A highly competitive team time trial today, the closest ever, marred by David Zabriskie's crash near the finish. It's one of my favorite events, as I love the feeling of riding a blazing pace line with other riders. One of the things I most look forward to about going to France each year is flying through the French countryside with a couple of other riders, each taking a short turn up front. A group of riders like that can go faster than any one of the riders can alone, so a paceline like that allows you to sustain higher average speeds for longer periods of time. The feeling is exhilarating, and the formations of the professional teams resemble flocks of birds in their precision, a beautiful color-coordinated backlash of man and machine.
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini www.bettiniphoto.net
It's still not clear what happened to Zabriskie. The commentators theorized that he crossed wheels with the rider in front of him, but I haven't read any definitive account of the crash. A rider usually knows when he crosses tires with someone in front (UPDATE: Zabriskie has blamed a skipped chain). CSC is very fortunate in one sense in that they'd just come out of a corner, slowing them down just before the crash. Otherwise, I'm fairly certain that Roberts and more importantly Basso would have gone head over heels over Zabriskie. That would have lost Basso another minute or two on Armstrong (the crash was outside the 1km red flag, so Basso would not have received the protection of sharing his team's time).
Cyclists everywhere had to be wincing in empathy watching Zabriskie roll slowly to the finish line, the left side of his cycling shorts ripped open, revealing a massive patch of bloody, gravel-scored skin. As any rider knows, Zabriskie is in store for some hellaciously painful showers and several days of riding with a mixture of throbbing soreness, joint and muscle stiffness, and a sharp stinging pain. On a positive note, he's a bit lighter now, having lost some blood and skin to the road.
Team Discovery Channel set a team time trial record, averaging 54.93 kph or 34.13 mph. To sustain that for over an hour and ten minutes is absurd. Just silly fast. I'd need a long stretch of downhill to get myself up to that type of speed, and if I was lucky enough to sustain it for several minutes my heart would explode. That's assuming I could even turn over a 55-11 gearing. With a flat course and a tailwind, the conditions did not seem to favor huge time gaps, and the negligible time difference between CSC and Discovery Channel showed that to be true.
The next few days will be somewhat uneventful, as Lance and Team Discovery would prefer. They spoke of perhaps sending George up in some breaks to see if they could transfer the yellow jersey from Lance to George, but I'm skeptical. It would tire George out needlessly before the mountains. I'd love to see it happen, though. These are the least interesting stages of the Tour de France, everyone riding together to the finish, perhaps chasing down a break or two, before the sprinters amass for the insanity of the bunch sprint. The first several stages, with the team time trial and a longer than usual prologue, has probably left many riders exhausted, so riders will be more reluctant to break away the next day or two.
Tom Boonen has just been a beast this season (he won the Tour of Flanders and the fabled Paris-Roubaix), and it's just a shame Alessandro Petacchi isn't at the Tour so the two leading sprinters in the world could duel it out. That would make this first week more compelling.
I went for a bike ride yesterday, trying to find my away to the George Washington Bridge and across into New Jersey. I printed out a cue sheet and stowed it in a sandwich bag in my rear jersey pocket. The first time I reached for it, up in Harlem, it was gone. I may have lost it within a block or two of leaving my apartment. Finding my away across the GWB wasn't difficult, but once over to the other side, I had no idea where to go.
Though most cyclists seemed to have stayed home to avoid the auto traffic for the 4th, I managed to run across a local who talked me through a moderately hilly loop just on the other side of the bridge. He was a scrawny, stick-armed, middle-aged man with a big white beard and a deep tan, riding an old, beat-up road bike. I imagined him to be the town crazy, spotted everywhere but rarely spoken to, the kind that turns out to be a former Nobel Prize winner in the movies. He had a voice like Will Ferrell's Old Prospector from SNL.
Harlem streets are rough (literally). My rear tire flatted on the return trip. It wasn't a blowout, so I managed to drag myself home by stopping every two or three miles to put a few pumps of air in. I'll have to change that tube and find some tires more suited to shattered-glass-and-pothole complexion of New York city streets.
I didn't realize so many New Yorkers abandon the city on summer weekends, especially holiday weekends. I should have stolen away, somewhere, anywhere. I think I need a time out from the city. Riding around the city by myself and past so many families out at parks with picnic coolers and BBQs, I felt a vague sort of longing that the warm summer air always seems to stir up. A yearning for something, but I wasn't sure what.
Well, that's not exactly true. I am yearning to be in France, where my life would be as different as possible from life in Manhattan. My daily concerns on Tour de France bike vacations has always been so wonderfully circumscribed. Wake up, prep my bike clothes and equipment, eat a good breakfast, study the route map, check the bike and pump up the tires, and set off. Then you eat, stroll through quaint little French towns, watch the race finish, and choose a restaurant in which to eat a two to three hour dinner. Then it's back to bed or on to the next town.
Everything moves slower except the cyclists. People walk more slowly, meals are eaten at leisure, and one senses that everyone around them has the same, simple outlook and daily concerns. Even when I'm out for a leisurely stroll around NYC, I can't help but be swept up by the current of suits streaming in both directions on sidewalks and subway. People here are like molecules compressed into a low volume space, oscillating at higher speeds under the pressure. Compare it to Los Angeles, a horizontal city as opposed to New York's vertical configuration. With so much horizontal space per person, everything moves more slowly, and even those looking to speed around get caught in gridlock.
I do think that finding some routes out of Manhattan on my bike will help. My breakaway didn't quite succeed, but attack enough and one day you'll outrun the peloton. I'm going to tape that cue sheet to my forearm on my next trip.