Wow, what an amazing Tour de France this one was! From where we sat, it was one of the most engaging Tours we’ve seen in a long time. What made it a particularly memorable one? We share some of our impressions below.
We raise our thumbs for this Tour’s unpredictability – coming in, we shared the view of many that the GC fight would be a two-man battle between Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, much like how it was last year. We even ruminated on who, among what we thought was the field of lesser contenders, would complete the podium. And boy, were we surprised.
In the other leaders’ jerseys, the fights also carried a lot of volatility. Cavendish’s 20-point penalty on Stage 18 made the battle for Green significantly less predictable. Stage 19 promised a short and furiously fast stage, and we wish that we had had access to more coverage of the autobus fight, as we’re sure JJ Rojas of Movistar fought valiantly to make the time cut he knew Cav would miss. In the polka-dot fight, Jelle Vanendert’s performance in the second week put other pretenders on the defensive, and they rose to the challenge. Sammy Sanchez is truly a deserving winner in the finale with his show of strength on Luz Ardiden. And not to forget the White jersey battle between Europcar, Cofidis, and Sky, working hard for Pierre Rolland, Rein Taaramae, and Rigoberto Uran in the closing days of the Tour.
In the intermediate, we were impressed by Hushovd and Voeckler defending the Maillot Jaune despite everyone expecting them to lose it at any moment. They both rode above themselves in order to keep the honor for another day – Hushovd clinging with the leaders on power climbs, and Voeckler refusing to be shaken off in the mountains until it became clear that his ride was going to keep him high on the final GC. Furthermore, after Hushovd lost the jersey, he continued his impressive performance with a stage win from a long solo breakaway in a very charismatic fashion – truly honoring his World Champion’s stripes.
2. Positive racing
Speaking of the GC unpredictability, Contador’s surprising time losses – and his resurgence – changed the calculus of the GC contenders completely. Last year, the tour became a 2-way race early, with Frank Schleck and Cadel Evans exiting early due to crashes and injuries. In this edition, the top contenders managed their risk by making opportunities and forcing others to fight – indeed, that we saw a rider like Tommy Voeckler go from being an “escape specialist” to actually being a top contender highlights this. Cadel Evans also did the unthinkable: he attacked many times and managed to drop one Schleck or the other or both, and Alberto Contador.
It’s hard to mention positive racing without giving the Tour’s first week a hearty nod. Stages with exciting power-climb finishes offered an opportunity for classics stars like Phillipe Gilbert to shine, as well as an opportunity for a GC contenders to race hard early in the race without too much fear of exhaustion; they also offered more drawn-out excitement than the drag race of a conventional sprint finish, early-Tour form-checks, and all in all explosive, full-stop throw-down bragging-rights racing. You can’t help but believe that Evans got a big boost of confidence with his Stage 4 win over a bikethrowing, fistpumping (but mistakenly celebrating) Alberto Contador. Evans’ first Tour de France stage win came on a classics-style finish, years after people first started shaking their heads and suggesting he stick to one-day races instead of Grand Tours.
3. Heroes getting their due
While we were thrilled that Evans and Voeckler received the accolade they deserved, we were even happier for Pierre Rolland of Europcar winning the White Jersey fight. Perhaps he was the revelation of this year’s Tour. After a few glimpses of brilliance in Critérium International and several editions of le Dauphiné Libéré, he fought day after day after day for team leader Tommy Voeckler, staying with the favorites even in the highest Alpine finishes. When given the opportunity, he took it with confidence and won the prestigious Alpe d’Huez stage and clinched the White jersey after a good time trial.
Another emotional moment was when Johnny Hoogerland, having received serious injuries in Stage 9, soldiered on to be crowned King of the Mountains for the day. Overcome with emotion, he cried on-stage and vowed to fight on to defend his jersey.
4. Breakthrough teams
Garmin-Cervelo deserves credit for finally having its breakthrough season. A win in Paris-Roubaix, a win in the TTT, and stage wins by Tyler Farrar and Thor Hushovd proved that they made the right investments. The question is then whether they will be able to retain their star riders.
Despite losing Bradley Wiggins to injury, Team Sky can still call this TdF a successful one, with Edvald Boasson-Hagen’s two stage wins and Rigoberto Uran’s few days’ stint in white. They can take particular cheer from Boasson-Hagen’s performance – he threw down capably in both sprint finishes (including 2nd on the Champs Elysees) and day-long breakaways. In the early Alpine stages, Sky also showed that they can put up a decent defense of a leader’s jersey (Uran’s position in the Young Rider’s competition), even if in the end it didn’t work out for the best.
Meanwhile, Thomas Voeckler’s Europcar impressed by rising to the challenge of defending their leader’s Yellow Jersey. Europcar came perilously close to not existing, as its former incarnation Bbox Bouygues Telecom struggled to find sponsorship while riders fled a sinking ship. Thomas Voeckler famously stayed on, and Europcar signed as a sponsor. They must be pleased with the return on their investment after this year’s Tour – the team stayed at the front of the field during Voeckler’s reign in yellow, keeping breakaways in check and Voeckler out of trouble. In the end, they delivered Voeckler to a 4th place on the GC and Pierre Rolland to the Young Rider’s competition. An Impressive performance by a team that almost wasn’t.
Another team to mention is Team BMC. As a young team, they do not yet have the long history of more established rivals. But with Cadel Evans’ win, they showed that their focused investment was the right one.
What did you think? What made this year’s Tour exciting for you?