Saturday, June 29, 2013

Throw the Tour organizers under the bus for the chaos in Corsica

I have to be, like, the millionth, stand-up wannabe to say this, but I just can't resist a bad pun:

Don't throw the Orica-Green Edge driver under the bus.

The chaos at the end of the opening stage rests entirely on the shoulders of the organizers. Do any of them own a tape measure? How many times have they set up a finishing line? Why would the banner over the finishing line be lower in Corsica than on any of the 2,000 other stages that the Amaury Sport Ooganization has set up?

No way a bus should have been unable to clear the finishing banner. But, when it happens, you gotta, as the Brits say, "Keep Calm and Carry On," figure out how to get it out of the way of the riders and avoid causing panic amongst the peloton.

Organizers failed on all points. But, could they have waited to announce a shortening of the stage and avoid recanting and throwing the teams and riders into confusion? Probably not. The team cars are equipped with TV monitors, so team directors would have known anyway that the bus was stuck and would have been thrown into a tizzy about what would happen at the line. The final 10K would have become even more lawless country if directors sportif were issuing individual, conflicting commands. You think the chaos was bad with the tour organizers in control? You would have seen a total mess, more crashes, more argy-bargy, more confusion, more anger amongst the riders.

Here's the account from Mark Cavendish, who had to be disgusted that he lost a chance to wear the maillot jaune for the first time in his career, speaking to sport writers at the finish:
"What caused the problems was changing the finish. Like, we heard on the radio with literally 5K to go that the sprint was in 2K and a K later, they were like, 'No, it's at the finish.' It's just carnage."
The showdown most cycling fans had anticipated -- Cavs duking it out with Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel -- never materialized. The first two got caught up in the crash; Greipel had a mechanical issue a moment later. BUT, credit Argos-Shimano and its lead sprinter, Marcel Kittel, for being in the right place at the right time. The team got lucky that the crash which took out Cavs and Sagan was on the opposite of the road, but it capitalized, delivering Kittel in position to take the sprint and a yellow jersey for one of the underfunded teams.

"I'm speechless, it's unbelievable. I'm so happy," Kittel said to reporters in Corsica. "This is absolutely, by far, the greatest day in my whole life. A big thank you to everyone."

Riders are always twitchy in the opening stages of the Tour, trying to avoid entanglements at the back of the peloton when a crash occurs. But many of the injured were close to the front, and the confusion about the location of the finishing line is the reason for extra nervousness.

The list of riders who hit the floor is impressive. Among them:

*Sagan, who fell at the front of the crash and had other cyclists ride over him as they tumbled. He looked pretty battered, not a great sign for a guy who was among the favourites for the stage win Sunday.
*Tony Martin, Cavs' teammate. His list of injuries was gruesomely impressive: concussion, bruised lung, soft-tissue damage to his hip, chest, left knee, shoulder and back, a cut on his left elbow.
*Tony Gallopin and Andreas Kloden of Radio Shack.
*Tejay Vangarderen of BMC, who finished 195th of 198 riders but reported only scrapes.
*Alberto Contador, who seemed to favor his left shoulder but said on twitter that he would start Sunday.
*Bauke Mollema, the designated leader of Belkin, formerly Blanco, formerly Rabobank.
*Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard of Team Sky, who were taken to hospital but were scheduled to start Sunday.
*Adoped St. Louisan Ryder Hesjedal, who hit the deck on a crash earlier in the stage, as did favourite Chris Froome.
*Rui Costa, who won the Tour de Suisse.
*Johnny Hoogerland, who took out a banner. Fans might remember that Hoogerland, along with Juan Antonio Flecha, were sideswiped by a media car and into a barbed-wire fence while in a breakaway in the 2011 Tour. Both rode, broken and battered but not beaten, into Paris two weeks later.

The bulk of these casualties could have been avoided with the use of a tape measure and a cool head. Way to go, ASO.

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