Tadej Pogačar has won the Tour de France. If you care, you already know that. If you don’t, there must be some other reason to read this.
Pogačar is the youngest rider to win the Tour twice. At 22, he is still eligible to win the Best Young Rider jersey three more times. He dominated the Tour, winning three of the four jerseys. He proved himself to be a well-rounded rider, winning a time trial as well as mountain stages. He proved himself to be an aggressive rider, attacking on climbs when he didn’t have to, when other riders would have been content to follow wheels and know they still kept the overall lead; and his joyous grin when he stood on the podium was infectious.
The green jersey is another story. Mark Cavendish is a one trick pony if there ever was one. While the story of his return is a good one (he was a late addition to his team), as a road racer he does only one thing well. He is the best in the world at accelerating from 40 to 45 mph over the course of 200 meters after being led to that point by his teammates. He tied Eddy Merckx’s all-time record for Tour de France stage wins. Merckx was a complete rider, winning sprints, time trials, mountain stages, the hour record, tours, one day classics… Cavendish wins sprints. He was very nearly the Lanterne Rouge (last place overall for the Tour), beating only two of the 141 riders to finish the race. One of those was his teammate and super domestique Tim Declercq (AKA “The Tractor”).
Cavendish’s hope to break Merckx’s record came down to the final stage. While the final stage is viewed as a formality in terms of the overall win, it is a big deal to others. Finishing with 8 laps on the Champs-Élysées, it gives breakaway riders a chance to be seen by millions out in front, not just out in front in some obscure spot in the French countryside. The breakaways are inevitably caught (this year not until the ultimate lap of the Champs-Élysées), to set up a final moment of glory for the sprinters. Here was Cavendish’s chance to break the record in front of the Paris crowd.
He was beaten to the line by Wout van Aert, a finish I find fitting. Van Aert is a complete cyclist. He won the stage up the iconic Mont Ventoux. He won the final time trial on the penultimate day of the tour, and then he beat Mark Cavendish in the final sprint. He also won the world cyclocross championship three times consecutively. When compared with Merckx after the tour, van Aert said, “Eddy Merckx won the GC of the Tour five times and he won basically every race in the world of cycling. I’m just a really little cyclist compared with Eddy.”
My new favorite bike racer is Guillaume Martin, author of “Socrate à vélo”. Martin is the son of an Aikido teacher and a drama teacher. He holds a Master’s degree in philosophy. “Socrates on a Bike” is said to place famous philosophers in the peloton and discuss them as bike racers with regard to their philosophies. I say “is said to”, as I am relying on the words of others from their reading in French and writing reviews in English. As I don’t read French and have not found the book in English, this is hearsay. Speaking of French, there was a time that French was the language of the peloton. To be accepted among Tour riders, one had to speak some French. At the end of this year’s tour, Tadej Pogačar, a Slovenian speaking in Paris, gave his speech in English. To me, that is sad. The ride is in France, the top three riders were Slovenian, Danish, and Ecuadorian, and he spoke English to the crowd. [Editor’s note: I briefly passed through Richard Carapaz’s home town of Tulcán, Ecuador, just over the border from Ipiales, Colombia, in 1982. Sadly, I have no memory of the town, with my first stop being in Ibarra, 126 km to the south. I found my journal from that trip. There was not much about Tulcán, but I did find this, written in Colombia in my last days before returning to the US (March, 1982): “The brain can efficiently store and retrieve just so many visual images…and to share those images with another is then difficult, indeed. My poor head overflows with images that will remain primarily private…”]
The Death Ride
The 2021 edition of the Death Ride was to have been Sunday, July 18. It was billed as the 4oth Anniversary and the “Death Ride Resurgence.” The 2020 edition was billed the same way but canceled due to the pandemic. This year’s was canceled at the last minute due to encroaching wildfire. Mark, please post a comment here to let us know you’re OK.
Back on the bike
I was able to remove my toe splint without cutting it off, so the swelling is down. Saturday I was able to clip into a pedal – I’ve been riding with one foot clipped in and the other with my heel on the pedal to avoid pressure to the broken toe. I still walk funny, pushing off from my little toe instead of my big toe, but I think I am ready to rejoin the Wednesday Night Bike Ride. This week is a hard and hilly route, so we’ll see.
Or maybe just the kayak
“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats…in or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems to really matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination, or whether you reach some where else, or whether you never get anywhere at all…” The Water Rat in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. I guess I’ll hit the water now…