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Tour 2014: First Stage

June 29, 2013 Leave a comment
The Orica GreenEdge team bus became stuck at the finish line with riders ten kilometers from downtown Bastia.

The Orica GreenEdge team bus became stuck at the finish line with riders ten kilometers from downtown Bastia.

[Jeff Pachoud/Agence France-Presse]

It’s that time of year again, the time when I devote several posts to the great Manxman Mark Cavendish and his thrilling exploits at the Tour de France. Usually it takes a few days before he charges through to win a flat sprinter’s stage. But this year’s tour is different. There’s no short opening prologue through some major European city. The tour has come to Corsica for its initial stages, the first time on the island. (Corsica!) To make sure to get around much of the island, tour officials decided to skip a prologue and begin with a flat stage along the east coast, to be followed tomorrow by a mountainous stage.

This meant that today set up perfectly for sprinting royalty: Cavendish and his two principal challengers last year, André Greipel and Peter Sagan. No way I was going to miss that. Indeed, I got up way early and watched the last two-and-a-half hours.

It’s always a pleasure to be back in the company of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin, our indefatigable commentators. Even when nothing’s happening, I love listening to them while watching the scenery (which was spectacular at times; maybe a trip to Corsica is in order). As the kilometers counted down, I got ready for the stars’ teams to set up for the finish.

But then chaos, as depicted in the photo at the top. A team bus got jammed under the finish line banner. People scurried around. The bemused driver stayed seated. Word eventually came that the stage would be truncated, with a finish at the 3k-to-go point. As teams changed tactics, a major crash occurred. Sagan went down. Cavendish just barely avoided the same fate, but came to a complete stop behind downed cyclists. Greipel rode through, only to have his bike malfunction a short ways down the road.

Just then, the bus problem was solved. The officials decided to have the driver back up maybe 30 meters or so, then turn off through a gap in the barriers, toward the beach. But the damage was done. The three stars were deprived of any chance for stage victory. Everyone was granted the same finishing time under the rule that provides for this when there’s a crash within 3k of the finish. (The crash was more than 3k away, but was 3k away from the temporarily presumed finish, and so the rule was invoked.)

A sprinter on the rise, Marcel Kittel, escaped damage in the crash and won the stage in a classic sprint, thereby earning the opening day trifecta of stage victory, the yellow jersey of overall leader, and the green jersey of points leader.

Marcel Kittel winning today's stage in Bastia, Corsica

Marcel Kittel winning today’s stage in Bastia, Corsica

[Jeff Pachoud/Agence France-Presse]

Cavendish had hoped to use stage victory to earn his own yellow jersey, which would have been a first, and which he has no hope of earning in any Tour except by taking the opening stage. Oh well. No post today on his greatness. Perhaps later in the week.

Nonetheless, any day with a Tour stage is a good day. Three weeks of good days lie ahead. The best sporting days of the year.

Categories: Cycling

The Great Inbee Park

June 29, 2013 Leave a comment
Inbee Park putting on 25 today

Inbee Park putting on 25 today

[John Mummert, USGA]

Inbee Park is poised to win the US Women’s Open golf championship tomorrow and make history. Alas, few are paying attention. I went to the NYT sports section online and couldn’t even find an article about it, despite the tournament being played in Southampton. There’s an AP article, here, which will turn up in a search. And unlike most women’s golf tournaments, whose broadcasts are relegated to the Golf Channel or invisible altogether, this one is on NBC. Yet, there’s little coverage.

We have had the great fortune over the last fifteen years to have a succession of great players on the women’s tour: Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak, Julie Inkster. Since Sorenstam’s retirement, Lorena Ochoa and Yani Tseng. And now Inbee Park.

Park was the surprise winner of the US Open in 2008 at the age of 19. Her promise went unfulfilled for several years. But for the last year she has dominated. This season, she has ascended to a rare level of excellence, having won the year’s first two majors, the Kraft Nabisco and the LPGA, and three other tournaments.

No tournament is as prized in women’s golf as the US Open, which she now has firmly in her grasp. Through three rounds, she is ten under par, four strokes ahead of I.K. Kim, seven ahead of Jodi Ewart Shadoff, and nine or more ahead of the rest of the field.

Only Inbee has shot under par in all three rounds. Only Inbee shot under par today, an extraordinary demonstration of rising to the occasion, despite the pressure of trying to win the Open and the parallel pressure of making history.

What history? From the AP article:

A win on Sunday would give Park:

    • Four major championships, when you add her 2008 U.S. Women’s Open victory to the three she will have won this year. With four majors, Park would join a sorority that includes Americans Susie Maxwell Berning, Donna Caponi, Sandra Haynie, Meg Mallon and Hollis Stacy, and Laura Davies of England. Only 15 players in history have won more than four.
    • Wins in the first three majors of 2013, making her the second player in LPGA Tour history to win the first three majors in a season. In 1950, Mildred (Babe) Didrikson Zaharias won all three majors played that year – the Titleholders Championship, the Women’s Western Open and the U.S. Women’s Open.
    • Three majors in a season, making her one of four women to win three majors in a calendar year, joining Zaharias (1950), Mickey Wright (1961) and Pat Bradley (1986).
  • Women’s golf struggles for attention. Tomorrow would be a good day to change that. Watch Inbee play. Watch as she shows us how the greats do it.

    Categories: Golf