#bikeschool: The Grand Bouclé has been Boucléd
Wow! What a month it has been in the world of professional bike racing. In an attempt to keep those post-Tour blues at bay for one more day I thought I’d share the last set of photos and videos from my time at this years Tour…. all the way back in the first week of July, and also some thoughts and feelings about how this years Tour has been played out.
If Carlsberg made Tours…
The 2011 edition of the Tour de France has already been called the greatest of all time by commentators, journalists and fans alike due to the awesome sporting spectacle that was displayed. I’m not sure I agree it was the greatest ever… as much as I do not particularly like the man, Lance Armstrong gave us some stunning sporting moments during his reign, most of which are hard to succumb. That aside, it was a beautifully hard way to spend a July and even before a pedal was turned I knew this years Tour was going to be special for me. As well as my impending Tour holiday (which I will stop going on about at some point this year… probably), as June drew to a close I found myself in the privileged position of dishing out help and advice to Tour virgins who were determined to get involved and enjoy what can for some, be a long and uninteresting sporting occasion. I’d need a third hand if I was to try and count the amount of times this month I’ve had to try to explain to people why Mark Cavendish can’t, won’t and doesn’t want to win the Yellow Jersey but they were almost all to people who had very little interest in the Tour. What I was really interested to do (and think I at least partially achieved) was to give those lovers of cycling who do not normally watch professional road racing a head start to enable them to enjoy the Tour. I’ve had personal messages from many people who found my previous posts (here, here and here) helpful and I really appreciated them. I have to remember sometimes that not everyone who loves bikes, loves bike racing but I know I’ve helped a handful of people access and understand, what I believe is one of the most beautiful sporting spectacles in the universe.
There were some fantastic moments in this years Tour which were created by a few key moments:
The new points system for the intermediate sprints and the end of the stages really mixed it up and made the Green Jersey more of a fight which needed to be defended at all times. Commonly known as the ‘sprinters’ jersey due to the amount of points available at the finish lines, this year it was great to see the teams backing the biggest sprinters actually having to do some work during the day to chase back breaks and lead-out for the intermediates. It is a great new system which Christian Prudhomme stated was designed, in part, to ensure a superb sprinter such as Mark Cavendish didn’t finish his career without winning the points classification.
A resurgence of French riders dominating at the Tour always invigorates the fans and in turn the race. Although we had to wait until stage 19 at the top of Alpe d’Huez for Pierre Rolland of Europcar to take a French stage win, the 9 days Thomas Voeckler spent in Yellow was truly inspiring. Every fiber of my being wanted Tommy V to hang on until Paris. He personifies everything that I love about the sport of bike racing and the fact so many said that the man wearing Yellow coming out of the Pyrenees should win in Paris gave Voeckler a superb chance to hang on. It wasn’t to be but alas, the French were well represented in the race and as a result the country and fans went made for the Tour.
Thor Hushovd is a particular favourite of mine and he wears the stripes of the World Champion with pride, guts and sheer brilliance. His two stage wins, in particular his first into Lourdes on stage 13, were superb and I had chills watching him ride to those finishes. Like Cadel before him, Thor really ‘races’ the Rainbow Jersey which is what we all want to see.
By having Thor Hushovd and Thomas Voeckler in Yellow for so long it meant that the ‘real’ GC contenders were left to battle each other on the road without the pressures of the Yellow Jersey. The lack of Yellow in the locker of one of the GC contenders might seem moot but the responsibility of leading the GC and wearing the Golden Fleece brings with it certain responsibilities of the rider and his team. This can mean sometimes that the racing is quite predictable as the leaders’ team is sent to the front of the peloton to chase down breaks and they are generally the ones tasked with taking the race to the others. By keeping the Yellow Jersey away from the biggest GC hopefuls meant they were able to battle each other with a little more freedom, which was shown by the fact the media focused a lot on the mistakes the riders were making due to the added pressure.
Although nobody who rides a bike likes to see crashes, the rough and tumble nature of this years race displayed in a harsh way the physical strains that the riders go through. Many won’t have heard of Johnny Hoogerland before his unceremonious ‘de-biking’ when he and Flecha were taken out by the ‘France 2/3′ car, but I can assure you he has always been a complete lunatic on a bike and always excites races with his kamikaze breakaways and sheer panache. There were some horrible crashes but most of the riders battled on, making us all realise, we probably couldn’t do what they do however much we want to! Other notable crashes came from Bradley Wiggins, Tom Boonen, Alexander Vinokourov, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Janez Brajkovic, David Zabriskie, David Millar and Chris Horner.
Cuddles… If there is one man who is capable of displaying what this sport means to so many millions of people across the globe it must be Cadel Evans. The man is built of true Aussie grit and shows his face and rides his bike all year round rather than concentrating on Grand Tours.
I’m not going to attempt to recap the whole of the race, but you can check out a lot of great writing and fantastic photographs of the Tour at Steephill.tv and also over at CyclingTipsBlog.com (I know The Boss won’t mind me linking you away to Wade’s site… just finish reading this first please!) I’m off to watch re-runs of the Tour and cry into my Team Sky merchandise. While I’m doing that, check out the final installment of photos and videos from my time at the Tour. I hope you all have enjoyed July as much as I have. Let’s do it again next year!
(Ignore the first 8… you’ve seen them… WordPress gallery had a coronary whilst I was uploading and I can’t figure out the cure)
Eventual winner Cadel Evans in the Green Jersey for the TTT
The chasing peloton coming past us in St Lumine & a little message from me & @AndyMWild
2 idiots, 1 bike… says it all really! Good times!