Road

Stage Preview: The beautiful beasts

When the team time trial returned to the Tour schedule last year, someone wrote of the Nantes-St. Nazaire stage: "We no longer count the big ships that never returned to port, sunk along the way by relays too strong, or not strong enough!" The ONCE team -- clear winners last year (in 70km, they beat U.S. Postal by 46 seconds, Telekom by 1:26, Crédit Agricole by 1:32 and Rabobank by 2:12) -- finished the Tour de France utterly exhausted, while their Spanish rivals, Kelme, Festina and Banesto, came back into the picture and took the first three places in the final team classification. How can

Verdun, July 12

When the team time trial returned to the Tour schedule last year, someone wrote of the Nantes-St. Nazaire stage: “We no longer count the big ships that never returned to port, sunk along the way by relays too strong, or not strong enough!” The ONCE team — clear winners last year (in 70km, they beat U.S. Postal by 46 seconds, Telekom by 1:26, Crédit Agricole by 1:32 and Rabobank by 2:12) — finished the Tour de France utterly exhausted, while their Spanish rivals, Kelme, Festina and Banesto, came back into the picture and took the first three places in the final team classification.

How can we not conclude, then, that there will be as much to lose as to gain all along these 67km? Despite the sport being such that it’s worth more to win today, even if it means losing tomorrow!

For the rest, each one moves blindly ahead: Kelme’s Vicente Belda is betting on the Banesto team of José-Miguel Echavarri, Postal’s Johan Bruyneel is counting on the Rabobanks of Jan Raas, Roger Legeay of Crédit Agricole on Bernard Quilfen of Cofidis, and Telekom’s Walter Godefroot on Lance Armstrong. Whose bid is it? While these gentlemen start an exhausting match of poker, we shouldn’t forget that the public loves watching the team time trial, which among other merits, reveals some superb images. Do you see them? Every five minutes, they are there, approaching and passing, in a straight line or two abreast, muscles tense with effort. Back in the day of TI Raleigh, the most harmonious time-trial team at the end of the 1970s, a journalist made himself famous in talking of the “beautiful beasts.”

A bit more aerodynamic, a touch more hi-tech, the modern beast appears to be somewhat more alien, but it moves with the same incredible grace.