a great example of sportsmanship rewarded today, another closely offered, and one other to be lauded none the less than either of the other two for its ultimate futility.
a few days ago, vladimir efimkin sleazed a free ride towards the stage front by a number of other riders stiving for the stage win. he broke for the finish line with just a few meters to go, in the most un-sporting of efforts to steal the best efforts of honest riders for his own ill-gotten gain. it was most rewarding to watch him caught at the end, and left with nothing to show for his perfidy. (as one of my childhood friends used to put it, when the world is working as it should--cheaters never prosper).
by great contrast today, alberto contador played the consummate champion, and ultimate sportsman, in a similar tactic to ride others' slipstream to the finish. being the race leader, and enjoying the benefit of the free pull to distance himself from all the other riders, he was never tempted by the final forbidden fruit. with kilometers still to go, alberto could be clearly seen talking to his challengers to assure them of his honest intent not to challenge either of them for the stage win that had been earned by their leading efforts. sure enough, andy and frank schleck were freely able to elect frank the reward for his masterful efforts of the day. kudos to alberto for being both a champion, and a sportsman.
second is among the chase riders, where andreas kloden had been left by the violent attack by his captain, contador, on the back of the relentless challenges of the brothers schleck. lance armstrong had been dispatched well back to mark the wheel of bradley wiggins, and his catapulting over the top once wiggins had been completely broken still left him some distance to recover. when lance had finally combined with also-ran vincenzo nivali to tear down the mountain in a shared convoy of racing effort, it was several clicks before the finish when he caught up with the solitary kloden. though clearly the strongest rider left, and well capable of taking back some more of the lost minutes caused by his domestique duties, lance instead opted to lead kloden's wheel, and to carry him as closely as possible to the finish, to preserve overall team minutes, and to selflessly aid kloden's personal quest for a podium finish at the expense of his own. remarkable.
lastly, we have the ultimately futile, though no less noble for it, efforts of christian vande velde in aid of his teammate and team leader, bradley wiggins. not yet one of the ultra-elite riders of le tour, christian was comfortable taking his place among the merely elite some distance behind the second chase group when the peleton first broke at the foot of the col de la colombiere. suddenly, the schlecks at the front put the maul to the anvil, and the sharp end of the peleton also shattered. alone amidst a pack of wolves, wiggo, as he's called by his team, was surely to be torn to shreds...
with amazing grit and courage, christian summoned the effort, which would have finished most any other rider all by itself, to reach up to wiggins' wheel in the next group. once there, and out of complete sight of the leaders, christian put his shoulder to the wheel once more, and gave no less than his own heart to labor his man back up the gap. dogged by armstrong, the machiavellian assassin left to ensure no hope of ultimate success, and without anyone else to help him, christian poured his last ounces of blood and sweat out onto the pavement on the climb of the col de la colombiere, and didn't break until almost at the summit, some 10 kilometers up a grade which often reached 15% on its way. you and i could probably not hike it without a rest, let alone hurl ourselves on bicycles without collapsing in a heap. but vande velde threw himself, not once, but twice into an abyss of oxygen debt and excruciating pain, once to cross a daunting gap, and next to attempt to cross what he obviously knew was uncrossable. but he led himself out, anyway, just because it was the right thing to do for a teammate.
alberto is almost surely already in yellow in paris, and lance is but a minute within range of a podium finish as well. (it'll be quite the interesting time trial tomorrow). andreas kloden, if he is to come along as well, has it also within his grasp, if he can find the strength. (not to forget the schlecks who are proving luxembourg truly proud today, and serious contenders to break astana's grip on immortality). but christian vande velde will probably never be remembered for having given his all for a man who cannot hope to break the gang of five at the front. it's a shame, but, to me, this'll be his day ahead of all of them.
pride of the usa. hats off to you, christian.
Labels: tour de france