The Spoke July 13, 2010
Tour 2010 - a bikebritain retrospective
Remember the Tour de France? That’s right, it finished over a week ago and here is bikebritain's finger-on-the-pulse round up.
You may recall that your correspondent blamed his more steady employment for the paucity of coverage up to including Stage Eight. Well, I'm nothing if not consistent and will continue with that theme by blaming it for the complete absence of coverage of Stages Nine through Twenty.
But, hey, it was good, wasn't it? Eh?
Last time out, I had planted the bikebritain flag firmly on the Andy Schleck mountain, having made my winning ‘Schlecktion’, if you will. As it transpired, your correspondent wittering on about psychological victories and the rest was little more than the effect of the romance of the underdog and I am grateful that this misplaced confidence was not manifested with my local friendly bookmaker. A lot could and was made about Stage Fifteen's murky role in the outcome when the victory was not so much psychological as opportunist; Alberto Contador's chain reaction turning Schleck's world upside down and, of course, who knows what might have happened if the Spaniard had observed protocol. However, there seemed to be a sense after the twelfth stage that Contador had the measure of his young rival and, if push came to shove, could eradicate any reasonable deficit he was faced with.
The idiosyncratic traditions that Contador didn’t dispense with when it suited him, and with which the Tour is riddled, were both quaint and infuriating to see, perhaps denying us a classic battle to be remembered in years to come, but also reminding us of everything that is great about this epic sporting battle. Realistically, the leading riders and their teams are too well-drilled, too professional, to have had the result turn out any other way. The best rider won the event, his heir apparent came second, and there was much to enjoy throughout the twenty stages that got them there.
Stage Seventeen’s rumble to the summit of the Col du Tourmalet for the second time in as many stages was a key moment and neatly encapsulated much of the battle between the two leading protagonists. With the climax to the stage occurring at the summit of the 2,115m beast, it played out perfectly as the pair jousted all the way to the summit. It may have lacked the inspirational breakaway that many had hoped for, but maybe that was the point. Le Tour had delivered two outstanding cyclists of whom Contador had just enough to keep Schleck at bay and, perhaps more importantly, knew it. Schleck definitely needs to work on his ‘angry glare’ though. bikebritain just wasn’t feeling it. Nor was it feeling the amount of exposed derrière on display from the spectators, but we’ll put that down to altitude sickness. Not ours, the spectators.
So, what became of Team Sky and plucky Brit Bradley Wiggins? British TV coverage segued neatly from optimistic hysteria into "year one of Team Sky's five-year plan" as it became clear that Team Sky were not going to lead a one-two-three over the line in Paris, with even Dave Brailsford popping up in a creditable 15th. How silly of us to have thought otherwise. For Wiggins, last years 4th place seemed a very long time ago. About a year, in fact. On the plus side, he didn’t take this setback quietly, delivering scathing feedback on his own performance to anyone who would listen. “I've got nothing. I just haven't got the form... I haven't got it as I did last year. I just feel consistently mediocre,” Bradley snarled around the fourteen-stage mark. “Last year was a bit of a fluke. I fell into superb form.”
"I'm not giving up on anything at this stage, I'll just keep pushing on every day and do my best and see what that is in Paris,” he went on, but eventually gave up on everything, and his best was 24th in the GC. Most commentators were much kinder to Bradley than he appeared to be to himself, albeit in the heat of the moment. The key differences frequently cited between 2009’s effort and this comprehensively less successful campaign are firstly that this was a brute of a course which, in terms of the GC, favoured only the strongest climbers, and secondly that Team Sky are not Garmin-Transitions, Wiggins’ jilted former overlords. This is a truism, naturally, but in their first crack at le Tour, Team Sky have not had the riders, the experience in the peloton, or maybe even the luck of a Garmin-Transitions to put Wiggins where he needed to be and keep him there on a consistent basis.
It would be rude not to mention Mark Cavendish. Love him or hate him, and your correspondent definitely errs towards the former, it is hard to argue with another magnificent sprinting performance. There were whisperings that he might not have the minerals once his tough-guy mate Mark Renshaw was evicted for effecting the kind of affectionate nuzzle you might receive from a particularly rambunctious equine friend but perhaps the Manxman’s two most magnificently executed sprints came after Renshaw was consigned to the annals of history.
There’s no doubting that he’s not everyone’s cup of tea - the French aren’t too fond of him, that’s for sure. His game is getting the attention grabbing stage victories, and he does it rather well. It might not be a tactic that will drop a green jersey in your lap, and might occasionally get you in a spot of bother if you insist on trying to bludgeon your way through a gap that isn't there, but it is a sure-fire way of writing yourself into le Tour folklore, and Cav is very close to doing that, if he hasn't already. The final blitz down the Champs-Élysée was iconic, leaving esteemed and talented rivals in his wake, and a fitting end to an absorbing event. If the award was worthy of its name, then Mark Cavendish would be a leading contender for the 2010 Sports Personality of the Year award.
So that is it for another year, and bikebritain is already excited for the Vuelta a España at the end of the month. That said, the aftermath of the event is always an interesting time, fingers crossed and breath held, as we wait to see if any of the bad stuff happens. So far, officially at least, so good for the 2010 vintage. Long may it continue.
Slider Photo Credit - Spencer Platt, Getty Images Europe
Thumbnail Photo Credit - James Startt, www.bicycling.com