No more Tour
A Tour de France that had everything, heros, villians, mystery, tragedy and triumph. What more could anyone want?
And so it ended last night, the 2007 Tour de France. Three weeks of some of the most intriguing and exciting racing I've ever seen, mixed in with a backdrop of doping and subterfuge.
Remember way back in stage 1, with Robbie McEwen blasting the rest of the field to smithereens on pure adrenaline after crashing some 20km prior? Robbie didn't recover from the crash and missed the time cut in the Alps.
Remember Cancellara winning a sprint finish in yellow? Boonen's leadout man winning a stage (Gert Steegmans the missile). The usual early stages with futile breaks, stages ridden at touring speeds, Brad Wiggins being hung out to dry for 100km, every time he slowed down, the peloton slowed too, torture ....
Almost everyone winning a stage early on (sprinters, that is!) - Hushovd, Boonen, McEwen, even Zabel managed to be consistantly high up, although unable to take a win, showing that cunning and positioning is just as important as raw speed yet again.
Crashes ... so many crashes this year, Obviously McEwen, but more tragic was Stuart O'Grady on a descent breaking ribs and puncturing lungs but not breaking his heart. Mick Rogers, while virtual tour leader, crashing and dislocating his shoulder, Vino crashing early and riding on swathed in bandages and oozing blood for days. Riders crashing into loose dogs not once, but twice. David Millar doing his best to ruin Mavic's reputation by ripping a Mavic disk wheel to bits on the startline of the final ITT.
The young German rider taking yellow and white for a day, on the podium the podium girls were tripping over his smile it was so broad. David Millar putting on a show, bathed in sunscreen because of a bizzare allergy.
And then the hills ... Rasmussen, to cheers at first, then jeers and boos as the story unfolded, tearing the road up in the Alps before pulling a time trial from nowhere to hold his lead. Who believed he was that strong? Then, the controversy as he was removed by his own team after way too many mysteries about his wherabouts and missed doping controls during the leadup to the tour.
Vino winning a time trial, Vino driving Astana to split the peloton in a crosswind, destroying the French hopes by putting minutes into Moreau but seemingly to have no real purpose. Vino cracking in the hills and losing 20 minutes, Vino attacking in the hills and winning a stage, Vino testing positive, Vino and his whole team being evicted from the tour. Vino living up to his reputation. Never a dull moment.
And along the way, Contador going punch for punch with Cadel Evans and Rasmussen in the mountaintop finishes. Attack, attack, attack ... Cadel driving himself beyond exhaustion to limit his losses in the hills. Levi Leipheimer and Contador taking turns attacking Cadel until eventually getting clear. Could Contador get enough gap to stay in front after the final ITT? Would SBS interupt a finish with an ad break to tell us all about Sniff and Stiff (with no irony at all re performance enhancing drugs) or some particularly dull car advert. Yes to both. Can Tomalaris say anything sensible at the end of a stage? will Graham Gate with his Faux-French accent cribbed from Peter Sellers movies finally choke on some overstuffed foie gras? One can but hope ... Will Paul Sherwin manage to squeeze in a mention of testicular cancer? Yes! And David Millar .. yes! Did anyone run a book on how many times?
The late transitional stages where finally some breaks stayed away, the old soldiers (Jens Voight, Sandy Cesar and co.) dicing it out for a last stage win in their careers. Sandy Cesar winning while dripping blood from an early crash. Setting everyone up for the crunch - the final ITT.
Could Cadel catch Contador? So close in the end, but so desperatly close also for Leipheimer, who won the ITT but Cadel held second - 31 seconds seperating first from third. Footage of Cadel sprinting up the last 200 meters of the ITT, sweat spraying everywhere, just a few more seconds ... everyone in Australia with a bike and a TV glued to the time trial willing Cadel to find a few extra watts from somewhere, and probably quietly wishing for Contador to puncture or crack, but the race was true and Cadel got second in the end. The Australian media being clueless about stage racing (too much time playing footy) and media pundits telling us Chicken Little stories about the death of the Tour. The sky is not falling. The Tour is much bigger than a couple of scandals - it wouldn't be a tour without scandals.
Tom Boonen's vindication, taking home a stage win and the green jersey at last.
And Cadel, second place this year. Achingly close to first, but beaten by a stronger climber with a more focussed and polished team. Discovery/US Postal have now won 8 of the last 9 Tours. They know how to win a tour. Bruyneel taking his team, post Lance, to a win no-one expected. Cadel being so close that many are disappointed that he didn't win, but that's to miss the point - he did win, he won respect and he won admiration and he rode clean, and he got the best result ever by an Australian. Next year Cadel ... Imagine if it was Cadel and Rogers fighting it out for the podium next year.
And now we can all get some sleep, no more tour lag 'til next year. Thankyou for reading.