Cycling: Good vibrations on the road to Paris
The Yellow Jersey's time-trialling, brilliant Britons and a town's choice of gift lit up this year's Tour.
Monday 27 July 2009
Best overall performance
This one has to be jointly shared by Alberto Contador and Bradley Wiggins.
That Contador proved his superiority with powerful mountain top attacks we could expect. But his vast improvement in time trialling, as proved by a knock-out victory in stage 18's race against the clock in Annecy, sealed his overall win.
Racing in the same team as Lance Armstrong, also vying for the Tour overall, could have sunk a weaker rider than Contador. As it was, even Armstrong had to admit defeat.
Bradley Wiggins has not only pulled off the best ever English performance in the Tour with fourth, he's done so thanks to a radical improvement in his road racing over the last nine months. Next year, will we see a first Brit on the podium?
Most exciting sprint
On stage 19 to Aubenas, Mark Cavendish took his fifth victory after getting over the day's final climb against all expectations. With just half his usual team support, the Manx Express came through on an uphill sprint. Brilliant.
Most crucial stage overall
Stage seven to Andorra, where Contador blasted away on the finale and moved back ahead of Armstrong overall. The Texan was not happy at his team-mate's show of strength, but Contador proved that day he could win the Tour and handle the pressure-cooker atmosphere inside Astana, too.
Columbia-HTC gave Cavendish faultless support on his quest for multiple stage wins and to finish in Paris. He even gave Alberto Contador a major headache when they broke away en masse on stage three with Lance Armstrong in tow.
No competition here. Having won four Tour stages last year, whenever there was a flat finish, Manxman Mark Cavendish smoked the opposition one time after another with devastating ease. He's now the British record holder for stages in the Tour, at just 24. Expect much, much more in the future.
Biggest media draw
Lance Armstrong sucked in a lot of headlines and he rewarded the media's near-universal adulation with third place overall and an entertaining, well-publicised, internal power conflict with Contador. Back next year, too, but not in the same team as the Spaniard.
"They're not compatible," team manager Johan Bruyneel pointed out after three weeks racing.
As if the rest of the world hadn't noticed, nine months ago, when Armstrong said he was coming back.
Tour 2008 winner Carlos Sastre, barely visible during the entire race and who finished a miserable 17th. Only made the headlines when he slated the Spanish media for ignoring him and the the Tour organisers for not giving him enough credit. Apologised a few days later.
Best climbing performance
Jointly shared by Contador and Wiggins again. Contador for his -blazing attack at Verbier, which put Armstrong up against the ropes, and earned him the yellow jersey.
Wiggins on the Ventoux saw the Briton dig deep to resist no less than seven attacks by Contador's most aggressive challenger, Andy Schleck. He cracked a little, but still hung on for fourth overall.
Most unusual press freebie
The town of Bourg-Saint-Maurice in the Alps won that hands down (in more senses than one) with a flower-shaped vibrator, complete (and why not?) with detachable green petals. So unusual, it caused some confusion – one hapless Spanish (male) journalist thought he had been given a small plastic airfan.
Most surreal French roadsign
Seen somewhere in the Ardeche region: Zone Turistique des Crocodiles. This phase is open to various translations – is this an area for tourists to look at crocodiles, for crocodiles on holiday, or maybe for crocodiles to hang out with passing tourists, get in the zone, and chill? If you were tempted to bring the kiddies, bear in mind le zone is just a stone's throw away from a huge nuclear power station.
Most exotic press room
Twenty-one days of non-stop travelling means 21 press rooms and the strangest was located in the grounds of a castle, next to five huge, rusting steam locomotives stranded on 30 metre chunks of rail.
The biggest, adorned with red Communist star, had a bizarre history – made in Poland, requisitioned by the Russians during the Cold War [where it travelled to Siberia in sub-40 degree temperatures, a noticeboard solemnly told us] and then finally dumped on the East German frontier for us capitalist lackeys in the West to deal with. Next stop, somehow, central France, for errant Tour journalists to look at.
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