Paris - 18 September 2009 - Special to SkiBikeJunkie from FCFNS - Andy Schleck today won his first Tour de France, taking the yellow jersey from former race leader Alberto Contador. In an interview with the press, the young Luxembourger commented "I knew the final time trial would prove pivotal. I'm not known for my time trialing ability, but I'm pleased to take the overall victory. To see me take the top spot on the podium from Alberto Contado[pe]r should come as a surprise to no one. He was curiously strong, but the best man has won the race."
Despite the race organizers' best efforts to have the three week event come down to the final climb up Mt. Ventoux, the penultimate stage turned out to be a real snoozer, making no difference in the overall. Rather than actually racing, the top six contenders were content to reshuffle positions by one or two, apparently not realizing that Manuel Garate did something that none of the second through fourth place riders were able to accomplish throughout the three week race: cross the finish line in first place.
Perennial flame-out breakaway artist and former yellow jersey wearer Thomas Voeckler posted his first stage win at this year's event and had this to say about the final climb: "these men call themselves GC contenders, but we can all see the outline of pink panties showing through their bib shorts. Real racers would rather fail spectacularly and gain the admiration of the whole of France than never attack and ride to a podium finish nobody will remember in two years." When asked to elaborate, Mr. Voeckler was unable to comment, as he was running late for yet another celebration in his hometown of Schiltigheim.
It was apparent watching the climb up Mt. Ventoux that everyone besides Garate, Tony Martin, KOM winner Franco Pellizotti, and Thomas Voeckler--who made a spectacular but short-lived and hardly-noticed attack on the lower slopes of the famed massif--has forgotten that second place in the GC is nothing more than first loser, but that a stage win is, in fact, a victory.
Apparently the GC leaders confused the most anticipated stage in the largest annual sporting event in the world with a Saturday group ride and were content to ride together, make sure a brother wasn't dropped along the way, and hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" as they crossed the finish line.
The epic disappointment that was the climb up Mt. Ventoux should come as no surprise to anyone, as the only thing epic about this year's tour was the whining. It all began before the Stage 1 TT when Jim Felt went to the UCI and whined about time trial bikes, specifically whether his would be legal. Next everyone who finished behind Lance Armstrong in Stage 3 whined about the crack that formed in the peloton, failing to mention the collective gape that was the pathetic effort of the 160 or so riders trying to chase down Columbia-HTC and a handful of friends of George Hincapie.
Stage 10 brought the biggest chorus of whines to that point in the race, as race directors, riders, and even commentator Paul Sherwin booed and hissed at the decision to ban race radios for all of two days. Forgetting that most racers in the world have never used a radio and that Ancquetil, Merckx, and Coppi managed to win a race or two without their benefit, the sobbing was enough that the planned second ban on race radios in stage 13 ended up in the rubbish bin.
Hincapie's earlier tipoff to a select few about the Columbia-HTC break was "repaid" when Astana, Garmin, and his own team chased hard on the closing kilometers of stage 14, keeping George out of the yellow jersey--though he'd only have held it for a day--by a mere five seconds. Once Big George started whining, he was not to be outdone. Thor Hushovd subsequently whined about Cavendish's tactics in the sprint, as Cav sat up early to maximize the gap to his teammate, ostensibly impeding Thor's futile chase of Cav for the 16th place points. Cavendish was then relegated in the sprint, losing what would have been the green jersey winning points in the process. Cav' of course whined right back, claiming Thor's green jersey was "stained."
The whining continued into the final time trial, when second place finisher Fabian Cancellara whined that Contado[pe]r won because he had the advantage of two motorbikes ahead blocking some of the wind. Although at this point any educated person is left to wonder if "two motorbikes coursing through the roads of France" was actually some sort of allegory for whatever Contado[pe]r had coursing through his veins.
Notably absent from the whining this year was epic whiner and excuse-maker Levi Leipheimer. It is assumed that Leipheimer felt he had nothing left to whine about after narrowly beating Christian Vande Velde and Denis Menchov in the tattered jersey competition, an annual award given to the racer with the worst bike handling skills, but not awarded in Paris since the winner rarely if ever makes it there.
Ordinarily it takes a fracture or two to take the tattered jersey, and Levi did not disappoint, deviating from the hackneyed clavicle fracture and giving the fans a real show by breaking his wrist. Vande Velde commented, "after winning the tattered jersey at the Giro, my priorities shifted to helping Wiggins on his way to his third loser placing, which after today I guess is actually a podium finish, though nobody will remember. I'm thrilled to see my countryman and frequent pavement kisser Levi win the tattered jersey in the Tour. Between the two of us, we do everything we can to ensure that the Euros never fully trust American bike racers to stay upright."
Leipheimer, reached from the hospital, added "while it is an honor to take the tattered jersey after coming so close in years past, I think once is enough. I've decided after my wrist heals, I'm going to work on my bike handling skills by racing the C flight at Rocky Mountain Raceway and following Dug Anderson as he descends American Fork canyon. I hear he flies down that road, especially when the pavement is moist. I'd like to be known for something more than my propensity to crash in the closing kilometers of big races, my most obvious legacy since nobody remembers the results of people who come close but don't actually win the biggest races."
As for Schleck's victory, though it will be a somewhat hollow one like Pereiro in '06, it will be a cherished win for the nation of Luxembourg and the all but 1% of the world's population who threw up a little in their mouths when they saw the embroidered pistol finger on Contadoper's hat on the podium in Paris. The collective annoyance with the young Spaniard should have been enough to disqualify him from the race on that basis alone, but unfortunately rules require something more objective, which was released today from the AFLD in the form of Alberto's doping control after the stage 18 time trial. While Contadoper has not been reached for an official comment, a team Astana spokesman provided the following:
"It should come as no suprise to anyone that Alberto was doping. How else does a 140 pound rider beat Fabu in a mostly flat time trial? For one thing, he rode for Team Astana, a team created for a known doper, Alexandre Vinokourov. Moreover Astana was formed from a legacy of doping teams, specifically the team where Alberto got his start, Liberty Seguros. Really the only surprise to anyone about our team's history is that Johan Bruyneel would agree to manage it to begin with and associate himself with an already tainted organization. Of course, Johan has always been desperate to win the Tour and coming to the 2009 event with two contenders isn't the only thing he's ever done to hedge his bets."
With Contadoper and DiLuca presumed to be serving two year bans, 2010 brings much anticipation that the final GC in the grand tours will be decided on the roads rather than in the labs for the first time in memory. Here's to hoping that while on the roads, the contenders remember that it is, in fact, a race. And that races are won with attacks.