Alex Massie

The Road to Hell is Paved with Cobblestones

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I'm not going to write about the Tour de France every day - just as I won't about the cricket season as soon as anything interesting or significant happens - but this was a great day in the Tour. Commenting on this post, Ronnie was right to suggest that a stage that involved a few kilometers over the cobblestones posed a risk that someone's Tour might end today. He was right: Frank Schleck is done. But that, brutally, is a small price for a superb race and, anyway, could have happened absent the pave too.

There was a time and not so long ago that the racing in the first week was, well, a little dull. That's not been the case this year. Incentives matter in cycling as in anything else and now most of the contenders for the GC must attack when we (they) reach the mountains. But much better that time differences be established by proper racing in tough conditions than via the worthwhile but somewhat antiseptic alternatives of the team or individual time-trial. Those disciplines have their place but they offer little drama, at least not in comparison with Tuesday's stage or, for that matter, Stage 7 of this year's Giro.

Luck matters but luck has mattered in the Tour for more than a century; it's only recently that people have begun to suggest it should, where possible, be eradicated. But doing so leads to sterile racing. So, yes, it was bad luck that Lance Armstrong - pictured above - punctured but let it be noted that he rode gallantly thereafter and would seem to be in perhaps better shape than many assumed. Bad luck too that, albeit within a few hundre metres of the line, Alberto Contador punctured too and terrible luck that poor Sylvain Chavanel, besported in Yellow, punctured twice and lost the jersey because of it. But all these episodes added to the drama. And without drama cycling is dangerously close to being dull.

Armstrong must now attack at some point and so must Basso and so many others. Sure, they could all have been sorted out by a time-trial but, again, these tend to be dull and predictable affairs. There's scope for heroism after a brutal day like Monday and, anyway, if they think they have it tough they should remember their predecessors and the roads they battled.

Cancellara went from villain on Sunday to hero on Monday, riding for Andy Schleck (whose own performance was magnifique) and regaining Yellow as a result. I would guess Saxo-Bank will be happy to lose that jersey soon. Contador was also brave and excellent while Cadel Evans continues his metamorphosis from dullard to panache that makes one wish him well for the rest of the race.

Oh, and I hope Thor Hushovd enters Paris wearing Green. He deserves to, not least because he's not a tit nor called Mark Cavendish. Anyway, the race is still shaping up to be Contador's but it's more interesting already than many recent Tours have been.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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