Tour 2010: Stage 20

The final kilometres of this year’s Tour were played out in traditional fashion in Paris. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) won his fifth stage, and also became the first rider ever to win on the Champs-Elysées two years running. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini) was second, which gave him overall victory in the green jersey competition.
Alberto Contador (Astana) won the Tour without winning a stage and having been pushed every inch of the way by Andy Schleck. Could we see a change at the top of the sport next season? One man who’s definitely heading for the exit, this time for good, is Lance Armstrong, who finished an anonymous 23rd – not the glorious last hurrah we’d have liked to have seen from the seven-time winner.
It’s been a great Tour, and for the first time in years, I’ve enjoyed it from start to finish. So, inspired by my blog-pal Chloe, my closing entry in this three-week poetry marathon is a retrospective of the entire event in haiku; one for each of the 20 stages.
Thanks for joining me on the road to Paris.

PROLOGUE

Twenty-two times nine
Slaves to the clock. One stands; cries
‘I am Spartacus!”

STAGE 1.

Stage, one; countries, two.
On the run into Brussels
Petacchi sprouts wings.

STAGE 2

Spa cure for the blues:
Chavanel is in yellow;
France is feeling good.

STAGE 3

On a day in Hell,
Cobbles claim men’s bones and souls.
But Thor’s in heaven.

STAGE 4

As the Champagne flows
For Petacchi once again,
Has Cav’s bubble burst?

STAGE 5

So the lead-out train
Gets it right. And suddenly
Cav is back on track.

STAGE 6

First Cav couldn’t win
Now it seems he cannot stop.
Two down, three to go.

STAGE 7

Second time around
Taking yellow the hard way.
Chapeau, Chavanel.

STAGE 8

As the road heads up
Schleck breaks free of gravity.
Shades of Charly Gaul.

STAGE 9

On the Madeleine
Sandy’s out there on his own.
Still is at the line.

STAGE 10

Where Beloki fell
Paulinho makes no mistake
Keeps his winning Gap.

STAGE 11

Cav makes it thirteen
Beats Robbie, Cipo, Zabel
Along with the rest.

STAGE 12

Alberto goes clear;
Andy loses by a hair.
Shape of things to come?

STAGE 13

Vino’s comeback win,
But his past means this is not
One to Revel in.

STAGE 14

Riblon wins alone:
After three lean, unseen years
The Ax man cometh.

STAGE 15

Centenary day
In the Pyrenees. Vockler
Leaves them on a high.

STAGE 16

Peyresourde, Aspin,
Tourmalet, Aubisque. Such names
Don’t scare Fédrigo.

STAGE 17

And then there were two.
On the highest, hardest road
They are on their own.

STAGE 18

Sprinters call it home.
Cav blazes into Bordeaux,
Claims a vintage win.

STAGE 19

Schleck is cast to fail.
Doesn’t read the script. Almost
Forces a rewrite.

STAGE 20

Number five for Cav,
Three for Contador. For Lance
It’s seven and out.

Longjumeau-Paris Champs-Elysées, 102.5km
Won by Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia)

Maillot jaune: Alberto Contador (Astana)
Maillot vert: Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini)
Maillot au pois: Anthony Charteau (Bbox Bouygues Telecom)
Maillot blanc: Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank)
Team classification: Radio Shack
Lanterne rouge: Adriano Malori (Lampre-Farnese Vini) @ 4h 27m 03s

Tour 2010: Stage 19

The form-book suggested Andy Schleck could lose minutes to Alberto Contador in the only individual time trial of this year’s Tour. As things turned out, it was a lot closer than any of us – including the protagonists themselves – ever imagined. At the first time check, Schleck was actually slightly ahead of the maillot jaune; on the line, he’d lost just 31 seconds, giving Contador a winning margin of 39 seconds – the second-closest finish in Tour history.

A CLOSE-RUN THING

Thirty-nine
On the line.
First check:
Schleck
In front by a nose;
Too close
To call;
Left it all
To Alberto
To do
Or die.
But a guy
With four Grand
Tour wins in hand
Doesn’t crack
So easily
And finally
The man came back
But he was spent
And what it meant
Was clear
From his tears.

Bordeaux-Paulliac, 52km ITT
Won by Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank)
Maillot jaune: Alberto Contador (Astana)

Tour 2010: Répos 2

A curious reversal of roles today: while the Tour riders are resting, I’m going racing. Tonight is the last in my local bike shop’s annual series of ‘have-a-go’ time trials, and marks the end of my (exceedingly modest) competitive riding for this year.
It’s a simple 10-mile dash against the clock, fastest time wins. As always, I have no illusions about winning, or even a high finish: my sole aim is to beat my mate Kevin. In three years, the only time he’s finished ahead of me was when I foolishly decided to ride The Guv’nor and the chain fell off after two miles.
OK, so it’s not Le Tour. But I still get a thrill every time I pin on a number and make the subtle change from bike-rider to racing cyclist. Three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond once said of being a pro, ‘It doesn’t get easier, you just go faster’. Even downhill with a following wind, I won’t match the speeds Fabian Cancellara sustains on the flat. But I’ll have some idea of what he goes through, and that’s good enough for me.

MY OWN RACE

There will be no crowds
Straining to see me start,

No cameras to capture
My grimaces and smooth pedal strokes,

No helicopters overhead
Shadowing me through the lonely miles,

No team car in my slipstream
Loaded with spares and moral support,

No fans along the barriers
Shouting, waving, urging me in,

No soigneur at the finish
With drinks, towels and strong arms waiting:

Just the pain, desire, isolation
And fear of falling short

In my own race.
With only myself to beat.

Maillot jaune: Alberto Contador (Astana)
Green jersey: Thor Hushovd (Cervélo Test Team)
KoM: Anthony Charteau (Bbox Bouygues Telecom)

Tour 2010: Stage 7

A brilliant ride by Sylvain Chavanel gave him a second stage win, and his second yellow jersey, as the Tour hit the mountains. Spare a thought for Fabian Cancellara, though: the big Swiss rider they call Spartacus lost 14 minutes, and the maillot jaune he’d taken from Chavanel on Stage 3. He’ll be a domestique for Andy Schleck from now on. How the mighty are fallen.

GAME OVER

Farewell
To yellow
And hello
To white and black
Anonymity, a domestique
Lost in the pack,
And long days of pain
For greater gain.

Now another
Must rise:
Take the prize
You knew was lent,
Not yours to keep.
So your will is bent
To helping The Man
To win. If he can.

Tournus-Station des Rousses, 165.5km
Won by Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step)
Maillot jaune: Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step)

Tour 2010: Stage 6

Mark Cavendish scored his second win in two days, claiming the longest stage of this year’s Tour with another ferocious sprint. As ever, he paid generous tribute to his HTC-Columbia team, who chased down the breakaway and got him in a perfect winning position. Today’s poem goes out to the domestiques: true professionals and brilliant riders in their own right, who sacrifice themselves daily in support of their team leaders.

SERVICE AGREEMENT

Five hours
They’ve watched, waited,
Matched their pace to the ones
Who got away
And, patient as fishermen,
Reeled them in.
Now, under 10 K to go,
They get organised:
The strong men and hard men
Move to the front
Taking the wind
Giving their charges an armchair ride
To the finish.
One swings off
His big turn over,
Slipping back, utterly spent
To find his way home as best he can:
Reinforcements arrive
To keep the pace high
Foiling the fugitives
And anyone tempted
To go for a long one.
No jerseys or podium girls await:
They spend their speed
In the service of the stars,
They will be last
For those who would be first.
Now you see them,
Now you don’t:
The men behind
The man in front.

Montargis-Gueugnon, 227.5km
Won by Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia)
Maillot jaune: Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank)

Tour 2010: Stage 5

Whatever your opinion of Mark Cavendish, you have to admire the guy’s tenacity. After his dismal 12th place yesterday, and his lead-out ‘train’ in apparent disarray, the knives were out for the self-styled ‘Fastest Man in the World’. Today, he got his revenge in the grand style, pouring all his frustration into a perfectly timed sprint that no one had a hope of answering. Personally, I’m not a great Cav fan, but it was a superb ride and a well-deserved victory. Chapeau.

RETURN TICKET

That face
That fist:
No words
Required.
A man
Possessed;
A team
Inspired.

The hex
Was broken,
The sprint
Sublime.
Today
The train
Was right
On time.

Epernay-Montargis, 187.5km
Won by Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia)
Maillot jaune: Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank)

Tour 2010: Stage 4 (1)

After yesterday’s dramas and traumas, today’s flat run from Cambrai to Reims was bound to be a bit of a comedown. It certainly was for Mark Cavendish, who trailed in 12th on a near-perfect day for the sprinters. The main contenders called a truce as expected, so there was no change in the overall Tour standings.
While I wouldn’t have changed places with any of the riders yesterday, I couldn’t help envying them today, as they bowled through the rolling fields of Champagne. Professional cyclists lead a hard and dangerous life, but it looked pretty good to me this afternoon. And I think they knew it, too.

PERFECT DAY

Warm sun, light winds,
Wide views over endless fields
Bristling with windmills.

Hard tyres, smooth tarmac,
Deep carbon rims
Slicing the summer air.

High speed, low effort,
Hands on the hoods,
Chatting with the boys.

Unladen bike, empty pockets,
Food, drink and spares
Following in the car.

Short stage, quick finish,
With massage, dinner, bed
Waiting at the end.

Easy day, simple task,
Three hours on the road.
Knowing how lucky they are.

Cambrai-Reims, 153.3km
Won by Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini)
Maillot jaune: Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank)

Tour 2010: Stage 3

Yesterday, La Doyenne: today, l’Enfer du Nord. Probably the most famous of the one-day spring Classics, Paris-Roubaix is also among the hardest, with its 259km taking in 28 stretches of cobbles – the notorious pavé.
In 1919, a party of journalists came to see how the route had withstood the previous four years of shelling and trench warfare. They described what they saw as l’enfer du Nord – ‘the hell of the North’ – which has been the race’s nickname ever since.
Today’s stage included ‘only’ seven secteurs of cobbles, totalling 20km, but they put the fear of God into the peloton and produced a fabulous day’s racing. So on a day when the Tour descended into cycling’s own version of Hell, my poem has a suitably diabolical theme.

THE DEVIL’S OWN

Your pleas and prayers are all in vain:
Today, you enter my domain.
Infernal miles of cobblestones
To blister hands and shatter bones,
Thick swirling dust to sting your eyes
And choke your lungs. I will devise
Fit punishments for every man
Who enters here in hope. You can
Convince yourself this is your day,
Have tasted victory at Roubaix,
But I’m the one who will decide
How far you go, how long you ride.
The maillot jaune is not immune:
Today, he dances to my tune,
Which you may think is undeserved,
But special torments I’ve reserved
For him: he’ll change his bike three times
And lose his jersey. Others’ crimes
Will earn them punctures, buckled rims,
Cuts and bruises, broken limbs.
The seven pavé sectors wait,
To purge your soul, decide your fate.
The Tour will not be won today,
But all your dreams may fall away.

Gentlemen:
Welcome to Hell.

Wanze-Arenburg, 213 km
Won by Thor Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team)
Maillot jaune: Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank)

Tour 2010: Stage 1

The Tour’s flat stages generally follow a fairly predictable pattern, to the extent that I could probably have written this poem without actually watching the race at all. However, the first road stage is always a nervous affair, with crashes all but guaranteed. The big loser today was our own Mark Cavendish, who hit the deck barely a mile from the line. There was no change in the overall standings, with the wonderful Fabian Cancellara retaining the yellow jersey.

STAGE DIRECTIONS

Flag drops. Break goes.
Pack waits. Gap grows.
Crowds wave. Sun burns.
Road rolls. World turns.
Hours pass. Tempo rises.
Leader falters. Boss advises.
Gap shrinks. Teams work.
Miles vanish. Sprinters lurk.
Break surrenders. Bunch swallows.
Contender jumps. Rival follows.
Speed increases. Road curves.
Someone brakes. Another swerves.
Wheels touch. Bodies scatter.
Bones break. Dreams shatter.
Clock stops. Charge begins.
Ten challenge. One wins.

Rotterdam-Brussels, 223.5km
Won by Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini)
Maillot jaune: Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank)

Tour 2010: Prologue

PROLOGUE

I.
Expectation
Is the only weight these men carry
Now: long months of adding miles and power
Like tree-rings have left them lean, hard,
Fragile and deadly as dragonflies.
The war will not be won today
But seconds, skin and pride
Lost on these few short street-miles
May weigh heavy on them
Out on the road.

II.
It seems unfair
To pit this man
Against Time:
Even recruiting thick, sticky Air,
Tenacious Friction and wayward Weather
To its cause, it finds itself outgunned
By one who rides ungoverned
By its strictures.
And at the line,
The clock throws up its hands
Knowing it’s been beaten
Yet again.

Prologue time trial
Rotterdam-Rotterdam, 8.9km
Won by Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank)