The 2011 Tour de France is complete. It had some incredible moments. It also ended the way I hoped it would, except for a few minor things.
No stage win for George Hincapie
One of the commentators mentioned that George was creating for himself a spot in cycling history as the greatest super-domestique ever. It is hard to argue with that seeing how he has helped shepherd nine yellow jerseys onto the Champs Elysees. Armstrong credits the man with being one of his primary lieutenants, and now in this Tour his influence on the BMC team as it supported Cadel Evans was clear.
However, the role Hincapie played in the team tactics never presented for him an opportunity to turn his wheels in a threatening break. For him, no break equaled no chance for a stage win. That would have been marvelous, but admittedly not that realistic. I would have loved to have seen it.
Still, seeing the young team coming together at the conclusion of Sunday’s stage, reveals that George has helped accomplish much more than win a stage or a yellow jersey. He has helped build a team. It is a team on which it appears he will ride with again along the roads of France in 2012 when he will take yet another record with 17 starts.
No sponsor for HTC (soon to be “?”)
Then there is another American team with whom I was hoping to see some action – but not on the roads. HTC Highroad entered the Tour with a big question mark. Would they even exist at the end of the year?
I just couldn’t believe that this incredible team would go much longer without a sponsor. I even told someone that I would bet that an announcement would be made after the second rest day. I was wrong. As each day passed and the peloton moved closer to Paris things looked less and less likely.
Finally, we are hearing that something is in the works. You do wonder if it is too late. Cavendish is said to basically be packing his bags for Sky. Other members of the team are rumored to be preparing to sign contracts elsewhere. Even if Stapleton does land a sponsor (and if the rumors are true, it sound like he will – and that it will be a good one), the team won’t be what it has been.
Of course, with Highroad, what’s new? The amazing thing about the team is its ability to find success with whatever riders it has on board. It is one of the reasons why I enjoy the team. It says a lot for the organization that they are so successful. When Stapleton writes his management guru book, I’ll be buying it!
The crack of the Shack
There was some great successes for American teams in the Tour. BMC takes yellow, HTC takes green, and Garmin put all of their riders (including a DZ cutout) on the podium by winning the team classification. It was Radio Shack that took the brunt of the bad luck. I could not help but feel sorry for them.
I saw a friend comment on Facebook, “Why don’t they just give Levi a saddle bag with a spare tire and let the rest of the team go home.” It was really beginning to look that way by the end of the 3,000 kilometers. The team had to feel punch drunk by the finish.
Certainly, Chris Horner continued to add to his legend. His crash and completion of the stage while not even knowing where he was speaks of his toughness. It also speaks to the danger of the sport — not merely the crashes, but the drive of riders (and team managers) to get back on the bike no matter what.
It is there I have to give kudos to Garmin Cervello. They have a system in place that allows them to evaluate a rider when he goes down. If he cannot pass the test, he does not ride. It would be wise for other teams to follow suit.
What a Tour de France! It is hard for me to find much with which to be disappointed. If there was one thing I would have liked to have seen, it would have been more contenders available to contest for the podium. So many of them were taken out in the early accidents. Yet, even the accidents created iconic stories. What cycling fan does not now know the name Johnny Hoogerland?
Finally, was this the cleanest Tour we’ve had in recent memory? So much of the nature of the racing and the lack of positives seems to point in that direction. We won’t know much more until the tests are scrutinized. I so hope so.
I do know that as messy as it is, the sport grabs hold of you in ways others can’t. We fans are not so much drawn to the rider who climbs to Alp d’Huez breathing through his nose. We cheer on the likes of Tommy Voeckler who collapses while trying to hold the yellow jersey for one more day.
Vive le Tour!