As I write this, it’s Wednesday and the Tour de France is heating up. If you want to believe commentator Phil Liggett, the Schleck brothers, Andy and Frank, have “cracked,” lost their spirits and have no hope of winning. By the time you read this, Liggett will be either a prophet or a blast of hot air. I am hoping for the latter.
This year’s 2,000-mile battle through France is being promoted now as “absolute carnage.” I’ve lost count of the crashes, some of them quite spectacular and all of them frightening. After Wouter Weylandt’s death in the Giro d’Italia earlier this year, no feeling human being wants to see a rider go down.
Weylandt crashed during a descent and died almost instantly. Though Andy and Frank Schleck were not riding in the Giro, they were close to Weylandt, a longtime friend and member of their team, Leopard Trek (pronounced Lay-ah-pard). Surely he is on the mind of these two riders as they careen through the Alps.
By Sunday, the Tour will be winding down, with only the ride into Paris left, and the leader almost certainly decided. But for now, I’m wondering why Liggett is so quick to count the Schlecks out, and why he has been so harsh in his commentary throughout the race. This morning, someone told me it isn’t that he doesn’t like the talented Schlecks from Luxembourg, it’s that Andy has been saying for a year he was going to win the 2011 Tour. According to Liggett, Andy hasn’t shown him he’s got the stuff to make good on his promises.
Funny. Until Tuesday’s stage, all commentators were in agreement that Andy and Frank had run a perfect race, making no mistakes while top riders crashed all around them.
On Wednesday evening, Liggett backpedaled, finally admitting, “I like Andy Schleck.” Obviously, he was trying to deflect criticism of his coverage, and frankly it’s hard to believe him when he was the only one of the three Tour commentators last year who sided with Alberto Contador after “Chain-gate.”
Voted Cyclingnews’ biggest moment of the year, “Chain-gate” was so named after Andy Schleck’s bike dropped its chain on the Port de Balès summit during Stage 15 of the 2010 Tour. Rather than honoring the unwritten rules of “gentlemanly” conduct, which expect riders to keep things fair when mishaps occur, Contador attacked when he saw Andy in trouble.
What was worse, he forced young Schleck to take crazy risks on the more than 13-mile descent in order to make up time. In the end, Contador won the 2010 Tour by 39 seconds, exactly the amount of time he gained in his attack on Port de Balès.
Afterward I felt Andy’s pain when he said, “My stomach is full of anger.” (English is not his first language.)
It’s odd to be so caught up in a sport; it’s not like me. For the first time I understand why football fans’ moods rise and fall with point scores.
Come Monday, if I’m smiling, you won’t have to ask who stood atop the podium Sunday wearing the yellow jersey. And if that happens, well, Phil Liggett can just ...
Oh, sorry, I nearly forgot this was a G-rated column.
Jan Hearne is Tempo editor for the Johnson City Press. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.