At least for a day, professional cycling is OK again. Today's stage 2 of the Tour de France was a perfect example of why I still admire bicycle racing so much. The pro peleton has been under the cloud of doping scandal for years. And although I know better than to believe that this storm has passed, today was was a sunbeam through the grey.
The 200 kilometer stage, from Brussels to Spa, Belgium, is not a particularly spectacular route when measured against the later Alps or Pyrenees stages. There are enough climbs to get the King of the Mountain contest underway, but that's about it. Sylvain Chavenel from the Quick Step team was part of an early break. With about 50 kilometers to go it was just a matter of when the peleton would close the couple of minute gap and set up for a probable sprint finish.
But then it started raining.
I've been in the Ardennes in the summer, and have watched the weather change on a dime. It happened today in a matter of minutes. During a decent the crashes started. Andy Schleck went down. I thought his tour was over by the way he was holding his arm. But then a team-mate rode up and gave him his bike. Paced by his brother Frank, he carried on.
Andy Schleck just after the crash.
Amongst others, Alberto Contador went down. Lance Armstrong went down. Christian Van Velde went down, and his Tour is over. He broke two ribs.
All of these guys are/where favorites to win.
Fabian Chancellara from Saxo Bank, who was wearing the yellow jersey, was ahead of the crashes. But when he found out what had happened, he took control of the front and slowed the pace down to allow the peleton to regroup. Not only did he do this to give Schleck a chance to catch up, he did it for the sake of the entire race. Because it was the right thing to do. And not continuing to chase down the break cost him the overall lead.
This was selfless teamwork of the highest caliber. Chancellera was never going to win the Tour, but he would have liked to stay in yellow for a few more days. He gave up the lead for both the sake of his team and to help preserve the tradition and spirit of the Tour.
As I write this, I can't think of another athlete (some who get paid more per game than Chancellara probably makes in a year), who would show this kind of sportsmanship. They're more apt to get caught up in a shooting or make a complete ass of themselves on Twitter. It was a moment that made me proud to be involved cycling.
Chancellara remained in control of the peleton until the end. As they approached the last few hundred meters, you could see him talking with everyone, discouraging any last minute sprints to insure that they would all cross as a group. And they did. As is Tour tradition, the entire peloton was given the same finishing time of 4:44:44.
Chavenel won the stage. It was a ride of a lifetime. A Frenchman riding for a Belgian team won a stage in Belgium and will wear the yellow jersey when the Tour crosses into France tomorrow.