Sabotaging the saboteur?
Paulo ran me down, but the Dutch say I punched him.
Some of you may have noticed KRX-10‘s comment on my earlier post regarding Sabotage. Well, needless to say, I was overjoyed to see the pictures he provided of the “sabotage” incident. I’m sure it’s lost on no one that his joke is based on the fact that I’m an American citizen of direct Dutch decent and because of me, the American Discovery Channel cycling team lost one of its key riders during the 2006 Tour de France – a perfect example of “the ancient Dutch art of screwing up your own team.”
Well, there’s some background to this story that deserves to be told. Michelle and I have twice been to France (in 2003 and 2006) to ride and follow the Tour when it comes near the area we stay in Aspet, France. This has been a truly exciting experience both times, and we have memories from both trips that will stay with us for ever.
During each of the two trips, we’ve chosen one major mountain stage to camp out on the roadside overnight and watch the Tour come by the next day. The first time we did this was a fairy-tale, textbook experience. We stayed on Alpe d’Huez and slept on the roadside. We brought a few bottles of wine, and made friends with people with whom we could only communicate through gestures and third or fourth party broken translations. The most colorful of these friends were a group of Italians who became drunk, invited us to their house in Tuscany, and declared us all to be lifelong friends. The next morning, as we were dragging ourselves up from a long sleepless night, the leader of their group visited our tent with a suspicious looking glass of something. I somehow managed to ask if it was wine. He gave me a disgusted, insulted look and said, “No. It’s 7am. This is Grappa.” Well, needless to say they continued on that path and the day culminated with them marching single-file down the center of the road a few hours before the Tour came by – buck naked.
The trip to the Tour in 2006 was no less memorable. We went down to Pla-de-Beret in Spain to watch the race on its first major mountain stage. We camped overnight, hung out the next day and headed down the mountain some distance to watch the race come by. I usually like to photograph the riders as they come racing by, so that’s what I was doing again this time. The lead group including Floyd Landis came by, followed by more and more riders, and I got some great shots. Some time later, the grupetto containing many of the sprinters and domestiques came by. The group was coming up the mountain, and I noticed one of my favorite riders, Tom Boonen, in the group – on the far side of the road. I judged the speed of the group coming up to me and determined I could just barely dash across the road in time to not interfere, allowing me to get a great shot of one of my heros. Having no time to waste, I shot across the road as fast as I could go. Imagine my surprise when I suddenly found myself numb and in midair.
Knowing that the groupetto and its various surrounding motorcycles and cars were fast approaching, I made like a steamroller towards the side of the road in order to avoid the unappealing fate of being run over; my head was spinning as I was trying to understand what happened and why my whole body ached.
As I heard the bicycle wheels, motorcycles and cars whiz past me and on up the road, I gathered myself together and looked to the other side of the road from where the blow had been delivered. There, crouching on the ground, sat Paulo Salvoldelli – screaming at me in Italian with blood pouring down his face. As it turns out, he had decided not to wait for his team bus and to instead ride (helmetless I might add) down the mountain – against the direction of the race route – while the race was still in progress. I am no expert at judging the speed of an object that smacks you unexpectedly from behind, but I’d guess that he was traveling somewhere between 20 and 30 km/h. The impact dislocated my shoulder (an injury which still bothers me today) and gave me several large bumps and bruises.
As Michelle helped him up, I yelled my apologies from across the street before making it gingerly across to see if I could somehow help. I felt terrible.
As if I didn’t feel badly enough already, we found out the next day that Paulo had dropped out of the Tour, citing his head injury as the reason.
While I’m ashamed to have knocked him out of the Tour, I must ask you to consider the following: what was he doing coming down the race course during the race – in the wrong direction? Further, why was he going so fast and not coming to a stop or slowing if the racers coming up were close enough that I hardly thought I could jump 4 feet across the narrow road to get the other side in time? Was he about to pile-drive the groupetto?
I like to think I saved Tom Boonen’s Tour that day. When you think of it, I’m a hero.
Anyway, like all crazy experiences, I have since taken a sort of odd pride in this tale, and upon our return from France, I scoured the internet for evidence of the incident, and to try to find out what the cycling community thought of it – to no avail. I found a few smatterings of information, but nothing interesting or conclusive.
Then, a few days ago, KRX-10 posted this series of pictures which he apparently found on a Japanese website somewhere last summer and had been holding onto until “the right moment.” It was one of the biggest surprises I’ve had in a long time, and Michelle and I certainly got an enormous kick out of it.
Then, in a dazzling display of Google savvy, Michelle tracked down two posts on the internet talking about the incident. The first had a reasonably accurate description of it. But – hilariously – the other post was on a Dutch news site. She asked me to translate. My jaw dropped when I read the headline. “Bicycle tourist punches Savoldelli out of the Tour”. The post went on to say a drunken tourist punched him to the ground. In a mind-bending, dizzying, cyclical scenario, are the Dutch trying to sabotage the saboteur?
I’m forever indebted to KRX-10 and Michelle for finding these jems. Although, I have to say I suspect that Michelle is just trying to make up for the fact that she is showing no concern for my wellbeing whatsoever in these photos. Her first comment to me after Paulo rode off was not, “ARE YOU OK?” but was instead, “MY BIKE IS LIGHTER THAN HIS!”
Oddly, I was reasonably receptive of the news and was rather interested to hear more on the subject.