Over the last week I’ve seen a lot of reference made to this year’s Tour being a “classic”. Yet I’m not quite seeing what others perhaps are. For me this year’s Tour is becoming increasingly boring as spectacle and a let down in terms of the main prize, culminating in Saturday afternoon’s ultimately lame Pyrenean stalemate. There is something not quite right. As alluded to in the first week of the race there is a lot of moaning and this has continued. The Schlecks on Saturday complained of nobody else attacking on Plateau de Beille. But a long hard look in the mirror (in Andy’s case the rear view mirror he uses to check that his brother is still in tow) should indicate to them that a) if they are the only two who can attack they should have walked all over their rivals that afternoon but b) there is something stopping them from doing this be it fraternal fascinations or just non-existent self confidence. You could forgive the race if this was a one-off but it is not. The Schlecks have been here before in other races and the Pyrenees have now gone without any significant impact on the general classification. When the French talk about disregard for tradition I can see no more fitting example.
Yes, it is true that we have seen action elsewhere and for that I (and many others) can only be extremely grateful. But does this make it a Classic Tour? In the words of Nikki Terpstra, “you must be a sprinter or climber to win a stage in the Tour”. Whilst Cav, Farrar and Greipel have delivered the fringe show (and Hushovd takes a mountain stage for the sprinters with a breakaway!) the GC contenders and climbers have yet to deliver on the main show. For me Classic Tours have revolved around the race for Yellow – Richard Moore’s “Slaying the Badger” is a narrative on a true classic Tour, the action away from the fight between LeMond and Hinault merely context; my first Tour viewing of 1989 will forever be a classic because of the yo-yo between Laurent Fignon and LeMond. There are many others. The key factor in these is the intensity of the fight between the leaders, the chances taken, the attacks made. Whilst this year has produced some interesting stage winners, the classic element is, at the moment, lacking. We could point to Thomas Voeckler’s surprising retention of the lead as an indicator of a classic but this owes as much to do with the lack of attacking by the main rivals as it does his abilities, as he himself suggests in his interviews, and some might say the manner in which he took the lead. Voeckler has hung on after an attack (perhaps the favourites could learn here) and that is not enough for a classic. Indeed, if Miguel Indurain was called boring for winning Tours in the time trial, is this much better? I’m sorry, I’m just not seeing it.
Perhaps this is a reflection of my own personal mood? Maybe its the effect of a leveling playing field as PEDs become fewer? Or it could be that I am the only one who doesn’t “get it” this year? Yet even if the Pyrenees were a blip, my heart sank on reading the news that the Galibier has had, and is due to get more, snow. With this fabled climb now playing a pivotal role in the remaining mountain stages of the race, its loss to climatic misfortune would merely compound the disappointment of the non-race on Friday and Sunday. For 2011 to be a classic for me something special is going to have to happen to make it so. There are now five stages for this to happen. I’m losing hope.