Saturday, July 25, 2009

inside view of the Tour de France

This is the last day of this year's edition of the Tour de France. By tradition there's no real competition until the very end on the boulevards of Paris. While I'm writing, the riders are rolling through the countryside conversing casually with each other. In pre-race interviews they say the race was unusually tactical and hard, building from a relatively undramatic beginning to a major conflict in yesterday's stage ending with the fierce climb of Mont Ventoux. They also point out that the number and enthusiasm of spectators was astounding this year, culminating with huge crowds of joyful people on Ventoux. And they point out that drug testing seems finally have succeeded in eliminating illegal performance-enhancing substances: a huge amount of controls and no detections.

I'm confident that one racer whose career I've been following off and on for the past few years hasn't used any such substances. He's a personable and modest guy of relatively modest achievements who's Dutch born riding for a Dutch team: Joost Posthuma.

This photo, taken last year, shows him in less garish clothing than his blue and orange Rabo kit:

{source: dailypeloton}

There are short biographies and early photos of him on his own web page and at this Dutch site:

His personal web site also has an extensive photo gallery.

Quite a few riders have personal blogs and a growing number of them tweet and some regularly blog.

This year, Joost has been doing daily interviews from his mobile phone while on the massage table each evening.

Here are some highlights from his calls.

His work day can seem surprisingly mundane. He loves his morning coffee, gets cranky when he's delayed at an airport and looks forward to a pre-dinner shower at the end of a short flight; he puts in his day's work and relaxes in the evening by reading a book, watching sports on TV, catching up with friends and family on his mobile phone, and accessing the Internet with his notebook.

Although he's won some of the less-well-known races, here at the Tour de France he's a support rider, helping to give the team's leading riders a chance at winning stages and placing highly in the overall classification. He's looked out for opportunities to get in breaks during the flat stages but missed the deciding break of the day until yesterday's great stage to Mont Ventoux. This 16-man break stayed away from the third kilometer until nearly the last of this 167 k stage. He worried that the peloton would catch the group and increased his pace to keep them off.

This photo shows him at peak effort as lead rider on the lower slopes of Mont Ventoux:

{source: cyclingnews}

Not a mountain specialist, Joost's effort helped give his teammate, Juan Garate, the wherwithal to win the stage at the top of the mountain.

{Garate pulling away to win;source: cyclingnews. Click here for a thumbnail page of cyclingnews images from this stage.}

Most of this tour's 21 stages, he helped protect the leaders and ferried food and drink from the cars at rear back to team members in the peloton. Although the team's managers were growing increasingly upset with the team's performance until it's success yesterday, Joost never felt that he'd performed poorly and reports times he won praise for doing good work from both his fellow team members and the team's managers.

An even-tempered and friendly kind of guy, he's not prone to make controversial statements. He can be pretty funny as for example in his comments on the Tour's radio-free day. Calling the stage a race without ears, he said race organizers, in seeking ways to back off from technological advances, should require riders to go back to using toeclips and hairnets (which he calls "sausage hats").

Perhaps it's odd that Joost doesn't say much about performance-enhancing drugs. Along with other team members, he was recently called to to give information as evidence is accumulated against a former member of his team. He only just mentions that and his other comments deal with the extensive test program of the Tour, which he takes in stride.

In response to the interviewer's question, he says he's never broken a bone, though he's had his share of injuries. The topic arises because, as usually happens, a couple of riders have crashed and been forced to abandon because of bone breaks. He's strained his knee but has avoided scrapes and bruises as well.

He appreciates encouragement he's received from the many Dutch fans who line the roads but didn't like being thumped on the back by an over-enthusiastic (and probably over-beered) Netherlander on one mountain stage.

He's content with the cold and wet as well as the hot and dry weather they've encountered and didn't complain about the winds of Provence which raged yesterday.

He looks forward to visits with his parents and other relatives, and with his girl friend of course, when they're able to attend stages. He looks forward to getting back to his garden at home and being reunited with his dog.

Friends and family members write in the "guestbook" on his website to give words of encouragement during the unsuccessful stages of this year's Tour and congratulations on his success yesterday. One couple say, roughly: "Hey beautiful mountain goat. We've been watching this afternoon's ride you with awe and admiration. We congratulate you, on the team's stage victory, and your own performance 1.56 behind the winner on the Mont Ventoux." A woman admirer writes: "Congratulations on the victory of Mont Ventoux. You rode very strongly today. Echt Klasse! Yesterday night I rode back from the Tour along with your parents who were sitting in our bus. I had a nice week's holiday at the Tour."

Some previous posts about Joost:

Some examples of rider blogs:

Joost on "ears:"
No oortjes - ears: "I just got a phone voice mail from my mother. She is angry and disappointed in the [radio-free] stage today. She's a major cycle racing fan, and is upset at how tame the racing is right now. Today there was no real competition.

Joost on radio-free day:

The interviewer asks Joost whether there was tacit agreement to take the day easy in protest. Joost says nothing concerted, but a kind of consensus to ride easy. He says, "It is ridiculous that we possess modern communications and can't use them." What's next? he says, will tomorrow they require the riders to used toeclips and wear sausage helmets. "Back in time."

{toeclip pedals; source: wikipedia}

{toeclip cleats; source: wikipedia}

{"sausage helmet"; aka hairnet or vegetable basket; source: labicletta}

{Laurent Fignon with toeclips; source: grahamwatson}

{Fignon with "sausage helmet"; source: pezcyclingnews}


Drug testing:
According to Pat McQuaid, the head of the International Cycling Union, the Tour de France will be the most rigorously tested sports event in history. There will be about 520 doping tests, and several of the 180 riders are already in the cross-hairs even before the three-week showcase even begins. {source}


This shows Laurens ten Dam scraped and bruised. He fell on a fast descent and posted this photo of himself afterward.

{photo by Laurens ten Dam posted on Twitter}

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Joost Posthuma--hooray for brave little Holland! Grampa Hettema would never stop talking about this. All in all good blogging.