Today was the first full stage of the Tour, 181.5 km (112.8 mi.) from Challans to Les Essarts, but unlike yesterday nothing of much significance happened. Every single rider finished with the exact same official time, except for three losers who finished 36, 39, and 47 seconds behind. Lance Armstrong and the other main contenders were safely nestled away inside the peloton and hardly seen all day.
I didn’t get a good look at Jan Ullrich to see how he was handling yesterday’s beatdown, but he kept pace, finishing 19th of the 186 cyclists who had a time of 3 hours, 51 minutes, and 31 seconds.
See, anybody who finishes in the peloton — which, in case ya didn’t know, is what they call the giant pack of cyclists that you see flying across France like a swarm of bees — gets the same time, regardless of when they actually cross the finish line. This greatly reduces the amount of jockeying for position that goes on near the end of the stage, and thus prevents a lot of accidents. Which is very prudent, but not exactly riveting TV — we, the viewers, might like to see a few more crashes.
In this situation the only riders going all-out are the sprinters, i.e. the guys who can ride the fastest for a short period of time. In the final kilometers they all make their way to the front of the peloton, and then in the last half-kilometer or so they all take off like crazy to see who can come away with the stage win. Today it was a Belgian named Tom Boonen who edged out Norwegian Thor Hushovd and Aussie Robbie McEwen to take the stage. Nobody cares too much except those guys, but still it must be nice to win a stage and stand on the podium, where you get to be on TV and be presented with a stuffed lion by the local hotties.
Speaking of hotties… er, lame transition, I’ll have to fix that later… but anyway, we actually saw much more of Sheryl Crow today than we did of Lance. The folks at the Outdoor Life Network seem to think that her status as rock-star girlfriend of the six-time champion makes her qualified to be an analyst, and she was interviewed for at least 10 minutes after the race. Not that I have anything against Sheryl — she’s smart, she handles herself well, and she looks like she spent the last couple months working out and tanning up to prepare for the Tour. I’m just not sure why she’s getting so much screen time.
Could be that the Tour is desperate for a female presence of some kind. The only other woman I’ve seen in two days of coverage was doing a really, really bad travelogue piece. Oh, and the girls on the podium, but you only see them very briefly. You know what would make the Tour more interesting to a mass audience? Each cyclist should have to carry a model from his home country on the back of his bike. Imagine Ullrich and Heidi Klum working their way up the side of a mountain as Kraftwerk plays in the background.
God, I’m a genius.