a version of this article originally appeared on The Roar
Intrigue and drama are never far from any Tour de France, but this one has been a doozy from Stage 1.
It started with the controversial sprint and subsequent exit of Mark Cavendish, followed by that massive day on the cobbles that saw Chris Froome leave the Tour with a fractured wrist and an incredible ride by Vincenzo Nibali.
It was then on to the rather lonely farewell of Alberto Contador as he patted Mick Rogers on the back and climbed into his team car, surrounded by low hanging clouds that seemed to have been summoned by a scriptwriter with a penchant for cliché.
But this has all been anything but cliché. It has, in fact, been one of the most fascinating starts to a Tour in many a year.
The abandonments of the three riders mentioned were not planned nor welcomed by anybody but perhaps their fiercest detractors and closest rivals, yet the reason that Fabian Cancellara has left the race is another kettle of fish altogether.
“I will travel home now and take a little break,” Cancellara told reporters as the rest day began. “The season has been long for me, starting back in Dubai.
“I have done 59 days of competition this season so far and I have another big goal at the end of this season: the World Championships.
“It’s not a secret that I’d like to be in my best shape there, so it’s important that I take some rest.”
Which all left me scratching my head and wondering a few things.
Had his team known that they’d be deprived of their best rider after ten stages? Did Cancellara plan this in advance, or was it a spur of the moment thing? Finally, is this not immensely disrespectful to the Tour de France?
Riders often ditch their spots in the Vuelta a Espana before its conclusion to prepare for the World’s but this might just be the first time that a rider has done the same thing at the Tour.
Perhaps others have used false injuries as excuses but none have come out to state the fact so bluntly as Cancellara.
Also, the Worlds comes soon after the Vuelta, this year towards the end of September, which is over two and a half months away.
That we’ve lost three of the sport’s stars was bad enough, but to have another name just decide to drop out, abandoning his teammates, his fans and the race itself, does not sit right.
That kettle of fish is a tad stinky.
Onto Contador and that bike. That bike that was reported as being broken and the reason for his crash even before he abandoned.
Bjarne Riis said soon after that he thought the crash had been caused because Contador had been eating and lost control of the bars and went down.
What was he eating? 86 kilograms of marzipan? Fried hippo on a stick? A Spanish cow perhaps?
That tosh was soon followed – and I mean immediately – by a statement from Specialized that denied the bike had been broken at all, despite NBC Sports’ Steve Porino, reporting that his bike had indeed been “in pieces.”
“His frame snapped in half. They threw it in a heap in the back of the car,” Porino said.
Then Specialized said Conty’s spare bike had fallen from the roof of the car, then they said that it was it was in fact Nicolas Roche’s bike that had been run over earlier despite the fact that it had a ‘31′ – Contador’s number – attached to the bike.
And then – yes, I am not joking – they claimed that Contador’s spare bike had been on the roof and that it had somehow collided with a Belkin spare that was on their roof. Quite how two bikes on separate roofs can collide without the two cars carrying them getting majorly dented was not explained.
Hmm, the intrigue builds.
“Yes, we can confirm that a delinquent child swapped Nicolas Roche’s number for a quickly and expertly constructed papier mache likeness of Contador’s number,” Specialized’s spokesperson should have said but didn’t.
“The wayward waif jumped on the car roof after the first descent with a bucket of paste and chicken wire and he’s shown us right up, the little card,” Specialized definitely did not say. “That’s all there is to it. Now then, move along.”
Then a photo of ‘Contador’s bike’ was posted that showed a Specialized that looked fine and was very unbroken in half and we were told that this was in fact ‘the bike’.
Might have been better, Specialized marketing folks, had you sent out a message offering condolences and a quick recovery to your sponsored rider and declining to comment on the bike until a later date.
The Monty Python Dead Parrot sketch might not be the best model on which to model your recent public statements.
Insert ‘Specialized bike’ every time Alberto – sorry John Cleese – says ‘parrot’ and you have a very keen replica of this current situation. The parrot even matches the colour of Contador’s Norwegian Blue bike. It’s too perfect.]
One last thing – check out the picture above. Is that not Contador’s bike, a broken one, with the doctor in white shirt and kahki trousers behind that attended him? Why would the team guy be carrying Contador’s broken bike, if it happened earlier with the alleged clash with Belkin, here? Confusing, indeed.
Finally, and this may not seem connected to the Tour de France 2014 but trust me, it is pertinent, comes the news of Denis Menchov’s ban for doping.
Menchov, busted for doping offences in 2009, 2010 and 2012, is the biggest name since Contador to be busted and yet for some reason the UCI tried to bury this news in a pdf on their website.
Now, why would the UCI, who under Cookson have been promising greater transparency, not announce the news that their biological passport had caught a big fish with a press release? Cookson has tried to explain the reasoning but he ended up admitting that the UCI might have handled it better.
Menchov announced his retirement with a year left on his contract and said that it was the result of a knee injury, which seemed odd to say the least. If I didn’t know better I’d think that Menchov knew something was coming and decided to take the quiet road out.
Just last month Roman Kreuziger and Tinkoff-Saxo announced that the team management and rider had decided not to ride the race as the Kreuziger was under suspicion as a result of his blood values.
The news came from his team, not from the UCI. Why would the UCI, in these two cases, not release the news themselves to the media, instead leaving fans on forums to fill the vacuum? Do they not understand the need for full accountability?
More confusion comes from the actions, or inactions, of the authorities. We, the paid up members who pay our fees to race and who pay the salaries of the UCI, and others who watch the races on their tv sets, contributing to the huge TV deals, are not deemed to be important enough to be given explanations for these events.
Transparent? About as clear as the fog into which Alberto Contador disappeared.