CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '08
Stage 21 - (Sunday) July 27th, Etampes to Paris-Champs Elysées, 143 km Flat Stage
Accolade of a Great Tour
Scenes of the peloton in Paris
It takes the passage of time for people and events to find their rightful place in history. The 2008 Tour may eventually be remembered as the start of a new era. Since the 1998 Festina affair that nearly wrecked that year's Tour, cycling has stumbled from one drug scandal to the next. The last two Tours were greatly damaged by Yellow Jersey wearers. In 2006 Floyd Landis was stripped of his championship following a failed drug test that was revealed days after his triumphant reception on the top step of the podium in Paris . Last year, and with just days to go, race leader Rasmussen was pulled from the race by his team and then promptly fired a few hours after winning a spectacular mountain stage.
Fans everywhere were hoping that the 2008 Tour would finally escape from the drug sensations and that they could focus on the racing. There had been considerable evidence to show that this in fact would be the case. In our lead article in
May "A Vintage Spring" we discussed the excellence of the racing and the appearance of new, and often young names, at the head of the peloton. Most importantly we believed that the long and difficult fight by many to put controls in place to trap the drug cheats were finally making a dramatic impact.
There is No Utopia
It is probably fair to say that at long last this Tour was “clean”. However, whenever there are huge rewards in any human pursuit there will always be those who will try to cheat. So long as we believe that there are robust and concentrated testing processes in place, then we can believe in the credibility of the racing.
For many years the resolve of even the most ardent fans has been sorely tested. Numerous dark chapters have done immense damage to cycling's image. But to think that from here on we will no longer see riders fail drug tests is a utopian dream.
In this Tour there were three cases (Duenas, Beltran, Ricco) and each prompted the usual media frenzy. However these cases quickly disappeared from view and in Ricco's case we were treated to seeing him driven away to boos and cat calls. There was a very different feel this year to this aspect of the Tour. People seem to believe in the controls and view the cheats as total idiots who deserve what they get.
Unfortunately the hard lessons are still being dealt out to the pro peloton. After Duenas was fingered his team's sponsor stated that they were withdrawing their support. The same happened after Ricco's positive was announced and his team sponsor also shut down their program. Due to the actions of a few one hundred or more people from the two teams were suddenly looking at unemployment.
We are now in an age of “zero tolerance” where one rotten egg can destroy the sporting lives of many. This message must be getting through to all but the most stupid of riders and team managers.
A Real Race
Tour 08 will be remembered as a real race featuring aggressive and animated racing every day. The fact that the Yellow Jersey saw seven different wearers bears witness to the daily uncertainty which made for unpredictable and exciting watching. Numerous new names shone throughout the three weeks and all of the riders displayed normal human behaviours including fatigue. The almost robotic (drug induced) characteristics of recent years were noticeably absent. No longer were riders appearing every day capable of pounding away impervious to the immense athletic demands being placed on their body.
Now that the Tour is over for another year we can see just how hard it was for anyone to predict potential outcomes for the major Jersey awards. Before the Tour most ‘short lists' had a dozen or more favorites for the Yellow Jersey. The other categories were no more than a lottery.
Even as the race moved into the third week most experts could not predict the final results with any degree of certainty. About the only result that almost everyone agreed upon before the actual race was the final TT. Evans would crush Sastre and Frank Schleck would retain third spot on the podium. What a shocker, Evans collapsed under the pressure as did Schleck. Sastre did the TT of his life and preserved the larger part of his advantage over Evans. Schleck plummeted to 6th on GC.
What Will We Remember
Team CSC. Almost invisible in week 1. Week 2 they emerged and very quickly started to control the race. But their approach was very different to the style adopted so successfully by USPS and Discovery. Armstrong's teams were built around a group fabulous domestiques all riding for the great man alone. CSC was a power house of individual champions all riding for one cause (not one man!). Right up until the crucial ascent of l'Alpe d'Huez nobody could say for sure who they were all riding for. Was it Sastre or Frank Schleck?
Unlike Armstrong's Tour teams one could not rightfully describe the individual members of CSC as domestiques. O'Grady is a ‘five monuments' classics winner as is Cancellara. O'Grady is an Olympic Champion and Cancellara is a World Champion. The rest of the CSC team were also individually champions within their own right. Team manager Bjarne Riis's master stroke was his ability to encourage this pool of world class talent to suppress their individual ambitions in favor of the team as a whole. Right up to the Alpe d'Huez it appears that even the team did not know who was going to come out top dog. The game plan was to have Sastre and Frank Schleck take turns in attacking with the goal of leaving Evans behind. Sastre was chosen to make the first attack and that turned out to be the one that stuck.
New Teams, New Riders.
Team Columbia and Team Garmin Chipotle both appeared for the first time at the start in Brest with their brand new sponsors names. Many of the riders on both teams were riding their first Tour and so the pundits were expecting very modest things from them. Columbia grabbed five stage wins and held the Yellow Jersey from stages 6 to 9. Garmin Chipotle had a string of successes with their riders featuring in several race winning breaks. But perhaps the revelation of the entire Tour came from Christian Vande Velde who rode strongly for the entire three weeks to eventually finish 5th on GC in this his first Tour.
It seemed that everywhere you looked unexpected names were grabbing the headlines. Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner) landed in third place on GC and he also won the Polka Dot Mountains competition. His was not a name that featured in pre-race predictions. Kohl's team mate Stefan Schumacher also had one hell of a Tour. He won the first time trial in Cholet on Stage 4. When the race reached the Alps he made two very long incredible escapes that animated the front end of the race. Back on the flatlands he was still pounding away in escapes during the final stages to Paris . But perhaps his biggest coupe was winning the final 53km time trial on Stage 20 by a very significant 21 seconds from Fabian Cancellara.
Stage 16 featured two HC climbs and one rider that announced his arrival as a climbing talent was the unknown 23 year-old John-Lee Augustyn from Team Barloworld. The second HC climb of the day was the Cime de la Bonnette-Restefond which at 2802 meters was the highest point of the Tour. As the lead group was approaching the summit Augustyn leapt from the group and claimed the highly prestigious prime. Unfortunately shortly over the top he demonstrated that his descending skills did not match his ascending skills. He overcooked a right hand bend and made a spectacular plunge down a scree field! Sadly most people will remember him for this and not that he should feature as one of the great climbers in years to come.
A Great Tour
Taken on its own merits this Tour was a great race from beginning to end. It was very much in the attacking and dynamic style of all of the other great races contested thus far this season. Many fans are conditioned to the “ Hollywood star syndrome” where superstars rise up to the stratosphere within the collective consciousness. Everything focuses on such stars and the majority of race watchers only have eyes for that ‘star'.
This Tour did not have a charismatic winner like Armstrong, Indurain or Hinault. The final major protagonists, Sastre and Evans are modest and even self effacing in character. The 2008 Tour's ‘stars' will not themselves propel this Tour into greatness. What will help this Tour join the list of ‘greatest Tours of all time' will be the way that the entire field contested the race. In time we believe that this Tour will be seen as the beginning of the new era of “clean racing” and that the battles out on the roads by so many different riders will give it the well earned accolade of a great Tour.
Race Note: Today's final stage into Paris was the traditional promenade with high jinks and Champagne drinking featuring high on the day's action. CSC were given the mark of respect allowed the Yellow Jersey team (CSC also won the overall team race) and led the peloton over the finish line on the Champs Élysées to start the final eight circuits around the heart of Paris. Numerous escape efforts were nullified by the intense high speed of the peloton. The bunch sprint was clearly won by Gert Steegmans from Gerald Ciolek and Oscar Friere. Steegmans win at least gave Quick Step something to celebrate after what had been a barren Tour for them.
For a complete stage by stage recap of Tour 08 go here:
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