NO FIREWORKS. Well, there were no fireworks to end the closest 1-2-3 finish in the history of the Tour de France. What might have wound up to be a free-for-all with 2nd-place Cadel Evans trying to wipe out a mere 23-second deficit to race leader Alberto Contador did not materialize. The boys behaved, followed historic race protocol, and rode into Paris orderly and in order. Contador in first, Evans in second, and American Levi Leipheimer in third.
Get full race results and wrap -up at Cyclingnews
WHY EVANS DIDN'T CHALLENGE CONTADOR. For Americans, that's hard to imagine. We see every stage of a race as an opportunity to compete. It doesn't matter what happened in history, if there's still a chance to win a race, go for it! The Australian may have been thinking the same way, but Cadel also had to consider that if he tried to breakaway, Contador's Discovery Channel team would check and counter his every move. With rainy weather closing in, the risk of losing it all must have been considered too high.
SPRINTERS DUKE IT OUT. Of course the sprinters did not hold anything back once the course entered Paris. The final circuits around the Champs-Elysees saw the sprinters jockey for position and set up a bunch sprint finish. Italian Daniele Bennati held off Eric Zable and Robbie Hunter at the finish line to win his second stage of this Tour de France. After the dust settled in the points contest, Belgian Tom Boonen became the new sprint champion and claimed the last Green Jersey.
RELIEF ON THE CHAMPS-ELYSEES. I can't imagine the relief most of the cyclists must have felt to roll across the finish line today. Relief! A three-week long epic that saw three cyclists and two teams abandon the Tour because of doping issues must have worn them down emotionally as it did physically. Let's hope we don't have another Tour this tumultuous.
CONTADOR DESERVES THE WIN. Alberto "Kid" Contador (here with Discovery Channel team director Johan Bruyneel) demonstrated the balance that is needed in a Tour de France champion. Solid in the time trials. Safe in the flat stages. Strong in the mountains. Steady in the last week. Cooperative with team strategy. I thought Evans would beat him in the Stage 19 individual time trial, but he rode that "test of truth" with inspiration. At age 24, the Spaniard becomes one of the youngest Tour champions in many years. He's the first Spanish champion since the great Miguel Indurain. Does Contador have four more wins in him?
EVANS NEXT YEAR. Cadel Evans is the runner up by just 23 seconds. So close! The Australian did everything right and elevated the standing and hopes of Australian cycling. He will continue to improve and his team will continue to improve in order to give him more help in the mountains. I hope he wins the Tour de France next year.
AMERICAN INSPIRATION. Third-place Levi Leipheimer (on right in photo) deserves a place on the podium. His incredible ride yesterday in the individual time trial proved his abilities and erased doubts of many--perhaps even his own. And that could set him up for being a potential race winner next year. Levi's placement is good for American cycling and the strength of the Discovery Channel team is also encouraging for American bicycle racing development.
PLEASE, GET RID OF DOPING. All of this is wonderful and all of this critically threatened by the continuing specter of doping. This is a problem that needs to be addressed and solved ASAP--long before the next Tour de France comes around. In 2008, the biggest stage of bicycle racing needs to be completely clean. In addition, the sanctioning bodies and anti-coping entities need to show complete cooperation to end doping in the sport. I think the riders are the critical voices and component in making this happen. I hope they assert their will in this important challenge.
VUELTA, ANYONE? Are you up for one more cycling epic this year? The Vuelta a Espana begins September 1st. That is, the Tour of Spain. The triple crown of road cycling includes the Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy), the Tour de France, and the Vuelta a Espana. All three are three-week epics that include all the elements of bike racing we witnessed in the Tour de France. Unfortunately, the tours of Italy and Spain are not available on American TV, but can be followed online. Historically, the greatest winners of the Tour de France raced the tours of Italy and Spain. As the caliber of racing has increased, the toll of riding all three competitively prevents most top riders from attempting all three. I wonder if Contador will try to ride and win the Vuelta? Find out more about the Vuelta here.