Itâ€™s funny how our opinion of certain riders changes during the course of the Tour de France.Â It makes sense, though, as the Tour is the sportâ€™s grandest stage, the perfect place for riders to reinvent themselves and careers to be resuscitated â€”or resurrected.
Take todayâ€™s sprint for example: Mark Cavendish won Stage 18 with another incredible display of power and speedâ€”and he did it without the worldâ€™s fastest lead-out, Mark Renshaw.Â Perhaps more importantly, Cavendish has found success in this yearâ€™s Tour with nary a quip, wisecrack, or foot in the mouth.Â It appears his early season troubles and first week near-misses have given the youngster a better appreciation of all he accomplished.Â And perhaps more importantly, by winning with his mouth shut, heâ€™s enabled his one-time criticsâ€”myself includedâ€”to appreciate his talents without being distracted by his ego.
And then thereâ€™s Alessandro Petacchi, a man on the cusp of winning his first green jersey at the ripe â€œoldâ€ age of 36.Â If he does, Petacchi will have won the points jersey in all three grand tours, an impressive achievement.Â Unfortunately for Alessandro though, the restoration of his image has been damaged by claims that he used illegal methods to prepare for this yearâ€™s event.Â Should the allegations prove true, it will mean the end of Petacchiâ€™s careerâ€”and just at the moment when he seemed to have kick-started it.
As for Thor Hushovd, heâ€™s all but conceded the green jersey this year, maybe just a smoke screen or perhaps an admission that his talents are no longer suited to the rigors of the green jersey contention.Â Whatever the case, look for Thor to start next season with a renewed sense of purpose in the classics; and donâ€™t rule out the likelihood that he ends this year with one as wellâ€”in Melbourne at Worlds.
You had to love the composition of the dayâ€™s main breakâ€”itâ€™s too bad we couldnâ€™t see Matti Breschel, Daniel Oss, Jerome Pineau, and Mathieu Ladagnous fight it out for the win.Â Breschel and Oss are two classics stars in the makingâ€”as to which Ossâ€™ last-gasp attack can attest.Â As for Pineau, it would have been nice to see him leave the Tour with something more than the polka dot jerseys he wore for a time during this yearâ€™s race.Â And Ladagnous?Â Well, another French win is always a welcome sightâ€”especially when it comes wearing FDJâ€™s sensational new kit.
Looking ahead to tomorrow, I see two main contenders for the time trial: Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara.Â Both have been rumored to be a bit sick of late and both have done a considerable amount of work for their respective teams over the past two daysâ€”but I still see them taking the first two spots on the stage.Â (Just to be different, Iâ€™ll go against the grain with my pick for the win.) To round out the top-3, look for an American to take the honorsâ€”not the one most people have been preoccupied with as of late.
Hereâ€™s my top-5:
1. Tony Martin
2. Fabian Cancellara
3. David Zabriskie
4. Alberto Contador
5. Alexandre Vinokourov
Share your picks and comments below.