so another tour de france is over. what am i going to do at 7pm each night instead of watching the highlights?!
if you've not wrapped you head around it it may just look like a bunch of guys riding 3500km round france. but it's so much more. yes there's the overall race for the yellow jersey which simply goes to the rider who makes it in the least overall time. that was an exciting context this year. alberto contador won for the third time (and i suspect could well win another three). to win you need to be a good climber up the most ridiculous mountains - why anyone would even think of climbing them on a bike i have no idea! and you also need t be a good time trialist where time can be gained. the rest you can get away with. i actually miss the team time trial which seems to have been dropped from the tour. andy schleck proved this year that he will be a competitor who will push contador over the next few years. the gap in the end was a controversial 39 seconds, the time andy lost on a stage where he had a mechanical failure and contador didn't wait which would have been the thing to do according to the etiquette of the tour which says you don't attack the yellow jersey when someone has a mechanical failure.
then there's any stage win which is an achievement in itself - some are flat which end up either being won by a breakaway or sprinters. if there is a breakaway it is usually chased down and the sprinters compete for the line. they are basically a different kind of rider - power and strength rather than the lean agility of the climbers. mark cavendish, the manx missile, proved that he is simply the fastest sprinter winning 5 stages. remarkably this was after a bad start where everything seemed to go wrong. he wins when he gets in the zone by several bike lengths which i don't remember any rider being able to do in quite that way. he has now won 15 stages in total, more than any sprinter before and has years ahead of him. but the fascination is also how the teams get the sprinter to the line. each team has nine riders and cav is always at pains to say that whilst he wins the stages it's only because of the efforts of his team. because of wind resistance you need to tuck in the slipstream of riders in front who peel off one by one before the sprinter heads for the line. mark renshaw is cavendish's lead out man. he got thrown out of the tour for head butting a fellow rider whilst sprinting at 70km - no mean feat. i thought it was harsh - his lane was clearly being cut by dean who was putting his elbow across renshaw in highly dangerous fashion. but maybe the third head butt was one too far! that cav could still win stages without his lead out was also amazing.
when we first started watching the tour british cycling was nowhere. now cav is one of many good british riders. will team sky be able to produce someone able to compete for the yellow jersey itself in the next few years? who knows...
there are other contests - points, king of the mountains, team, and young rider.
the scenery is breathtaking across france and the commentary both brilliant and hilarious. i still think it's the single most difficult sporting event there is.