Pain of quitting the Tour

Tour de France - July 15, 2005

At the stage start in Miramas yesterday morning, South African sprinter Robbie Hunter was noticeably absent from the morning coffee clatch in the Tour village depart. He preferred to stay on the Phonak team bus and out of sight, due to his imminent departure back to Italy following yesterday's abandon from the race due to tendonitis. Robbie, who has a big personality and is popular in the peloton was bitterly disappointed at having to climb off the bike and out of the Tour on the road to Digne-les-Bains.

A result in the race would have been highly gratifying for Robbie, but what bothers him most is the thought of letting down all his followers in South Africa. As a contingent of one from South Africa, Robbie's every Tour move is covered and chronicled by South Africa broadcast outlet M-net Super Sport here and thus he feels tremendous pressure and a responsibility to make good in France. Alas, for Robbie, he and his country will have to wait for another year.

And this is a facet of modern sport that is so different from not-so-long-ago. In the pre-internet, pre-instant media era of say, 20 years ago, if you were a rider from a non-European country, you were, for the most part, "off the radar" when racing the Tour unless your name was Lemond, Anderson or Bauer and wearing the maillot jaune.

In our first few forays at the Tour, my 7-Eleven team and I benefited from not having the constant glare and microscopic focus that is ever-present today. Between the occasional highlight, there were numerous days during the Tour where we struggled mightily just to hang on. Stages too, where we did foolish things, like Doug Shapiro, crashing Pedro Delgado and putting the great Spaniard out of the Tour, because Shapiro was distracted by a TV motor-bike. Or Alexi Grewal forgetting his cycling shoes on one stage and having to ride the first 30km of the stage in running shoes.

Disappointment as well for CSC with the elimination of ever aggressive Jens Voigt, the German missing the time-cut on Bastille Day while suffering from a stomach virus. This is a harsh feature that the Tour will occasionally serve up, going from best to worst, from maillot jaune to street clothes. Jens was ecstatic to capture the jersey in Mulhouse, but that must have seemed like ages ago, as first he clawed his way up the climb to Courchevel and then the next day missing the time cut altogether. But he had his moment and that day, his seccond career day in the maillot jaune, will be his forever.

I was speaking with my friend Axel Merckx, and we disccused that there are a few results in a rider's career that loom large, that put everything else in the shadows, that last a lifetime. In Axel's case, it was getting an Olympic medal. As he said, it's one of the few races where third place means something. And it's a result his famous dad Eddy does not have. A tour stage win is another "career" result and of course, wearing the yellow jersey, not to mention winning the the Tour itself.

So we'll miss the riders that as always fall by the wayside through this 2005 Tour de France but they've had an impact, they've played a part and we applaud their efforts, first to last.

Thanks For Reading!
Davis Phinney

Check out photos of Davis in our 'Phinney Photo Files'

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