In the week that Brett Lancaster talks to the press about how the Aussies are going to whop us on the track in the Olympics, it’s quite comforting to gloat – just a little – on how we whopped them on the road.
Now I am well aware that the world no longer holds its breath for Le Tour de France and many are still convinced that every cyclist involved is a hideous drug cheat and it is quite possible that what happens for three weeks in July in France is less than a minor backdrop to transfer rumours in the Premiership.
However I consider the (al)most famous sporting event of all time still to be fairly important and given the efforts that most teams, organisers and participants are now prepared to go to in order to be proven clean, I think the achievements of this year’s Tour riders to be worth applauding.
Before I review the whole three weeks, I shall offer an explanation of my headline. Simon Gerrans (born Melbourne, raised in Mansfield, Victoria, riding for Credit Agricole) won Stage 15 of this year’s Tour. The Manx Express, Team GB’s very own Mark Cavendish won Stages 5, 8, 12 and 13. And to rub salt into the Aussie wound (I did rather enjoy this bit) was acclaimed by the kings of cycling commentary Phil Liggett (34 Tours, commentating) and Paul Sherwen (raced seven Tours, finished five) as The New Robbie McEwen.
Must hurt a bit, if you’re an Aussie, for the new wonder not to be another Aussie but a Manxman. I did like that.
Anyway after that little bit of running around happily with hands in the air etc, let’s get calm and have a look at the race overall.
Well first, several drug cheats got found out, bigtime, and got chucked off the Tour. Starting with some fairly insignificant Spaniards, the fight contre le Dopage got very serious with Ricco, Piepoli and in fact the whole of the Saunier Duval team. Who exited stage left swiftly – a faster depart could only have been induced by a bear entering stage right with teeth and claws very much on show.
Next – how did it go overall? I was proved ridiculously naïve and hopeful before the start stating it would be clean. I guess Christian Prudhomme would be in my club there. But he did put together a fabulous route – starting with a proper road stage rather than the traditional Prologue meant Stage One was truly exciting. Three days in troublesome Breton weather added to the tension and we felt their pain. There were crashes galore in the first few days – some resulting in abandonnments – and it all added to the slightly gruesome fun of watching Le Tour.
As always, the organisers, The ASO, had produced a superb guide, and so Paul and Phil were able to give us details of every chateau and ville and village through which the Tour passed. It really is the most massive advert for France. Not a lot was made of the Tour being “Rogue” ie not run within the auspices of the UCI. Which was a shame. Quite frankly a gloves off full on contest between Christian and Pat McQuaid is something I’d have paid good money to see.
Still, never mind the bollocks (as someone once said), what happened? Truth is, it all really happened in the mountains. We had the Pyrenees before the Alps and in all honesty, we learned little. Cadel was confirmed, yet again, as a wheel-sucker. He did have a crash which may have hurt him more than we currently know, but he just didn’t attack. We thought he’d have gained time on the others then, but not really. He did enough to wear the Maillot Jaune for a while but was never convincing.
The Schlecks, on the other hand, were impressive. Andy took White and Frank had a moment when he lost the chance of yellow by a mere second. All the more impressive as Team CSC were putting all their strength behind Madrileno Carlos Sastre. With hindsight it is easy to see how they gave up their individual hopes in this year’s Tour to support Carlos.
Apres les Pyrenees, Cav was strong enough to get his fourth sprint win, and, to be honest, in the huge excitement of that, I lost touch with the GC – also because I went on holiday.
With my eye off the wheel, as it were, they trolled on for many more of Phil’s “killermetres” and then suddenly it was the final Time Trial. This was when Evans was supposed to knock the opposition into a cocked hat and win the Tour. I missed this crucial day – too busy willing Middlesex on to a win at The Rosebowl – but I caught highlights, and to my surprise, no yellow for the Aussie.
Carlos Sastre had spent much of the off-season working on his time-trialling – including hours and hours in a wind-tunnel – and it paid off. Evans didn’t excel and Carlos did brilliantly. He set off on the final day in yellow and only a hideous crash could have changed the outcome. Another win for Spain in a year when they seem bullet-proof in sport.
The rolling first ks on Sunday were typical. Champagne and a great team lead-out for CSC Saxo Bank. One of the few teams that had all starters heading to the Champs Elysees. Sastre didn’t have to win – just finish with the bunch.
Job done and the man known as Don Limpio (Mr Clean) took the honours on the podium and the Tour is over for another year.
As a writer far cleverer than I has said, this will be known as the Interim Tour. The one which was won by a clean rider at the end of his career, and one in which, hopefully, the last of the drug cheats were caught, thrown off and sacked.
Next year will be a new chapter in cycling history. Many names will not be at Le Depart in 2009, some teams probably won’t be, but we are edging ever closer to a completely clean sport and Tour.
Keep the faith and join me next July for my reports – sometimes interesting, always interested and always hopeful. I can’t help myself – I love the boys in lycra and year on year I keep hoping and believing that this time it’s a good thing.
I was devastated by Ricco and in fact Saunier Duval, but I was inspired by Cav and by Team Columbia. There is enough to make next year a thrill.
And bring on the Olympics and let’s see whether the Aussies can deliver what Lancaster promises or whether Cav and Brad, Chris Hoy and Vicky leading the women’s attack can whop those sodding loud-mouthed colonials in the Velodrome. Done ‘em on the road so COME ON BOYS AND GALS. Go for Gold and whop’em!