Tour highs and lows: Thrills, spills, sprints and a pot-bellied pig
Monday 26 July 2010
Best mountain stage
It has to be the Tourmalet finish on stage 17, if only for the strange, almost spooky, imagery of Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, the race's two strongest riders, powering through the mist and two solid walls of spectators as the rain lashed down.
The scene recalled Raymond Poulidor versus Jacques Anquetil in their legendary duel on the Puy de Dôme in 1964, but even more it was a repeat of Jean Robic versus Gino Bartali in 1950, riding parallel for mile after mile and into a state of such exhaustion on the nearby Aspin that by the summit, unable to beat one another, they were simultaneously riding and propping each other up.
Best non-mountain stage
This award goes to stage three over the cobbles to Arenberg. For once, the predictions of carnage were right, as the riders pounded over the unmade backroads of northern France and the race split apart. Unusual, exciting and a real break from the normal first week succession of bunch sprint stages. More again, next time round please.
Best overall contender
Andy Schleck. He didn't win but he shadowed Contador so closely that the race was nowhere near decided until the final time trial. And even then Schleck refused to give up, forcing Contador to go through such pain that afterwards the champion described it as his hardest day of the Tour.
Mark Cavendish at Bordeaux. With no lead-out men to guide him, Cavendish blasted out of the pack to win by over two bike lengths. It was simply sublime: if Barry Hoban, Britain's previous winner at Bordeaux, also in a sprint, was watching, he must have been proud of the Manxman.
Best team worker
Cavendish's HTC-Columbia team-mate Bernie Eisel helped the Briton over many a mountain climb, leading the Manxman to say that he had been following the Austrian's calves for so many hours that he could easily draw a perfect picture of them.
We've had a lot in this year's Tour, but Lance Armstrong's skidding fall at 60kph on stage eight took the biscuit – it wrecked his bid for one last Tour victory. Getting in a break in the Pyrenees was a sad reminder of what could have been, while the persistent drip-drip of allegations over doping from Floyd Landis in the ongoing federal investigations does the Armstrong legend no good whatsoever. A strange, low-key and – for Armstrong – probably very frustrating exit from a sport he once dominated with ease.
Worst barney between riders
This is a draw between the episode when Spain's Carlos Barredo thwacked Portugal's Rui Costa over the head with a bike wheel, and the moment when Cavendish's lead-out man Mark Renshaw headbutted Kiwi Julian Dean three times in a sprint.
Strangest hotel pets
We've all seen cats and dogs lazing around rural hotel lobbies, but La Maison De Navarre near Sauveterre de Béarn, close to the Pyrenees, has gone for a slightly different option: two donkeys and a Vietnamese potbellied pig (kept outside, we hasten to add). Suggestions the porker might go on that evening's menu (which was delicious) were met with frosty glances. And it made a change to be woken up in the morning by a donkey's heehaws, not a couple rowing in the next room.
Most surreal journalists freebie
No flower-shaped vibrators as were on offer in 2009, but something just as wacky: a packet of building sand taken from the construction of the Millau Viaduct, the tallest bridge in the world with one tower a whopping 343 metres tall, higher than the Eiffel Tower. The fact the Tour didn't go over it this year, just near it, is of course, by-the-by.
Worst sleep over
Heartfelt thanks (not) to the Best Western at Tinqueux for overbooking and then sending us to a far-from-adequate replacement.
The second choice hotel boasted yellow, stained sheets and pillows, a single toilet per floor, neckbreaking stairs, no lift, corridors so narrow you couldn't have swung a cat in them (and so dark you wouldn't have found one anyway), a building site just opposite and drunk English tourists raising Cain outside at 5am. All for €30 a night: bliss!
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