To read this blog, you might think that we Team Two Wheeler's were oblivious to the Tour de France. And, blog-wise, you are right. We haven't done any TdF posts for this year, up until now. Here is your complete and total Tour de France re-cap right here. Everything you need to remember about the 2009 Tour de France when it is time to whip ourselves into a frenzy for next year's edition featuring Team Radio Shack and a resurgent Lance!
Tour Organization/Route - I give the ASO a solid B, but that is because I am a softy. They deserve credit for trying, even if they didn't get everything right. No radios for riders - dumb idea; we can't pretend that the world keeps moving ahead even if the French have a national passion for doing so. No time bonuses - I liked this, so that we didn't have stupid games the first week with sprinters "buying" their way into the Yellow jersey; it probably took something away from some mountain stages because it mattered less if you were 2nd or 6th in a group that got the same time, but overall this was reasonable. Team Time Trial - loved having it back even though I usually skip watching it; if you want to win the Tour, you have to show up with a team that can perform and this enforces that idea. I also liked that they just let the time stand, rather than artificially limiting the time between teams the way they did a few years ago. Route overall - hey, they tried. The idea was to leave the race unknown until the last week and potentially the last day. Mt. Ventoux was a bit anticlimactic, because the standings didn't change much, but that is because every one of the top ten did his job and held his place. It could have been much different if someone had a bad day; which would have been more likely with a few more mountains before Mt. Ventoux, but again - I give credit for trying. The downside was that some of the mid-first week until the end of the second week was completely miss-able, but frankly, even though I am slavishly devoted to the coverage, that is true almost every year. So, overall, enough time trialing, enough mountain top finishes to create gaps, and mountain base finishes to keep riders working, and a decent mix that wasn't afraid to try some next roads and mix up the direction. Lastly, loved the Monte Carlo start.
Versus Coverage - Wow, long-time readers expect me to launch into Craig Hummer, but honestly, I think you have to give the guy credit. He has improved. During the Tour of California I thought he was failing to hide a meth problem the way his mouth motored on and on and on and on, right past having anything to say or motoring over his elders with much more insight and experience. Now, I almost exclusively watched the morning coverage that had the Phil and Paul commentary, but what I saw of re-broadcasts made me think that Craig Hummer deserves credit for learning and growing. He still doesn't bring to the booth the obvious charisma of Kirsten Gum, but I may have to give up on that particular fading fantasy.
As for Bob, they seem to have gotten his medication almost perfect. He was able to spin some of those analogies and metaphors, but keep his head about him and do the job at hand. He still has his lips so firmly attached to Lance's kiester that you would think this is the most serious bro-mance ever, but Bob manages to do it with an impish charm that makes it work.
Phil and Paul are still the champs, but I think that they have moved into a new stage where they recognize that people are paying attention to what they say and they have to mix up their phrases a bit more. I don't need any more of Paul's "funny feelings", which are neither funny nor feelings, but we do need Phil to down a bottle of his favorite Bordeaux and come up with a suitable addition to suitcase of courage.
Lastly, I have to give praise to the cycling gods who have blessed us with live coverage and DVRs. On the west coast timing, I can get up early, hit the beginning of the DVR-saved broadcast and skip commercials right up until the end of the show, usually catching up to the live broadcast by the end or so close that my blackberry hasn't ruined the surprise. As a cycling fan from the 80's, you new cycling fans have no g-d'm idea how easy you have it. I will rail about that again another day.
Riders - Lance Armstrong - Love him or hate him, you have to give the old guy credit. Damn fine job of showing the world how to compete in a bike race when your brain is stronger than your legs. I had to laugh a few times since Lance would have put a hit out on any other rider who expressed "team" opinions the way he did, but give the guy props for obeying the team rules even when Contador was not. My beef with Lance is that much of the world thinks he is a lovable survivor, when he is in fact a cold-blooded killing machine, but that is exactly what made him capable of winning the world's hardest sporting event an unimaginable seven times in a row. Can't wait to see him teach Taylor Phinney how to do it all over again after taking one more shot in 2010.
Alberto Contador - Dude can climb better than the climbers and time trial better than the time trialers. How do you do that?
Mark Cavendish / Thor Hushvold - Awesome battle. I wish Cavendish would shut his mouth sometimes, but you gotta take the good with the bad. Guy's legs have more 500 meter wattage than anyone would think possible. He did it on the flat, uphill, straight on, with curves, you name it. On the other hand, Thor did it old school, making sure he was there always and that mountain ride to take up points was classic. I'm glad he got the green jersey. Oh yeah, Tyler Farrar. Oh man, that many second places would indicate that late-career Erik Zabel was his mentor, not Cavendish's. Farrar will rack up some wins, but it's too bad he didn't get one here (except for the Garmin curse which he must live with).
George Hincapie - The Garmin curse befalls all members of the Garmin team for jacking Big George out of the yellow jersey. When a mountain of cycling class has that kind of well-deserved recognition grabbed away from him by the petty-ness of Matt White and Jonathon Vaughters (even though he wasn't there, he is covered with the shit splatter from White's decision), they deserve to be cursed. Columbia-HTC didn't need any favors from anyone, but George Hincapie is one of those riders who deserve the right treatment from any American rider, team or cycling fan. I think it would have been great to see Lance in the jersey for a day, except for Contador being an ass, and George "resplendent" in yellow, except for Garmin leadership being asses. I hope George will get a ride for the next couple of tours and be the guy with the most tours under his belt. He may not get Paris-Roubaix the way he deserves, but he can get that record with the incredible work ethic and monster strength that he embodies.
Jens Voigt - You aren't allowed to talk work ethic and monster strength in cycling without including an ode to Jens Voigt. The Tour will not be same without him in a few years, but let's hope his horrible face-scrapping won't slow him down for long. His accident is one of those things that could happen to any of us, losing his grip on the bars due to a bump, but it is pure Jens to have done it at 50 kph just after the summit of a mountain where he was being super domestique when it would have been much more reasonable for him to be in the auto-bus or laughing group. I don't know how Lance keeps up his testosterone with one ball, but maybe Jens could give him one of his multiple cast-iron left-overs.