I had hoped to put some thoughts together on the Tour de France now that the riders have rolled into Paris and the event has wrapped up for another year, but I’ve had Internet access issues over the past few days that have not helped my cause.
By now, everyone knows that Alberto Contador took the Yelow Jersey and finished first on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday. The Spaniard was 4’11” in front of second place rider Andy Schleck, and another 1’13” ahead of Lance Armstrong, who took third place on the podium. Schleck claimed the White Jersey for the best young rider in the Tour for the second year in a row, while Thor Hushovd when home in Green as the top sprinter. Franco Pellizotti was named the King of the Mountains, and took the Polka Dot Jersey going away.
One of the things that struck me while I watched the final stage on Sunday was that the future certainly looks very bright for the sport of cycling and the Tour de France in particular. Contador is a powerful, young rider, and it seems he has a rival in Andy Schleck that will be challenging him in the years ahead, provided Schleck can improve his time trialing. That should be rivalry to watch in the years ahead, as it seems that those two men could be going head to head for years to come.
The other interesting rivalry to come out of this years Tour is the one between Hushovd and British rider Mark Cavendish. Cavendish is clearly the fastest sprinter in the world, but he learned that that wasn’t enough to take the Green Jersey this year. The two men took shots at each other in the press, although they appeared to bury the hatchet some in the final days, but you can bet that they’ll be challenging each other on the sprints in the years ahead as well. Cavendish took the final stage win in Paris on Sunday, and made it look easy, blasting through the finish line for his sixth win of the year. A very impressive feat.
And of course, looming over all of this is the shadow of Lance Armstrong, who returns to the sport a living legend. Lance will be riding on a new team next year, sponsored by Radio Shack, and he’ll hand pick his teammates and attempt to go after another win, this time with Contador as a direct competitor and not a teammate at all. The fact that Lance was able to finish 3rd this year is pretty remarkable considering his age and three years away. It truly conveys what a special athlete he is and what a great rider too, as his road savvy was on display more than once in this year’s race.
It is not surprising that Lance and Contador have already begun sparring with one another in the press. The relationship was a contentious one from the start, and it seemed to only get more frosty as the Tour went on. In interviews, Lance tried to bite his tongue and not say too much, but his tone and other comments spoke volumes at times. I think Contador is the stronger rider at this point of their careers, but I can already tell that Lance would love to be able to best the younger man on the road next year.
And now, I’ll have to deal with my Tour Withdrawal symptoms for another year as well. Over the past few weeks it is virtually the only thing I watched on television and it is an event that I always look forward to. One of these days I’m going to have to make the trip and see it in person, but for now I’ll have to be content with the outstanding television coverage from Versus. I miss it all already.
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