Well it was a great tour, an *amazingly* great tour, and now it's over, and like always at the end of July, now I'm sad. No more getting up early to watch Phil and Paul and Bob and Craig, no more watching 200 lycra-clad athletes ride bikes around France, surrounded by the most amazing scenery as the climb the Alps and the Pyrenees, and fly through little villages, and pass through big cities brought to a standstill by their passing. Not until next year anyway.
Here are the highlights for me:
- Fabian Cancellara dominating the Prologue in Rotterdam. How great was he, and how great was it to have the Prologue there, and how significant was the Prologue, as the time gaps in that 7 mile race determined the winner three weeks and 2,100 miles later.
- Alessandro Petacchi winning stage 1 in Belgium. Who? Oh yeah, him, only one of the best sprinters ever, and we all thought it would be between Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar. Thus was heralded one of the best green jersey competitions in recent memory.
- That weird standstill in stage 2, wherein the entire peloton except race winner Sylvain Chavanel finished together in the same time, at the behest of Fabian Cancellara. Sure there were a lot of crashes but neutralize the whole race? It sure hurt Thor Hushovd, and it sure helped Andy Schleck.
- And then - dum dum dum - we had stage 3, the cobblestone stage! Won by Thor Hushovd, to his everlasting credit. And Alberto Contador did just fine, thank you, and Andy Schleck did too (by following in the wake of Fabian Cancellara). But Frank Schleck broke his collarbone, ending his tour, and perhaps fatally hurting teammate and brother Andy's chances for the overall victory.
- Forward to stage 5, as Mark Cavendish tearfully blazed to victory, after Petacchi had claimed stage 4. The Manx Missile was back, and took stage 6 too, for good measure.
- Stage 7 was cool as Sylvain Chavanel attacked on the final climb and ran away to victory, claiming the yellow jersey and the hearts of French cycling fans everywhere.
- And then stage 8, that fateful stage, the first "real" climb in the Alps. Lance Armstrong crashed three times and lost 12 minutes, eliminating his chance to win. Meanwhile Andy Schleck took time on everyone and won, leaving Cadel Evans in yellow.
- And then Stage 9 saw another contender eliminated as Cadel Evans broke his elbow and lost big time. Schleck and Contador put time into all the GC contenders as it became obvious one of them would win the tour.
- Stage 12 was a doozy, the final Alpine stage; a huge break boiled down to Alexander Vinokourov attacking up the final climb, only to be caught by Contador, who attacked the GC peloton and put 10s into Schleck to win the stage. Fireworks! Also cool on this day was watching Hushovd lumber up the climbs to take sprint points and claim the green jersey. And Vino attacked the sprinters the following day to win stage 13.
- The Tour moved into the Pyrenees, and stage 14 was another great shootout. Contador and Schleck battled to a standstill, while Denis Menchov and Samuel Sanchez fought a battle of their own for third place.
- Probably the stage most people will remember best? Stage 15, another mountain battle; Thomas Voeckler won (!), but Schleck attacked and was pulling time on the GC group when his chain came off! Whoa. Contador wasted no time blowing past, and by the time the dust settled he had taken 40s from Schleck, as well as the yellow jersey (for good, as it turned out).
- Stage 16 looked like a chance for a breakaway, and so it was, but the amazing news was that Lance Armstrong himself attacked and led the race solo for a while, before a nine-man break formed. He gave it his best shot and we were all rooting for him to win, but he was out-sprinted in the end.
- If you ever want to see an epic battle on a mountaintop finish, check out stage 17, in which Schleck did everything he could to attack Contador and take time, and nearly did, but then didn't; he did win, but Contador was half a wheel behind. It was awesome cycling. And meanwhile Menchov and Sanchez pulled away and drew in their competition for third.
- The final GC battle was the ITT, as usual, stage 19 through the vineyards of Bordeaux. Cancellara won, to noone's surprise (and his delight and relief), while Menchov posted the best time among the GC contenders, blasting away from Sanchez to secure third. And Andy did the ride of his life to challenge Alberto, but just couldn't do it; a noble effort that fell just short, leaving Contador the overall victor by 40s.
- And the final sprint battle was the final stage, as usual, the parade up and down the Champs Elysees; Cavendish blew out to win, his fifth of the tour, and Petacchi finished second to end up as the sprint champion. Adding spice; the Team Radio Shack "28" jersey stunt (which raised the UCI's ire), as they won the team competition, putting Lance back on the podium as a winner in his last Tour.
As I said, a *great* tour, every day there was something new, something cool, and often a bunch of things going on at once. I already cannot wait until next year...
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