CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '07
Stage 11 - July 19th, Marseille to Montpellier, 182.5 km
ARD and ZDF have long been two of Germany 's premier TV channels. By following through on their threat to pull the plug on their Tour coverage should any further drug cases emerge, they have essentially imposed censorship on the Tour. Back in the 1970's and 1980's these German stations and a couple of other channels were the only game in town. Consequently viewer content was easily and routinely controlled by those in charge. Today in a world with multiple media choices and a much more enlightened society it is totally inappropriate for arrogant corporate leaders and their legions of lawyers to act as a country's moral conscience. Luckily for the German viewing public another cable TV channel (Sat 1) has taken over Tour coverage for the country. However with a sport that is struggling to control its drug related demons this move by major TV channels is another blow to the gut for German sponsors like T-Mobile. Potentially the act of one rider, Sinkewitz, could kill a great sponsorship and put a lot of people out of work.
These days with so many media choices it should be the public who chooses. No matter what the political or moral orientation of a media outlet it is the public who ultimately have the freedom whether or not to tune in. To deny them that choice turns the clock back to those dark days when the government manipulated and censored news to meet their own ends.
The great general public knows very well that cycling is making sincere efforts to deal with its problems. They also know that cycling, unlike many other big time sports, is almost alone in its crusade. Ever since the start in London every stage has been blessed with huge and even record breaking, crowds. Even without knowledge of the TV ratings, this is a wonderful testament to the continuing popularity of the Tour.
All of this is certainly not lost on the riders and their teams who are extremely concerned about the impact of continuing drug related issues. The Sinkewitz case has created rage and anger in the peloton. Most of them are intelligent enough to understand that cheating no longer pays and we can be sure that this Tour is probably the ‘cleanest' ever.
Camargue Wild Horses
Another very long almost flat stage under hot sun looked to be a day where the GC contenders could sit back and ‘rest' in preparation for Saturday's critical time trial which is followed in short order by the Pyrenees . But the race across the famous wind swept Camargue region was anything but easy. The first hour of the race was the fastest first hour of this Tour. Breakaway artists tried their hardest to forge a lead but the peloton was not giving any gifts. However by 90kms five riders had gained a respectable four minute lead. Their advantage kept growing and with just 70kms to go they had what looked like a race winning seven minute lead.
But then with strong winds buffeting the riders, the Astana team suddenly hit the front of the peloton and set an infernal pace in team time trial fashion. The peloton was quickly turned into one long desperate line of riders with each trying to stay on the wheel in front of them. Astana and the crosswinds quickly did their job and in no time the bunch was torn to shreds. With 55km to go Vinokourov gave a visual hand signal to his Astana boys to shut down their effort. The damage had been done and the once compact peloton was now broken into three distinct pelotons. The biggest casualty was GC hopeful Moreau who had been at the back with the medical car getting wounds from a crash earlier in the day attended to. On the finish line he would eventually lose 3m 20s to all of the other primary GC hopefuls.
For Tom Boonen and other hard men from the north this ‘carnage across the Camargue' was just like racing in Flanders . He was reveling in the race up front but fellow sprinters like Erik Zabel, Thor Hushovd and Robert Forster were not so happy as they got trapped in the dropped pelotons.
Vinokourov attacks under the 4 km to go banner [ Images ©: www.gazzetta.it ]
On the run in to town none other than Vinokourov, still doing his Egyptian mummy impersonation, took a flyer and managed to hold the flying bunch for about 1 km. Big Tom looked all set to bolster his lead in the Green Points Jersey competition until a crashing group of riders in the final kilometer took Tom out of contention (although he did not crash). On the line Robert Hunter (Barloworld) claimed the first ever Tour stage victory for South Africa . After Soler's fabulous win at Briancon on Stage 9, this is Barloworld's second major victory which is pure nirvana for this young upstart team who only got into the Tour as a wild card selection.
First ever South African stage winner Robbie Hunter [ Photo: AP ]
If today's stage had been in Germany we would have definitely seen road side crowds equal to, if not greater than, those on the route to Montpellier. Luckily for the great German public who are supporting the race like the rest of the world, they were able to tune in to another cable channel (Sat1). What they saw was cycle racing at its best. Hopefully the Sat1 TV ratings will send a clear message that the battle against drugs in sport will not be won through censorship .
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