Monday, July 25, 2011

Tour Wrap Up

Monday morning after the Tour.  I looked at the clock about 5.30 am and realized that there was no Tour coverage to start my day.  A return to normalcy for my day, but I will miss it.  I managed to catch 19 of the 21 race days in the morning before going to work, so even I appreciated the rest days during the three weeks.  A few of those mornings I watched just a bit and then later fast-forwarded to the last 10 km to watch the sprint, but I also let many a happy hour pass watching the race unfold.

On a great show, Sports Night, I once heard a baseball fan talking about how important it was to watch every pitch made by the pitcher on the mound so that you could watch his control build and falter, watching for the point where fatigue started to impact the throws and waiting for the opposing team to take advantage.  To this baseball fan, every moment was important so that you really understood the way the game unfolded.  In that case, it was making a point about putting together a highlight reel that just included a home run and a strike-out just doesn't tell you how the battle unfolded.  If you just want the final score, read the story in the paper, but if you want to really understand the beauty and drama and triumph and tragedy, then you have to watch it all.  For me, I want to watch every minute of the spring classics and as much of the Tour de France as I can, so that I can absorb what happened and the way it all unfolded.  The good news is that the TdF is compressed into three weeks so that it is completely absorbing, but the bad news is that unlike some sports seasons that take months, this comes and goes, leaving the other 49 weeks of the year just waiting for the next edition.

At this point, the headline should be "Ode to a French Race" rather than a wrap up, so let me switch over to wrapping up.

Wiggins, Horner and many others - Winners of the "I coulda been a contenda" award.  I really wish they had been there to see what else happened with them in the race.  They were both showing form that would have put them in the top ten and who can ever say how much higher.

Basso - Ivan Basso had a respectable tour and one has to wonder what could have been in Basso's career but for his two years off.  Basso is now trained by a strong anti-doping coach and is one of the most transparent in all sports in showing blood values and testing results.  He deserves recognition, like David Millar, for genuinely embracing the emerging ethic in the cycling.

Norway - Norway is in the news for tragedy today, but Thor Hushvold at the peak of his career and Edvald Boassen-Hagen at the beginning of his career have and will provide a LOT of reason for Norway to cheer in the future.  The only country with more stage victories than riders in the Tour - 4 individual victories plus the TTT for only 2 Norwegian riders.  Damn impressive.

Contador - I don't know how much his upcoming trial weighed on him, but I do think his crashes impacted his performance on the front end of the race.  He showed flashes of his strength later and without a few of those "fall down go boom" moments, the race would have been different.

Schlecks - I think Frank came into this race with much better form than Andy.  He clearly showed it at the Tour of California and the Tour de Suisse.  I think at the TdF, he didn't want to show up his little bro and as a result, when racing in the Pyrenees I think they refused to press home their advantage that they had over almost every rider except Evans.  I really think that if they had been willing to let Frank fly free, he would have been on the top step of the podium in Paris.  Nonetheless, 2 of the 3 top steps is pretty damn impressive for one family.

Evans - Cadel Evans was strong throughout the whole Tour.  His team assumed that he was a leader from day one and provided support appropriate to the Tour winner from the very start.  Cadel isn't a classic climber and can't do the big accelerations of those guys, but he also has an engine that sometimes appears to be inexhaustible.  I think that he didn't get credit for being the second guy on both the Galibier and Alpe d'Huez and both times leading a pack.  The guy in front got all the glory, but Cadel did the same work, but with others on his rear wheel, and I think both times actually climbed faster, as the leaders started to falter.  He was clearly a deserving winner not only evidenced in this Tour, but throughout a sometimes hard-luck career of almosts punctuated by moments of supreme glory which now include World Championships in XC Mountain Bike Racing and Road Racing and now the Tour de France.  Chapeau Mr. Evans.

Doping - Lots of people will cast stones at Contador for his association with doping, but most will overlook the fact that the Schleck brothers were implicated in the Puerto scandal.  Contador and Schlecks all climbed slower this year than in prior editions, as did the whole peloton.  There are excellent resources for scientific discussion of this issue (check out this blog for top notch discussion of this issue - http://www.sportsscientists.com/), but there is lots of evidence that doping is having much less impact on the Tour.  The riders raced at closer to watts per kilogram that science would indicate was possible and they all showed moments of fatigue and weakness, indicative of doing this without performance enhancing drugs.  And the best thing for fans is that it made the racing better than it has been in years.  In the old days there was discussion of good and bad days in the mountains, which disappeared with the Indurain/Armstrong days when many riders were super-human day after day after day.  It is good to see the riders looking human this year.

Overall - I thought this was nothing short of a fantastic Tour.  The racing and course were fantastic.  The result was fantastic.  I even thought the race coverage on Versus was fantastic this year.  All in all, a very satisfying and fun race this year.

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