Blazin' Saddles

Might as well blame it on BP

Blazin' Saddles

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No one actually laid the blame for Monday's dramatic Tour spills on Tony Hayward's back door but they might as well have got on the bandwagon and stuck the knife in the BP chief executive.

The race's competition director Jean-Francois Pescheux said after the farcical finish to stage two in Spa that the mass crash was caused by oil or diesel fuel on the road.

As soon as the words came from his mouth, journalists around the world sharpened their knives at the prospect of another BP carve-up.

With the Gulf of Mexico filled to busting point with unrefined crude oil, it was only a matter of time before some of it ended up on the steep peaks of Belgium.

The slick seemed to occur when a television motorbike crashed trying to avoid hitting Lampre's Francesco Gavazzi after the Italian - up ahead from the initial breakaway - skidded on the wet descent of the third-category Stockeu, 30km from the finish.

Rumours are spreading fast that the driver of the motorbike not only filled his vehicle up with a full tank of BP petrol at the beginning of the stage - but he also recently advised a relative to buy shares in the embattled oil giant.

The result was cataclysmic - with more crashes in one descent than Tom Boonen managed throughout the whole of last year's Tour. In fact, the two most staggering stats of the day were: i) Mark Cavendish did not cause any of the falls, and ii) Denis Menchov somehow managed to stay on two wheels.

That said, Spa hospital is going to be one hell of a busy place on Monday night. What's more, any Belgian roadkill enthusiasts are going to have their work cut out separating dead squirrels and badgers from the skin, flesh and gore of the peloton's finest.

"There's no place in the Tour for a stage like this," harrumphed RadioShack's Chris Horner, sounding lamentably like Alexandre Vinokourov in the Giro.

He's half right, according to Saddles. There's no place for a stage so outrageously ransacked by the decision of a select few to neutralise the race to limit the loses of some of the major contenders; there is a place, however, for a stage which tests the riders more than the usual 250-km flat slog-fest resulting in a victory for Cav.

Talking of Cav - he was one of the few riders who avoided hitting the deck out there. But so was Thor Hushovd. Unlike Thor, however, Cavendish was already blown off the back of the peloton by the time the incidents occurred. Thor, on the other hand, used his experience to avoid the destruction - only to be ordered not to race for vital green jersey points at the finish.

The Norwegian is quite right to feel hard done by, for the Fabian Cancellara-induced decision clearly punished the riders who had managed to avoid the chaos, riders who didn't have a vested interest in the overall standings, but who were riding for something as every bit important.

A second place on top of Cav's failure to net any points for two successive days may have even at this premature stage wrapped up the green jersey competition for the Cervelo man.

Even more annoying in Saddles' eyes is how the whole charade deflected praise away from a worthy winner in Sylvain Chavanel, a rider who fractured his skull on these very roads earlier in the year.

Granted, the Frenchman would in all likelihood have been caught had the peloton not been so devastated with 30km to go, but as Hushovd said, "this is still a bike race".

A yellow jersey and a stage win for one of racing's true nice guys; a first win for the home nation France; a win for a Belgian team in Belgium; QuickStep's day topped off with the polka-dot jersey for Jerome Pineau. These accomplishments will sadly be forgotten on a day when the world judged the knees and elbows of two brothers from Luxembourg more important than the realities of road racing.

Quote of the day #1: "I had crashed on the right, so I thought I got to get some scratches on the left otherwise I would look stupid." Andy Schleck - with enviable lightheartedness given the situation - talks reporters through his torrid day.

Quote of the day #2: "Why should Cancellara decide? I've been riding all day for the stage win and the green jersey and I end up with nothing. This is not fair. Will the same thing happen tomorrow? Will the times for GC be taken before the pavé sections? If a big rider crashes tomorrow on the cobbles, he's entitled to ask for the race to be neutralised too? So when will we race?" Thor Hushovd, Saddles salutes you.

Quote of the day #3: "Is this what you want... is this not why you're here..." The inimitable Dave Zabriskie replies to the Garmin physio's tweet: "Cluster bomb has hit the team. As bad as you can think. Damn damn damn!"

Quote of the day #4: "Tomorrow big casino again on the road." Either Andreas Kloeden is referring to the lottery of the cobbles or he knows the route so well, down to its individual supermarkets.

Word of the day: Bouet (pronounced Boo-Hate) n. someone in a competitive field who becomes persona non grata for failing to subordinate himself to his superiors. The word derives from the French word for mud - boue. The colloquial superlative form - for someone who REALLY angers others - is a 'maximum bouet', often shortened to 'maxime bouet'.

Stage three prediction: The battered and bruised riders hit the cobblestones on Tuesday with the finish in Arenberg a pavé's throw away from the disused mines used in the 1993 film Germinal. The Emile Zola adaptation starred as leading man the singer Renaud, who once sang a duet with the Belgian chanteuse Axelle Red. Roux is red in French, and so all fingers are pointing to FdJ's Anthony Roux. Although it will probably be safer to bet on there being more crashes - or for there to be a go-slow strike.

Plat du jour: The famous Hoegaarden beer is brewed near the start in Wanze - perfect for settling the nerves of some riders. As for food, take your pick: pumpkin waffles with rum, eels cooked with spinach and sorrel leaves in white wine, Hochepot Flamand (oxtail and veg stew) or local pate from Valenciennes - a powerful blend of tongue and foie gras.

Peleton prattle: Which antipodean rider thinks of Mark Cavendish every time he sinks his teeth into a soggy biscuit?

Uses for Fabian Cancellara #1: Stand in for race director Jean-Francois Pescheux? He's already doing much of his job for him anyway.

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

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