Today’s Tour de France reports all mention a “protest” by the peloton at the finish of the hilly, wet and slippery 125-mile ride across Belgium. The conclusion of the crash-plagued race featured the peloton riding en masse, with no attempt to sprint or otherwise differentiate times, as a way of saying … well, what exactly? Rain? Bad asphalt? The BP oil spill? While nearly all news accounts cite the protest, they don’t say what was being protested. [UPDATE: An exception is Joe Papp’s analysis.]
Since it would make little sense to protest slippery roads, or rainy weather, or hills — Nature isn’t exactly going to tailor itself to accommodate the pro cycling tour — we’re guessing that the riders’ enmity is aimed at race organizers for routing the Tour through the “northern countries.” Presumably places like Holland and Belgium have a greater likelihood of inclement weather, creating nasty riding conditions at the worst possible time — the beginning of the 3-week Grand Tour, when riders are edgy, adrenaline-pumped and still feeling their way riding in a 200-man pack.
As the London Guardian pithily quoted South African sprinter Robbie Hunter: “I say it again, no Grand Tour has any business in these northern countries and fuck anybody who says different. See how much you guys like hitting the deck at 60 kph.”
Indeed, it was probably the congested conditions that contributed to crashes as much as the weather. We didn’t hear a peep of protest from the breakaway rider, Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel of Quick Step, who managed not only to stay upright but finished the race well ahead of the pack and in the yellow jersey. Nor do we expect him to, say, forfeit the yellow jersey simply because he had the smarts to get out of Dodge while the getting was good.
It’s unfortunate that the weather was so ridiculously abhorrent on a day that promised a lot of intrigue and drama. Hey, we’re from Seattle, we know what rain on slickered pavement is like. Basically you don’t race. You just hang on for dear life and hope everything else takes care of itself.
But here’s the deal. We also sense that today’s “protest” was actually a “pre-protest” for tomorrow’s hellacious cobblestone Stage 3. There’s the real problem: We question whether a cobblestone stage belongs in a Grand Tour in the first place. If there’s cold, wet and a peloton pinched together by narrow roads as well — then that truly is something to raise Hell (of the North) about.
Full stage report from BikingBis.