What Made This Year’s Tour de France Exciting?

Pavé would like to thank Handspun, Clément, and Laekhouse for supporting our coverage of the 2011 Tour de France.

Fotoreporter Sirotti

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.

1. Unpredictability

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?

About Julius

Educated by Dutch and Belgian priests halfway around the world from the cobbled classics that he loves, Julius' aspiration is to someday earn Belgian citizenship.
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5 Responses to What Made This Year’s Tour de France Exciting?

  1. JDL says:

    Great tour. Those race radios really got in the way huh?

  2. Jean-Pierre says:

    the tour got interesting after the first day crash with contador losing nearly 2 minutes. if contador didnt lose time and was right up in the gc the entire 3 weeks, it wouldve been a totally different outcome. it couldve been as boring as the giro this year : )

    with the crashes the first week and with so many contenders being ousted…van den broeck, wiggins, et al…the tour turned out to be a test of attrition. evans' team did such a great job keeping him out of trouble, they deserve so much credit. on the other hand, saxo bank was pretty much nowhere. even contador's helpers weren't anywhere once they were launched in the mountains.

    lastly, there were so many surprises at the tour…thor's crap first half of the season never wouldve shown how calculating and strong he could be in the tour. cavendish was disappointing all year and i really thought he'd be lucky to squeeze out 2 wins. and voeckler…no one ever would expect him to show that strength and courage.

    just a super tour. i have withdrawal already.

    • grolby says:

      For what it's worth – there's no way of knowing how things might have unfolded differently had Contador not lost that time, but the time lost in that crash, had you given it back to him, would not have been sufficient to put him on the podium. No doubt that the crashes affected his fitness and morale, but Contador was never going to win this year's Tour.

  3. Adam says:

    I found the TT's exciting. A TTT is always a fan favorite (unless you're Basque), and sets up some interesting but not insurmountable time gaps. Then the last TT was great to watch. Rather than the pancake flat one at the end of last year, we had video of Evans screaming down twisting descents at once winning the Tour but also gambling with a major wipeout along the way that kept me on the edge of my seat.

    • Julius says:

      Agreed, Adam. This time around, the ITT was very exciting because of how the GC contenders fared up to that point. I know the GC contenders would complain, but the first week's finishes were very good, they are all classics-like, and the list of winners concur. They need to find a way to make the intermediate routes more secure, though.

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