deny him the maillot jaune (or MJ, as I’m seeing it tweeted). A slightly less delightful aspect of the stage: the post-finish recriminations about what various teams should have done, or shouldn’t have, to allow Hincapie, one of the class acts in pro cycling, to keep the prize. Some accuse Astana and the Armstrong/Bruyneel brain trust of setting a pace at mid-stage designed to keep HIncapie within reach. Some accuse Garmin-Slipstream of chasing aggressively late in the stage, providing the peloton with the impetus that allowed Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2R) to keep the yellow jersey.
To which we say: Please. It’s a race. A wise man–or a man at any rate–once said, “No gifts.” If there’s one guy in the entire peloton who understands what that means, it’s Hincapie himself.
And, if there’s one man who doesn’t understand that, it’s Phil Liggett. When Versus joined the stage live, with a little more than 100 kilometers to go, The Bebington Blatherer first noted the surprise of the day: that Hincapie was close to being the race leader on the road. Then he noted with shock and clucking disapproval that Hincapie’s old friend, Lance Armstrong, had ordered Astana to bring back the breakaway. He said this not once, but twice. He ignored the fact the time gap was hardly changing. He ignored the absence of any sign that Astana was putting out an effort. He ignored the time gap as it began to grow, a sure sign that no chase was under way. He ignored the fact that Johan Bruyneel, not Armstrong, would be the one to order any move. And he ignored the fact that just about any apparent move in the peloton 100 kilometers from the finish was not likely to have much significance.
To give Phil his due, though: with a nudge from Paul Sherwen, he did change his tune when the gap grew to seven minutes, then eight. Soon, he started waxing poetic about what life would be like when Hincapie had the yellow jersey. Teammate Mark Cavendish would be appreciative, Phil predicted: “George Hincapie is usually Mark’s roommate in the hotels, and George looks after Mark, it’s like a dad looking after his son. And he’ll be only too happy if he’s looking at a yellow jersey at the end of the bed of his mate, George Hincapie, tonight. It will be a very successful and a very nice feeling.”
Oh, Phil. Goofy. Prolix. Tireless. Not often with it. How can we not love you? How can we not be exasperated?