By David Ward
(From our August 2011 issue)
Can I just say it? Awesome. The 2011 Tour de France was simply awesome. There was so much to like, and so little to complain about. If one anticipates July of each summer for the thrill of following the Tour, this year it delivered.
There was the drama of not knowing, till the penultimate stage, who was going to win. With a 57 second lead going into the final time trial, it appeared Andy Schleck had the upper hand. He had the motivation of the yellow jersey he was wearing, and a time trial course that somewhat favored him. Cadel Evans, on the other hand, knew that he could pull back time in the time trial, and had the motivation of knowing that, at age 34, this might be his last good chance to win le grand boucle.
There was Andy Schlecks classic breakaway on the Col dIzoard resulting in his solo win at the top of the Col de Galibier. A long attack and breakaway like this is something you seldom see anymore. At the same time, Cadel Evans valient effort in taking control when no one else would or could help and pulling back on the climb up the Galibier two minutes of Schlecks four minute lead was inspirational.
The very next day, Evans epic effort, as a result of lost time due to mechanical problems, up the Galibier and down the other side to chase down the breakaway containing Schleck and Contador, was inspirational. He then displayed his race savvy by letting Contador go and just marking Schleck up the final climb to Alpe dHuez.
In fact, Evans effort in staying with Andy Schleck on all the climbs in the Tour, and his intelligent race tactics in playing to his own strengths, was fun to watch. There were many who wanted him to go on the attack, but those thinking more clearly realized Evans best tactic was simply to keep things close through all the mountain stages, and then use his time trialing strength to gain the upper hand.
It was also impressive to watch the HTC train control nearly every sprint finish as it placed Mark Cavendish and his powerful sprint in position to explode to five stage wins, including the final stage on the Champs Elysees.
I, for one, could not stay away from the TV. I am a visual person, and I like the excitement of watching each days race as it unfolds while listening to those British bavardeurs Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin, with their delectable accents, call each days action.
We had canceled our cable service almost two years ago, and as a result last year I could only follow the Tour on the computer. It is a poor substitute. After reading about the first couple of stages of this years Tour, I could no longer stand it. I contacted DirectTV, and in two days I was in business.
Each day I would avoid Velonews.com and other Tour coverage, and warn others to not comment on the days action. Then, in the evening, my wife and I would sit down and watch the DVRed coverage. It resulted in many late nights, and subsequent fatiguing days at work.
In fact, I am so obsessive about how I enjoy watching Tour coverage that when we were out of town the last weekend of the Tour (the final three stages) and unable to watch the coverage, I would let no one tell me anything about what happened. When we returned home the following Monday evening, we parked ourselves in front of the TV and watched the remaining coverage. So in fact, I did not know Evans had won the Tour till after midnight of the Monday following the Tours conclusion.
I like Cadel Evans, and have considered him a class act for several years. I was pulling for him to win, and so was very excited to watch his great time trial which garnered him his overall victory. It was thrilling to watch his reaction at the end of the time trial, to see him don the yellow jersey, and to take in the podium ceremony on the Champs Elysees.
I also like the Schleck brothers. While happy for Evans, it was hard to not feel badly for Andy Schleck. But he is younger, and I think his Tour victories will come. I hope so. It was great, and historic, to see him and his brother Frank both on the podium, the first brother combo to achieve that.
The Tour this year was classic. It was exciting starting with Stage One, and stayed exciting right to the end. It had a great cast of protagonists, people I could and did root for. July is a great month. It is Tour month. I cant wait for next year.