Ever since I was 14, and saw Greg Lemond win the Tour de France on Wide World of Sports, I’ve been captivated by the race. For many years, it was pretty tough getting any kind of news about the race on TV, you usually just got a recap for 30 minutes or so on the last day. Americans, as a whole, just don’t care about cycling. That is, until there was another American to grab their attention. When Lance Armstrong came back from Cancer, and won his first Tour, bike racing gained a whole new audience. All of a sudden, people who had never watched the Tour before, were throwing around words like Peloton, Yellow Jersey, Time Trial, and Champs-Elysee, and OLN/Versus started showing the Tour, live, every morning. There went my July!
Every year, there are new stories and the drama that unfolds over nearly 2000 miles of French roads, and this year did not disappoint. First off, you had Lance announcing, once again, this would be his last Tour. At 38 years old, and already coming back from one retirement, it was time to hang it up. Lance actually had a pretty horrible race. Crashing multiple times, and because of that, not being able to really keep up with guys 10-15 years younger than him. Lance is a trooper, stayed in the race and decided to try for stage wins, and to help out his teammate, Levi Leipheimer.
The big drama of the Tour was between the winner of the last two tours, Alberto Contador, and Andy Schleck. Both are incredible climbers, and were neck and neck throughout most of the race. At one point, Schleck was up by 39 seconds over Contador, and just as he was about to attack on a mountain stage, his chain popped off. Contador attacked, and took the Yellow Jersey back from Schleck. Now, there are unwritten rules in cycling (one of the things most Americans can’t quite understand) about not attacking the race leader when he has a mechanical problem or crashes, or needs to pull off the side of the road to take a leak. Contador, in my opinion, didn’t follow these rules. I think many people agreed with me as he got booed fairly heavily when they awarded him the leader’s jersey.
Once again it came down to final Time Trial. The race of truth, as it is sometimes called, is where a rider races against a clock, and you rely only on yourself. Coming into the Time Trial, Contador was up by 8 seconds over Schleck. Schleck, not being known as a great Time Trialist was predicted to be blown out by Contador. That was, until the first time check and he was actually 2 seconds faster than Contador. Could he actually come back and win? Not this year. Contador, after hearing he was losing time, found some extra power, turned it on, and came back to beat Contador by 31 seconds. Add the 8 seconds he was already ahead of Schleck, and there you have the 39 seconds that he lost when his chain popped off leaving one to wonder what would have happened if Contador would have waited. Guess we’ll have to wait until next year!
As I’m watching the final stage now, the riders are popping Champagne, laughing and joking through some of the small towns leading into Paris, and the final laps up and down the Champs-Elysee. Another tour, and another July is quickly coming to an end. In the off-season, the big names will change teams, teams will come and go, and we’ll need to wait until next July to see who is coming back strong, and ready to race.