Ever seen a spaghetti western? To me, this yearâ€™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 ideaâ€¦ 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, hereâ€™s PavÃ©â€™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.)
1. Alberto Contadorâ€™s Win – Whether you were rooting for him or against him, you have to be impressed by Contadorâ€™s victory. His prowess on any given terrain was reminiscent of Spainâ€™s other great Tour champion, Miguel Indurain. Alberto has 3 Tours to go before heâ€™ll be on par with Big Mig, but heâ€™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 Armstrongâ€™s 3rd Place – To me, Armstrongâ€™s 3rd place is a good thingâ€”and I mean that in the sense that itâ€™s better he didnâ€™t win. A win for Lance would have seemed too scripted, too unreal for a sport thatâ€™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 “itâ€™s too good to be trueâ€. 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 guyâ€™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 Tourâ€™s futureâ€”and itâ€™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? Heâ€™s only 26!
4. Mark Cavendish – Man, oh man! Or should I say, â€œManxâ€? Cavendish was heads and shouldersâ€”literally, on some occasionsâ€”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 Mavicâ€™s electronic ZAP components. Before the Tour, I suspected Columbia might win 10 stages; I wasnâ€™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, Iâ€™ll never doubt Cavendish again. Now, about that mouthâ€¦
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 didnâ€™t even think of doping. But Iâ€™ll settle for a Tour free of positives, raids, and expulsions. Time might tell a different story, but for now we all should satisfied.
1. Franceâ€™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 itâ€™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 wonâ€™t go so far as to call it ugly, but this yearâ€™s race sure seemed filled with trash talk: team against team, rider against rider, teammate against teammate, director against rider, etc. Maybe itâ€™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.
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. Sastreâ€™s just ridden himself into the Vuelta (his third Grand Tour this year). And Denis Menchovâ€™s just ridden his win in the Giro out of everyoneâ€™s memory. Evans has proven heâ€™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 wasnâ€™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 yearâ€™s Tour? And Denis Menchov? He crashed more frequently than Euskaltel in the Tour of Flanders. Seriously, I lost count after week 1. You canâ€™t win if you canâ€™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 yearâ€™s race. All together they managed 1 stage win, and it took them 20 stages to get there. In the end itâ€™s hard to say whoâ€™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 â€œWhoâ€™s Whoâ€ 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 Tomâ€™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 yearâ€™s race?
Share your comments below.