Looking at Sky's dominance, Voeckler, and the those that called it an easy Tour
Three Tommies on the podium in Paris. Who would have bet on that a few years ago, with the French and the British fighting over who'll have the most stage wins, c'est fantastique. Vive le Tour will be ringing round households across the Hexagon and thanks to everyone's favourite Europcar rider thrashing himself mercilessly they won't even be cursing the arrival of the Sky machine.
As much as I'm happy to see two Brits make history at the top of the GC I'm equally glad it's Tommy Voeckler who will win the mountain classification. Cycling needs big personalities and Tommy V is up there with the best of them, it's been a tradition that climbers are a little bit crazy and I'm sure he'll bring back a bit of popularity to the neglected spotty jersey.
Watching him set about his victims after each rest day has been a lesson in sheer bloody mindedness, not only for the aggressive riding but for the passion he throws into each pedal stroke and the variety of facial expressions that happen as a result. Psychology students could have a field day with what's going on in his head. It got me thinking of the ultimate nightmare situation: there you are in the break barely having survived the selection process that entails, and your companions de jour are Tommy V, Jens Voigt, LL Sanchez and Peter Sagan.
All day Tommy would be talking to you, an evolving mix of encouragement, heckling, shouting and moaning, Jens would be riding like only he can, probably spurred on by a never ending version of Sandstorm by Darude being played down to him through his own channel on the team radio. Luis León Sánchez would be figuring out when he was going to catch you eating or drinking and if none of that cracks you before the finish then Sagan would monster the sprint. Therapy would be needed.
And another thing, you know those cheesy expressions, stuff like pain is temporary - glory is forever, walk the line, the kind of stuff you find on cereal packets and over marketed special editions, well I wouldn't be surprised if Thomas Voeckler had none of that banality on his top tube for inspiration. He's more likely to look down at a version of Gordon Ramsey's omelette recipe as his thoughts for the day. Excellent and thank you for the show.
Moving on to the other Tommies, Bradley and Chris, and the accusations of it's been an easy/boring Tour. Let me tell you I did a few TdFs and none of them were easy. None. When it's was a flatter course the speed was ridiculous and when you did reach the mountains everyone was frazzled by the tension and the crashes.
If it was a hillier edition you ended up frazzled just the same, worn out by the heat, the climbing and descending, so when you did get to the so called sanctuary of a flatter stage the sprinters teams took their revenge. There are no easy Tours. What Sky has done is control the situation to their strengths. They came with a plan and stuck to it, nobody has been able to challenge because they as team have ridden so fast that you can't attack.
Even hanging on has needed serious pain management. It might look boring at times but it's not easy to do and remember they didn't make the route, they just used it to their advantage.
Wiggins’s emergence may look robotic to some people but it takes a serious amount of work to reach that level, not just from him but everyone around him. The sheer concentration needed to always be in the front, always paying attention is awesome and that's what impressed me the most: no mistakes, no bad moves. Admittedly Froome has thrown a couple of toy spanners into the machine but he signed up for position and no amount of arm waving and theatrical playing with the earpiece will change that. If anything he'll just come across as stroppy. So a bit of decorum please, take note of how David Millar conducted himself after his stage win if you need some clues.
So for the grumblers, remember as an outsider you don't see the dreary days in November doing hill repeats on a big gear or the gruelling sessions perfecting that time trial position. If it really was simple then everyone could be a pro bike rider. You are welcome to try.
Respect goes out to Cadel Evans for going down fighting, some years just aren't that great but BMC can take hope from Tejay van Garderen's performance, likewise at FDJ with Thibaut Pinot, still up there at the end of the third week at only 22 years of age. Liquigas can't be disappointed with their Tour either. Sagan wrapped up that points competition in a convincing manner and Nibali has reminded us that Italian cycling still exists.
It'll be interesting however, to see what Merckx has to say about Belgian stage racing prospects on Monday morning.
The expected script for the last three days? Friday: last desperate chance for one of the 13 unsuccessful teams to win a stage and utter mayhem for the first hour until the break goes.
I think the Tommies will let those less fortunate have this one.
Saturday, Wiggo wins the time trial in yellow, saliently proving the point and Sunday the traditional procession onto the Champs-Élysées for a bunch sprint. In that scenario it's a toss up between the 22nd for Mark Cavendish, the growling beast that is Griepel or another Sagan celebration to reinforce that times they are a changing.
- Robert Millar
Robert Millar was one of the last pure climbers of the Tour de France, winning several stages in the mountain stages and finishing fourth overall in 1984. He is also the only English speaker to have ever won the prestigious polka-dot jersey climber's competition jersey. Millar retired in 1995 but has continued to follow the sport closely. He was often critical of the media and quickly cuts through the excuses and spin to understand why and how riders win and lose.
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