What a fine stage we witnessed yesterday, with all the drama one could possibly hope for - Soler's admirable win, Contador's violent attacks, Cadel Evans' gutsy hanging on, Vinokourov's shocking, slow motion collapse, Moreau's evergreen vigor, Team Disco's brilliant tactics, Chris Horner's now-routine workin' man's excellence.
While the racing as a whole is better in the Giro, yesterday served as a reminder about why the Tour is beloved. Five or six times over the course of three weeks, it serves up a race-within-the-race that is utterly compelling, nearly impossible to turn away from. Stage racing is operatic in nature - and I'm talking about Wagnerian epics, not these little two hour pleasant diversions from Puccini. You sit there and watch a cast of dozens, each with an important story to tell. The rookie, the climber, the struggling sprinter, the kid from nowhere, the aging champ, the rider everybody loves but who just doesn't quite have it, the Team that's a Machine, the troubled team, the favorite who collapses, the underdog who does or doesn't deliver, the guy whose bike or team lets him down, the wild card team that has a great day or two... Man, it's all in there. Like a Wagnerian opera, a good day at the Tour pummels your senses for three or four hours, six if you watch the live feed. The multi-faceted narrative slowly unspools, with every narrative skein spilling out at its own pace. The viewer is engaged on a number of levels - I can relate to those suffering sprinters, those old guys who have a tough time with the kids, the underdog, the guy with the mechanical. It just plays out, and unlike most of our movie and television dramas, we don't really know how it's going to end. So it's absolutely engaging.
Like the Giro, the Tour rewards the patient viewer, year after year. I guess there are people who don't get it, and that is a shame; more than any sport I've ever seen, a stage race encapsulates a lot of the struggles of daily life; almost any of the story lines could serve as a really good metaphor for some struggle we all face at one time or another. If you really follow the Tour for a few weeks, you come to understand that bicycle racing isn't just a metaphor for life, it is life.