Well, The Tour de France 2011 is over, with Australia’s Cadel Evans the overall winner with a time of 86hrs 12mins 22secs, and our own Mark Cavendish the winner of the green jersey for points. I caught a bit of last year’s race, but this is the first I’ve watched all the way through.
What a sport. What athletes. The flats were fast, the climbs mammoth, the descents death-defying (up to 70mph on two square inches of rubber!). There were crashes and smashes and broken bones, feats of endurance, tears and shattered dreams. Thousands of fans lined the route all the way, cheering the riders on. There were sculptures in fields and folk in costumes and some wearing almost nothing at all!
The Pyrenees and the Alps were fantastic. Stage 19: Modane – Alpe d’Huez was probably my favourite. The more I learned as the race progressed, the more interesting it became: riding in echelon in cross-winds; riders from different countries and different teams working together to achieve a desired result; the fact that there are specialist sprinters, climbers and time-trialliasts; groups breaking away from the peleton in an attempt to gain enough time that the peleton couldn’t catch up – a strategy that usually failed but sometimes paid off; the lead-out trains to get a sprinter near the finish with as much strength in his legs as possible.
So many highlights: Thomas Voekler’s great stint in the yellow jersey; Hoogerland receiving more than 30 stitches after flying into a barbed wire fence when he and Juan Antonio Fletcha were hit by a TV car; Andy Schleck’s attack on the Col d’Izoard with more than 60km to go in stage 18.
Not really familiar with any of the riders at first, I initially took a dislike to Mark Cavendish, but warmed to him as the days passed, particularly his expression of guilt at failing to win a sprint when his team-mates had worked so hard to get him to the front at the end of the stage.
This morning I rode around 45km on a single-speed bike with a bit of a wind (12-15mph) against me for half of it, and my legs ache tonight*. I don’t know how these guys must feel having covered more than 3,400km over 21 days.
Overall, I’m left with the impression that it’s a beautiful, gruelling sport, set in an equally beautiful country.
* OK, I haven’t been out much in the last week and haven’t been on a longer ride for months – but I’m not trying to make excuses or anything…