Sunday, July 22, 2012

Deuxième Semaine et Troisième Semaine: le Tour de France

Another July ebbs, another Tour ends. I wish I could have watched more of the coverage in these last two weeks, but what I did catch was, as it is every year, amazing, unbelievable, and inspiring. Since I have no memory of the first American winning the Tour (I was seven), I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to watch the first Englishman win. To see Wiggins stand alongside his compatriot Froome on the podium is remarkable; even more remarkable was seeing all four members of the British Olympic cycling team win TDF stages! (The other two being David Millar and Mark Cavendish, bien sûr).

Other highlights included Valverde's stunning solo breakaway and stage win in the Pyrenees, Wiggins leading out his sprinters in several stages (I like seeing the maillot jeune put himself in this position), Thomas Voeckler winning the King of the Mountains jersey, Tejay Van Garderen win the best young rider jersey, Jens Voigt leading a breakaway on the Champs-Élysées, Clean Bottle boy in the Pyrenees, and Cadel Evans proving himself to be the ultimate exemplar of good sportsmanship, every single day, no matter how much time he lost and how many arbitrary misfortunes he suffered.
A soon-to-be victorious Valverde, Norwegian fan club in tow
(photo credit Sirotti, RoadCycling.com) 
As for the tacks on the road, Frank Schleck's positive test sample, the specter of USADA's investigation, among other stains on the 99th TDF--it's hard to know what conclusions to draw. Both good and bad phenomena occur on every Tour, and there's no predicting what shape they will take or whom they will affect. Ultimately, however, the spirit of the Tour prevails, and I can think of no better example to prove my point than the sight of George Hincapie, riding in his seventeenth and final Tour, leading the peloton onto the Champs-Élysées, an honor reserved for the team of the maillot jeune, but conceded to Big George by Team Sky today in honor of him and his tremendous career.  He never won a Tour--or a Giro, or a Vuelta--and he never led a team as a GC contender. He served instead, for nearly two decades, as a domestique...which is another way of saying that Lance, Alberto, and Cadel are Tour champions because of George Hincapie.
Hincapie leads a true victory lap
(photo credit Casey B. Gibson, Velo News)
Fifty-two weeks sounds like an eternity, but I know that time will fly between now and June 29th, 2013, when the Tour commences in Corsica. In the meantime, I will remember--and this is perhaps the sweetest memory of all--that Phil Liggett lived to see and to call a Brit win the Tour de France, and to hear the dulcet notes of "God Save the Queen" soar above the Arc d'Triomphe. Vive le Tour!
God Save Phil and Paul
(photo credit NBC Sports)

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