Tour de Ashes

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Tour De France has begun and it must have been killing Tony Abbott if he was watching, writes Lachlan Barker.

The high point of my sporting year, the Tour De France has begun, and this year’s starting stages, in the Netherlands, had the added bonus of showing wind mills and wind turbines everywhere in the background as the cyclists raced past.

So first just to explain a little why I’m mentioning wind turbines in the sport section. A few weeks back, I did a sport column beginning with a curious battle between two former rugby league legends – Darren Lockyer and Glenn Lazarus – who were on opposing sides in the battle to stop coal seam gas (CSG).

I apologise then and now if I confused some readers, as many tuned in to that column thinking it was an environment article. They read of the CSG battle with interest and then were caught off guard by my sudden shift to prattling on about blokes in their underpants riding push bikes.

So, this week's sports column describes cycling, cricket, women’s soccer and tennis.

However, the reason I mention wind turbines is that, in this world increasingly concerned with climate change, almost no – issue, political, social, economic and now sporting – is completely divorced from our environment. And so it was with a humble bike race starting in Holland.

The race began on Saturday European time in Utrecht, The Netherlands. The first stage – the prologue – was a time trial through the city streets and was won in record time by Australia’s Rohan Dennis for team BMC. This was the fastest time in Tour De France history for a time trial and was a brilliant performance from Dennis.

Apart from the great time, Dennis pushed two genuine giants of the discipline – Germany’s Tony Martin and Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara – into minor placings. Anyone who follows cycling with any closeness will tell you that beating Martin, particularly, in a time trial is worthy of the record books on its own.

So Dennis, as winner of stage one, then got to wear the coveted yellow leader’s jersey for stage two. This was a good omen for Australia, as the last Australian rider from BMC who wore yellow was Cadel Evans, the eventual winner in 2011.

Thus stage two began with Dennis arrayed in gold and was raced across this flattest of country for 166 kilometres, in more or less the longest sprint ever held in cycling. The highest point on the course was six metres above sea level and, toward the latter part of the journey, the riders were cycling below sea level behind the famous dikes of Holland.

Now Tony Abbott is famously a keen cyclist and so I wondered, as I watched, if he was in his turn watching on the Lodge’s flat screen TV. I certainly hoped so, because as the race wound on, it seemed that every second shot of the race had a wind turbine or wind mill in the background.

The Netherlands is a world leader in the fight against climate change — indeed, recently, an environmentally concerned group sued the Dutch government for not doing enough to combat climate change and keep the populace safe from the effects of sea level rise. 

However, the Dutch are clearly doing a million times more than our backwards, neanderthal government and wind turbines everywhere was clear evidence of this.

It gave me the greatest of pleasure to wonder if this was grinding the eyes out of our idiot prime minister’s head as he watched, given his recent bizarre attacks on wind turbines here in Australia.

So, this leg of the bike race came with double or triple pleasure for me: the race itself, with its fabulous scenery; the, as usual, great coverage from SBS; and, finally, the thought that our prime minister was receiving a lesson about renewable power in the rest of the world brought home to him.

Stage two was won, in the end, by Germany’s Andre Greipel in a bunched sprint finish from Slovak Peter Sagan, Britain’s Mark Cavendish and Cancellara.

At the close of play on day two Cancellara takes the yellow jersey, courtesy of his close finish in combination with his good time in the time trial the day before, while Greipel wears the green sprinter’s jersey thanks to his win on the line. Local favourite Tom Dumoulin of The Netherlands wears the white jersey for the best young rider, while on a stage that was flat and then below sea level, the polka-dotted jersey for king of the mountain was not awarded.

So. we’re off for another year with the Tour De France and I hope you will grant us a small change from the IA creed of women’s sport first. The women cyclists will, however, be a part of this coverage. They compete in a race called La Course, a one day event held on the final day and so will be made note of at that point.

Also in Europe, the tennis at Wimbledon is underway. However, the Australians competing in the singles have largely been weeded out already.

In the women’s event, Sam Stosur was defeated in the third round by Coco Wandeweghe of the USA, 6-2,6-0, while Casey Dellacqua went down to Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 6-4. Top seed Serena Williams of the USA is through to round four, where she plays sister Venus, while fourth seed Maria Sharapova is the only other of the top four through to the fourth round, drawn to play Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan.

In the men’s event, Nick Kyrgios is Australia’s lone survivor, after Bernard Tomic went down to number one seed Novac Djokovic 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. Kyrgios defeated Canada’s Milos Raonic in four sets and goes to play Richard Gasquet of France in the fourth round.

In the men’s draw, seeds one, Djokovic, two, Roger Federer and three, Andy Murray, are through to the fourth round, while the big name who is out is Rafael Nadal, seeded 10, who exited in the second round to Dustin Brown of Germany.

Meanwhile, in the women’s soccer World Cup, Australia exited the tournament after a courageous effort, losing 1-0 to Japan in the quarter final. Japan then defeated England 2-1 in the semi-final to go through to the final showdown. There they were to meet the world number two ranked team, the USA. The USA dispensed with world number one team, Germany, in their semi, 2-0 and so the stage was set.

It ended up as a bit of a non-event, as the USA were leading 4-0 after 16 minutes. However, the indomitable Japanese pulled it back to 4-2 on the 52nd minute, before the USA killed it off two minutes later in the 54th minute, netting the final goal of the game to end up winning 5-2.

Also to be noted in sporting circles this week is the sad loss of Ryan Harris to cricket. Harris was a lion-hearted fast bowler for Australia, but perennially troubled by knee pain and injury. While bowling in England in the lead up to the upcoming Ashes, he injured his knee again and, at age 35, had to finally call a halt to proceedings.

He will be sorely missed by Australian cricket fans, and Australian team captains I might add. Harris was one of those once-in-a-lifetime bowlers who could take an important wicket virtually on demand. If Australia was blocked on the course to victory by a stubborn batsman, captain Michael Clarke could throw the ball to Harris and say “Please Rhino, if you do nothing else today, get this guy out."

More often than not, Harris would power in and oblige sooner rather than later. So a big thanks to Harris for all his efforts.

So that’s it for sport this week. I am looking forward to more from the Tour De France in the upcoming weeks. Tonight, the race moves from The Netherlands to Belgium for more flat land racing, though with a sharp elevated finish on the Chemin des Chapelles.

It will be enjoyable for sure and I’m just hoping there’s more wind turbines in the background.

Lachlan blogs at you can follow him on Twitter @CycloneCharlie8.

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