Chris Maume: Heroics in the commentary box

Sport on TV: Sastre's heroics entrance the commentary box
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The Independent Online

I don't care what you say. Its protagonists may be as high as those Nasa balloonists who went beyond the earth's atmosphere while remaining within its gravity well, but cycling is still a game for heroes. And Alpe d'Huez, with its 15 upwardly mobile kilometres and 21 hairpin bends, can generally be relied upon to sort les hommes from les garçons.

So it proved on Wednesday, when Carlos Sastre took off at the foot of the legendary climb intent on ripping the yellow jersey of the Tour de France leader from the sweating, heaving back of Cadel Evans. In the most open Tour for years, the pre-race favourite has been criticised for playing it safe – indeed, he was being mooted as the first winner not to take a single stage for a good few years. On Stage 17, the last day in the mountains, he left all the boldness and daring to Sastre, and paid the price.

"Carlos Sastre turns on the gas on these vicious, vicious first twists and turns of Alpe d'Huez," enthused the redoubtable Eurosport commentator David Harmon. Evans stayed put, unwilling to take on the Spaniard, and Harmon was despairing. "When does it become dangerous to let Carlos Sastre go?" he asked. "Is Evans ever going to jump on the attack?"

He didn't, and Sastre rode to glory, approaching the summit with teeth bared. "He's starting to suffer now – and it's about time," said Harmon's commentary-box colleague Sean Kelly – a man who, as a veteran of 14 Tours, knows all about pain. And as he crossed the line, Harmon was entranced. "Carlos Sastre! What a ride! All the way from the bottom to the top!" The headline above his quotes on the Tour's official website later on read: "Finding satisfaction from suffering", which is about the best you can hope for when you're riding the Tour de France.

It's also a phrase that will be freighted with significance for the charismatic (and very camp) Lee Pearson, one of Britain's most successful Paralympians, whose struggle to reach Beijing was the highlight of the second instalment of Olympic Dreams (BBC1, Tuesday). He suffers from arthrogryposis multiplex congenita – that's twisted arms and legs to you and me – and when he was born his mum took one look at him and thought, "Oh shit! I'd better cuddle him now or social services will take him." But put him on a dressage horse and he's a world-beater.

Except that it's only the Paralympics, so money's a perennial problem, and a sponsorship pull-out means that he may be forced into retirement after Beijing – which would be a national scandal. Still, he's used to adversity, and he's got his mother's sense of humour. He may be a multiple medallist, but when he was growing up it was more a case of: "Oh my God, I've got shit legs, oh my God, I'm a poof...!" Oh my God, he's an Olympic hero...

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