Saturday, July 20, 2013

Stage Twenty

When I talked with Christian at L'Alpe d'Huez, I asked him if he thought his young teammate Talanksy could move up into the top ten.  He was thirteenth at the time.  Christian didn't think his climbing skills were quite up to it yet, so his strong three days in the Alps, surprising even his veteran teammate, culminating with a sixth place finish on today's stage, surging into tenth overall, makes Talansky one of the stars of this year's Tour.  Clawing his way back on the final Beyond Category climb after being dropped by the leaders to overtake the Contador group with just three kilometers to go and then beating Contador to the line was the most impressive performance of the day.

All the headlines will go to Quintana for winning the stage and claiming the climber's competition and jumping ahead of Contador to finish second overall, but none of that was unexpected, plus his efforts were given extra juice by riding with the Yellow Jersey and having television cameras on motorcycles pointed at him and a whole country rooting for him, which he will return to as a great national hero, while Talansky toiled in obscurity just a couple minutes down the road finding all the will and energy from within.  Even the announcers were shocked when Talansky joined the three-rider Contador group, with a tone of, "Where did he come from?"   It was one monumental effort.  Quintana had regularly been outclimbing Contador,  but for Talansky to do it was a genuine shocker.  Contador falling from second to fourth will not endear him to his teammates, as they all lose out on the six-figure bonus they would have shared for either second or third place winnings.  At least his team still prevailed in the team competition.

By finishing tenth Talansky joins an elite handful of Americans to accomplish the feat--LeMond, Hampsten, Julich, Armstrong, Leipheimer, Hamilton, Landis, Vande Velde, Horner, Danielson and Van Garderen.   Accomplishing it in his first attempt makes it even more noteworthy. Talansky finished second to Quintana in the young rider's competition.  They will have some great battles in the years to come.  With the confidence and experience he has gained this year, there is no telling what he can accomplish.  He has the essential quality for greatness as a cyclist--the heart of a lion.

The other young American in The Race, Van Garderen, another one with great heart, was once again out front attacking, trying to chase down the 41-year old German Voight, who had been out in the lead on his own for much of the race.   The Yellow Jersey group was paying them no heed, anticipating reeling them in on the final climb.  It made for lackluster viewing until the final half hour when the climb they'd all been saving themselves for began.  I was sweltering in a hot bar without any air circulating, feeling my energy seeping away.  I was glad I was under no pressure to accumulate a certain number of miles for the day, but I was eager to get back on the bike and out of this sweat box.  

Rather than continuing west, as I had been, into the now low and seering sun, I turned north even though it was on a busy highway.  I could only take an hour of the traffic and turned off on a secondary road that angled northwest, hoping there might be plane trees or forests blocking the sun.  But I was in wine-growing country, so the sun could still beat on me.  I could only take an hour more of it and might have quit even earlier if I had been able to fill up my water bottles sooner.  I settled for a less than ideal campsite between a high speed railroad and an Autoroute, but I was too done in to push on, feeling as if I were Cadel Evans.

I'd have no afternoon Tour-viewing break to look forward to, as for the first time the final stage will have an evening finish on the Champs Elysses.  The peloton will depart Versailles at 5:45 for its final eighty miles.  It will hit the Champs Elysses two hours later for the first of its ten circuits that will take about ninety minutes.  I may have to be content with the iPad in my tent for the final sprint.  It ought to be a good one.  Cavendish has won the last four times in Paris.  It will be a question of who has the most left in their legs after three punishing days in the Alps.  I'm certainly feeling it. 

No comments: