The lads at Cycle Sport magazine have been churning out a heap of articles every day during this Tour de France, all available to read online. One of them in particular caught the eye yesterday. It alluded to the teams that have been winning stages in this year’s Tour.
Apart from Philippe Gilbert’s opening stage win, the rest of the victories have been divided amongst Garmin-Cervelo, HTC-High Road, BMC Racing and Team Sky. All relatively new teams, none of which hail from cycling’s traditional nations of mainland Europe.
While these teams have been clocking up podium time, the older generation of teams have been clocking up time in the soporific breakaways every day, teams like FDJ, Euskaltel-Euskadi and Europcar.
But it’s not just the identity of teams where there is an ‘out with the old, in with the new’ scenario emerging, it’s the nationalities of the riders too. The stage winners so far have included a Belgian, an Australian, a Brit, a Norwegian and an American. The two wearers of the yellow jersey so far have been Gilbert and Hushovd, a Belgian and a Norwegian.
The Garmin-Cervelo team which won the team time trial contained four Americans, a Brit, a New Zealander, a Norwegian, a Canadian and a Lithuanian. The top ten on G.C., apart from the nationalities already mentioned, shows riders from Luxembourg, Germany, Denmark, Holland and Slovakia.
Not a Frenchman in sight.
Nor a Spaniard.
Nor an Italian.
The three countries which play host to the sport’s three Grand Tours have had very little to cheer about so far in this Tour de France. Although all three of these nations have combined to monopolise the combativity prize that is awarded each day, which perhaps says it all.
We’re now on Stage Eight of this year’s Tour and there has been no French, Spanish or Italian stage winner. The last time the Tour reached this stage without a winner from these three powerful cycling nations was 1988. Although that year there was an odd ‘preface’ where one rider from each team rode a 1km time trial before the first stage, which was won by the Italian Guido Bontempi.
But even the official Tour de France records don’t credit this victory to Bontempi as an official stage win. So going further back in time, the last Tour where there was no French, Spanish or Italian victory before Stage Eight is 1926. This was a Tour which was dominated by riders from Belgium, the only one of the ‘traditional’ cycling nations which can muster a bit of pride in this year’s Tour proceedings, thanks to Gilbert.
It is a problem which has become apparent since perennial stage winners like Virenque and Jalabert retired, but the French are facing the very real prospect of going the entire Tour without winning a stage for only the third time in history. Their best hopes, as they have for the last number of years, lie with Thomas Voeckler.
The veteran climber David Moncoutié may also be capable of saving face for the French. But without a top sprinter or a top G.C. rider, it’s not looking good. Last year, everything seemed to go right for the French as a number of baradeurs combined to win six stages, but 2010 was the exception rather than the norm. The next two days through the Massif Central may provide the French with their best opportunity for ensuring they don’t leave the Tour empty handed.
Back in that Tour in 1926, there were actually no French stage winners at all. This is one of only two occasions that this has happened in the Tour, the other was 1999. We all know that was the year that Lance Armstrong took over the Tour de France on behalf of the Americans.
But it’s no longer just the Americans that the French need to be worried about…it’s everybody.
Yeah interesting eh? I have, probably what some would call twisted, negative, cynical, thoughts on it.
What first jumped to mind was Garmin-Cervelo, HTC-High Road and BMC Racing are from North America. As much as i hate to say it following on from LeMond’s 3 tour wins (not that bit the next), the American’s are feeling the positive effect Armstrong’s 7 wins on the trot have had on cycling in the States. Like everything else in sporting life things take time to happen after such huge ‘achievements’ (not so sure myself tbh…) by one individual in a particular sport. I imagine heaps of money was poured into cycling at grassroots level as the sports popularity increased because of Armstrong.
These riders were kids at the time and are no coming to the fore – Farrar (maiden stage win during the week – maybe you could say Farrar in between young up and coming and veteran status), Pate, Van Garderan (solid display today and the polka for his efforts), Phinney . It also increased veterans like Leipheimer’s, Hincapie’s, Vande Velde, Hesjedal and Horner’s reputation and popularity. In turn this attracted the huge American companies, mentioned above, to invest in the sport as they seen it as the best way to advertise in Europe where they were/are trying to breakthrough.
These companies have huge amounts of cash to sponsor, support and invest in teams…more so than European companies are prepared to. Sure look at the success of HTC and Garmin. With more success comes more sponsorship comes more investment comes more talent. These teams have snapped up the best of international talent and nurtured them and given them the best of what is needed and required to train, progress and succeed. Look at Nicolas Roche for example. Touted as a possible GT contender, a top 10′er at least for GT’s and AG2R didn’t invest in a TT bike and wind tunnel for him to train on through the winter off season months. Would that happen with HTC? I think not.
Let’s not forget about the doping. This has hit European cycling in 2 ways in my humble opinion. The North Americans have been largely untouched by all the negative publicity created by the doping (i think) especially when compared to the air time in gets in Europe. I know there’s the whole Armstrong issue but i bet half of America doesn’t believe it could possibly be true. Plus the American teams like Garmin and HTC are leading the fight against doping too so that will help attract sponsorship too. In Europe companies are just not prepared to take that risk i don’t think. That’s why every year is a struggle for teams to keep the sponsorship they have and get new sponsors and more investment.
Here’s my real cynical opinion, French, Spanish and Italian’s just aren’t doping the way they used to. I don’t think they’re at it as much as they were and lets face it an awful lot of them were caught up in some sort of doping scandal. This coupled together with the lack of sponsorship and investment has led to a down turn in their performances. But then again when were any of the French particularly that good they were going to be another Hinault? I also think you can throw Germany into that mix with the big 3 too. I can only think of Tony Martin and maybe Greipel. For a country that big you think there’d be more world class riders of the highest quality.
Of course there will always be the riders to prove me wrong. And what about the Dutch with Gesink, Belgium’s with Gilbert and Luxemburgers? The Swiss in Cancellera? Norweign’s in Hushovd and Eddy BH? Kind of contradicts my arguments above eh?
But they’re just my thoughts and my opinions on a couple of things that could be contributing to the poor performances of the Spanish, Italians and French. But one of the biggest reasons i think is because historically these countries provided so many winners, and because they are so big with huge populations to take from it only highlights the fact there are not so many of them winning stages etc. Add that to the growing emergence of the other countries like the Australians, Slovaks, Americans etc etc it just makes it that bit more obvious less riders of the so called big 3 aren’t winning. But if i was to say it was any one thing it would be, for me, the emergence of everyone else and the expectations people have of the Spanish, Italians and French because of their history just magnify the issue.
As i said, they’re just my thoughts on it. It doesn’t mean they’re right…or wrong for that matter….
Cheers Cillian, hope you’re enjoying the tour as much as i am! Got the last week off work except for the Friday but the boss is off on a Friday so I’ll spend the afternoon in the breakout area hahaaha…
BTW…a Spanish friend of mine, together with his friends, put together a little Fantasy Tour De France. It’s cool and adds to the interest and fun of this years race. There’s 21 of us in it and it’s dead interesting to see who 14/15 Spanish fans went for. Mind you, the 5/6 of us Irish boys are giving these lads a good run for their money haha … I let the heart rule the head and picked Roche in my 9 riders. Anyway, I reckon with a little tweak here and there we could vastly improve it, from a competition perspective (add combativeness, young rider points etc) for the Veulta. What i was wondering is…do you know if there are any official fantasy cycling games…like the Budweiser Premier League one?
Thanks as usual for your superb articles…
Have a good one!
Ohh and Team Sky are Team Sky!! Money to burn so if they’re not up there shame on them!