Stage 16 of the 2011 Tour de France may well prove to be one of the pivotal stages of the race.
In cold and wet conditions, Cadel Evans, Alberto Contador and, to a lesser extent, Sammy Sanchez put a decisive move on their rivals and opened up a small, but significant, time gap on what appeared to be a benign and gentle stage.
Thomas Voeckler and Frank Schleck both lost 22 seconds on the stage while Andy Schleck lost over a minute. They were out-ridden both uphill and then again on the challenging and technical descent.
Sometimes when you race, you just have a bad day and you get beaten fair and square.
Not that Schleck the younger sees it that way.
Almost immediately after he crossed the finish line he started complaining about what he perceived as a stage finish that was too dangerous. In an interview with race TV, he bleated on about how absolutely unfair it was that the riders should be forced to ride downhill in the rain.
“It was a dangerous finish,” Schleck told Velonews. “It was not a super climb, I did not feel super, when [Contador] attacked and I did a bad downhill.
“I’m pretty disappointed but more in…is this really what people want to see?” he asked. “Actually a race decided in a downhill? I don’t know. I think the parcours is a really bad choice today; we don’t want to see riders crashing, or riders taking risks. Everybody has family at home and a finish like this should not be allowed.”
Actually, fans want to see the best rider win the Tour and sometimes that involves going downhill.
There are four stages in this year’s Tour that finish on massive uncategorised climbs; last week’s rides into Luz Ardiden and the Plateau de Beille and tomorrow’s climb of the Col du Galibier and the following finish up Alpe-d’Huez.
Surely, that’s enough to be going on with.
Besides, the Schlecks were cracked on the ascent yesterday and the gap was consolidated because they were tentative going downhill. It’s hard to see how life would have been better with an uphill finish.
Frank Schleck got into the act and also blamed the weather for his misfortune and seemed to suggest that his opponents had unfairly targeted him and Andy because everyone knows they don’t like it when it rains.
“Contador knows all too well that the Schlecks don’t perform at their best in the cold and rainy conditions,” he told Velonews. “It’s all part of the game; knowing your opponents and knowing their weaknesses.
“He knows the conditions today, coupled with the dangerous descent, were not our strong point.”
That’s sport—and life in general, really.
So what have the Schlecks achieved by throwing the toys out of the cot?
They have exposed their weaknesses for all the world to see and they have shown themselves to be mentally fragile.
Surely, that can’t be good.