CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '08
Rest Day #2, July 21st, In Cuneo, Italy
A Great Tour
One of the clearest measures of the Tour's attraction is the enthusiasm of the road side crowds. Ultimately these are the most important players in the grand spectacle that is the Tour. Imagine a Tour without spectators lining the race route. You can't!
The sport has been wracked with drug scandals for years. The last two Tours especially, were more than enough to anger even the most ardent fan. Yet if you have been following this year's Tour on TV you will have seen enormous crowds lining the roads of France . Even yesterday as the Tour made its way up to the stage finish in Prato Nevoso, Italy , there was a veritable sea of humanity cheering the riders on. When the Tour reaches the Alpe d'Huez next Wednesday the road side crowds will typically reach one million or more. All the way up the legendary 13.3km climb with its famous 21 hair-pin turns it will be standing room only. Such is the magnetism of this great race.
On the road itself graffiti greets local champions and big stars alike. Amongst the graffiti you will also find plenty of protests towards the drug takers. But these painted messages, as well as road side placards, are basically yelling at the riders to smarten up or get out of the sport. Every one of those spectators loves cycle racing and do not want it destroyed.
Fans paint the names of their favorite riders on the road [ Image ©: Eurosprot TV]
Which is the greatest Tour of all time? Take your pick, including this one, you have 95 to choose from! The fact that the Tour has survived for 105 years is a testament in and of itself. The world of 1903 was a very different place to that of today. World Wars, radical social changes, technology and so much more continue to mould our world. Yet for all the continual change and upheaval the Tour flourishes and grows with each year.
You can choose your “Greatest Tours” with whatever criteria you feel appropriate. In our CyclingRevealed series “Top 25 Tours” you can find our choices for this accolade. On a global basis the Tour is one of the most well known sporting events in the world. The Yellow Jersey is arguably the single most famous sports icon of all.
Will Tour 2008 be a ‘Great Tour'? This Tour is producing some spectacular racing. Without clear favorites at the start, more riders than normal fancy their chance at Tour glory. The result: fabulous, attacking racing. Even now as we enter the third week it is not possible to make a confident guess as to which three riders will stand on the final podium in Paris . Currently we believe that Menchov is the most menacing but he lacks solid team support. Frank Schleck and Carlos Sastre have the fearsome CSC team to count on and in anyone's books this looks like a trump card. Bernhard Kohl, Christian Vande Velde and Kim Kirchen are all very dangerous and have good team support. But with the way this race has gone so far, an escape by someone still within 10 minutes of the current race leader could spring a nasty surprise with an audacious attack within the next few days.
The Tour is won by an individual but to attain that victory most champions have required the support of a great team. ‘Maitre' Jacques Anquetil demanded total dedication from his teams. Nobody was allowed to seek personal glory without his permission. The ‘Emperor of Herentals' Rik Van Looy ruled imperiously, not only over his teams, but the peloton as a whole. His famous ‘Red Guard' were assembled to bring the great man to the front on every major sprint finish. Anyone crossing Van Looy could kiss their racing career good-bye!
In the modern era Mario Cipollini was the new Van Looy. His teams were famous for the lead out trains that would enable the ‘Lion King' to win most sprint finishes that he contested. Lance Armstrong created a team environment much like the rigid structures imposed by Anquetil and Van Looy. Perhaps the most telling statistic is that during his seven year reign not one of his team members won a stage or any other significant prize during their Tours.
In the 2008 Tour the best team is also a ‘Great Team'. Unlike Tour teams before it, CSC is a very different animal. They came to the Tour with at least two potential GC winners. However, unlike almost every other great Tour team before them, CSC is not comprised of one great man supported by a collection of competent domestiques. CSC is a team of champions. Together this team has won just about everything during its existence. Everything that is except the Tour.
Jens Voigt leads on the mighty Tourmalet [ Image ©: www.gazzetta.it/AP ]
A few days ago we saw CSC string out the bunch as riders like Fabian Cancellara and Jens Voight imposed an horrendous pace on the peloton up the slopes of the mighty Tourmalet. Yesterday as the race reached its climax CSC sent the whole team to the front in team time trial fashion. You had to feel a little sorry for everyone else as Arveson, O'Grady, Cancellara and Voight took it in turns to ride themselves inside out. The bunch, or what was left of it, was a sorry sight spread out all over the mountain. In the end only the GC elite were left to do battle amongst themselves.
One cannot really call any of the CSC riders ‘domestiques', at least not in the generally accepted definition of the word. Arveson for example claimed a great victory in Stage 11. This group of riders will support the rider best suited for any given day. Riders like Cancellara and O'Grady have won classics like Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. Yet these great champions do not to hesitate to support other team objectives.
Yesterday this awesome group of riders placed the Brother's Schleck and Carlos Sastre in the elite Yellow Jersey group. Three CSC riders, whereas the Yellow Jersey himself was isolated as the lone representative of his team, as were the other riders with him.
For a very small country Luxembourg is very rich in cycling talent. Frank Schleck currently wears the Yellow Jersey and his brother Andy is in 17th place. These two CSC riders always work together, and Andy in particular terrorises the peloton with his searing attacks.
But let us not forget Kim Kirchen, Team Columbia. This Luxembourger was race leader for Stages 6 to 9 and still remains a possible overall winner with just a 2m 48s deficit back in 7th place.
1958 Tour winner, Charly Gaul in Yellow.
xx The Angel is about to leave the Eagle on the Luitel (1958 Tour, Stage 21)
Should Frank Schleck or Kim Kirchen win the Tour then all of Luxembourg will explode in celebration. Naturally their last Tour winner, “The Angel of the Mountains” is being fondly remembered as Luxembourg 's last Tour winner in 1958. Read the CyclingRevealed account of one of his great Tour exploits here: The Angel of the Mountains.
If you are a cycle racing fan (and you must be if you are reading this!), then we hope that you have visited the Tour at least once. To stand on one of the great Cols or to witness a major bunch sprint live is an experience that you will never forget. But most of all as you travel around France it will be the people that will leave you with numerous indelible memories. July is holiday time in France and the Tour is an excuse for one huge backyard party covering the entire country. Like a great wine, immerse yourself in its ‘bouquet' and savor the unique life time experience. Quite simply place a trip to the Tour at the top of your own bucket list! Whichever Tour you choose to visit will truly be a great Tour.
Kim Kirchen shows his great joy of wearing the YJ in a Great Tour
[ Image ©: www.gazzetta.it/AP ]
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