Final week of the Tour: Excitement, drama and the Champs-Elysées

By Joe Parkin, Guest blogger | Monday, July 27, 2009 6.29pm

Former professional racer-turned-author Joe Parkin is writing a few Tour de France blogs for BikeRadar, providing his keen perspective on the final week that was.

Parkin, author of A Dog In A Hat and a forthcoming book this fall, shares his perspective on the third and final week of racing which ended on the fabled cobbled streets of the Champs-Elysées in Paris July 26.

"Another Tour de France is in the record books, and as I sit here on the day after the whole circus gave us its grand finale, I'm left with mixed emotions.

For fans and riders alike, there's a bit of emptiness after a Grand Tour as we wonder what we’re going to do without our daily dose of bike racing. 

Watching the Saxo Bank guys setting a hard tempo during Saturday’s stage 20 to Mt Ventoux, I was reminded of a time when I was doing exactly the same work at exactly the same place.

No, it wasn’t the Tour de France, but I was working together with a domestique for one of the greatest Tour riders ever, Miguel Indurain, to try and set up our respective team leaders for attacks on the steep parts of the climb. At the hotel that night after the stage, Indurain himself bought me a beer as a “thank you” for the work done. He was leading the little race overall, but we had won the stage. 

Contador the Stoic

I can’t help but compare Alberto Contador with his fellow countryman Indurain, and in my comparison Contador falls well short of the mark. While Indurain’s five-year reign at the Tour sometimes gave us moments that were completely suspense-free, the brute strength with which he rode the Tour was incredible and inspiring.

I looked for that from Contador, but despite his incredible climbing and time trialing abilities, I just couldn’t find it. He was the best rider when the race started in Monaco and he was wearing yellow when the Tour arrived in Paris, yet his racing was passive/aggressive and uninspiring.

Perhaps Johann Bruyneel’s team orders are to blame for that. Perhaps the rivalries inside the team that was too good for its own good are to blame. Perhaps it’s his used-car-salesman-pistol-finger-salute thing. I don’t know, but it seems almost fitting in some way that the Danish national anthem was played for him instead of the national anthem of Spain. The Tour’s champion was overshadowed by other riders in the race, and I am left wondering if I should feel sorry for Alberto, dislike him, or just not care. 

If the Tour gave us one thing this year, it gave us hope for the future. 

Lethal Cavendish

Mark Cavendish is the most lethal sprinter I have ever seen. His Champs-Elysées finish left me speechless. I think Paul Sherwin’s description was most fitting when he said, “nobody else in the photo.” I, for one, hope Cav keeps his mind straight for years to come. He has the goods to be the best there has ever been as long as he can keep it upright, and keep collecting the big wins. 

Brothers Schleck

The Schleck brothers gave us some great GC animation, attacking again and again. Watching these guys joust with Astana was refreshing and exciting. It's really easy to stay put when you know your adversaries are good enough to follow every move you make -- and quite another to attack anyway. The band better start practicing the national anthem of Luxembourg because cocky young Andy is going to be claiming the top spot on the Tour de France podium very soon. 

Roche the Younger

Perhaps I'm just sentimental, but I was also pleased to see Nicolas Roche throwing himself into the mix. His father -- who won the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and World Championships in one amazing year back in 1987 -- was absolutely the smoothest-pedaling and most graceful looking bike riders I have ever seen. I sincerely hope that Nicolas will be able to enjoy some of the same successes. 

Feillu the angel

Brice Feillu’s solo victory on Stage 7 at Arcalis was topped off with an open-jersey victory salute. While every first-year pro knows that given the chance to finish alone, they must first zip up the jersey in order to look proper for the photos and show off their sponsor logos, the Tour de France rookie did absolutely nothing but enjoy his incredible moment in the sun, and I think the sponsors were even better off because of it.

The young man made it into the breakaway, raced intelligently and then left nothing on the table to collect a fantastic victory on top of a Col Hors Categorie. For me, that was the greatest moment of the 2009 Tour de France. 

Sir Lancelot

And then there is Lance...

Sometimes the old, Belgian-schooled curmudgeon in me dislikes the fact that Lance Armstrong has become, in many ways, bigger than the Tour itself.

Yes, for each one of us who know Eddy Merckx as the greatest rider of all time, there is a person out there who believes that Lance invented bike racing. But that is okay; look at the millions of people who tuned in to the Tour again. Think about the drama his return brought back to this bike race, and imagine what his return means to the future of professional cycling. 

At a minimum, Lance’s return to the sport and the announcement of his new Team RadioShack means that the seven-time champ will be around bike racing for a while yet. Whether he’ll be in the race, behind it in the car, or just nearby, the positive affect he has on bike racing -- as well as the sport and business of cycling -- should not be underestimated.

Personally though, I was just excited to have the man back in the peloton and could have cared less where he finished. I mean, to roll off the couch after three years at the age of 37 and be in contention to win yet another Tour ... incredible!

Chapeau to all the 2009 Tour's protagonists. I can’t wait until next year."

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