Tour de France Stage 2: Fast, But Not the Fastest

Team time trial speed record? Good post from Chris Carmichael on how yesterday’s shorter (Stage 2) time trial played out. But he and others are calling yesterday’s 23-kilometer the fastest in Tour history.

Really? The winning team, Garmin Cervelo, clocked 24:48 for 23 kilometers. The way I calculate the speed (dividing 60, the number of minutes in an hour, by 24.8, the finishing time in decimalized minutes, then multiplying the dividend, 2.41935484, by the distance covered, 23 kilometers), I get an average speed of 55.65 kilometers an hour. That means that Team Discovery’s 2005 team time trial, in which they covered 67.5 kilometers in 1:10:39, an average speed of 57.32 kilometers an hour, is still the absolute record. (Some of the excitement about the average speed came from the stage’s first time check, for which the fastest team (Sky, I think) came through in 9:02. For that opening stretch, their speed was 59.8 kilometers an hour).

Even if yesterday’s winning time had been the fastest average speed on the Tour books, I think it would be awkward at best to consider it the fastest in Tour history. No two Tour courses are the same, for one thing. For another, I think Discovery’s feat of maintaining that sort of intensity over such a long distance–what, you’re going to say they were *all* doping?–was exponentially tougher than the dash we saw yesterday.

Also of note: the high speeds put in by other teams in the 2005 TTT. Team CSC was just 2 seconds behind Discovery, 57.17 kph; T-Mobile came in 35 seconds back at 56.86; Liberty Seguros was 53 seconds back at 56.61; Phonak, 1:31 back and 56.12; Credit Agricole, 1:41 and 55.99; Gerolsteiner and Illes Balear-Caisse D’Epargne tied at 2:05 and 55.68.

By my count, that’s eight teams that recorded higher speeds over a much longer distance than Garmin-Cervelo put in yesterday.

The Tour: Stage 2

Three things about the Stage 2 finish in Brignoles:

1. I don’t care how many times I see it. The sight of the peloton gathering itself for the final sprint is exhilarating and terrifying. The speed, the aggressiveness, the agility, the nerve, the impossible collective ability to respond to so much happening so fast. I was positive as the riders funneled down into the final couple thousand meters that there would be a disastrous, spectacular crash. Instead, there was a minor one as a rider or two failed to negotiate a sweeping right-hand turn.

2. Everyone around the race, including all 180 riders, anticipated how the day’s stage would wind up: with Team Columbia-HTC trying to control the front and launch Mark Cavendish. Despite that, no one could stop it from happening. Team Garmin-Slipstream did manage to get their man, Tyler Farrar, into position. Cavendish beat him by three or four bike lengths.

3. Cavendish. Raw power. Absolute certainty that he’s the man. The combination of team and star gives the impression of inevitability in the sprint. Of course, it’s just an impression. No one wins every day. Right?

Who Will Save the Tour?

One remarkable five-minute stretch of Monday’s Stage 3 Tour telecast on Versus was a package on all the steps that the two U.S.-sponsored teams in the race–Garmin-Chipotle and Team Columbia–have taken to make sure their riders are clean of drugs. In fact, the piece was so fervently adulatory and uncritiical in its portrayal of the teams’ anti-doping methods, that re: Cycling wonders whether the teams are paying for the coverage they are getting. Beyond the heavily produced segment, featuriing Garmin-Chipotle chief Jonathan Vaughters in his high-fashion eyewear and retro turtleneck, Versus’s presentation of Stage 3 featured a live interview with Vaughters and taped interviews with Columbia’s Bob Stapleton, and at least two of the teams’ riders.

Maybe all of this is just pure editorial, reflecting the Versus decision to use the Tour’s doping problems as a launch pad for a marketing campaign that focuses on redeeming the professional cycling (on June 9, the Wall Street Journal quoted Gavin Harvey, the Versus CEO, as saying, “There is a shadow on [cycling]. It’s a sport that is battling for its soul, and what people respond to about cycling is the intensity of that battle.”)

However, the casual watcher of Versus’s first three days of coverage can’t help but wonder whether there’s a single European team that’s doing anything–prohibiting public crack smoking among riders, limiting illegal injections to half a dozen a day–to try to clean things up. If there is anyone trying to save the Tour but the ultraclean Yanks, they are not getting any air time on Versus.

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