It is that time of year again. The pageantry, the color, and the
spectacle have come to the principality of Monaco. Only this time it
won't be nine hundred horse power Formula 1 cars racing around the
Monte Carlo circuit. It will be finely untuned athletes charging
through the tunnel as they chase the most prestigious prize in all of
sport, the Lanterne Rouge.
The small kingdom was abuzz with rumors and smack talk on the eve of
the race. We caught up with the broadcast duo Paul Sherwin and Phil
Ligget before the start. Paul Sherwin, a man who once placed second in
the competition, gave us his take on the race. "Most people think of
it as a contest of physical unfitness," he said, "but it is really a
thinking man's game. There is a tremendous amount of planning that goes
into wasting enough energy to get a slow time but not so much that you
Phil Ligget, who was unable to compete professionally because his low
VO2Max was deemed an unfair advantage, concurred. "It is a delicate
balance that only the truly great champions can get right." Sherwin
then said, "Indeed." We are not sure what he meant by that.
For months rumors have abounded about a secret weapon to be brought to
France by last year's second place finisher, the german Bernhard Eisel.
On Thursday he unveiled it, a sixteen to thirty-two cassette mated to
a compact crank. Eisel explained, "Even if I wanted to go fast, the
low gearing would prevent it." Last year's seventh place finisher and
France's great hope, Stephane Auge, cried foul and insisted that
Eisel's bike be tested for legality. The rollout was found three
millimeters below the minimum. Eisel's crack mechanic quickly
remedied the problem with a slightly larger tire.
As is often the case, many of the previous year's high placed finishers
went on to fame, fortune, or a local fat farm, choosing not to race
again. The list of potential winners is, as usual, filled with
frenchmen, chief among them the fiesty, aforementioned Auge. His
countryman Christophe Riblon has been making press lately with his
promise to bring the title home to France. It was quite an embarrassment
and a source of national shame when last year's event was won by the
belgian Wim Vansevenant, who is not racing this year. Niki Terpstra
rounds out last year's high placed finishers who are in this year's hunt.
The night before the race competitors engaged in the usual preparations.
Bernhard Eisel was spotted gambling the night away at the Monte Carlo
casino. Stephane Auge used a more traditional approach. He was seen
entering his hotel with two women in hand and just as many bottles of
cheap wine, plus a large block of cheese.
The first day's racing was splendid. There are always a few chancers
who are out to make a name for themselves by hook or crook, and this
stage it was the most unlikely two that could be imagined. Two of the
worst riders of the race of truth gave it all for a shot at red. David
Millar tried by hook, and Mick Rogers by crook.
Millar attempted the old crash and hobble to the finish ploy. He
skidded twice but luck was not with him. He managed to stay upright.
Rogers attempted a sneakier approach. He dropped his chain twice and
actually stopped, getting off his machine. This is not a rules
infraction if the mechanical problem is legitimate, but there is a long
history of riders faking breakdowns. Today was no exception. At
least one spectator claimed she observed Rogers unclip from his pedal
and nudge his chain with his shoe. Race commissioners could not find
the witness, so Rogers was let off with a stern warning. Let this be a
lesson to all, especially young women; never trust an aussie.
By the end of the race it was a happy day for Belarus as Yauheni
Hutarovich took the top spot by a whopping twenty-six seconds. It was
also a sad day for France as the best a frenchman could manage was tenth.
Newcomer Fumiyuki Beppu impressed in his first Tour de France by placing
seventh. Experts doubt the young rider has the experience to contend all
the way to Paris. Obviously the true contenders spent the day fatiguing
themselves in preparation for the last week, where truly large amounts of
time can be lost.