Monday, July 31, 2006

Stage 20 - Sunday, July 23: Antony (Parc de Sceaux) - Paris Champs-Elysées, 154.5 km

I’ve put this off for long enough. Today’s the last day of July and the Tour has been over for over a week. A lot has happened, but I’m not going to address any of it. Instead I’m going to talk about my impressions and what hopefully will remain as the final standings.

The 2006 Tour de France started as it began, with Thor Hushovd crossing the line for an unexpected and very dramatic win. During the prologue he beat George Hincapie in the opening time trial-like stage. This time Hushovd outsprinted the top sprinter at the Tour, Robbie McEwen. Though Thor didn’t walk away with the green jersey, he bested McEwen by being the strongest in the sprint.

Though that wasn’t my deal result – I’d have liked Sylvain Chavanel or Philippe Gilbert to have won – it was pretty damn awesome. How did we get there, though? Through an exciting stage. It started, as all final stages do, with celebrations and joy. Eventually the attacks began and it looked, for quite a bit, like a break would take away the sprinting excitement. I was pretty pleased because Gilbert was in the break. But, as usual, it was not to be.

And unlike the drama of the final stage last year, where Vino took the dramatic stage win, nothing of the sort would happen this year. Instead it was a bunch sprint with Hushovd ending up on top. It was exciting and a fitting end to a rather different Tour.

The stage, by itself, was nothing overly special, but it was a lot of fun. Paul and Phil commented quite a few times on the fact that the cyclists seemed to be having the most fun they’d had in years. Probably because the winner was new and the top three were partly a surprise. But also because they could really relax and have fun. It was hilarious to watch.

The final podium, of course, was made up of Landis, Kloden and Pereiro (much to my delight, of course). I don’t know what will happen next year, but if things work out the way I hope, perhaps we’ll see Landis again. I’d like to see Kloden and Pereiro competing, but I don’t think Pereiro will be that lucky. He’ll be working for Valverde as long as he can. After all, no one expected Pereiro to even content. But there he is, second over all. Pretty awesome.

Before I get to the final jersey wearers, I’d like to mention the boy who ended up being winning the most aggressive rider of the Tour. His name? David De La Fuente. The Saunier Duval rider proved himself stage after stage, and although he didn’t remain in the KOM jersey, he did win most aggressive. And he deserved it. I’m quite proud of him.

Now onto the jerseys. In yellow, of course, was Landis. Followed by Michael Rasmussen as King of Mountains for the second year in a row. He did a great job, though poor De La Fuente had just run out of gas. In the green jersey, of course, was Robbie McEwen. I believe it’s his third time in green. He’ll never come close to the great Erik Zabel, but it’s a good showing – especially for Australia. And another surprise – the white jersey. Markus Fothen had worn the white jersey for most of the Tour, but not on the final stage. Though he’d often repeated that his goal was to work for his team leaders, it was clear that he’d wanted that white jersey. Sadly, it was not to be. And much to my pleasant surprise, it was the young Damiano Cunego who donned the white jersey on the final podium. After a dismal 2005 season due to illness, it’s nice to see Cunego finally reaching good form again. He won’t be back in ’07, but he will in ’08. And I really can’t wait at all.

All in all it was a good and exciting Tour. I loved every minute of it – all the lows and the highs. The doping is another matter and I might address it later – more than I have already. But we’ll just have to wait and see. I hope that things work out and the podium stands as is. If not, there’ll be a lot to talk about in the off season.

See you next year!

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