The Giants of the Road

The Mountains are lonely place to race alone.

Those who complete the Tour de France are referred to as The Giants of the Road, and a look back at the first week of the Tour doesn’t leave much room for wondering why.  With barely ten stages behind us, we’ve seen some amazing battles.  We’ve seen Pharmstrong take a small psychological win over Contodor in the opening Prologue.  We’ve seen Cavendouche start his Green Jersey quest by missing a turn in the closing kilometers of Stage 1 and crashing. We’ve seen nearly the whole bunch crash on oil-slicked roads into Brussels on Stage 2.  Stage 3 saw several riders with broken bones – Tyler Farrar and Robert Gesink among them – suffer over the cobblestones of Northern France.  Stage 4 saw Petacchi further beat the Cavencanhestilldoitdish’s ego into the tarmac before Stage 5 saw a triumphant Cavenyeshecandish prove that he still can win a gallop, even under pressure.

Stage 6 was much of the same story as Stage 5, except one important difference: first loser of the stage went to a man with a broken wrist. A pro sprinter once told me, “Sprinting is easy.  You just try to break your handlebars.”  Seems like that might be a trifle dodgey with a busted wrist.  Stage 7 saw the GC contenders watch each other as Sylvan Chavenel snuck off with a Maillot Juane that he would have normally have held throughout the first week, had he not been touched by the Seven Eyed Spider Monkey Devil on Stage 3.

Stage 8 had Grimpeur the Younger take a small psychological win over Bertie as he dropped him and put a small time gap into him, which is the first time this has happened in recent memory (although, if we wipe away the mind-cobwebs set in by all the ale we drink, we recall that Contador won the Giro by only a small margin and the Vuelta only by aggregate time bonuses awarded at stage finishes; perhaps he’s not the dominant figure we portray and curse him to be.)  Stage 8 also saw two GC contenders felled by the same crash demonstrate decidedly different reactions to their falls: Cadel Evans took his second Yellow Jersey and Lance Armstrong took his first massive beating in the Tour de France.

And here we jump headlong into armchair quarterbacking.  We give Armstrong a rough ride here at the Velominati. In fact, we generally refer to him as “Pharmstrong”.  But, in truth, he has our respect even if we don’t appreciate him.  There’s no denying that the man can suffer like none other.  He survived cancer to win the Tour de France seven times. Regardless of any drugs he may or may not have taken to do so, he won against what was presumably a level playing field through planning, preparation, and training (and, allegedly, a bribe or two).  In light of that, his most famous quote serves as an inspiration to fans and non-fans alike: “Pain is temporary, quitting is forever.”

A lot was made of Armstrong’s crashes and the effect they had on his performance that day. Continuing on after a crash is tough, and catching back onto the bunch takes a big effort, but for a man who lives by the above quote, it’s what would expect of him.  He hadn’t suffered any injuries other than some road rash, but the fight had gone out of him, and he dropped away from the leaders.  As the day wore on, the Man with the Hammer paid him a visit and bopped him on the head, and he fell even farther back. For me, it was deeply disappointing to see him give up; you could sense it in his body language as he gave up and phoned it into the finish, falling thoroughly out of contention.

Much less was made of the fact that Evans had also gone down in one of the crashes with Armstrong.  Despite this, he managed to not only stay with the leaders; he took the Maillot Jaune while nursing a broken elbow. Stage 10 over the Col du Madeliene proved too much and he lost his Golden Fleece, but the man never gave up and he fought into the finish only 8 minutes behind two guys who are definitely not Too Fat to Climb and blew the race apart.

Another Legend performance came from Garmin’s David Millar, who has rib and chest injuries in addition to suffering from a fever.  He rode the entire stage alone during what he called one of his worst days ever on a bike.

It was a long ride, nothing to do with a time trial. It was very draining physically and emotionally.  I saw myself out of the Tour de France. But I could not face going back to the hotel and facing my team mates being out of the Tour. I decided to go to the finish, even if it meant finishing hors delais (outside the time limit).

In contrast to Armstrong’s performance, to struggle along alone from start to finish over the mountains and in the heat with only injuries and illness along for company requires grinta; I can only imagine how tempting it must have been to climb into the team sag wagon.

But fighting on despite setbacks like Farrar, Gesink, Evans, and Millar demonstrated earns these guys permanent places in our hearts much more than winning races.  These are Giants of the Road indeed.

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27 Replies to “The Giants of the Road”

  1. Good Lord, the bit on Armstrong is so biased I almost want to wretch. And, what makes it even worse is the disclaimer that, Well, we really do respect him. But, “Armstrong got a little road rash and then quit.” Get real. His second crash of the day was at 60km. Have you ever crashed at 60km? I have. It’s not just a matter of tearing some skin, if you’re lucky. The impact fucks with the chemicals in your body, making it twice as hard to ride at the same speed. Then, he’s forced to ride at max. intensity to catch back on, just as his opponents ramp up the pace, going uphill, in order to bury him. (To bad George H. wasn’t there, to run interference with the officials like that race-stopping-pussy Cancellara did for A. Schleck after Schleck crashed.) Then Armstrong bonked. No surprise. His race was pretty much over. But, even so he was still trying to get back on. Then his bike got caught on another’s bike in a third crash, losing him at least another 45 seconds on top of what he was already down. His race was over at that point.

    But Frank would rather have him make some pseudo-heroic struggle so that he’d end up in 27th place on the GC rather than 31st place. To what end? None that makes any sense. It would have just been plain stupid. The odds are he would have dug himself into so deep a hole he might not have ever recovered, leaving him unable to contribute to his own team and unable to compete for a stage win down the road.

    Don’t try to mask your hatred in some bullshit about how Armstrong violated Rule #5 but everyone else was hard. I suppose it’s not a surprise that leisure riders who think suffering on a bike is an end in itself would think offer this sort of assessment. But, pain and agony for no clearly identifiable end is just stupidity or psychosis.

  2. @david
    Unbiased race reports are available here and here, and at many other excellent sites.

    If unbiased reports is what you’re looking for, that’s where I suggest you start; they’re much better at it that I am, that’s for sure. Because when it comes to talking about pro cyclists and watching bike races, I absolutely am biased. I’ll go so far as to suggest that my bias is not limited to that one paragraph about Pharmstrong. I think nearly every single thing I’ve ever said about a pro cyclist has been biased one way or another. It’s something I like to refer to as “being a fan”. It’s awesome.

    And yes, bearing that firmly in mind, I absolutely would like to see him hang it all out there and go nuts, fighting for 27th place. It’s a good thing to fight for! Go crazy! Or throw in a kamikaze Jens move and see what happens. Anything but give up the way he did.

    Whether in the service of Eggtimer or going for the stage win, he should be making this face, from now until the end of the Tour:

  3. @frank


    For once I gotta agree with my sparring partner David on this one. They are PRO cyclists Frank. Its a fucking job. And when the job doesn’t call for them to ride hard, they don’t have to – and in fact, they are usually duty bound not to. So they can do a better job when called upon at another time.

    I bought some Baxter as a tribute to you Frank. Please tell me you aren’t one of those chamois-sniffers who gets upset when a domestique steps off during a one-day race or when a sprinter sits in the laughing group (actually I know this pissed you off)?

    Once they have done their job, they are right to stop and/or slow down in a Tour. In your mind, this is giving up. To my mind, this is preserving oneself for the next battle.

    As Falstaff said, ‘The better part of valour is discretion; in the which better part I have saved my life’.

    Should your boy Jensy have absolutely stopped the way he did less than a k from the top of the Madeleine or should he have maintained a “solid tempo” to the end after dropping off from Schleck/Contador. Too fucking right he should have stopped to walking pace – to preserve himself for the next battle. I wager he could have probably gone faster after being dropped if team tactics had called for it. But they didn’t so he didn’t.

    Same for Armstrong – there was no real benefit to him or his team in him fighting to stay 20th on GC – that wouldn’t do anything for Lance (maybe different for other riders). Cadelephant fighting for GC is different because his team still needs him to be their leader.

    By all means be a fan, but be a bit realistic about the job they are paid to do.

  4. Frank, I’m glad you mentioned David Millar’s Tale as it deserves a wide audience. Dropped on the first climb of the day, 180km solo ride, and finishing within the time limit, that’s a Hardman’s day at the office. Interestingly the only time he abandoned the Tour was in 2001 on the Col de la Madeleine.

    Faced with that memory he killed himself to ride over La Madeleine and make it in on time. Riding solo rather than in that huge peloton, behind the field, what a killer. 180km of solo riding finishing 40-something minutes down, that is a real badass effort. As I’ve said before, these guys are from another planet.

    “This is not a race you want to leave, or one you’ll give up on without turning yourself inside out. Onward.” D. Millar

  5. @Marcus
    Surely on the day in question Lance’s job, as a PRO, and team leader, would have been to turn himself inside out all the way to the line in order to either get back with the leaders or minimise his losses, if Lance was “fighting to stay 20th on GC” then he wasn’t doing his job. If the shack had already resigned to Lance being done for and appointed Levi as king this might explain it, their tactics were a bit iffy right from the first crash, surely you would put everyone, except Levi, at Lance’s service and rode him back, we have seen it many times before. They seemed to give up on Lance pretty easily?? I wonder why?

  6. By the way, Frank and Brett, love the kit. Proudly showing it off here in Brisbane Aus where mid winter gear consists of summer kit, undershirt, armwarmers and long gloves.

  7. Delurking for the first time for the following:


    Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. It’s a blog, reLAX.

    I get the points Marcus makes, and commend him for being able to look past the vitriol and insults David is slinging to read that.

    I also hear Frank entirely. Armstrong sat up. period. After all the crashes were said and done, he was well within contention. Armstrong of old would have faught. We all know what he’s done in the past in much worse conditions. At the start of this stage, he was the team leader. After 3 crashes and still being in contention with the top GC contenders, he made the decision to sit up and fall out of contention. (Unless one of you was sitting in the team car and heard Brunyeel tell Armstrong to sit up, as far as any of us know, it was Armstrong who made that call on his own) It was after he sat up that he moved from a couple minutes out to ELEVEN minutes back. That’s not the “27th to 31st” difference. If he was 3 min out at the end of the last stage he’d be top 5. I’ll say it again, old Armstrong would never have displayed what we saw on Sunday. It’s a shame, and I miss that Armstrong.

    Oh, and David? If you’re ever in NC, look me up – there’s meds I can prescribe that you really need to get hooked up with.

  8. @Marcus
    You make good points, and they’re well-taken. They are pros, and it is their job. And it’s a fucking hard job. And when I was younger, I would have killed to have it. But it’s also their job to be entertainers, to a certain extent (it’s the entertainment value, ultimately, that attracts sponsorship.)

    But, the pros who endear themselves the most to me (and I think others) are the ones who remind us least often that it’s their job; the ones who seem to chew on the thistle of this sport and spit it out. Like David Millar. He could have dropped out. He didn’t – not because it was his job, but because he couldn’t live with himself if he did. The domestique you mention here; I have no issue with him – he does his job and good on him. I also won’t remember his name.

    The big problem I have with the tactic of Armstrong sitting up after his third crash is that it left the team with no options. The next day was a rest day, and if he had fought to stay in contention rather than sitting up, the team could have weighed it’s options on the rest day (and he could have recovered a bit) and decided then – objectively – what the next best step was. By sitting up, he made a decision on the road that left the team no other option but to support Levi (although they may well have decided to do so on the rest day anyway.) To me, that seems to be the better way you live to fight another day.

    But the point of this article wasn’t to rail on Armstrong. He’s a hard bastard, and he showed it on the cobbles, the way he fought. The point was to say that there have been some incredible feats of determination and willpower going on in the Tour, and Armstrong’s performance on Stage 9 wasn’t among them, and with his record and reputation, he’s a good meterstick to measure others with.

    @Grimpeur Wannabe

  9. @Crashdummy
    Awesome! Glad you love it! Love mine, too. Must remember not to curse at passing vehicles when they displease me. Flying the Big V, now…Still waiting for the next shipment to come in (any day now)…so you’re still one step ahead of Brett!

    On a related note, the t-shirts are here (for those of you who pre-ordered, they’ll hopefully go out tomorrow). The are fucking mean. Thanks to Perch Graphics for their quick production and incredible quality. Matched the colors perfectly.

  10. @Crashdummy
    Read my post again – I think you agree with me.

    I was trying to convey that once his GC hopes were gone (and for him, that was pretty much the podium or nothing) that Lance WASN’T fighting for 20th because that was a mere bagatelle to him (remember he slipped to about 40th or so). Implicit in his not fighting was that he (and by extension, the team) had given up on his GC chances – which is precisely why there wasn’t a bunch of Radioshacks with him. Only Brakesabit.

    Think Horner did an interview where he said he was told to ride back up.

  11. @frank
    I hear you Frank – and to be honest, like everyone else, I like the fighters far more than the others. But how the fuck are we going to get exchanges going if everybody agrees with everyone else.

    And BTW, regardless of his heroically shit riding off the back, Millar is still a fucking tool of the highest order and always will be. His interview after that stage might possibly be the first one in 5 years where he hasn’t sounded off about doping or some other rider.

  12. @Marcus
    Don’t you believe in redemption? Yeah, the soapbox thing gets a bit tiresome, but I think he has come back from the dark side. He might be something of cycling’s Darth Vader. “Back from the dead, bitches!” That might not be a Darth Vader quote. I get confused.

    I don’t know how clean you can be and still ride the Tour, but I think he’s probably as close as you can get to that mark.

    But there’s definitely a line somewhere between breaking the omerta and going on about it all the time.

    Oh, and I didn’t miss the two classics sprinkled in there: “Brakesabit” and “Heroically Shit Riding Off the Back.” Love it.

  13. @frank
    My problem with Millar is that the only reason he is on the soapbox is because he was caught – and I guess it will be impossible for me to ever get past that. Regardless of that, his rentaquote tendencies means he is heard too often. Although on the subject of rentaquotes, A Grimpeur is showing some excellent promise as an interviewee – no bland bullshit from him. He sounds off!

    Someone like Kimmage is far more bearable compared to Millar (even if Paul appears pretty sour on life) because he is voluntarily involved in the doping debate.

  14. @Marcus

    My problem with Millar is that the only reason he is on the soapbox is because he was caught.

    That’s a good point, and I suppose I just like his attitude now, and it doesn’t bother me too much exactly why he’s doing what he’s doing. I think part of it is probably the road he went down on his way to redemption. But to forgive that or not, that’s up to everyone individually.

    Kimmage, I feel, would have such a stronger position if he wasn’t so pissy all the time. But there is no arguing that coming clean without having been caught first is definitely more honorable. Not as honorable as not cheating in the first place, though.

    As for Grimpeur the Younger, shit, that dude is showing promise on all sides! The kid is like 25!! What the hell? Where did he learn to be such a little studlette?

    I love that quote from yesterday, “If I had attacked one more time, I’d have dropped myself.” That’s how you do it, my son!

  15. Well, regarding Armstrong, Versus missed his big crash entirely… I don’t think many people really understand how fucked he was (and it could have been a whole lot worse – he was lucky). Check out this spectator’s video of LA’s undoing:


  16. @Marcus

    But how the fuck are we going to get exchanges going if everybody agrees with everyone else.

    No worries there. I like Millar because he is a great cyclist, great writer and curses as much as I do. I also like him because he does get on the soap box and rants about doping and takes a fucking stand. Veino, Basso, Hamilton, etc., they get caught and don’t take a stand. They didn’t inhale, they mumble something about serving their time but that’s it. That’s somehow better?

    I really don’t want to fire up this doping discussion again but I think Millar is great. boom. Where are the pints to discuss this properly? Typing sucks.

    Ouch…no wonder his jersey was shredded on his back. Good clip.

  17. @john
    This has everything and nothing to do with doping. Millar was a cockhead before he got caught – remember how he was the young man about town, being best buddies with Lance, Next Anglo GC Hope (just made this up – a bit like next great white hope in boxing), blah blah blah? I say Cav’s cocky character is not too far away from the pre-ban Millar (except Millar is/was slightly more urbane).

    And Millar is a cockhead now because of his loudmouthed sanctimonious ways. He is not just an anti-doping man, he actually makes an effort to rip into those who get caught, “How can they be so stupid? How can they wreck our sport like this?”. Don’t you find this zealotry hypocritical at best and completely false at worst?

    How can he be so self-righteous?

    And he hasn’t been afraid to give the impression that he only took EPO before a few races just before he was caught – maybe only the Worlds in that year (can’t quite recall)? Anyway, I reckon that is bullshit. If that was the case, then why is he a pale imitation of the rider he was pre-ban?

    Maybe the blokes who go positive, do their time, re-enter the peloton and get back to racing (say Basso) are more “honest” in that they don’t make themselves out to be something they are not? Can I say boom too?

    And yes, this discussion would be better off with beer (preferably not in pint glasses) – but no one can interrupt you when you type.

  18. @Marcus “Maybe the blokes who go positive, do their time, re-enter the peloton and get back to racing (say Basso) are more “honest” in that they don’t make themselves out to be something they are not? Can I say boom too?”

    Say … Vino? “More honest”? Dunno ’bout that. (Not that I’d say boom to him. Wouldn’t even want to say boo. He’s a scary man.)

  19. Maybe not Vino. Although he still is one of my favorites. I think of Vino as less of a scary man and more like a mischievious badger. Shake and bake!

  20. Mischevious badger! Nice. Though M. Hinault might not appreciate the implicit comparison…

  21. @Geof
    Yes Le Blaireau may not – but it was a rather childish play on words from Talladega Nights, which is clearly where Frank gets a lot of his inspiration given his love of “spider monkeys”.

  22. Since you asked. I just like racing my bike and watching bike racing. I could give a rat’s as who’s on what. The only thing that sours me on a rider is lack of humility.

  23. If you’re talking courage, Hansen pulling the train for HTC with a broken collarbone AND sternum in Stage 1 was incredible. Life threatening injury, says to the car “it hurts here” pointing over his heart, then goes to the front and pulls. Damn.

    And then Vlad the Rug. Broken scaphoid for a WEEK! That’s got to absolutely pound your hand every time you brake. And there was a crapload of stop start in the first week! AND that’s a bone that if you don’t fix properly can die inside your body.

    These blokes are tough bastards. End of. If they happent to mouth off, all the better! Something to listen to and talk about.

  24. @KitCarson
    Christ, the video makes my skin crawl. He goes flying by folded up like a letter. It doesn’t change my position that he sat up and quit, but it certainly helps shed some light on how much that crash sucked.

    I agree with you, man. Like I’ve said before, at the end of the day, you can’t dope for Rule #5, so as long as the racing’s good, it doesn’t really get in the way for me if they’re on something or not. I’d rather they weren’t but…

    The only thing that sours me on a rider is lack of humility.


  25. Amazing blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring writers?

    I’m hoping to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you recommend starting with a free platform like
    Wordpress or go for a paiud option? Thdre are so many options out there that I’m totally confused ..
    Any tips? Cheers!

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