Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Le Tour - Week Three Wrap

Who looked good
What an emphatic win by Cadel Evans! Right from the Grand Depart he looked strong, you could see the focus in his eyes. This was a man that was always going to win the Tour in 2011, we just didn't all see it at first, but by the time he took to the podium for the start of the final time trial in Grenoble the writing was on the wall. His face said it all. This was the face of a man that was going to overcome any time advantage the Schleck boys had. He was a picture of focus and determination - and yet was also calm. He had that sense of control in the face of adversity that is the mark of champions - Armstrong had it in bucketloads. It was an historic win for Australia and the mainstream media have jumped all over it - some proclaiming that the win was the greatest Australian sporting achievement ever! I don't know about that - but it was pretty damn good. I can't wait for him to fly home and get all the hometown recognition he deserves! If there is a parade, I'll be there in the front row! The Schlecks also rode a brilliant race and looked great. One of them will win a Tour de France in the not-too-distant future I'm sure, they just need some work on their time-trialling. Others that looked good in the final week were Tom Danielson and Pierre Roland. Roland's win on the Alpe d'huez was awesome, and it seems he will be a yellow jersey contender in the years to come.

Who looked bad
He wasn't terrible, and fifth in the overall General Classification is definitely not a bad result, but Contador's loss of time in the Alps was a shock, especially when it seemed that he was getting over the sore knee and coming good. He lost significant time on Cadel and the Schlecks on stage 18 up the Col du Galibier. Perhaps he was affected by the win in the Giro - or perhaps we are now seeing the real Contador - the clean, human one. Who knows. Levi Leipheimer and Ivan Basso were two other stars that failed to impress. Basso finished eighth, again, not a bad result, but his race was a war of attrition. He held the others wheels and rarely attacked. Perhaps we are seeing the beginning of the end of a long and tumultuous career. As for Leipheimer, he had a bad crash on stage six, but never really featured after that. I expected a bit more from the 2011 runner-up of the Tour of California and the winner of the 2011 Tour de Suisse.

Best stage
The best stage in week three had to be stage 18, the 198.4 km grueling race from Pinerolo to Galibier - Serre Chevalier. Andy Schleck attacked early in the stage leaving the other contenders (primarily Evans) surprised and confused by how to counter this move. In hindsight it was a brilliant strategy. Schleck knew that the GC's would stick to his wheel like glue on the final climb - the only way to get a significant time gap was to roll the dice and go early. His gamble paid off and he took more than 2 minutes off Cadel. What was equally amazing about this stage was Cadels response. He looked at the others to help claw back the time Andy had taken (which was over 4 minutes at its peak), the others all chose to be ticket collectors and suck his wheel. Instead of complaining and getting angry, Cadel steeled himself and dragged the peloton along himself - bridging the gap by half and it was here that he ultimately saved his Tour. This resilience was the story of Cadels Tour de France, he simply fought and fought and fought, it was this dogged determination that won him the Tour.

Defining Moment
There were a few moments in week three that will be remembered and looked back on. As mentioned already, Andy's unanswered breakaway on stage 18, and Cadel's fight to claw back the time Andy had gained were both incredible junctures in the Tour, moments where, had things gone differently, the final result would have changed. Contador falling away on the Galibier was a moment because, if nothing else, it showed he was fallible. Cavendish's final win on the Champs Elysees was also a special moment. HTC Highroad rode the perfect race and lead-out train was textbook perfect. Cavendish finally got the Green Jersey and it was his 20th win in five tours; this has definitely cemented him in the record books. But the stand out moment for me was Cadel on the start line of the final Time Trial. This was a man possessed - a man completely focussed on what needed to happen, anything but a win was not an option.

And another thing...
- Well, it's over, we can all go back to regular sleeping hours, and personally, I'm looking forward to not stuffing my face with chips and Maltesers at 1am in an effort to stay awake!
- What was with Scott Sunderland's shirt on the final wrap-up of the race? It looked like it was made from my nannas curtains - check it out!
- Loving Robbie McEwans moniker for Andy and Frank Schleck - Frandy!
- As usual, top effort by SBS. Lets hope the Cadel-mania dies down and the commercial stations don't get any funny ideas about presenting the Tour in future - could you imagine Eddie Maguire hosting?
- Top job by Mike Tomolaris and Dave MacKenzie... great commentary.
- Twitter is brilliant during the Tour - especially the comments from DNF riders. Some of Vinokourov's comments were comedy gold!
- And the final word should go to this year's 'Lanterne Rouge', the last place of the Tour de France - the Italian Fabio Sabatini. Just to finish a race like the TdF is a massive achievement!

That's it! Did I get it right? What did you think of Cadel's win? Comment below!

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