Now that the Tour De France is over, I can write about it. No one needed to hear my take on each stage as the race progressed. It is probably one of the most covered sporting events in the world. You proabably still don’t need to know my take on the race, but here it is anyway.
My first thought is that I feel sorry for Alberto Contador. Now, I’m not saying I was rooting for him, but I do have some sympathy for him because of the situation in which he was placed. From the beginning I did not think Armstrong would be able to win the Tour (I do have to admit that he did better than I anticipated). The race structure led to a protracted time when the leader of the Astana team was in question.
The way I saw it, this was unfair to Contador. The history of this 2009 edition of the race will have Contador as the winner in the record books, but he will be overshadowed by the man on the third tier of the podium. Perhaps that is why the Spaniard rode as though he had a chip on his shoulder — and I really can’t blame him.
Of course, you can’t comment on the Tour without mentioning Armstrong – as the above paragraphs about Contador attest. I have to admit that I did not think he would finish on the podium. Yet, he showed that he still has the incredible ability to sense what is happening around him and avoiding mistakes that could cost him. Where his body might not have been up to par his brain made up for it.
I’ve mentioned before that I am not a huge Lance fan. I respect him as a rider – greatly, but I’ve never been drawn to him as a person. Having said that, I did find myself warming up to the man during this Tour. Maybe it is because somewhere in my heritage there is some French. It is still true that the man sucks up all the air around him when he enters the room, but his interaction with most of his team and the rest of the peloton made him a little more endearing. By the end of the Tour I found myself cheering him on.
Then there was the green jersey battle… Mark Cavendish is a Lance Armstrong type character in his own right. He says things that sound so brash – and you squirm a bit. Then he kills everyone on a stage and follows it by showing obvious appreciation for his teammates – and you love the guy. In an odd kind of way he is both arrogant and humble at the same time.
You compare him to Thor Hushovd and it is like fire and ice. Thor did what he had to do and definitely deserved the green jersey. Cav burned like a flame for six stages, but Thor was there each time moving solidly forward. As much as I enjoy the Columbia-HTC rider, I was cheering on the man from Norway when he grabbed hold of Stage 17 and squeezed the points necessary to ultimately give him the overall win among the sprinters.
You can’t mention Mark Cavendish without giving team Columbia-HTC their dues. I never grew tired of watching the lead outs performed by this team. The only thing I didn’t like was the fact that there didn’t seem to be another team to rival their train. For just a moment on the final day it appeared that Garmin was going to put their train on a parallel track. It was to no avail as it was derailed and shattered by the Columbia-HTC locomotive – coal car – freight car – tanker car…
Seeing George Hincapie start the wheels turning on the Champs Élysées and exerting his will on the front of the peloton got the adrenelin flowing. Watching Renshaw take that momentum through the final turn simply added to the excitement. Then with Cavendish riding for the line as though the hounds of hell were on his heels – when there was no one within camera view – you were left to shake your head in wonder.
The aftermath… Next Tour is going to be a whole new ball game. The Columbia-HTC train will be no more. I can see the writing on the wall that the team will lose some riders – including Mark Cavendish (?). As much as there was infighting on the Astana team, there is no doubt Contador would not have been so solidly in the lead without that power house line up. The team will not be the same – probably one main reason is that Contador won’t be there!
One definite positive to take from 2009 is the fact that cycling as a pro sport is alive and well! Yes, we do have Lance Armstrong to thank for a good portion of that. However, personalities like Cavendish are helping to expand that star power. Did I mention that there will be two new Pro Tour teams in 2010? It is exciting to see these signs of the sport’s stability.
It is hard to distill my thoughts of over three weeks of racing down into one article! However, I am glad that is over. It was fun, but I’m ready to have my life back! I guess that is how it is for us cycling fans. As a spectator sport cycling has a three week season. Obviously, that isn’t true, but that is about all we get on television. Give me a couple weeks though and I’ll start getting ready for the 2010 edition!