July began under a little gray cloud. Wilfred and I planned to be in France with our Reve Grand Tour project, but with only a half-dozen riders confirmed for the 2011 team in April, we were nine short of the 15 we needed to green light the trip. We're optimistic that we'll get our numbers next time around since everyone will have a full year to train. Look for some good news here and on the Reve site soon; 2012 is on.
Like the rest of you I was glued to this year's tour. The major story lines and subplots just kept coming, and nothing, with the possible exception of Gilbert winning Stage one seemed predictable. I should have put some money on that one after Roman Kreuziger made him a lock while we were in Switzerland photographing Specialized's Tarmac SL4 in the middle of June (above). Seems the whole peloton believed he was unbeatable right out the gate.
As the body count rose during the first week's carnage it was difficult to see how this could turn out to be one of the best Tours in memory. Narrow roads, crosswinds and inattention clearly played a role but I thought the main reason there were so many crashes was the lack of a real patron in the peloton. With Contador's status in doubt, we were left with the soft-spoken Schlecks and Cadel as the potential GC captains. Of course they all turned out to have plenty of grit later on but none of them exerted the magnetic force (of attraction and repulsion) that Armstrong did to keep the pack in line.
In the absence of a single dominant force it seemed anything could happen, and by the time that French TV car took out Flecha and Hoogerland, it had. That got me scared. I was reasonably comfortable on the moto during the Tour of California but I was super nervous watching the peloton and vehicles negotiate the TDF stages on TV. It's likely I'll never find out if I've got the guts to shoot a mountain stage at race pace in the TDF... maybe that's a good thing. I'm actually amazed these collisions don't happen more often.
Hushovd was the first big surprise, power climbing with Gilbert and Cadel and riding with all of his veteran wile to keep the yellow jersey for a week, then topping that with two tactically-brilliant stage wins. After demonstrating he could climb away from a breakaway in Stage 13 I don't know how he managed to get away with it again in Stage 16.
It was good to see Cav and Greipel bury the hatchet, clasping hands after Marks victory in Stage 11 (repeated after the final sprint in Paris). Like boxers who trash talk each other before a fight, when they've traded blows in the ring, respect invariably replaces bravado.
While all of that was inspiring, it was just an appetizer for Voeckler's second act. His gritty performance in the Pyrenees hanging with the best climbers in the sport, closing the gaps and fighting for wheels was the best thing I've seen at the Tour in years. Andy had yet to prove he would actually take a chance to win the race, and frankly all that looking over his shoulder for his brother was irritating the hell out of me. Tommy more than filled the void, and even when he made the wrong decision to try for that solo bridge in the Alps you couldn't help but root for him. Surely he proved something to himself, but it remains to be seen if he can rise to that level next year, just ask Bradley Wiggins about that. I think anyone who loves cycling hopes he does, he'd be a great champion and I don't blame the French for getting a little tired of everyone else winning their race.
Ultimately he couldn't manage those last mountain stages where Andy cast aside his conservatism and Cadel proved his tenacity and class. The whole Europcar team, particularly Rolland was solid in support, I think they took him as far as they could and validated their invitation to race.
Last but not least, how amazing was Jens this year. Forty and still beating the living daylights out of everyone riding that merciless tempo on the front. I hope he never retires.