An even smaller USA presence this year than last contributed to the 2019 Tour de France– four riders to start and three of them to finish. It’s no longer the American experience it once was, but this is probably not what anyone in France is pondering right about now.
Much of the excitement over these past three weeks grew with the possibility this might finally prove once again to be a truly French sporting event– this is to say, that a Frenchman would win Le Tour. For more that half of this year’s 21 stages, the host country was in position for a GC victory. France had its very own “winner du jour” as Julian Alaphilippe wore le maillot jaune for the majority of days– in addition to his two stage wins no less. After 34 years, could this really be France’s time? The end was nearing as questions were mounting yet hope was building.
There’s long been talk of the French curse in professional cycling’s grandest three weeks. Alas, the curse appears to remain in play. We all know what happened, via physical skill, mother nature and all else– I needn’t retell it all here and now. Helmets off to Columbia, of course, where pride and celebration will no doubt make its mark. Still, I, an American, would really love to see France have its year. And with that, there will certainly be three weeks in July encore. Vive Le Tour!
Commentator Phil Liggett often reminded viewers throughout the past three weeks that there’s no shame in finishing last in Le Tour de France. Of course, surviving 21 stages to finish in Paris is always a feat for any rider. This year’s last-place finisher in particular has shown himself to be the most respected recipient of the “lanterne rouge” in recent cycling history.
Only five Americans competed in this year’s Tour de France out of 176 riders to start. The U.S. needed to make its mark on Le Tour once again, and, well… it happened. While the amazing Peter Sagan took three stages and survived a third-week crash to finish with his sixth green jersey, Philippe Gilbert climbed back up the wall over which he flew to complete the day with a broken kneecap, and the consistent-yet-cracking Chris Froome squeaked his way onto the final podium alongside his maillot jaune-winning teammate Geraint Thomas, the most impressive display of sportsmanship in my opinion, and that of many, came from this year’s holder of that lanterne rouge. My hat– or rather, my helmet– is off to Lawson Craddock, not only the first American in Tour de France history to earn this final designation, but also an inspiring fighter in the face of overwhelming physical, mental and emotional challenge.
At last, three typically grueling yet glorious weeks have seen their end. At last, it’s a very special viewpoint. And at last, good can come. C’est Le Tour, encore!
The biggest headline of the 2017 Tour de France thus far is not a happy one. In what many people, including myself, consider an overly harsh and undeserved decision, Peter Sagan has been ejected from the race. At the same time, Mark Cavendish is injured and out.
Barely halfway through the first week, two of cycling’s biggest names– my two favorite riders in fact– are gone. Suffice to say this Tour will not be the same, but as always it goes on without hesitation. Like it or not, the harsh reality of professional cycling prevails.
The controversial, fateful elbow moment came just before the stage 4 finish.
The month of July has come once again, which of course means there’s a certain cycling race getting underway in France. (Actually, it starts in Germany this year, but French soil isn’t far off.) Starting today in Dusseldorf, here we go with the 104th Tour de France!
Luckily for France, the one and only French stage win of this year’s Tour finally came on the third-to-last day, as young Romain Bardet climbed to victory on stage 19. Even luckier for France, this significant time gain pushed the 25-year-old Frenchman up into second place overall. As it turns out two days later, as a record 174 of the starting 198 riders crossed the final finish line of stage 21, and while Peter firmly retained the green jersey for his fifth consecutive year, France saw one of their own on the podium in Paris, right behind now three-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome. Another one, come and gone. C’est Le Tour, encore!
The day after stage 1 puts yellow on the back of Mark Cavendish, a brilliant stage 2 finish transfers that yellow onto Peter Sagan. For the former this marks his 27th career TDF stage win, while the latter finally enjoys his first such TDF victory du jour since 2013. Plus, both have now worn le maillot jaune for their first times in any Tour de France!
Then comes stage 3, and a second, photo-finish win for Cavendish! This brings him to 28 total TDF stage wins, surpassed only by the legendary Eddy Merckx. Meanwhile, Sagan gets to enjoy yellow for at least another day across relatively flat central France.
Altogether, my two favorites are off to memorable starts. Three down, 18 to go. Vive Le Tour! And Happy 4th of July to the mere five competing Americans!
The second rest day arrives just in time for “gorilla” Andre Greipel to recharge following his third win du jour of the Tour in stage 15, while Peter Sagan is forced to rest with that same old number after the historically dangerous descent of the Col de Manse takes him to the line of stage 16 in– you got it– second. That’s now five #2 finishes for the points-leading “green machine.”
Then come the Alps, along with further losses to the overall field. As American Tejay Van Garderen had been sitting in third place overall, on stage 17 he meets an illness-induced end before reaching this Tour’s highest elevation point on the Col d’Allos. Meanwhile, other-American Andrew Talansky (of only three in this Tour) notably finishes the day in second with a GC 12th place. A French 1-2 closes stage 18 in Saint-Jean-de-Maurine, as Romain Bardet takes his first-ever Tour de France stage win, with Pierre Roland shortly behind. The GC standings and Froome’s longstanding 3:10 lead still don’t change, that is until the following day. Defending champ Vincenzo Nibali, nearly written off in the first week, proves he’s back by attacking on the Col de la Croix-de-Fer, winning stage 19, and moving himself up to fourth place overall, while second place Nairo Quintana pulls ahead to narrow the gap on le maillot jaune by 32 seconds.
This feeds into the penultimate finish atop Alpe d’Huez, at the end of a final climb long predicted to shake up the Tour even further. A great day it proves for the French, as Thibaut Pinot ascends to a remarkable stage 20 victory, holding off the young Colombian in white who crosses the line in second while erasing another big chunk off that GC gap. As such, to keep it interesting if not exactly shaken up, Chris Froome begins the Tour’s last day with a lead of 1:12, down from 2:38, down from 3:10, certainly a humbled presumed winner.
As always, it all comes down to Paris. The champagne soon again shall flow!
And now comes a day to pause, relax and think– at least for those of us at home merely watching NBCSN’s daily broadcasts. Some might enjoy a history lesson once again, others might want to check-in on how Mark Cavendish is recovering, and even more– many more out there along the roads– might finally come to realize that a selfie before the oncoming peloton is just a bad idea. Altogether, we pause to consider what has been and will be amid the wonder of Le Tour de France. Personally, I happen to wonder if those Yorkshire sheep are still yellow!
Back to Day One: The spirit of le maillot jaune lives, at least 150 times!
Talk about defying sporting convention. One week ago– Sunday, September 15– marked an unforgettable moment in cycling history (fingers crossed). And then we waited, more or less along these lines:
The protocol looks something like this: Win a race, get kisses from the podium girls, shake hands with the Badger, and then wait for journalists to question the legitimacy of your performance. (VeloNews, 9/16/13).
Cycling’s 41-year-old Grand Tour champion!
Fortunately, aside from the “drug testing mix-up” that was quickly deemed no fault of his own, there’s been very little if any rumbling throughout the week about “legitimacy” in this case. As such it looks like we really can commend a remarkable accomplishment for what it is, even in a sport that at this point in time cannot be trusted, sadly yet understandably enough.
Those who see an age limit on athletic victory will probably want to reconsider their outlook. One week on, the headline can now be repeated with all the more confidence: 41-year-old American Chris Horner— close to 42 no less– has won the 2013 Vuelta a Espana. Not only is he the first American in history to capture Spain’s annual three-week cycling race, but the Oregon resident has also become by far the oldest rider ever to win one of cycling’s three Grand Tours– the other two of course Le Tour de France and Giro d’Italia.
Along with victory comes the defense, as expected. Assuming no doping in today’s supposedly “cleaner” era of cycling, which even after a week we must still believe on faith without proof, this unlikely victory a month shy of the winner’s 42nd birthday is just plain awesome! Chris Homer stands a true inspiration to all competitive cyclists who, both mentally and physically, are never too old! Thank you “Grandpa.”
From a chaotic beginning to a first-time evening end, along with everything good, bad, high and low spanning three weeks time, the 100th Tour de France has reached its always much-celebrated final destination. With the major standings in place, one big question of course remained to be answered at the last moment of stage 21: Would the Missile get his beyond record-breaking fifth consecutive win on Le Champs-Elysees?
The peloton arrives in Paris on a perfectly picturesque evening.
Yes, his goatee is green too!
Peter has his green, Nairo has his white AND his polka dots, the U.S. got a top-ten overall win even without any stage victories, and as we knew for a while would be the grand result, Chris Froome keeps yellow as the winner of the Tour de France. On the other end, fun-themed Orica GreenEDGE— seeing all nine teammates to the finish– includes 36-year-old rookie Svein Tuft in last place overall– a distinction Phil Liggett quickly reminded us today that for the feat of completing this 3404-kilometer journey, carries no disgrace whatsoever.
The final finish in Paris ends the 100th Tour.
As for Cavendish, certainly no disgrace for him either. It was close– very close— as his four consecutive Paris stage wins stand as a record not about to be broken, yet not to be added to today. He lost his would-be fifth by a bike length to none other than “new sheriff” Marcel Kittel.
Chris Froome takes the first-place podium on this Paris night.
The leading color of the evening’s celebration!
Altogether, another spectacular French summer display of professional cycling prowess has now come and gone, all the more colorfully concluded with Paris’ well-planned Centennial year celebration. Personally, I’m happy to have been able to stay in the cycling spirit with my own rides on every day of this Tour. More than ever I look forward to my own miles to come in the saddle– as well as those of the awesome pros!
A 41-year-old Tour de France competitor leading a stage is quite a reassuring sight for those of us cyclists nearing that age! Jens Voigt— the oldest rider of this year’s Tour– shed the breakaway and set the pace for more than 30 miles heading into the finish of stage 20. This impressive moment not to be overlooked, youth ultimately prevailed however. The very steady and poker-faced Nairo Quintana finally earned himself not only a stage win in his first Tour, not just the polka dot jersey in addition to the white jersey he was already wearing, but perhaps the biggest accomplishment for the 23-year-old Columbian, a bump up to second place overall. Maybe now this newest rising star of cycling will relax and show us some more personality, perhaps after a lesson or two from the master show-off himself, Peter Sagan.
Speaking of the colorful Slovak, green remains his main one as it has throughout this Tour, aside from his Cannondale kit of course. The green jersey that became Sagan’s after stage 3 and stayed on his back ever since, is sure to be his for keeps in Paris tomorrow, again! This champion sprinter– also 23 by the way– has the right to show off!
Last year’s second is becoming this year’s first. In other words, yellow today did not change shoulders. And on that note, this Centennial Tour is set for its grand finale, as 170 surviving riders– far more than last year’s number– get set to pedal their last 83 miles in this 2,115-mile journey, ending on Le Champs-Elysees as usual, while unusually– at night! I can’t wait to see this, while for other obvious reasons surely the 170 can’t either!
Le Tour seems always beset by interestingly timed natural challenges. Today it was torrential rain in the stage’s final miles, just enough to create a soaked and all-the-more dangerous last descent to the line. With no wet-road wipeouts fortunately, and the main breakaway group kept huddled together, the general classification remains mostly unchanged at the end of this penultimate day in the Alps. Just one more, Chris!
Not once, but twice it was on this most difficult day of Le Tour– an arduous climb up the famed Alpe d’Huez, followed by the obvious descent, and then to reach the finish of stage 18, encore! The much-anticipated second zigzagging ascent of the same mountain clearly put the D in difficulty.
Overtake on the final stretch.
Capping off unpredictability aplenty, this iconic Tour leg finally earned France its first stage victory of the year, following the near miss in Lyon. For a good stretch it looked like it might have been this Tour’s first American winning day with Tejay Van Garderen in the lead up that wall-hitting final climb. At just two kilometers to the line however, the result made itself clear, and a French win could not have come on a more celebrated day than this. Christophe Riblon is France’s well-deserved hero du jour.
France’s very own stage 18 winner!
What was I just saying earlier this week about spectators? Today’s extremely crowded finish has to exemplify cycling fans at their craziest, so much so that in sections without barricades, thousands of overly amped onlookers consume nearly the entire road! While this is not new of course, it leaves me pondering the detriment to riders such as Van Garderen in this case, who might have better maintained his line and his concentration if not for getting chased, slapped and screamed at in the face by such “spirited” fans. Their passion and energy notwithstanding, should not a bit more control in such crucial moments be imposed?
A hard day in yellow.
In any case, now second-place Contador still can’t catch the leader, even with Froome’s 20-second penalty today. Le maillot jaune remains on the same shoulders with a now more than five-minute gap and two remaining climbing days before the ride into Paris. As always, anything could happen yet– even France shouting “encore” for another stage victory!
The so-called “sunshine tour” came to an end today. After more than two weeks of dry weather throughout France, the rain arrived on stage 17, just in time to make the mountain time trial a bit more interesting.
As it happened, the Tour leader held off his main rival both today and overall, winning this second and final individual trial by a sizable nine seconds while increasing his yellow jersey lead by a significant 20 seconds. What was looking good for Froome is now looking even better!
Train stops riders in their tracks. (Click for video)
Rarely does the peloton come to a standstill, but today it did so momentarily for a passing train!
Stage 16 victory
In a single-man breakaway from the breakaway, Team Movistar’s Rui Costa scored a solo stage 16 win, 42 seconds ahead of his closest threats and more than 11 minutes ahead of the yellow jersey group. This does nothing however to change Chris Froome’s overall standing– his more than four-minute hold on le maillot jaune– despite apparently increasing efforts by his biggest rival, two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador. Even with the Alps to come, it’s obvious the leading riders are beginning to see Le Tour’s end.
On this second rest day of the 100th Tour de France, here’s a look at a special yet sometimes vexing thread of the race’s overall fabric: The spectators. Year after year, thousands upon thousands of colorful fans decorate the roadsides of France, at times problematically so but typically in good form and often laughingly creative.
I hope in years to come we see this many spectators along race routes here in the U.S., ideally less of a danger to riders of course, but definitely just as “spirited.” Surely some of them need the rest today as well!
On this Bastille Day, some 300 thousand die-hard spectators lined the path of what’s considered cycling’s most difficult climb. The fact it came at the end of Le Tour’s longest stage didn’t make the feat any easier.
Froome takes Mont Ventoux on Bastille Day.
As it happened, overall leader Chris Froome ascented to a first-for-Britain win atop the feared Mont Ventoux, not only retaining le maillot jaune which he snagged a week ago, but also earning the polka dot jersey while re-stretching his lead time to more than four minutes. Paris is clearly looking good for him, though of course an entire week remains. In any case, after the collective exhaustion of reaching this stage 15 summit finish, tomorrow’s second rest day must for everyone look as good as Froome did today.
Now more than halfway to Paris, Phil Liggett stands corrected. You CAN catch the Manx Missile at the line, and the man now with three Tour stage wins for the year was just the one to do it today in stage 12. As if Cavendish hasn’t already endured a difficult past couple days– being sprayed with urine and then uninvited to a post-Tour race event following his disputed role in that stage 10 near-finish-line wipeout– this chateau-dotted sprinter’s stage ended with what his critics surely consider the perfect revenge, even by a matter of inches.
Stage 12: A “New Sheriff in Town” as Bobke puts it!
It’s a solo chase of time, racing against nothing but the clock. And thus emerges one individual among individuals in such a time trial. Definitely a different game it is, seeing as yesterday’s winner now finished near last in stage 11. Today the victorious man– beating Le Tour’s current yellow jersey wearer by a significant 12 seconds– is the defending world time trial champion, Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Tony Martin.
Today’s winner of the first of two Tour de France individual time trials.
The peloton finally catches the day’s early breakaway.
As epic as the climbing stages typically are, they always reshuffle the deck. In other words, I was missing my favorite sprinters until their grand return today in quite a charmingly picturesque stage 10. Throughout this lovely 122-mile day of predominantly flat western countryside terrain– made for the likes of Greipel, Sagan and the famous Missile, among others– the stage winner remained an unpredictable prediction.
One down, two to go– referring to weeks, that is! And some will say the real Tour began today, if of course you equate “real” with the battle for le maillot jaune as intense climbing got underway with stage 8 in the Pyrenees.
A suspenseful, spectator-filled climb it was to the high point of Le Tour 2013, Col de Pailheres. Silly me for turning away from the television for a few minutes this morning to get ready for my own 70-mile ride, because before I knew it the leader of the day’s biggest climb was overtaken on the final climb to the finish.
No sooner did I wish for it yesterday than now it happened. After his series of second-place finishes, and thanks to incredible teamwork, Peter Sagan finally got his win today in stage 7!
By more than a bike length!
Meanwhile, what I hoped against two days ago came today after another crash and without much surprise. That is, Christian Vande Velde is out, his last Tour cut short under less-than-desirable circumstances.
Then of course, the maillot jaune that yesterday went for the first time in Tour history to a South African rider remains with him today, having been passed among teammates from Simon Gerrans to Daryl Impey. And from here we move on to the Pyrenees, where it could quickly change shoulders yet again!
Andre Greipel was right there, as was Peter Sagan of course. Today however, I was cheering for a much-anticipated victory by the Manx Missile. And sure enough, he came through! The awesome Mark Cavendish won stage 5 in Marseille, his first stage win of this year’s Tour de France and his 24th overall.
July 3, 2013: The Missile Takes It!
Meanwhile, after a crash about 10 miles from the finish line, let’s hope American veteran Christian Vande Velde is not too banged up to have to end his final Tour this soon. Sadly– and some will say harshly– another American, the already-injured Ted King, is now out by rule of the Tour judges for finishing yesterday’s team time trial seven seconds outside the time limit, despite his best-though-crippled efforts.
Altogether, for a long 142 miles complete with another multiple-rider crash just yards from the end, along with raw emotions spanning victory to elimination, this riveting day– the second longest– has exemplified Le Tour in truest form. From the making of winners to “the shattering of dreams and breaking of hearts” as Bob Roll reminds us, it’s on to tomorrow of course, still far from yet all the closer to Paris.
Why on earth does this continue to happen? It’s happened before, causing disaster. Fortunately THIS time disaster was averted, narrowly enough, as stage 2 of the 100th Tour de France rolled to an exciting and non-injurious finish on the Island of Corsica today. Still, this unforgivable moment had to be suffered, one that makes me more angry than anything else at those responsible for easily preventing such an occurrence.
Meanwhile, here on this last day of the first half of 2013– in my own modest fraction of road cycling– I’ve hit my easy mark. With the help of Strava, I’m right on course to hit 5,000 miles this year, narrowly enough.
Here’s to a week of truly triumphant finishes on relatively flat stretches of road!
Next come the mountains following this predominantly flat week, bringing with them a certain reshuffling of stage winners. In other words, we may not be seeing a fourth victory photo of young Peter Sagan right away. Stay tuned!
In addition to the Tour of California, another major professional cycling event currently taking place is of course the 2012 Giro d’Italia. One of my favorite racing powerhouses, “fastest man on two wheels” Mark Cavendish, continues to prove he’s beyond awesome in taking today’s Stage 13 in the northwestern town of Cervere, as we see above. No matter how it all ends on May 27, Cavendish and his numerous awesome competitors are already fueling my anticipation of this year’s Tour de France, come June 30!