In the saddle with Cadel

About 1.00am, Saturday 16th July.

 

Someone is ringing the bejesus out of a cowbell in my lounge room. People are yelling, cheering – ‘Allez!’, ‘Vamos!’, ‘Go! Come on!!!’ Phil Liggett is talking to me. He mentions something about riders pushing themselves to the limit, this is what they train for, Le Tour at its finest. I agree, before asking him why he is in my lounge room.

Suddenly I remember…Cadel!!! Oh no, I have drifted off to sleep and left you alone on the mountain against the wiles of Basso, Contador and the formidable Schleck brothers.

The couch consumed me; its cushions like quicksand. What was only meant to be a quick ten minute nap before the final climb became a classic case of ‘been-a-big-day-now-absolutely-battling-to-stay-awake-during-fascinating-drama-filled-and-incredibly-scenic-stage-of-the-Tour-de-France’ kind of sleep.

Thankfully, the stage is not over. There is still 2.5km to go. It’s desperate times on a gruelling ‘Hors categorie’ climb. A time when the tour is won or lost if a rider isn’t careful.

Last thing I recall before nodding off was the commanding presence of Stuart O’Grady in charge of the peloton, leading the chase to catch the breakaway.

My attempted ten-minute nap at the ‘36km to go’ mark lasted the better part of an hour. In that time, the absurd climbing pace of Team Leopard Trek up the final ascent to Plateau de Beille shredded the peloton and sorted out the contenders from the pretenders (so says Phil anyway).

There are two riders up the road, pushing for a stage win, but they are not overall contenders, just glory men it seems. Ten riders remain in the group that matters. Cadel is one of them.

The fact he is still there makes me wonder if I am dreaming. Phil and Paul tell me this is the real deal in their beautifully understated way.

Cadel looks ‘on’. Has been ‘on’ all Tour. Years of heartache seem to be driving his every pedal stroke this year. He is relaxed and comfortable. Phil agrees. But don’t rule out Contador. Never rule out little Alberto, particularly when he’s dancing on his pedals.

Spanish and French flags are everywhere. There’s the odd Australian flag too. No sign of the Luxembourg flag though (not that I would recognise it mind you). The route is about the width of a single rider, such is the throng of spectators. It’s the Pyrenees in all their glory – steep and unrelenting with nowhere to hide, the kind of average gradient more suited to an escalator, not a cyclist.

It’s make or break time; also a time when Liggett comes into his own.

Schleck surges, Basso responds. Basso surges, Cadel responds. Schleck goes again, Contador responds, so does Cadel. So does the other Schleck. Voeckler is still there too, in the yellow jersey. This is not part of the script – he is becoming a pest. ‘Not a climber’, they all said. And yet here he is. A plucky Frenchman if ever there was one.

Basso covers yet another Schleck attack (the Schlecks seem to have this one-two punch style of attacking that possibly involves some sort of ESP). Cadel covers this latest attack and then keeps powering around the bend, passing everyone. He almost collects a spectator who is seemingly trying to kiss Basso.

Cadel’s gap to the bunch widens. It must be at least 5 metres already. It’s not much but it’s growing. The crowd are electric, fanatical. They love what they are seeing. I rise from the couch, cheering him on. The moment he stamped his authority on the 2011 tour.

Enter Schleck. Both Schlecks in fact.

Always. Those. Bloody. Schlecks.

The gap has been closed.

The bunch continue. Andy Schleck surges away (a bit too easily for my liking) in the final hundred metres and gains 2 seconds on Cadel. As is about to cross the line, Schleck looks back and eyeballs his rivals. It’s a strong gesture, as if to say ‘see you in the Alps next week’.

Sleep will not claim me in the big mountains this week. Not Wednesday. Not Thursday. Definitely not Friday up Alp-d’Huez.

The Schleck’s have each other. Cadel has me.

 

 

Comments

  1. Wonderful Ross. I hope and expect that Cadel has everyone in the country. This is really exciting. Can he do it? What courage these blokes have. Incredible. What fitness. More incredible.

    Climb Cadel climb. It may come down to the last time trial.

  2. smokie88 says:

    It may be considered heresy, but it’s time for Matt Keenan to replace Phil Liggett.

  3. Mark Doyle says:

    I find it amazing how much media coverage that the Tour De France (TDF) cycle race gets these days. I can remember when Eddy Merckz was dominating 40 years ago, the only coverage was a small print of stage and GC results in the Age newspaper. There was no radio and TV coverage. The SBS and internet coverage is great for us cycling tragics. My only criticism of the SBS coverage is that they focus too much on the english speaking riders from Australia, Britain and America. To appreciate how tough it is I recommend Russell Mockridge’s book. It is also disappointing that road cycling gets so much bad publicity from ignorant media buffoons such as Gerard Whately (ABC), Tim Lane (3AW) and Patrick Smith (SEN). These people have no understanding of sport.

    I have been to the TDF a few times and it is the equal with the soccer world cup as the best sports carnival. One of my best experiences was seeing our Australian Heinrich Hausler’s stage win in Colmar a couple of years back. The best place for TDF action is the Pyrennes with huge numbers of Spanish and French people – this is a fantastic 24 hour party with sharing of great food, wine, beer, and sangria.

    Australia has been well represented for the past 30 years with blokes such as Phil Anderson, Stuart O’Grady, Robbie McKewan, Cadel Evans and many others.

    I look forward to the next couple of days which will be a huge test for Cadel Evans. The French Alps are the toughest part of the race and Evans is not as good a climber as Alberto Contador and the Schleck brothers. I think there is still a question about Evan’s temperament. He has done well so far and had a good preparation. He was also lucky that he didn’t get held up by the crash that held up Contador in the first week. His real test will be Alp D’Huez. I spoke to a friend this morning who has just returned from a cycling holiday which included the ride up Alp D’Huez – he said it is unbelievably hard and the most difficult thing he has done

  4. Phantom says:

    Phil Liggett, the voice of cycling. He makes the race from a viewers perspective. It would not be the same without him.

  5. Phantom says:

    I have enough trouble spelling Alp D’Huez let alone consider riding up it Mark.

  6. Mark Doyle says:

    Don’t sell yourself short Phantom. In my friend’s tour group there were a husband and wife from Brisbane who are in their 60’s who did Alp D’Huez quicker than my friend who is 20 years younger. I am 61 and my friend says I am fit enough to do it. However, I will settle for a 15 day cycling holiday in Vietnam in 8 weeks. It was also interesting to hear that there were hundreds of cyclists from all parts of the world on the Alp D’Huez road and very few cars.

  7. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Great report Ross. ,The Tour is certainly reaching an exciting climax. I think the commentary is great- How lucky was it that the gate to that car park was left open?

  8. Phantom says:

    Noted that on another blog this morning Pamela.

    If the gate was shut Cadel would be wearing the yellow Jersey.

  9. Skip of Skipton says:

    I enjoy watching Le Tour for the French countryside scenery and Gabriel Gate’s cuisine de la region. Cadel, Cadel, Cadel. Oui! Oui! Oui!

  10. Phantom says:

    A hill to far.

    Andy looks a little too shlick.

    Evans brave.

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