Sport on TV: Heck of a wreck for Schleck as his Tour chances hit the deck

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The Independent Online

It seems the French are finding the Tour de France (ITV4 and British Eurosport) somewhat of a turn-off these days; 72 per cent of them under the age of 35 now claim to have no interest.

Taking a wild stab in the dark, the fact that a Frenchman hasn't won it for 25 years might have something to do with it; Monday's action was bigged up as the 100th anniversary of the first Pyrenean stage, but while the crowds lining the climbs seemed thicker than ever, there weren't too many tricolores flying as a Spaniard, Alberto Contador, battled with a Luxembourgeois, Andy Schleck, for control of the yellow jersey.

Schleck had been talking the talk in a pre-stage interview, claiming that Contador, last year's winner, was scared of him, but when it came to it he couldn't quite pedal the pedal. All of a sudden his back wheel hopped in the air and his chain came off, the sort of thing that used to happen to you when you were going down to the sweetie shop aged eight.

This allowed Contador to scoot up the road and turn a 31sec deficit into an 8sec lead, apparently in contravention of some unwritten Tour rule that riders shouldn't take advantage of a rival's mechanical failure. But Phil Liggett, ITV4's seasoned commentator, was having none of it: "It's the Tour de France," he harrumphed. "We'll be stopping for guys with flat tyres next."

Perish the thought; at least Schleck fared better than one Eugène Christophe in 1913, who walked 10km down the Col du Tourmalet with his bike on his shoulders to find a blacksmith after his handlebars broke. Under the rules of the day riders had to make their own repairs unaided, so Christophe welded his handlebars back together himself, only to be docked another 10 minutes because the blacksmith's daughter had worked the bellows for him.

Thursday's stage, finishing on the Tourmalet's summit, was billed as the day the Tour would be decided, so over to the seven hours of Eurosport coverage rather than ITV4's two hours. But it hasn't been the same on Eurosport since they pensioned off their waffler-in-chief David Duffield, with his riffs on obscure vintages and where to get the best cassoulet in town. The action was a bit of a letdown too, as Contador hung grimly on Schleck's wheel throughout to preserve his 8sec lead.

A bunch of sheep, made nervous perhaps by the sight of two men in mankinis right behind them, strayed into the road to liven things up, but barring accident it seemed inevitable that Contador would be entering the Champs Elysées in triumph on Sunday.

"If you ever get the chance to visit Paris, do go to the [Musée] d'Orsay," chuntered Duffield one year. "I love painters; they've got Monet, Ceganne, Déjà..." If the Duffer is there this year, he'll be able to enjoy a Déjà view all over again.