Tuesday, July 6, 2010

TDF 2010 Stage 1 Revisited: Le Tour de Crash

The following post, a look back at Sunday's Stage 1 from Rotterdam to Brussels, comes to us much better late than never from guest blogger Jeff Appeltans. Jeff is co-owner of GoCycling and is one of the top masters category road and cyclocross racers in the Mid-Atlantic region. As you may figure out while reading, he's also a huge fan of Belgian beer. Take it away, Jeff....

It was nice of David to offer me a chance to blog about the first stage of this year’s Tour. Of course I promptly lost what I had written prior to the start but had to get to bed since I was racing my bike on Sunday morning. So here’s my recap of Stage 1 - Le Tour de Crash.

This stage in particular is close to my heart since my mom’s from Rotterdam and my father is from the small village of Kerkom Belgium, located about an hour east of Brussels and home to the small artisan Brewery Kerkom, makers of Bink beer . Marc’s Bloesem Bink is a favorite of mine that uses local honey and pear syrup and is made during spring and summer.

Obviously, bikes and beer are in my blood.

One of the most lasting memories I have of Rotterdam is visiting Zadkine’s sculpture, The Destroyed City, when I was a child. It stands as a symbolic memorial to the city when it’s heart was destroyed just over 70 years ago during WWII . Perhaps that anniversary had some influence on why the Tour started here this year.

I'm actually glad I didn't get to watch the stage as it would have been painful to witness all the carnage. Early on it must have been beautiful as they crossed the Deltaworks, a series of dams and operational barriers littered with huge windmills that protect the delta lowlands from North Sea storms. Well worth the trip if you ever get the chance to travel over this engineering marvel. [You can view an image of the peloton racing through the area here.]

Good thing it was a nice day as this section is usually subject to bad weather with stiff crosswinds. But as you may know, even on the nicest days, le Tour can still be treacherous and this first stage confirmed that with crashes too numerous to count.

After they cut inland the stage went through the town of Hoogerheide where they have a longstanding tradition of hosting cyclocross World Cups as well as the recent 2009 World Cyclocross Championships. I’m sure several riders would have preferred an hour on that course over what awaited them on their ride into Brussels, Lars Boom being one in particular.

Once inside Belgium there’s no doubt the majority of folks watching were enjoying lots of Belgian beer especially as the peloton passed through Antwerp, home of the Kulminator, a great bar with an extensive selection of vintage beers. Sign their guest book and they’ll send you a card on your birthday, which is good for a free beer. You only have a few months to use it though, so unless you already have a trip planned it’s a bit of a tease.

If I had to pick a place to watch the race, I would have headed down the road to Mechelen where the crowds were just a bit smaller. Brewery Het Anker would be my destination, to enjoy a couple Gouden Carolus beers or a Lucifer. Their Noel is a great Christmas beer but a bit too rich and heavy for this time of year at 10.5%. If you get to drinking more than a couple of their higher gravity beers you don’t have to go far since they have a restaurant and hotel on the premises.

After seeing the prologue results I had high hopes that Tyler Farrar would win the sprint into Brussels, bringing him closer to the yellow jersey, but it was not to be thanks to a bad move in the final 100 meters by Lloyd Mondory of AG2R that left Farrar with a broken rear derailleur. He couldn’t help but create some controversy in a post race interview when he used the Flemish word kikker (translation “frog”) to describe Mondory’s ridng style; not a word the French take kindly to.

With three crashes in the final 3K, the first of which was caused by the erratic maneuvers of Cavendish (not unlike what he did a few weeks ago in the Tour de Suisse), Petacchi once again showed his skill by staying upright and avoiding the ensuing chaos to win. These opening sprints are always hairy no matter how strong the lead-out team.

Nerves must be frayed but that always seems to be the case during the first couple stages which are made more difficult each year by increasing traffic furniture (circles & islands) throughout Europe.

If I had been there to watch the nerve racking finish I would have made a trip to Mort Subite to wind down. As it’s name implies a glass of “silent death” only seems right after today’s finale. I haven’t been there in many years but from looking at the website they’ve added a larger selection of beers in addition to the six standards: Gueuze, Faro, Kriek, Peche, Framboise and Cassis. The crisp, sour gueuze is a personal favorite of mine.

Unfortunately the riders will get no such relief, no wasted calories on beer which is too bad considering they’re in one of the best beer cities in the world. Of course a select few will enjoy a little Champagne along the way but when in Belgium how can one resist some liquid bread. With the majority of the peloton hitting the deck at some point, most everyone endured a stinging shower from all the scrapes and cuts. A good meal prepared by the team chef and a massage is as much relief as they’ll get before a restless nights sleep.

My heart goes out to these guys as they each struggle to complete yet another epic Tour. It’s hard to imagine how difficult it is to ride just one stage with all its mayhem let alone 20 of them without the reward of a beer or two.

Now that I think about it, it’s good to be an amateur, weekend warrior if only to gain a better understanding of the suffering involved. It makes those creature comforts we all enjoy that much more appreciated.

No matter who did what in previous Tours, I can only hope this edition does not get any uglier then it has been so far.

So enjoy what is undoubtedly the hardest physical challenge in sport over the next three weeks and raise a glass to these incredible athletes. May the best man win!

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