Back to the stage. I'm going to do a brief recap of the stage, followed by my thoughts on the tour as a while. So, it was the slowest start to a stage every. I was doing a bunch of different things, so not paying too close attention. There were some hilarious moments, like the two Cofidis riders trading helmets with the motorcyclist and his passenger. All the joking around in the peloton, Cancellara drinking the champagne in one go and more. It was really fun to watch all of that. And then they hit Paris and the race began. It started hard and fast and it never quit, right up to the line.
It was one attack after another, with a couple of small breakaways trying to gain hold. Of course they didn't last, but we never expected them to. What was fun was being on the phone with my mother and talking to my friend Dorte about the stage as it was going on. We were yelling and shouting (well, they weren't and I was) and it was great. And, of course, my two boys did the obligatory attacks. Philippe Gilbert attacked far too early, but went out strong and gave it a great go. I was so proud of him to see that he didn't give up, no matter how many times he crashed. And, of course, it wasn't a stage until Sylvain attacked. And he gave it everything he had left. I think he timed his attacked just a little bit too late, he went at 3k to go instead of 2k, but who knows what would have happened.
It was, ironically, Sylvain's new team next year who eventually caught his break attempt. Quick Step finally got it together and strung out a decent enough train. Without Boonen and Bettini this tour, they looked lost. It showed every time they were in a sprint finish. Except, of course, for today.
1 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Quick Step 3.51.38 (37.04 km/h)And, somehow, they were strong enough. My guess is taht Steegmans was sick and tired of not winning a stage and he wanted it more. I was extremely happy to see Gerald Ciolek challenging for the win, and was a little disappointed when he didn't win. It was also super nice to see Freire up there. And what can you say about McEwen? It wasn't his tour, nor Hushovd's. And that's how the race ended. It was a fitting end to a crazy and wonderful tour. We didn't know who was going to win on that first day and we didn't know who was going to win today.
2 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Columbia
3 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank
4 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Silence - Lotto
5 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole
That's as good a transition as any, so now I'll move to the tour as a whole.
There have been complaints that this tour has been boring (people writing into Eurosport, mostly). And I have to disagree. It was anything but boring. Over at Podium Cafe, they ranked the past several years of the tour. I mostly agree, 03 is number one and 08 is number two. Which, yes, objectively that is completely true. But to me? Not in the least. This tour, the 2008 edition, is the best. And yes, it is because of Sylvain. I have waited for five years for him to win a stage of the tour, I have defended him repeatedly to people who think he's just not good enough. And in the end, I was right, which I always knew. I had faith in him and I'm glad that he proved me right, though I never doubted him. And see him on the podium in Paris as the most aggressive rider? One of the best things in the world.
But as a whole, this tour has been different than every other tour. Sure, there are some things that are the same. Several of the boys in the breaks were familiar faces, there were stages we'd seen before and dopers were caught. But on a whole, there were new players. One team that has been around for a while finally proved their dominance. No other team was as strong as CSC. They proved that they have the best team in the peloton. With so many national champions (Luxembourg, Denmark and Norway), plus the ITT World Champion, and two of the four jerseys (yellow of course, and the young rider). The only other team who was close to dominating was Columbia, with their five stage wins (four by Cavendish and one by Burghardt).
It was a good tour for American teams. And it was a good tour in general. Even with Evans' flaws, the podium is a strong one. Hopefully next year we'll see Christian Vande Velde on there. And, one last thought, I expect that it'll be Andy Schleck on the podium in yellow, not Frank. While Frank is a good cyclist, I firmly believe his brother is better.
I'll leave you with the top ten and a picture. Until next year!
1 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Team CSC - Saxo Bank 87.52.52
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto 0.58
3 Bernhard Kohl (Aut) Gerolsteiner 1.13
4 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 2.10
5 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30 3.05
6 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC - Saxo Bank 4.28
7 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 6.25
8 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team Columbia 6.55
9 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 7.12
10 Tadej Valjavec (Slo) AG2R La Mondiale 9.05