Sunday, July 24, 2011

The characters that made up the Tour De France

This has been one of the most intriguing tour's in recent memory, other than maybe last years shootout between Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck. But the number of great riders involved this year, and their stories made for a really great tour. So let's look at the "actors" who made it all happen in this year's "Maillot Jaune" (Yellow Jersey) comeptition.

Thomas Voeckler:

Even the hardest man in the world would have been severely heart broken when Voeckler lost yellow on the slopes of the Col Du Galibier and the Alpe D'Huez. Voeckler despite not being a climber, completely gave credence to legend of the yellow jersey making a rider ride like two men. His constant battles and almost surprised happiness every day he held on to the yellow jersey warmed many a heart. And being a frenchman, the support that went out to him was considerably higher. At 32, he's no spring chicken, but despite him not holding on to the Maillot Jaune, he will always be fondly remembered for this performance, in addition to his '04 battle with Lance Armstrong.

Alberto Contador:

I will admit, that ever since Alberto overtook Andy Schleck in the 2010 tour (while Andy suffered a problem with his cycle's chain) he isn't exactly my favourite rider. But there is something to be said about his riding when going up a hill. There is a certain panache about the way he gets out of his seat and dances on his pedals, as if he's waltzing with his bike to a romantic tune. After a couple of crashes in the crash-filled 1st week, and a knee problem to boot, quite a few wrote off the Spaniard. But, every time he looked finished, he somehow found an extra gear to get himself into the top 5. A really great performance from the 2-time defending champion and the champion of the Giro D' Italia. (All this among allegations of doping, for which he stands before the CAS).

Frank Schleck:

The senior Schleck was (to be quite blunt) pretty much the boring brother. He may have finished 3rd overall but he hardly attacked or tried to get himself higher. Of course, it wasn't his fault entirely. The Schleck's did state before the tour that both of them would try to get on the podium (they both did) but if it came to helping the brother out, they wouldn't hesitate. Frank just sat on Cadel Evans' and Contador's wheels for almost the entire tour, briefly attacking in a couple of stages, thereby nicking a few seconds here and there. A successful tour definitely for the older Schleck. But hardly one to remember.

Andy Schleck:

I am an unabashed Andy fan. Tommy Voeckler did steal my attention for a while, but you cannot not like Andy. One of the most aggressive riders around, he breathed life into the pyrenian stages of the Tour while the other riders around him attempted sleep walk (erm ride?) their way through the pyrenees. He didn't gain much there though, while his brother Frank nicked a few seconds here and there. It was on the Alps and in particular on the Col Du Galibier and the Col d
Izoard, that Andy really took everybody's breath away (and his own) by a stunning and audacious attack with over 60 kilmetres to go, only to be stunned by a resiliant Tommy Voeckler keeping hold of yellow by just 15 seconds!! Andy is the most exciting rider out there, and he has now finished runners-up 3 times at the tour. I, for one, was terribly disappointed to see him lose yellow in an Individual Time Trial

Cadel Evans:

Cadel Evans is a great rider. I've never really liked him. No that's not right. I've never really noticed him is more true. He's probably the kind of man who admonishes a person running around with the scissors, or one who's decked his house with cushions to prevent his kids from hurting themselves. But his grit and determination this tour was a mark of a champion. The way he single handedly kept half a dozen riders in the tour (following Andy's attack) was quite incredible. This, year he seemed a lot more ready to take control whenever required, and performed admirably to win yellow. His Time Trial performance will be talked about for ages. (Though personally a tour being decided on a 42.5 km time trial is not-very-funny-joke). Cheers to the first Australian ever to win the tour.

The above make up the top 5 of the tour. Here is a list of riders that made an impression (even if they didn't really challenge for the Maillot Jaune - or any other competition for that matter)

Phillippe Gilbert:

Another guy from the Andy Schleck school of riding (though not a very good climber). Clad in the green jersey in the early stages of the tour, he took part in senseless attack after attack. Why? Because like Blazing Saddles so succinctly stated, he could. He was a real joy to watch in the early stages, giving every HTC rider in the race heart attack after heart attack with his fun little jaunts off the front of the main field. Look out for him in the future.

Danny Pate and Lars Bak

The unsung heroes of the HTC highroad team (who have suddenly become very sung about) whipped up incredible speeds on the flat roads and did so much for team leader Mark Cavendish, that they pretty much gift-wrapped up the Green Jersey in a box (with a bow and a card) and handed it to him. Easily the best pacemakers any team could ask for, their selflessness left many a word of praise on everybody's lips. Still some work left for the duo on the Champs-Elysees in Paris to ensure Mark leave in yellow. Which brings us to Mark Cavendish.

Mark Cavendish:

There is a certain air of inevitability on flat stages when it comes to the man from the Isle of Man winning it. So it was a nice change to see him robbed on the line by the big German Andres Greipel and also once by young Norwegian Edvard Boesson Hagen. But the man is the best sprinter alive. 4 stage wins in the tour so far (19 in the last 4 tours), owner of the green jersey (riding into Paris), I can't really tell which is more exhilarating - Mark Cavendish leaping of Mark Wrenshaw's back towards the finish, or the Giant HTC train that forms near the end of every flat stage.

Team FDJ:

The sponsors of this young French team would be extremely happy. This tour was one where you couldn't name a break away without an FDJ rider. (Go ahead, I dare you). This team lived to entertain. But there were also a couple of heart warming events, as a brave Jeremy Roy went down fighting to World Champion Thor Hushovd, (desperately trying to win France a stage at the tour) he raised his hand in apology to the crowd there. Truly a heart-wrenching display by a great young rider - one (of quite a few Frenchmen) to look out for in the future.

Pierre Rolland:

The white jersey man (best young rider) with a light Peter-Crouch face, was incredible throughout the tour. Without him Tommy Voeckler would have probably packed in his yellow ages before he actually did. It was almost fitting that on the day Voeckler finally let go of yellow, Rolland climbed the Alph D'Huez like a man possessed to become the first Frenchman since the legendary Bernard Hinault to conquer the famous mountain. It would have warmed several of the French to witness the emergence of a new talent to get behind.


The recently besieged citizens of Oslo would have no doubt enjoyed their Tour a lot this year, with 4 stage wins going to the only 2 riders from the Scandinavian kingdom. Thor Hushovd (World Champ to boot) and Edvard Boesson Hagen really made the many Norwegian fans who littered the French streets proud.

Johnny Hoogerland, Bradley Wiggins and the crashes:

This tour had an almost absurd number of crashes. Right from Vinukourov's career ender, to Wiggins' tour ender. But it wasn't just the number of crashes that was absurd. It was indeed watching a media car hit 2 riders (One of them falling into a fence of barbed wire - Hoogerland). But the hilarity quickly subsided as Hoogerland, who looked good for a stage win as well as for the Polka Dot Jersey, struggled through the rest of the tour with his 33 stages. Also mentionable is a motorcycle driver's crash with Team Saxo Bank's Nikki Sorensen. The Vinukourov and Wiggin's crashes though were frankly scary with sever injuries being received. In the light of Wouter Weylandt's death in the Giro d'Italia saftey for the riders must improve drastically, but in part it his sometimes hard to blame anyone but the riders themselves.

Special Mentions:

A few more riders who made the tour special: Ivan Basso, Damiano Cunego, Matthew Goss, Sylvain Chavanel, Geriant Thomas

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