Blazin' Saddles

Ale-Jet grounds Cav’s easyJet

Blazin' Saddles

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By the time Alessandro Petacchi won his first Tour stage in seven years, the pack had been whittled down to about 20 riders and most of his sprint rivals hadn't even reached the runway.

Mark Cavendish's recent knack of substituting race form with an alarming tendency to wipe out all those around him continued on the last bend, when the Manxman over-cooked the turn, drove a Lampre rider wide and floored a Cervelo man plus Oscar Freire in the process.

A huge pile-up moments later halted the vast majority of the peloton, while a bizarre incident involving Lloyd "Mon Dieu" Mondory and Tyler "20-20 Vision" Farrar on the closing stretch saw the pair's bikes interlock and the American attempt to become the first man in Tour history to win a stage while in semi control of four wheels.

(A clearly antagonised Farrar referred to this as a "classic Lloyd Mondory move" in which the Frenchman "decided to commit suicide into my back wheel" - although judging by the AG2R rider's hand gesture after his backside had been cheese-grated along the road, he wasn't best pleased about having his bike pinched.)

In the end, victory was as elementary as a famous Baker Street detective for Petacchi. The 36-year old caught Mark Renshaw without too much ado, while third place Thor Hushovd, riding back to form, was seemingly happy to pick up the points for third while his two main green jersey rivals settled for zilch. Savvy guy, Thor.

Winning a sprint without the likes of Cavendish or Farrar, however, is a bit like winning a Grand Slam without facing Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal - although that's clearly doing a bit of a disservice to the tennis greats: Farrar's never won a stage on the Tour, while quite what is going on in Cav's head is anyone's guess.

Cavendish's lamentable effort in Brussels took the tacky out of Petacchi. It's reached the point when riders no longer single out Cav for blame because, quite frankly, it's become a bit of a cliché.

"One rider went into [the final bend] a bit faster than the others, and this triggered the crash. But I don't remember who it was," said Freire - even though he could be seen having heated words with Cavendish after the incident. By calling him "one rider" and not Cav, Freire has shrunk his rival's credibility to the size of Sammy Dumoulin's small finger.

Tricky days for the peloton's persona non grata. If Petacchi's known amongst fans as Ale-Jet, then Cavendish is clearly a majestically fast Concord recalled over suspicions of safety and now reintroduced as an easyJet Airbus.

Like his easyJet equivalent, Cav is unreliable, rarely arrives on time and has issues with both leg room and excess baggage.

On a day that the 25-year-old yet again failed to deliver, his HTC-Columbia team-mate Andre Greipel - overlooked for the Tour - rather tellingly won the first stage of the Tour of Austria. With a key component of the HTC train - Adam Hansen - already out of the race with a broken collarbone, the situation is very precarious for Bob Stapleton's men.

And to think that only yesterday BS touted Cav for the green jersey in Paris. Until he re-finds his form, his love and respect of the sport, and a little consistency, netting green is about as likely as Andy Schleck ever winning a time trial.

Not since 1993 has the eventual winner of the green jersey scored no points on the opening stage. Saddles now feels like one of those silly football pundits who predicted World Cup glory for England.

It was amid cheers of "Cavendish, you suck! Go home!" from a group of (classy) Team Sky supporters that the sprinter crossed the finish line - the kind of insults usually reserved for the likes of Lance Armstrong when entering France. Not quite the start Cavendish would have hoped for.

Quote of the day: "Please leave your dogs at home and stay off the road." Mark Renshaw is grateful for the massive crowds in Belgium but shows his concern after a crash-ridden stage one. Still, at least Ivan Basso was reacquainted with Birillo for a moment or two on the road.

Word of the day: Wijnantsing - n. the act of adding to a spectacle with a prolonged example of nationalist zeal. Eg. Bob Geldof made every Irishman proud with his display of selfless wijnantsing at Live Aid in 1985.

Stage two prediction: The riders head through the Ardennes to Spa in what promises to be a mini classics race in the mould of Liege-Bastogne-Liege or Gent Wevelgem. The parcours has Philippe Gilbert written all over it, so it's strange that the Belgian chose not to race this year; it would suit Alejandro Valverde too, but the Spaniard has inexplicably decided to take a year out of the sport.

It would be nice to see Cadel Evans, Alexandre Vinokourov or Jens Voigt having a crack - and one thing's for certain, a plucky Frenchman like Thomas Voeckler will try and pick up the polka dot jersey en route.

That said, given the healthy water-treatment connotations of the finish town, it's hard to see any soap-shy Frenchman making too much of a dash for Spa. Maybe a budget rider - say, from Footon-Servetto - will misread the finish as 'Spar' and feel inspired?

Plat du jour: Simple: some crusty bread, a chunk of coarse Ardennes pate and a glass of sweet Leffe beer.

Peleton prattle: Which rider's love of gospel music was the real reason for driving away cycling's Modfather to a rival team this summer?

Uses for Tyler Farrar #1: A bike lock

Follow Blazin' Saddles throughout the Tour on www.twitter.com/saddleblaze.

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