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30 Jul 2010 08:23
After all the smiles and handshakes it was surprising that Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck didn’t blow kisses to each other as they stood on the podium in Paris. We can only hope that beneath their avowals of respect and friendship lurk the elements of a true Tour de France rivalry: simmering resentment and something close to hatred.
Since their battle over the three weeks of the 2010 Tour concluded with a repeat of the previous year’s result, and it seems more than likely that there will be more to come next year, there needs to be something more than sun-kissed displays of magnanimous sporting behaviour if this historic race is to maintain its vibrancy.
A “clean” Tour in terms of dope tests is one thing (although we must wait for a month or two before being entirely comfortable about that assertion).
Extending it to the competition between the riders is quite another.
“What we’ve seen between the two favourites is inconceivable,” the two-times winner Laurent Fignon, who knows a thing or two about bitter personal rivalries, said on the eve of the final stage.
“Cycling isn’t a friendly game.
During the winner’s press conference, which traditionally takes place the night before the ride into Paris, Contador suddenly put Schleck in his place. He started silkily enough. “Andy is a great rider,” he said. “I"ve spent a lot of time with him. I know the way he works and I think he’s going to be a major rival for a long time. He’s very young, and I’m still very young, and I’m sure he’s going to keep improving.” Then he inserted the stiletto. “He was at the same level this year. I wasn’t. We’ll see what happens in the future.”
Contador said that he had been taking antibiotics before the Tour started and that he was in a bad way the night before Saturday’s 52km time trial, in which he performed way below the standard he exhibited in winning the equivalent stage in Annecy last year, when he beat even Fabian Cancellara over a 40km course.
If the subtext of Contador’s remarks is to be taken seriously, Schleck’s success in closing the margin between them from 4min 11sec in 2009 to 39sec this year is no more than an illusion, and not to be taken as an indication that the Luxembourg rider is on the brink of overhauling the Spaniard.
Contador is probably right, and the key to this particular ascendancy is surely Schleck’s inability to go off on long-range attacks in the high mountains. His repeated short bursts again had no lasting impact and he will have to expand his range of weaponry if he hopes to do anything other than wait for Contador to retire before claiming his first yellow jersey in Paris. He has shown signs of raising his game in the time trials, so there may be hope.
Should he fail to take the final step, the world will be looking for other young contenders as the generation of Carlos Sastre, Ivan Basso, Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins starts to fade away. Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen is an obvious candidate, although the 23-year-old Norwegian all-rounder, the winner of last year’s Tour of Britain, was badly hampered by bronchitis in his first Tour de France, finishing two consecutive mountain stages alongside the sprinters in the grupetto.
Others include the riders in fifth, sixth and seventh places in this year’s final general classification: Jurgen Van den Broek, Omega Pharma-Lotto’s 27-year-old Belgian; Robert Gesink, Rabobank’s 24-year-old Dutchman, and Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Transitions.
Will Ben Swift or Peter Kennaugh emerge from the ranks of Team Sky’s juniors with the qualities to challenge one day for the overall win? On their young shoulders, at the moment, rests the burden of Dave Brailsford’s much-publicised intention to put a British rider on the top step of the podium.
Even when the rivalries are coated with honey, the world of the Tour de France is a harsh one. That’s the way it was meant to be, and anything else would be an insult to those who fought the grim battles of yesteryear.—Guardian News & Media 2010
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