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 18

Stages into Bordeaux almost always end in a bunch sprint, so a fourth win for Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Cav duly delivered, but only after a high-speed chase to bring back a four-man breakaway. Daniel Oss (Liquigas) resisted until the 4km-to-go point, but against a headwind and the combined powers of Sky, Lampre and HTC-Columbia, he had no chance whatsoever.
While part of me wants the escapees to succeed, there’s something compelling about the way the peloton gradually raises the tempo, closes the gap and makes the catch to set up the sprinters for the final dash to the line. It’s tightly controlled, immaculately timed and ruthlessly executed – the same order of professionalism we saw from Contador and Schleck on the Tourmalet yesterday, but at 70km/h. I’ve often wondered what it must be like to have been off the front all day, then to look back and see the bunch bearing down on you…

DON’T LOOK BACK

This seemed a good idea
Three hours ago:
Flat roads ahead
A truce behind
And nothing at all to lose.
But now
The blackboard
Is a death warrant,
Ticking off the seconds
Until the hue-and-cry
Must overwhelm us.
A glance
Under the shoulder:
Across the road, so long
Empty,
A roaring breaker
Of speed and colour
Driven on by lust for glory,
Grows, and any moment
It will break upon us.
Panic. One last desperate drive,
But all the forces concentrated
So few seconds from our wheels
Sap our strength, pull us backwards
Drag us down.
And in our loss and vanishing
The natural order
Is restored.

Salies de Béarn-Bordeaux, 198km
Won by Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia)
Maillot jaune: Alberto Contador (Astana)

Tour 2010: Stage 11

From the summit of the third-category climb of the Col de Cabre, 56km from the start in Sisteron, it was downhill or flat pretty much all the way to the finish in Bourg lès Valence, another 128km away. It was a profile that made a bunch sprint all but inevitable, and HTC-Columbia duly buried themselves again to reel in the equally predictable breakaway, and set up a third victory for their man, Mark Cavendish.
Cavendish has now won 13 Tour stages, putting him ahead of true greats Mario Cipollini, Erik Zabel and Robbie McEwen (riding the Tour again this year at age 38 with Katusha) in the list of the Tour’s most prolific sprinters. That got me thinking…

GREAT STUFF?

Back in ’99
Mario arrived to sign
The start sheet
Dressed
As Caesar:
Laughed at the fine.
A real crowd-pleaser.

Six years in a row
Erik took the green maillot;
Every day
Chased
The small scores:
Hard way to go
And win the sprint wars.

Fastest of his day
Robbie rides the Tour his way.
Three times he’s
Taken
Green, and won
The Champs-Elysées
(And that’s the big one)

So, what does it mean
Now Cavendish has got 13?
He’s truly
Greater
Than these past
Heroes of the scene;
Or just he rides fast?

Sisteron-Bourg lès Valence, 184.5km
Won by Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia)
Maillot jaune: Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank)

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 (2)

Mark Cavendish won six stages at last year’s Tour. With four stages complete, he’s still waiting for his first victory in 2010. Everyone, including Cav himself, expected it to come today. But it was not to be.

SO NEAR…

Passing under
The red kite
He has just
One thousand metres
And one team-mate
Ahead of him.

Too far
And too few
For the man
Who thought it was his.

He looks down
Then sits up
Sees the Italian’s two-arm salute

And the little splinter of doubt
Digs in
Deeper.

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 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)