Le Tour and More

By David Ward

I have just emerged from a Tour de France fog. Every July, I change my internet home page from velonews.com to avoid seeing who won that day’s stage, warn all to avoid spilling the news and come home in the evening just to stay up late watching that day’s contest. By the time I do that over three weeks, I am sleep-deprived, my head swimming with sprints, climbs and breakaways, and battling withdrawal. Yes, I am a Tour junkie.

With the Tour finish a week old, it is time to reflect on this year’s action. First, Team Sky was impressive. Despite Vincenzo Nibali’s repeated promises and, indeed, attempts, along with a few feeble efforts by Cadel Evans and Jurgen Van Den Broeck, to attack and break Team Sky’s stranglehold on all the favorites, this team methodically crushed all these efforts.

As impressive as Team Sky was, Bradley Wiggins was somewhat disappointing,. Disregarding some of the most unattractive sideburns I have seen, I kept waiting for him to stamp his authority on the Tour on at least one of the tough mountain stages. Those are the champions you really remember. It never happened. Rather, he was overshadowed by his own teammate, Chris Froome.

That being said, he had no match on the two time trials, not even close. It seemed even Wiggins himself recognized he needed an overwhelming performance to resurrect himself from a theretofore underwhelming performance, His fist pump at the end of the final time trial when he demolished all others said it all. Nevertheless, without his overpowering team, I don’t think Wiggins would have won.

Meanwhile, the fan favorite, Cadel Evans was never a factor. It seemed evident right from the prologue that he was not on his best form. I kept hoping he would race into good form before reaching the mountains, but instead he just got shelled off the back.

This Tour’s revelation, sort of, was Peter Sagan. While he had already made quite a splash, and shown himself impressive at the Amgen Tour, he had not yet really made a name for himself in the major European races.. He certainly wasted no time rectifying that by winning the first stage, and following that up with victories on stages 3 and 6. Along the way, he crushed the competition for the green sprint jersey. On top of that, he was enjoyable and quite likable.

For us Americans, Montana native T. J. Van Garderen did us proud. He raced away with the white jersey for the best young (age 23 or under) rider and eventually replaced Evans as BMC’s team leader. It is nice to have a new American hope.

In truth, the most compelling jersey competition was the polka dot mountain jersey. The impetuous and beloved French rider, Thomas Voeckler, took this jersey with an impressive tour de force on the penultimate mountain stage and secured it on the final mountain stage. His facial expressions while attacking are comic and, by themselves, worth an award.

One of the greatest things about the Tour is that, even if the overall winners of the yellow and other jerseys are often determined well before the final stage, each individual stage, though influenced by the tussles for the overall jerseys, is a separate race and exciting to watch. It is three weeks of the finest bicycle racing one can watch, with each stage providing its own intrigue and exciting finish. Watching FDJ directeur sportif Marc Madiot encourage, cajole, and cheer Thibeau Pinot as he won stage 8 is one my enduring memories from this Tour.

Well, there is much more I could go on about. As always, even if some parts of the Tour were less than compelling, each day’s racing was exciting. And with all its various facets, there was always something to be excited about.

The Tour is a great event. I love this race.

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While withdrawal is usually immediate, this year’s pain was softened by the Olympics which began one week after the end of the Tour. The road race was the first event of the Olympics and, given the dominance of Team Sky during the Tour and the nature of the course, Mark Cavendish was quickly tabbed as the man whose race it was to lose.

Indeed, the hype became so overwhelming that his victory almost seemed a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately, it was the type of hype that often precedes failure. Bad luck. And in the days before the race, a strategy seemed to be developing among the other teams to try and shed the sprinters, particularly Cavendish, during the nine climbs of Box Hill. As I considered this, it seemed to me very possible that this strategy might very well work.

And as we all know, it did. Frankly, I like Cavendish, and I would have liked it if he won. But the hype became tiresome, and finally foreboding. So in a sense, it was nice to see it did not play out as many expected and, indeed, concluded it would.

And who could not be happy for 39-year-old Alexandr Vinokourov? He crashed out of last year’s Tour and failed to win, as he had hoped, a stage in this year’s Tour. Racing his last race before retiring, it was exciting to see him win. (And in the process, teach a young Rigoberto Uran to never take his eye off a wily old pro.)

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Shifting gears, it is confession and apology time. My friend, Elliot, and I had decided to ride to the top of Suncrest, a high ridge separating the Salt Lake and Utah valleys. For those familiar, there is a long, steep semi-circular section of this climb, at least a half mile long, toward the top. As Elliot and I started up the bottom of this section, Elliot flatted. Since he climbs faster than me, I went on ahead.

Well, I arrived at the top but Elliot never did. Heading back down, I found him where I had left him, having troubles fixing his flat. I had stopped on the descending side of the road while Elliot was on the ascending side. We chatted for a minute, and I realized I needed to cross the road to help.

Without thinking, I clipped in and began a u-turn across the road. As I did so, I heard screaming, probably profanities and vile names, rapidly approaching from above. I was turning directly in front of a rider descending at around 45 mph. Through some stroke of good fortune, a collision was avoided, and he was gone as fast as he had approached.

I felt so stupid, and have wished ever since that I could apologize. So, I am confessing my sin here. If the unknown rider whom I almost killed is perchance reading this, please know I felt, and still feel, incredibly stupid, and am very sorry. Thankfully, neither one of us suffered anything worse than a terrible scare.

 

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