Recently I’ve found myself grumbling about the stories that appear on Sky Sports News every day. While the World Cup coverage on Sky is insufferable at best, as is their reporting on anything they don’t have live rights to, it is even worse when there isn’t even any match results to report yet. All they seem to be discussing this past week is injuries, as there have been a lot of them. As the World Cup is for international teams, Sky have shifted from interviewing any pleb who has played for both teams involved in the current match being discussed, to interviewing any pleb who has played in the Premier League and happens to hold a passport from the country currently being discussed. They ask about the player who has just been injured, the particular injury the player has sustained, the possible replacements that may be called up in place of the injured player, what affect the injured player’s absence will have on the squad etc. etc. all the while the interviewee, who is only present due to where he was born and who he played a few games for back in the early nineties, nods and agrees and seems to say nothing at all.
So while I sit there watching this banal dross and continue to complain about it to myself, I think about the upcoming Tour de France:
Sastre’s injured and won’t make the start, Armstrong seems to be roughly back on track ; Contador’s in unbelievable form; Cavendish is not; Basso won the last contest by a lot; Wiggins didn’t feature at all.
And then I think, I could replace the names Sastre, Armstrong, Contador, Cavendish, Basso and Wiggins with Rio Ferdinand, Gareth Barry, Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, Spain and Brazil and I’m as guilty as the Sky Sports News coverage which I love to loathe.
The reality is, as the Tour de France approaches there are more and more stories dedicated to cyclist’s injuries than usual. While the World Cup seems to have been affected by a large number of injuries, the same could be said for this year’s Tour de France. To be a successful cyclist, avoiding crashes and staying healthy is paramount. Neither Miguel Indurain nor Lance Armstrong were ever injured during the years of their Tour de France successes. So far, neither has Alberto Contador. So while the Spaniard’s Tour preparations run as smoothly as possible, plenty of his Tour rivals have been struck down either with illness or injury.
Last year’s Tour runner up Andy Schleck got his season off to a bad start when he was forced out of the Challenge Majorca with a knee problem, he was then slated to ride the Ruta del Sol but his recovery took longer than expected and was also forced to withdraw from that race. He seemed to have gotten his act together by the time the Ardennes classics came around and he recently finished 24th in the Tour of California so he should be capable of hitting peak fitness by next month. Christian Vande Velde has been less fortunate.
As he did last year, he rode the Giro in preparation for the Tour, and as he did last year he crashed out on Stage 3. The silver lining for the American is that this time it was a simple collar bone break, whereas last year he was facing multiple broken vertebrae and a broken pelvis. Remarkably, last year he was able to recover from his injuries in time for the Tour and still managed to finish 8th whilst assisting Bradley Wiggins on his way to 4th overall. Vande Velde will be hoping for an even speedier recovery this time around but his form will be affected nonetheless.
Lance Armstrong himself hasn’t had an easy time of things. At the Circuit de la Sarthe in April has was forced to withdraw with a case of Gastroenteritis. He returned to racing the following month at the Tour of California but famously crashed out the day after Landis emerged with fresh allegations against him. Although he withdrew from the race, the injuries weren’t as bad as they seemed in the photographs and he was able to resume training shortly after. He has since returned to racing at the Tour of Luxembourg where he took a creditable 3rd place.
It may seem insignificant but it’s only his 2nd time on a podium in a race, or even a stage of a race (barring team time trials) since he returned at the start of 2009. Another former Tour winner has also been in the wars this year. Carlos Sastre crashed during the Giro but soldiered on to finish the race in 8th place. It only emerged afterward that he had suffered a herniated disc due to his fall in the Giro. He is now a serious doubt to start the Tour.
Illness and injury have also struck down the Irish contingent. Nicolas Roche suffered a major setback when he tore a hamstring at the Tour of Romandie, a race which he had been performing well in before he was forced out. He was required to rest completely for a number of weeks before being allowed to return to training. His first race back was the GP Kanton Aargau – Gippingen last Sunday where he finished 4th. Having originally been pencilled in to ride the Dauphiné, he has changed his programme to appear in the Tour de Suisse instead. All going well he should make the Tour de France team for AG2R.
Roche’s team mate and team leader Rinaldo Nocentini hasn’t ridden since February when he broke his leg and will probably not be selected for the Tour. The only other rider ahead of Roche in his team’s pecking order is Tadej Valjavec who has been suspended by his team after irregular values were found in his biological passport. Consequently, if Roche makes it through the Tour de Suisse unscathed he will be the undisputed leader of the AG2R team at the Tour.
Philip Deignan was forced to withdraw from both the Tour of California and the Criterium de Dauphiné due to illness. Like Roche, Deignan has now shifted his focus to the Tour de Suisse. He’ll be hoping for a strong performance there as he will not be an automatic choice for his Cervélo team. The third of the Irishmen Dan Martin has escaped illness and injury but will now not be riding the Tour de France due to his participation in the Giro d’Italia where he achieved high placings on two of the toughest stages, the climb up Monte Zoncolan and the Plan de Corones time trial.
So it’s not only football fans who are obsessed with form and injury leading up to the biggest event of the year. Contador’s preparations have been as clean as a whistle. Incidentally, so have the preparations of his compatriots at the World Cup. Neither have had any injury scares and both go into their respective competitions as the out and out favourites. And the best thing of all is that by the time the Tour de France starts, the afternoon games at the World Cup have just finished. Roll on the summer!