Monday, July 27, 2009

Tour de France Wrap-up - The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Ever seen a spaghetti western? To me, this year’s Tour might as well have been directed by Sergio Leone and played over a soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. Stark landscapes, aging heroes, young upstarts, pistols, you get the idea… Where they had Clint Eastwood, we had Lance Armstrong. Where they had a cast of Spanish-American outlaws, we had Alberto Contador. They had their showdowns, we had Mont Ventoux. And don't get me started on dialogue!

So whether or not you think the good guy won or lost, here’s Pavé’s look at The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of the 2009 Tour de France.

(Let this video play in the background as you read--the effect's much better.)

The Good
1. Alberto Contador’s Win - Whether you were rooting for him or against him, you have to be impressed by Contador’s victory. His prowess on any given terrain was reminiscent of Spain’s other great Tour champion, Miguel Indurain. Alberto has 3 Tours to go before he’ll be on par with Big Mig, but he’s certainly well on his way. One can only hope the rumors beginning to surface and the questions beginning to be asked prove unfounded.

2. Lance Armstrong’s 3rd Place - To me, Armstrong’s 3rd place is a good thing—and I mean that in the sense that it’s better he didn’t win. A win for Lance would have seemed too scripted, too unreal for a sport that’s seen its share of unbelievable events. An 8th victory after about 4 years of retirement would have brought more rumors, more accusations, and more talk of "it’s too good to be true”. 3rd place allows Lance to bask in the glow of terrific comeback and talk of what might have been, while still looking ahead to next year with the hope that he might go a couple steps higher. Today, we all have to at least admit that maybe the guy’s mortal after all. For the sake of Lance's reputation, "mere mortal" might not be a bad title--for now.

3. The Youth Movement - A look down the Top-10 will reveal a glimpse into the Tour’s future—and it’s a good one. Young guns like Andy Schleck, Vincenzo Nibali, and Roman Kreuziger seem destined for Tour glory one day. This talent combined with the peaking stars like Bradley Wiggins and Frank Schleck will make for some terrific battles over the next few years. Young climbers such as Jurgen Van Den Broeck and Brice Feillu look poised to blossom into riders their respective countries can rally behind in July. And remember folks, that Spanish guy who won? He’s only 26!

4. Mark Cavendish - Man, oh man! Or should I say, “Manx”? Cavendish was heads and shoulders—literally, on some occasions—ahead of his competitors. While I still would argue that his team deserves half the credit, we still need to acknowledge the accomplishments of the most electrifying British rider since Chris Boardman rode to victory in the Prologue using Mavic’s electronic ZAP components. Before the Tour, I suspected Columbia might win 10 stages; I wasn’t betting on Cavendish winning 6 all by himself. Think of it, the guy won more than one third of the entire race! The record for wins in a year is 8, perhaps a bit lofty in this day and age. That said, I’ll never doubt Cavendish again. Now, about that mouth…

5. The Race was Clean - Were it not for Danilo Diluca and a handful of other CERA positives from earlier in the year, we might have had a race where we didn’t even think of doping. But I’ll settle for a Tour free of positives, raids, and expulsions. Time might tell a different story, but for now we all should satisfied.

The Bad
1. France’s GC Hopes - As we mentioned earlier, there might be some relief on the horizon, but for now, we have to consider it bad when your country does so poorly that the New York Times takes up space writing about it. Blame it on what you will, but it’s not good when your best GC rider was 10th, and that itself is largely due to a long breakaway on a transition stage. What does France have to do to develop a legitimate contender for the overall win in its national tour? Maybe another Norman conquest would do it? Wiggins and Cavendish would look good riding for the les bleus, non?

2. Blah, blah, blah - I won’t go so far as to call it ugly, but this year’s race sure seemed filled with trash talk: team against team, rider against rider, teammate against teammate, director against rider, etc. Maybe it’s a good thing; were they to just shut-up and ride we might have spent more time wondering if the race was indeed as boring as people say it was. For my money though, I wish people would have spent less time jabbering and more time winning--or at least attacking. Wins make you a legitimate contender/rider/team, not how well you run your mouth.

The Ugly
1. Former Champs/Current Chumps - Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre, and Denis Menchov should be embarrassed. Cadel Evans has probably just ridden himself out of a contract. Sastre’s just ridden himself into the Vuelta (his third Grand Tour this year). And Denis Menchov’s just ridden his win in the Giro out of everyone’s memory. Evans has proven he’s as mentally weak as we had suspected before the race started. His losses during the first week demoralized rather than motivated him, leaving him as nothing more than road kill as the race hit the mountains. In the end he wasn’t even good enough to lead his own team, or help his replacement for that matter. Time for a shift in focus, Cadel. Classics and week-long stage races are the best you can hope for.

We thought Sastre would give it a go on Ventoux, instead he finished several minutes down, riding into Paris in a lackluster 17th-place overall. Was Lance right about last year’s Tour? And Denis Menchov? He crashed more frequently than Euskaltel in the Tour of Flanders. Seriously, I lost count after week 1. You can’t win if you can’t stay upright. Will both these riders use the Vuelta to end the season on a high note?

3. Big Budget Benelux Buffoons - Silence-Lotto, Quick Step, and Rabobank might have to re-consider accepting an invitation to next year’s race. All together they managed 1 stage win, and it took them 20 stages to get there. In the end it’s hard to say who’s the biggest disappointment as all three teams came to the race with several contenders in many areas. Cadel Evans, Greg Van Avermaet, Tom Boonen, Stijn Devolder, Sylvain Chavanel, Denis Menchov, Robert Gesink, Juan Antonio Flecha, and Oscar Freire represent a vertitable “Who’s Who” of professional cycling over the past 5-10 years. None of them managed a win. Some came close, but not enough to be counted as respectable given their experience, talent, and the level of expectation.

The biggest shame might have to be Tom Boonen, whose team worked so hard to get him on the line in the first place. Now Tom’s going to the Vuelta to salvage his season; anything short of a world title and his Spring exploits could be forgotten. Look for these teams to be the most active as the summer transfer period begins. Maybe this year they can avoid signing riders who will go from being Tour revelations to exposed cheats?

And that brings our feature to a close. Cue the guitar, trumpet, and zamfir.

What about you? What did you find to be the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of this year’s race?

Share your comments below.


  1. Versus coverage, sorry but next year I'm finding a way to get Eurosport. I think I saw Chris Horner (who we all love) proclaim "Lance is back" a dozen times.

  2. will take care of all your needs.

    lance announcing his 2010 plans seemed to write off 2009 pretty quickly...

  3. Yep, head over to steephill and you can get to Europsport. also has great links to the European networks, and most of the have their video online without geo restriction (unlike us Aussies and the Americans).
    The ugly for the tour for me was Lance's announcement of the Radio Shack team 4 days before the end of the Tour. Nothing like a kick in the teeth to the team he's supposed to be racing for, even if they aren't paying him.
    The Bad this year was again Lance Armstrong, this time for his sniping via Twitter, which was then taken up by Levi Leipheimer, and every other fanboy out there.
    Tied for the bad, was the appalling way Cadel Evans didn't overcome a jour sans. So he lost time in the TTT? So he had a bad couple of days? Tough. Get over it. I want to see Cadel ride the Vuelta, and then the Worlds and try and revive his season, cause the rest of it ain't been pretty either.
    The Good, excellent, etc for me was Andy Schleck. 24 years old, and he rides so damn well. I'm looking forward to the battles between him and Contador for the next 6 or 7 years. Hopefully he won't be a Poulidor and will actually pull on the maillot jaune in Paris one day.

  4. Thanks for your contribution, Neil. I agree that Lance could have done a better job being handling his PR machine. I lost some respect for Levi after reading how he soon took to the art of the tweet snipe.


  5. the good - fumi beppu and yuki arashino finishing the tour.

    the amazing - fumi beppu's wheelie in front of the l'arc du triomphe.

  6. Hey, no worries. Lance was my hero for a long time, and I was really excited when he announced his comeback. Since he's started riding again though, he has really slipped in my estimation.
    Love the blog. I spent yesterday going back over the older posts.
    The two Japanese riders finishing was very cool. It's great to see our beautiful sport spreading. The Japanese, of course, love their keirin racing, but don't do a lot of stage racing. Arashiro is the only Japanese registered rider in the Pro Tour, I think there may be 2 or 3 (including Beppu) in the Continental teams.
    Interestingly, Japanese companies have done a lot of sponsoring over the years - Toshiba and Panasonic to name two older ones, and of course Saunier Duval is now Fuji-Servetto - On checking, Fuji is an American bike manuafacturer.. Oops (blush)

  7. Good: Contador, Schleck, Nibali, Wiggins

    Bad: Astana histrionics, Silence-Lotto continuing to suck (I mean how many years in a row can you bring a Tour contender to the race with no decent team support?), Sastre not attacking AT ALL, the course design, which neutered a lot of the good climbs by putting the finishes at the bottom of the following descent

    I thought Versus coverage was abysmal too. I watched Eurosport online after the first few stages, because VS's Lance-centric commentary was too painful to sit through. Also, the guy they had leading the broadcasts was bad. Could they not afford Liggett fulltime, or was he just too busy with Eurosport?

    Free passes: I give Menchov a pass. He won the Giro. It's unreasonable to expect him to have much left in the tank for the Tour. I give Evans a pass too. No, he didn't prove particularly resilient, but when you're climbing against guys with two or three teammates to tow them up the hill, you have NO chance. Finally, I'll give Armstrong a pass. My gut wants me to judge him harshly for the way he treated Contador throughout. In retrospect though, it's not at all clear to me what Armstrong is about anymore. Is he back to win big races? Is he back to bring attention to Livestrong? Is he back to sustain his marketing value? I just don't know what he's trying to do, and I suspect he doesn't either.


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