Power To The Pedal: Sky Stands Out In Tour De France

Originally published on July 16, 2012 4:54 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And, you know, fun.'s band members aren't the only ones who are racing across Europe. The 12th stage of the Tour de France ended yesterday, wrapping up the longest leg of this year's race and a Scotsman, David Millar, who rides for the U.S. Garmin Sharp cycling team won that stage.

But British rider Bradley Wiggins held onto his race lead and right now the pack of riders is headed off to the southern coast of France. Joe Lindsey is a reporter for Bicycling magazine who's been covering the race. He's back home in Boulder, Colorado now. We caught up with him yesterday just as the riders were finishing a tough trek through the Alps.

JOE LINDSEY: The big mountain stretch obviously is where the leaders of the race will attempt to make time or consolidate their lead in the race. If you are the race leader, like Bradley Wiggins, he's attempting to basically get through this and keep his lead or expand it. For the riders who are behind him, what they're trying to do is use the mountains as an opportunity to attack him and drop him so that they can gain back some of the time that they lost to him in the time trial.

SIMON: Can I ask you about that phrase attack him? Because I know they don't, like, throw stones in the wheels or something but what do we mean by that? What are the strategic tactics?

LINDSEY: The strategic tactic is when they're riding up the mountain, what Brad Wiggins will try to do is have one of his teammates set a tempo on the front of the pack of riders that's high enough that it discourages other riders from riding faster than them. Basically, he tries to put everybody kind of on their limit.

But if somebody's not at their limit what they can do is put in an attack, which is a sudden, sharp acceleration, so that they ride up the road in front of them, and that forces Wiggins and his team to try to lift their own pace to respond.

SIMON: Are things looking pretty good for Bradley Wiggins, the British cyclist, and for that matter, Team Sky?

LINDSEY: Things are looking very good for them. They have been commandingly in control of the race almost from day one and they have really no serious challengers to that. You see them in the mountain stages; they're riding with three, four guys, sometimes, in the front in addition to Wiggins.

No other team that's out there has more than two, maybe three riders. And the other thing is that Wiggins' teammates are oftentimes better than sometimes the team leaders from some of the other teams.

SIMON: Joe, as you look at the race, well, let me just be this blunt. Do you see a difference between the doping era and what people in racing hope is no longer a doping era?

LINDSEY: There's been some controversy around that, honestly, because the way that Sky is riding at the front is very reminiscent of how the U.S. Postal team of Lance Armstrong rode during the late 1990s and early 2000s. And as we know, there's an investigation from the United States anti-doping agency currently going on into possible doping practices by that team.

And so to see Sky riding in the front with such kind of strength and systematic control, definitely kind of causes people to question what's going on. At the same time, Sky has always been very committed to racing clean, as well as some of the other teams in the race like Garmin Sharp.

And I think it's difficult to read too much into what you see before you, but based on what I see, I don't - you know, when riders attack they don't just go surging off the front and charge up the hill with virtually no sign of difficulty.

They are attacking. They're getting caught and brought back. The other day we saw Chris Froome - who is really the breakout story of the race. He's the number one teammate for Wiggins - we saw him almost crack, then get back on and make a little surge of his own to finish right up at the front.

And I think when you see things like that it looks, you know, for lack of a better term, it simply looks more human.

SIMON: Do you believe the persisting quandary and controversy over doping has done anything to diminish cycling's popularity?

LINDSEY: Yes and no. I think that one of the problems that cycling has is that the story seems to lag the reality by some amount of time, say five or 10 years. So right now what you're witnessing is a cleaner sport, but we're still dealing with the aftermath of a doping era and, quite honestly, an era that was never properly dealt with.

And I think that's one of the big reasons that these questions continue to come up, is for years the sport lived with this sort of aura of mistrust and suspicion, where riders who were clean couldn't win and riders who were dirty would say they were clean and then sometimes be found out to be lying.

So people are really unsure what to believe and that atmosphere of mistrust really makes it hard for people to really sometimes believe what they're seeing? And I think in some ways that has hurt the sport's popularity.

SIMON: Joe Lindsey has been covering the Tour de France for Bicycling magazine. Thanks so much for being with us, Joe.

LINDSEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.