Blazin' Saddles

Chain reaction

Blazin' Saddles

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The world of cycling was plunged into turmoil on the Monday after Alberto Contador decided, following days of failing to cut Andy Schleck's slender lead, that he would try a new tactic and actually ride ahead of his rival instead of alongside him.

Armchair pundits were divided on the controversial twist with some claiming Contador's attack was pretty exciting compared to watching a battle of attrition EVERY... DAY... while others were disappointed that the Spaniard would have the audacity not to give Schleck the requisite two-minute lead going into the decisive time trial in the Medoc just to maintain a veneer of suspense.

For his part, Schleck was gutted to lose the yellow jersey and end the day a Laurent Fignon measure of hell behind Contador.

There was, of course, the small matter of slipped chain as well, which Saddles will now look at from the perspective of a martian coming down from space and landing his flying saucer on the precipitous slopes of the Port de Bales climb in the Pyrenees. Quelle coincidence!

So, Schleck, as promised, reveals his hand and launches an attack. The swarthy looking bloke in turquoise (who seems to be trying to grow one of those triangular strips of beard just below his lower lip) at first finds it hard to respond, but then gets in his stride and starts to cut the deficit.

All of a sudden the guy in yellow stops pedalling and looks to have a total panic attack as the other chap, who seems to have a blond team-mate tugging him along, powers ahead, seemingly oblivious of the whole thing.

A couple of other guys in orange arrive and they all ride on up the road - for that seems to be the aim of this two-wheeled pursuit. Meanwhile, the thin guy in yellow looks at his bike as if he's an elephant looking at a hair brush: he's simply clueless. An anxious fiddle later, he continues on his way, 30-odd seconds in arrears. At that point, the martian calls it a day.

OK, that was deliberately simplified, but essentially it's what happened minus the complex layers of psychology, Tour tradition, cycling protocol and what have you.

When you first look at it, your instant reaction is: "Contador, what a ----! How can he live with himself! He'd better get booed on the podium tonight."

But then again, don a garish white suit and put yourself in his Sidi cycling shoes. The guy's been practically conjoined with Schleck for the past week; he was beginning to forget what existence was like without having a Schlecklet stuck to him. All of a sudden he finds himself alone - and he likes it. Maybe taking yellow wasn't his primary motivation - but spending some quality time without Andy Schleck was.

But seriously, the notion that Contador (as he claims) didn't know the fate that had befallen Schleck is laughable. The last time Saddles checked, the Spaniard had a pair of eyes and an earpiece.

He knew Schleck's chain had messed up and he made a calculated decision to attack. This decision was made easier by the fact that both Denis Menchov and Samuel Sanchez did the same thing. What's more, just as it happened, Contador himself was launching his own counter attack.

Schleck may now have downgraded his yellow for the white baby rider's jersey, but he's a big boy and he can't expect to be mollycoddled all the way to Paris. The peloton - partly under Contador's control - already waited for him when he crashed badly in stage two to Spa, and in doing so kept his GC prospects alive.

A day later, Schleck junior repaid the compliment by attacking on the cobbles while Contador was held up further back following, ironically enough, a crash involving Schleck's brother Frank.

Time can't stop every time Andy Schleck has a problem. How many favours does he want? Should the organisers have postponed the race after the cobbles and resumed it only once Frank's collarbone had healed? Of course not.

It was a mechanical failure, granted, but Schleck made the decision to shed 50g of weight by not using a chain guard. What's more, he didn't have a clue how to mend the defect in the heat of the moment - which is a bit like a footballer not knowing how to tie his shoelaces.

As one of Saddles' blogging brethren, the admirable Joe Papp, mused: "Schleck should learn how to shift better, and SRAM should make their components idiot-proof. Start there." Now BS hasn't a clue what he's talking about, but he clearly has a point.

It's easy to feel bile and hatred towards Contador because the excellent TV coverage cut from the Spaniard's determination as he upped the pace to Schleck's haplessness as he came a cropper. Contador could have waited, like Jan Ullrich once famously did for Armstrong, but do you remember what happened that day on Luz Ardiden? Perhaps Contador was afraid of Schleck's potential to turn a bad situation into an advantage.

We will never know how things would have panned out had the chain not slipped but if, as Contador said, this Tour is not decided by those 39 seconds gained on Monday, then this will be quickly forgotten.

Look on the positive side: Andy Schleck, the consummate Mr Nice Guy, is now Angry Schleck - and he's on a mission. You could see it in his eyes as he joined Contador's booing tormentors to watch his rather sheepish rival don the yellow jersey in Bagneres de Luchon.

"It's not up to me to decide if it was fair or not, but I wouldn't have raced like that," said Schleck, now eight seconds down in the GC. "My belly is so full of anger right now. I'm going to want to get my revenge."

They say revenge is a platter best served cold. Well, there's no time for that now - Schleck's going to have to react not only fast but like we've never seen him before. And surely for us neutrals, that's worth a little adverse chain reaction.

Quote of the day #1: "I respect Alberto a lot as a rider but I admire him as a person. He's a really, really great guy." Andy Schleck may like to alter this assessment of his rival, made just a few days ago.

Quote of the day #2: "Contador's move there was a move of panic." Now ITV's Paul Sherwin doesn't say much of any merit at the best of times but Phil Liggett's right-hand man may have been on to something with this wry observation.

Quote of the day #3: "Very angry!!! Puncture happens but being left behind by attacking team mate is other!" An annoyed Nicolas Roche took exception to AG2R team-mate John Gadret's ill-timed attack - just as Roche had punctured at the foot of the Port de Bales. The Irish-Frenchman removed this tweet shortly after putting it up online.

Stat of the day: After Tommy Voeckler's superb stage 15 win, France have now five stage wins in this year's Tour - the same number as the combined total of French wins during the last two Tours.

Word of the day: Voecklarity - n. a splendid high. Eg. Spain winning the World Cup was a moment of voecklarity for the beautiful game at the expense of anti-football.

Stage 16 prediction: Revenge for Andy Schleck, who will take inspiration from Floyd Landis or (more likely) Claudio Chiappucci and go on a huge solo attack on the Col de Peyresourde to take back the yellow jersey. Either that, or he will make sure Contador punctures on the Tourmalet and has to undergo a wheel change from the same Mavic cretin that hashed up Nicolas Roche's hopes on Monday.

Plat du jour: Poule au pot for traditionalists, chicken piri piri for modernists, Basque tuna (served with a tomato and pepper sauce) for anyone else. To drink: a shot of Izarra, a green liquor made from Pyrenean herbs.

Peleton prattle: Which Antipodean domestique is helping his team-mate get over Monday's setback by plying him with wine?

Uses for Bradley Wiggins #1: A 10-minute stop watch - it's about the length of time deficit the self-confessed fluke tends to register at the end of stages nowadays.

Follow Blazin' Saddles throughout the Tour on www.twitter.com/saddleblaze.

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