[From the Daily Mail]
On Friday, I wrote in Manx Missile Miracle about Mark Cavendish’s stunning sprint victory in the Tour’s ante-penultimate stage, on the ride into Brive-la-Gaillarde. What a sight, with overall leader and teammate Bradley Wiggins leading the way, then handing leadout duties to fellow teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen. Cavendish finally took over with a few hundred meters to go, catching up to and then passing Luis-León Sánchez and Nicolas Roche, then holding off Matty Goss and Peter Sagan.
Three days later, the Tour is over for 38 hours and I’ve said no more. What happened? Well, in the three hours after the Tour ended, when I could have been preparing a final post, I was instead watching golf’s Open Championship, which was so depressing that I will say no more. Then, hours later than we should have, we headed out the door and drove to Walla Walla, in southeastern Washington, where we spent the day today visiting Walla Walla Valley wineries. All of this has gotten in the way of Tour blogging. Let me take a moment to wrap up this year’s Tour.
Saturday was the closing time trial, the last opportunity for anyone to move up or slide down the overall standings. It was exciting, as all time trials are, but with little consequence. The two dominant riders of the Tour, Wiggins and fellow Sky rider Chris Froome, already placed first and second overall, and already having placed first and second in the first time trial, repeated those positions, far ahead of the rest of the field. Of special note was Wiggins’ performance in picking up 1’16” on Froome, thereby quieting many of us who have wondered if Froome were in fact the stronger rider. Perhaps in the mountains, but probably not enough so to have beaten Wiggins if allowed to ride for himself rather than in support of Wiggins. In any case, as I wrote the other day, we’ll never know, so it doesn’t matter. They were far and away ahead of the rest of the field, and that will have to do.
Young US rider Tejay Van Garderen looked to be riding an outstanding time trial himself, but lost time to the leaders in the later stages, finishing 7th on the day and closing the gap in the overall standings on Jurgen Van Den Broeck, but VDB remained over a minute ahead of Tejay, holding onto 4th overall, with Tejay 5th. The one big surprise was that Cadel Evans, an outstanding time trialist (he won last year’s Tour in the closing time trial, wiping out the overall lead of Andy Schleck) showed that he is way off form, evidently from illness, finishing several minutes back of the leaders on the day and slipping overall from 6th to 7th behind Haimar Zubeldia.
And that was that, the final sorting out of the overall positions, leaving just yesterday’s ride into Paris, ceremonial as far as the overall standings were concerned but presenting one last chance for the sprinters to strut their stuff.
It’s always a thrill to see the peloton ride down the Seine into the city. Once they hit the Louvre, duck under, come back around the Rue de Rivoli, into the Place de la Concorde, and onto the Champs-Élysées, they pass the eventual finish line, which they will cross eight more times as they run off that many 6km laps. That’s when the stage gets serious, as riders break away for possible stage victories and the sprinters’ teams try to reel in the breakaways in order to set up their sprinting stars for final day glory.
But until then, they coast into town. As they did so yesterday, the camera took in views of the Eiffel Tower ahead, then began to circle around the neighborhood, and I suddenly realized I was going to see my sister’s building. There it was! That was cool. And then she called to ask if I saw it. I sure did. My niece is back in Paris for a few days. I asked my sister what she was doing and learned that she and her boyfriend had gone out to see the race for themselves, which transported me back 27 years to our honeymoon, when we were at my sister’s old apartment, in the same neighborhood, watching the Tour enter the city.
Why watch on TV? Gail and I dashed out, then my sister called from the window above to say that my then-just-two-year-old niece wanted to join us, so we waited for her. Then, off we went to the Champs-Élysées. Except my niece wasn’t moving fast. Gail brought her up slowly while I ran ahead. And there they were, riding up and down the Champs-Élysées. Bernard Hinault. Greg LeMond. Teammates in first and second, Hinault coasting home for his fifth Tour victory. Rudy Matthijs of Belgium would win the stage, but we could see none of that from our vantage point.
Returning to yesterday, the expected breakaway occurred. Then the reeling in of the breakaway, but scarily late, on the final lap. Then, as the peloton came out from the Louvre tunnel onto Rue de Rivoli one last time, just like two days ago, Wiggins himself, in the yellow jersey, moved to the front, Boasson Hagen, behind him, Cavendish in third. Wiggins dropped off, Boasson Hagen continued the leadout as they entered Place de la Concorde. On the final turn into the Champs-Élysées, Boasson Hagen swung wide, and Cavendish began yet another electrifying sprint. Matty Goss tried to close the gap, only to be passed by Peter Sagan. Neither could catch Cavendish, who won his fourth consecutive closing Tour stage.
In 48 hours, Cavendish had demonstrated that he is still the best sprinter alive. And Wiggins scored points too, having led out the sprint on Friday, won the time trial by a huge margin Saturday, and led out the sprint again Sunday.
The leading riders in all the usual categories were then sequentially honored, standing on the stage in ones, twos, threes, or as a team, with the usual backdrop of the Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe. At the end, Wiggins, Froome, and Vincenzo Nibali stood to be honored as the top three in the race, a British soprano singing God Save the Queen while wearing a wild, flowing Union Jack skirt. And then, bringing the festivities to a close, Wiggins addressed the crowd, assuring them that the raffle numbers would be drawn now, and asking them not to get too drunk. A final infusion of British character to bring a fine Tour to its close.
What do I do now? Forty-nine weeks to go.