This year's Tour de France has been voted the Best Stage Race of 2012 in the Cyclingnews Reader Poll. It's the tenth time the French grand tour has been awarded the top spot. In second place was the Giro d'Italia, won by the Canadian Ryder Hesjedal while the dramatic win by Alberto Contador at the Vuelta a España earned the third-best race of the year.
In what was a historic moment for Great Britain and the Sky Professional team, Bradley Wiggins rolled into Paris in the Maillot Jaune and celebrated his victory by guiding his loyal Sky teammate Mark Cavendish to his fourth win on the Champs-Élysées.
Wiggins became the first Briton to win the overall classification at La Grande Boucle while his Sky team captured second spot on the podium via Chris Froome and six stage wins courtesy of Wiggins (two), Cavendish (three) and Froome (one). Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) finished in third place and appeared to be the sole rider capable of rattling the Sky team.
"I've got to get used to going into the history books now, but I'm just trying to take everything in today first. It's very surreal at the moment because this type of things [usually] happens to other people. You never imagine it happening to yourself," said Wiggins.
"It's an incredible achievement for the team. Four years ago we said we were setting out to win the Tour, but we haven't just done that, we've got second place as well and a handful of stages. Seven stages have been won by British guys this year so that's one in three - not a bad stat."
It may have appeared, at times, to be overly predicable as the Sky-lead bunch continued to unhitch general classification contenders throughout the three weeks but it was more than just a ‘Sky Show'. The race may have lacked the suspense and excitement of last year's race won by Cadel Evans however, this year's edition served up plenty of drama, disappointment and elation.
Fabian Cancellara was the rider of the first week. The RadioShack-Nissan rider won the opening Prologue, putting the disappointment of crashing out of the Spring Classics behind him with a brilliant ride through Liège's 6.4km race against the clock. However, the real standout performance and sign of things to come was Wiggins who fell just seven seconds short of overhauling the former world time trial champion Cancellara.
Cancellara and his RadioShack-Nissan teammates defending the overall lead with valor throughout the treacherous first week. Crashes and nerves lead to numerous GC contenders with time to make up or were forced out of the race but the Swiss powerhouse would concede the lead only when the first GC showdown occurred. His time in the Yellow Jersey would end on Stage Seven as Wiggins took over the mantle. It was a position he would not relinquish at any point in the race.
At that point the 2011 winner Cadel Evans was still in contention but it soon became clear the defending champion was not at the same level as his previous attempt. Evans lost significant ground in the first big test on the Stage 9 time trial and with his younger teammate Tejay Van Garderen blitzing his leader and Evans losing nearly two minutes to Wiggins, a repeat win was essentially over.
While the GC was slowly becoming Sky-heavy, Peter Sagan proved his position as one of the world's best riders, in the sprints and tough finishes. Not only did the young Slovak take three stage wins before the first rest day but he was on a mission to capture the green jersey. His escape on Stage 14 from Limoux to Foix was incredible and gave a glimpse of what he is capable of achieving in the coming years.
The dynamic Europcar duo of Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Rolland came into the race apparently not in the form to achieve a similar level of success as the previous year but they put on a show nonetheless. They both won a stage a piece and Voeckler fought bravely to win the King of the Mountains classification.
The French were also enjoying the emerging talent of Thibaut Pinot from the FDJ-Big Mat squad. His attacking nature was rewarded with a fine solo victory on Stage 8 while his countryman Pierrick Fédrigo took the fourth stage win for his country later in the Tour.
Many had expected the Spaniard Alejandro Valverde to be a major factor in the race but clearly his fitness was up to challenging for the overall after a extended period away from competition. The rider who had returned from a anti-doping suspension in January this year would pick up a stage and instead focus his energy on his home tour, the Vuelta - which finished third in the Reader Poll.
The final three stages belonged to the Sky team and while Wiggins' victory was arguably lacking in the panache demanded by the local crowd, he was a most deserving winner of the 99th edition.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Tour de France||33.24%|
|3||Vuelta a España||23.14%|
|4||Amgen Tour of California||6.45%|
|5||USA Pro Cycling Challenge||6.27%|
|7||Critérium du Dauphiné||0.92%|
|10||Tour de Romandie||0.23%|