Saturday, August 1, 2009

2009 Tour de France Postscript

Now that the 2009 Tour de France is over I thought I would throw out a few random thoughts and opinions. Please feel free to comment with some of your own.

For me, the 2009 Tour was yet another boring race in a series of boring TDF’s. About the only drama was waiting to see if Armstrong would crack. LA put in a fabulous effort, and to me it’s obvious that he is still the smartest and toughest guy out there. As far as the route, it was originally perceived as severely difficult. As it turned out, it must not have been, given how little suspense the route lent itself to.

Not only were the Pyrenees marginalized, the stages in the Alps were the most boring to watch in years. Not one “classic” HC col was used. Why didn’t we see at least one col such as the Galibier, the Croix de fer, Alp du Huez, La Madeleine, the Izoard, the Iseran, etc.? When all was said and done, the only two major and famous cols ridden in the entire TDF were the Ventoux and the Tourmalet, and the finish 70km after the top of the Tourmalet made that incredible climb irrelevant.

It would have been nice to watch a mountain top finish on the mighty St. Bernard, but the riders started the climb right out of their hotel doors, and once again the peloton rode “tempo” over the col.

Just what the hell was Andy Schleck thinking during this tour, especially on the penultimate stage finishing on the Ventoux? Worrying about trying to help your brother get on the podium by coaxing him to grab your wheel is more important than trying to win the Tour? Even if Schleck’s chances of dropping Alberto Contador were minute, I still would have rather watched that than Andy Schleck looking over his shoulder to see where Frank was the entire way up the climb. Maybe he should mount a bar end mirror!

Phil and Paul talk about young Andy Schleck definitely winning a Tour someday, but it won’t be until the 26 year old Contador is retired or tests positive. Contador is in an entirely different class, and he would already have three in a row if they would have let him start in 2008. Losing Johan Bruyneel will hurt Contador, but it’s likely that he will land with a very strong team.

As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Contador goes to Saxobank. Yes, I know he has an offer from Garmin Slipstream, but Saxobank has deep pockets, and Riis could not have been pleased with Schleck’s on the road thinking. Contador proved he’s not a team player, but he's also proved he can win, and that’s what counts. Riis is a very smart tactician and I have no doubt he could build a strong team around Contador. If Contador goes to Saxobank, look for the Schlecks to “decide” to ride for another team.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Andy and Frank Schleck are both class acts, and it was nice to see Specialized Bicycles get a legitimate second place finish at the TDF. I am a big fan of Specialized, and it has been sad to witness their bad luck on the Pro Tour over the last few years. The company seems to have the best intentions, but also horrible luck in getting involved with riders who ultimately are tainted by doping allegations. Schleck and Contador rode clean, didn’t they? It was a cleaner Tour, right? Surely Armstrong wouldn’t have taken the risk of being caught? With Danilo Deluca (second at this year’s Giro) testing positive, as well as a stage winner of the Tour, who really knows what is still going on.

Yes, I know second is not first, and yes, I know it’s not about the bike. Contador was so superior to the other riders that he could have won the race on a singlespeed Huffy tricycle.

It’s been almost 20 years, back to the Lemond and Hinault days, since we have had a rider win the Tour, then fail to win, and win again the next year or down the road. It’s that kind of back and forth battle that I find lacking in the tours over the last, well, the last 20 years.

Lance Armstrong will win the 2010 Tour de France. He has to, because if he doesn’t, not much seems to stand in the way of Contador winning many Tours in a row. It’s obvious that Armstrong doesn’t like Contador, and that the feeling is mutual. Armstrong is the only rider smart and strong enough (even at 38) to have a chance of beating Contador, and there is no doubt he will be motivated.

One thing we know for sure is that LA loves the limelight, and he won’t want it focused on Alberto Contador. My bet is that Armstrong figures out a way to beat him…or is at least close enough that we actually have some give and take real racing in 2010.

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