Stage 15 was really only about one climb ... the majestic Port de Bales. Near-perfect it is, in the unique geometry of a Tour de France climb. It begins modestly in a small Pyrenean village with a little uptick in the road. Then it winds its way through a dark tunnel of trees ... higher and higher, steeper and steeper ... until finally the road bursts above the treeline, fanning out in a multi-colored ribbon of wild fans over an endless ripple of ridges -- the subject of my painting for the night:
It was here on this great mountain pass that the Tour de France 2010 handed us our moral question of the race: Should Contador have attacked when Schleck was having mechanical problems, eventually taking the yellow jersey?
In a perfect world, sure -- it's very easy for me to say yes, I would have preferred it had Contador waited for Schleck to fix his chain. Contador could have thought: who cares if Menchov and Sanchez keep racing to the end! This is a battle between me and my great rival Andy Schleck. I'm going to wait for him to fix that rotten chain of his ... and then I'll attack him!
That's all well and good, but there are two things that keep me from simply saying Contador was wrong:
1. That's a lot to think about in the heat of the moment. He's still young.
...and more importantly...
2. A Tour rider should only wait for a contender with a mechanical problem if he truly believes it's the right thing to do -- not because it's simply the custom.
Lance Armstrong and arch-rival Jan Ulrich both waited for each other after falls in the 2001 and 2003 Tours de France. They waited because you could see in their faces that they considered the situation and made thoughtful choices. Those were wonderful moments.
But if every rider waited each time a contender had a crash simply because they were following some unwritten code of conduct, that would make for one very boring bike race. Remember, no one waited for Lance Armstrong when he crashed on the cobbles of this year's Stage 3.
So O.K., Contador didn't wait. That was his choice. It was a heated moment, and there's no rule saying he can't. But now Andy Schleck will be out for revenge tomorrow, and everyone loves to root for the guy who falls behind in life through no fault of his own. If anything, Cantodor may have given Schleck the greatest gift of all ... there will be millions of people cheering for Andy on Stage 16.