Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rewind weekend: Tour de France 2009

Finally posting my review of this :)

The 2009 Tour de France was unusual this year for quite a few reasons. Firstly there was the route, completely missing out the north and east, no Brittany or Normandy cobbled-stone stages this year. The race began in Monaco, and controversially the final mountain stage, the epic climb up Mont Ventoux, took place the day before the final stage in Paris. Cruel or what??? In recent years Le Tour hasn't just confined itself to France and this year it visited Monaco, Barcelona, Andorra and Verbier...and the 2010 Tour will start in Rotterdam!

Then there was the comeback of one Lance Armstrong. If you watched ITV4's otherwise excellent coverage, the one criticism I have of Liggett and Sherwen is their one-rider obsession - in previous years they have been obsessed with Greg Lemond, Miguel Indurain and most recently Cadel Evans, and this year, for them it was all about the "Tour de Lance".

That was of course until the British interest kicked in. Firstly there was Mark Cavendish, the unofficial king of the sprints this year as he won no less than six stages, but a points deduction for allegedly riding too close to rival Thor Hushovd meant that he couldn't make up sufficient points to win the green jersey competition: that was won by Hushovd. However it was some consolation for Cavendish that he got the "big one" - he won the final stage on the Champs-Elysees.

And then there was Bradley Wiggins, British Olympic gold-winning track cyclist who may have lost weight for the 2009 Tour, but he became a road race heavyweight in this year's race and at one point was a serious contender for a spot on the podium. He ended the race in fourth place, which was an incredible achievement, I thought.

What about the yellow jersey? Earlier in the race it was worn by Fabian Cancellara and Rinaldo Nocentini (the latter a new name to me) before it was taken over by Alberto Contador in the Alps and he kept it all the way to the finish. Lance Armstrong meanwhile was determined to prove that he was a serious challenger once again. Both Contador and Armstrong were on the revamped Astana all-star team which included some ex-Discovery riders and management. Contador was the official leader, but the media made a lot of the conflict between the team's real leader Contador, and Armstrong, whom they described as the team's unofficial leader.

Luxembourg's Andy Schleck took second place on the podium: he is an impressive young cyclist with a bright future ahead of him in the sport.

What pleased me most about this year's Le Tour was that the cycling spoke for itself and thankfully the race wasn't overshadowed by the drugs scandals which had blighted the race in recent years. I thought it was a very enjoyable Tour, even if it wasn't the most competitive or unpredictable one I've ever seen, but there were enough little rewarding episodes throughout the three weeks to make it well worth watching.

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