Due to the vagaries of the business in which I work I was able to see more of the 2011 Tour de France than usual. I was lucky. I think that this years Tour de France was one of the best ever and the possibly the cleanest full stop. A number of things contributed to this.
This year’s route was excellent with some hard stages in Brittany right at the start. The poor weather meant that the Peloton was constantly riding hard to stay out of the wind and the new intermediate sprints kept the speed higher still. This meant crashes, and let’s face it, crashes are exciting. The flat stages are often dull and only enlivened by farmers, funded by the tax payer, putting on exhibitions of hay bales, tractors and assorted agricultural paraphernalia in cycling related themes. A break will get away and Sean Kelly (henceforth referred to as De Twoer) will discuss the chances of the break staying clear. They almost never do so it’s essentially a waste of time tuning in until the last 20k. Not this year. Lads were hitting the ground left right and centre. To enliven things further the French TV people started attacking the riders with motorcycles and even cars. Nicki Sorenson had his handlebars pulled from under him. Johnny Hoogerland was thrown into a barbed wire fence and continued on, pouring blood. It was like Rollerball crossed with The Wrestler. I was expecting to see James Caan tussling with Mickey Rourke on the podium. The riders don’t like it but it makes great viewing. This is more important.
Unfortunately Bradley Wiggins broke his collarbone. Wiggo has ridden clean for years and consequently was more of a contender for the lanterne rouge than the mailliot jaune in days of yore. It speaks volumes about the improvements in the sport that this year he had a decent chance of the podium in Paris. I like Wiggo. Okay if he won we would never hear the end of it but that’s more of an anti British press thing than anything else. As we have seen lately the British press are not above reproach. But the guy himself is decent and that is important. For similar reasons the departures of the likes of Vino and Tornado Tom were of less emotional import.
It was great to see Cadel win. Anyone who says he did not deserve it does not know what they are talking about. He won a stage and defended his position day after day from attacks by Contador and the Schleks. He rode long sections of the mountain stages at the head of the peleton without help. He knew what was required in the time trial and he did it. A very worthy winner.
The performance of the riders changed over the course of the three weeks and even day to day. Contador was vulnerable. The searing bursts were not as devastating as usual. That said he was still great to watch, always trying to do something, dancing on the pedals, the bars swaying in time. Andy never got going in the Pyrenees and his chances disappeared there. He needed to put time into Cadel and he couldn’t. Nicolas was disappointing and never looked in form. Cav was beaten by Greipel. Everyone looked human and had good days and bad days. If there was doping going on they were hiding it well.
One evening during the second week of the De Twoer I put on a DVD after returning from a few pints and a pontificating session in the local. The feature was a documentary on Lance’s seven in a row. With commentary by Ligget and Sherwin this was a well made and informed celebration of cycling and one mans heroism. It was also like watching a different sport. It almost looked easy. I cannot define what made it obvious that they were all riding dirty and to be fair they did not all test positive. But as someone once said about smut, I know it when I see it.