Tour de France 2009: Rest day round-up - rows, politics, and intrigue
Just another day at Le Tour. It's a rest day, but that doesn't mean there's going to be any restI
Rest day on the Tour, but that doesn't mean there's any time to rest… 80Km on the bike, eating, media time (many of the teams will have a press day today) and then maybe some time to relax is what Cadel Evans has in store and his regime won't be much different than most – and he's got Saturday's doomed escape to recover from too.
Of course this being the Tour the rest day also means the teams getting down to what they do best: intrigue, controversey and politics. This rest day that all centres around the radio ban for tomorrow's stage and Lance Vs Alberto goings on at Astana.
Guess what though? Astana can't keep out of this one either, the idea of banning race radios is one that has been kicked around for almost as long as the devices have been a part of the peloton – they were first used by Motorola back when Lance Armstrong was a young rider for them, and they came to full prominence when US Postal used them to good effect when winning all those Tours back in the day. The charge against radios is that they take the initiative away from the riders and give it to the team managers – who can monitor all the action via the TV feed and have their riders react to breaks etc that they might otherwise not know about – leading to less exciting racing.
The ban on radios for stages 10 and 13 of this year's race was agreed between cycling's governing body, the UCI and ASO AND the team's representatives well in advance of the Tour. Come race time the leading teams are up in arms led by Bruyneel and Astana who describes the ban as “unacceptable” and “unjustified”. Fifteen of the teams – again led by Astana – handed in a petition on against the ban Saturday (none of the French teams signed) amid mutterings about rider protests on Monday. Bjarne Riis, team manager of Saxo Bank has gone so far as to say the teams will ignore the ban “Will they kick us home if we do?” Riis said. “I doubt it.”
'After you Bjarne' could well be the response of the other directeur sportifs. ASO have shown a degree of Gallic pragmatism over protests at past Tours, but they are not an organisation to cross lightly, and they tend to remember, as Johan Bruyneel could tell Bjarne.
The big teams will want to kill the radio ban tomorrow for fear that it will still be in place for Thursday's 178Km mountain stage from Vittel to Colmar: a break that gets too far down the road on that one could really shake things up on the general classification ahead of some really tough stages in the Alps.
So far Bruyneel and his allies have trotted out all the expected reasons why this is a bad idea: safety; the Tour is too big for such an experiment; “this is 2009” – Bruyneel likened it to taking away a person's GPS device just before he had to get to an important meeting in Paris… (the Garmin team got lost on the way to the team time trial at this year's Tour).
Strangely they haven't mentioned that a the recent French national championships unfancied Dmitri Champion beat a handful of better know favorites to win the national men's road race while racing without a radio… we certainly wouldn't want anything like that happening at the the Tour!
When asked, cycling fans have always tended to back radio bans. Even the poll on the Astana website only just came out against the ban despite full-on anti ban rhetoric from Astana's stars. Race radios are currently banned in under 23 races and the Tour wouldn't be the first race to impose such a ban.
So far ASO and the UCI are standing firm on this one.
On Satuday ASO said in a statement that as far as it was concerned the issue had already been resolved:
"In keeping with a decision by the Executive Committee of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the Commissaires’ Board would like to confirm that the 10th stage from Limoges to Issoudun on July 14 will be held without the use of radio communication.
"The Executive Committee of the Union Cycliste Internationale made this decision on June 19, 2009 and it will be upheld for the 10th and 13th stages of the race. We will do everything in our power to facilitate the jobs of team managers."
Can't wait for tomorrow…
Alberto and Lance Pt 254
All three overlap in the ongoing brouhaha over who is top dog at Astana – forests have been felled and millions of innocent pixels have already given their lives so we'll confine ourselves to the latest new on this. While refusing to speak to the media after yesterday's stage Lance did find the time to tell French TV:
““The honest truth? There’s a little tension at the dinner table. Alberto is very strong, very ambitious and I understand that. I’ve won this race seven times and I understand he wants to want it a second time.”
Blimey! who'd have thought? He went on to say that if Contador won, he'd be second, but that he certainly wouldn't be settling for third… or seond loser as Lance would once have had it.
More interestingly is the prospect of Lance v Alberto 2 at the 2010 Tour – they're back (with their own teams) and this time it's even more personal.
Asked by the French presenter if this would be his last Tour he said:
"Probably not. Probably not… Maybe one more Tour."
Speculation is that Armstrong will return at the head of a Livestrong team managed by Johan Bruyneel while Contador stays behind at an Astana bossed by Alexander Vinokourov. While the first part of that sounds credible, the second sounds less so. Contador has said that he and Vino got on fine, but having the Kazakh in charge might be uncomfortably similar to the situation he currently finds himself in with Armstrong.
More likely Contador will head off to somewhere like Caisse D'Epargne who are known to covet him and where even with Valverde in their ranks there would be no arguments about who was the number one grand tour rider. Contador spoke to them earlier this year, but there was nothing in it 'honest Johan' he said afterwards.
Or maybe he'll set up his own team? Anything Lance can do… According to this report from the Associated Press, quoting Spanish sports Daily La Marca, he's going to get together with F1 star (and friend) Fernando Alonso in a team sponsored by one the Renault racing team's sponsors – possibly Spanish bank, Santander. Stranger things have happened.
Team press days: Astana & Cervelot Test Team
Lance wasn't doing the Astana pess conference so it was the Alberto show and the big news was that Contador says he wouldn't attack Lance Armstrong if Armstrong went on a loan break like he did on Stage 7, it would be up to others to reel Armstrong in… which makes the Alps a tad more interesting in terms of the internal dyanamics over at Astana anyway.
Meanwhile over at the Cervelo press conference Carlos Sastre had this to say about his first, fairly quiet, week as defending champion and what the coming days in the Alps and the Ventoux might have in store:
"The Pyrenees didn't have the impact on the race that many expected. Arcalis wasn't that hard to truly make a selection and the other days saw the finish very far from the final climb, so we didn't see much movement on the final climbs. That wasn't such a surprise. There has to be a situation logical to try to make a move. It's not worth to attack like a crazy man, perhaps get a minute on the pack and then only to get reeled in on the flats going toward the finish line. Unless you can deploy a tactic like we used last year at CSC (on Alpe d'Huez), it's very difficult to attack from far away and have it mean anything. Even on Arcalis, there was a lot of head wind. Who's going to attack against such a strong team with so much head wind when the climb isn't even that hard? I don't know anyone who's that brave."
"I'm not going to attack just to make a spectacle. There are some people who attack just for a big show. I see winning this Tour very complicated, for a variety of reasons. There is a block atop the leader board by one team that is holding back the race. There are four leaders in the top 10, four riders who never fall short. It's not a criticism or a complaint, it's simply the truth. You have to make decisions based on reality."
"I am not resigned at all. Last year, I won the Tour. I won the race I wanted to win. It wasn't just a question of luck. We came here with two clear objectives, one was to try to win the yellow jersey and the other was to take the green jersey. The first is looking complicated, but the second is better, so one of the two isn't bad. We are a new team who came here to race the most important race in the world. I think we're doing pretty good. We've won a stage and finished second in another. The rest of it is still to keep fighting. We've given a good image."
"If I am capable of doing something in this race, I will do it for me and no one else. There's still a lot of race left here in this Tour. The one who is going to win is the one who attacks, who takes control of the race and who beats everyone else."
"The first week was a lot of wind, two major time trials, Pyrenees that weren't that decisive. I believe the second week is going to be choking. There are going to be two days without race radio, these the ingredients that are going to make for a truly difficult final week. For those of us who raced the Giro, it might be too much. Whoever has the legs in the final week will win."
"I am realistic. I am satisfied with the season I've done and my team is satisfied with my season. The Tour is always the race that I've always done well. I've received tens of thousands of messages of support from everyone and this helps me to have the motivation to keep fighting. This race didn't have the type of circumstances that I needed to try to win. So far, the Pyrenees didn't have the requirements for a climber like me to take control of the race as I liked. We haven't done anything wrong. We are calm, serene, we are going to keep fighting."
"I see it's difficult for me to win this Tour. There's a team that's been absolutely impressive and who is dominating the race. Am I going to feel any less because I might not win this Tour? Absolutely not. I have a great team. How many teams are in the Tour in their first year as a team? How many teams are wearing the green jersey in their first Tour? We have a lot of reasons to be happy in this Tour."
"Mont Ventoux? There could be a lot of changes, but maybe nothing will change at all. We have to see how we race it. After winning the Tour last year, that gives me all the value I need. To finish on the podium doesn't have the same meaning."