So the 2012 edition of the single greatest annual event in European sports is over. Here's a quick little recap.
Bradley Wiggins won the yellow jersey. Teammate Chris Froome came in 2nd. The closest non-Sky rider to the top was 3rd place Vincenzo Nibali, a full 6:19 behind, so it wasn't even close. Not remotely close. Mark Cavendish won 3 stages, including Sunday's final stage on the Champs Elysees, becoming the first rider ever to win four times on the final Sunday in Paris and moving to 4th all-time in individual stage wins with 23 overall (passing Lance Armstrong along the way). The team was absolutely dominant throughout, controlling every stage for Wiggins, first on the flats with Christian Knees and Edvald Boassan Hagan (who was an absolute machine throughout), then with Michael Rogers and Richie Porte up the mountains, and then finally when needed (and it was only a few brief moments on a couple stages), Chris Froome was there to chase down any attacks so that Wiggins barely broke a sweat cruising around France to the victory. Yes, Team Sky's dominance ruined my viewing pleasure at this year's event but they were definitely winners.
In the 99-year history of the Tour de France, Wiggins became the first British champion. And Froome became the first to come in 2nd place. Many in Britain are calling this the greatest triumph in British sports since the 1966 World Cup. OK, maybe only Phil Liggett was calling it that while commentating but yes, the nation has to be more than a little proud of its athletes. Even if they all kind of hate Team Sky owner Rupert Murdoch. Oh, and for good measure, this coming Saturday is the Olympics Road Race in London, where Cavendish will be the heavy favorite in a course set up for sprinters so that the Brits can get the Olympic gold medal. And Cav will have Wiggo and Froome as part of his lead out train. So yeah. It likely won't be close. And next Wednesday, Wiggins will be the co-favorite along with defending Olympic champion Fabian Cancellara for the Olympics Time Trial race. Actually, if Wiggins is still on the same form he was on the past three weeks, even Spartacus himself (Cancellara) may not be able to beat him.
Tejay Van Garderen
The 24-year-old American won the White Jersey for Best Young Rider by finishing 5th overall in the race. Tejay was expected to be there to help defending champion and BMC teammate Cadel Evans in the mountains but he ended up ahead of Cadel when the Australian fell apart in the final week in the Pyrenees. Tejay is the first American to win the White Jersey since Andy Hampsten in the mid-80s and the future of American cycling suddenly looks very bright indeed.
The 23-year-old Slovakian came to his first Tour this year and not only won 3 early stages but dominated the Green Jersey competition to such a great degree that the competition was over before the final week. His winning margin of 421 to 280 for Andre Greipel was the greatest since 1982. So yeah. An impressive debut. He finished second on the final stage (to the fastest man in the world) for good measure. He's not quite as fast as Cav or Greipel yet, but he will be a force in not only this race but all the spring classics and anything outside of big mountains for years to come.
He was injured and lagging at the back of the peloton or behind it for the first week and openly questioned whether he would be able to continue, one year after his amazing 4th place finish. But he was the story of the last couple weeks, winning 2 stages and the Polkadot Jersey as king of the mountains, an impressive performance for a second year in a row.
Along with Voeckler's 2 stages and Polkadot victory, French cyclists won a bunch of stages and got two riders in the top 10 for the 2nd year in a row (Pierre Rolland and Thibaut Pinot this year). Pinot came in 2nd in the Young Rider jersey competition behind Tejay and both he and Rolland were up with the best climbers in this year's Tour, signalling that for the first time in forever, the French may have a chance to win a Tour (or at least compete for one).
Spartacus won the prologue and held onto the yellow jersey for the entirety of the first week, giving his embattled team something to rally around. Of course, he eventually ducked out to train for the Olympics and his team leader got kicked out for alleged doping (see below) so this is really a questionable "win". But Cancellara did come in 2nd (to Wiggins) in the first time trial, proving that he is back from his bad injury from the spring and the co-favorite at least to defending his Olympic gold.
Yes he finished over 6 minutes behind Wiggins. And yes, his few attacks did not really lead to much, as either Froome or Wiggins basically matched him. But he did finish third overall, a podium performance he's never come close to before in the Tour, and he was one of only two riders actually attacking Team Sky on the big mountains (along with Jurgen Vandenbroeck) after Cadel imploded, Frank Schleck did worse, Sammy Sanchez and Robert Gesink got injured, and Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck were sitting at home watching on TV. Nibali was the only hope for all us fans to have someone -- anyone -- to challenge the obvious dominance of Team Sky and he tried, several times, even though his attempts really didn't work.
3 stage wins for the German sprinter, including finally beating Cavendish in a sprint at the Tour.
Team RadioShack had another bright spot in the 41-year-old Voigt, who was in several breakaways and in the final 3-man break that nearly held off the charging Sky / Cavendish train on Sunday's final stage. Chapeau to Jens, who is retiring this year.
Chris Anker Sorensen
Jens' old Saxo Bank teammate was the only highlight for Team Saxo Bank as he went on the attack on nearly every mountain stage, getting into multiple breaks and (unfortunately) coming in 2nd multiple times. But he finished 14th overall and won Most Aggressive Rider, staying in the race to the very end despite nearly severing two fingers on his wheel on Stage 18 and requiring a skin graft when he gets back home.
This was pretty much the worst Tour de France I've ever watched in terms of suspense. Coming into the race everyone knew how strong Team Sky and Bradley Wiggins were supposed to be, with only defending champion Cadel Evans thought of as having a shot to challenge. After the first time trial at the start of the 2nd week -- when Wiggins bested the best time trialist in the world, Fabian Cancellara, by over a minute and Evans by a couple, it was pretty clear that Wiggins was stronger than we even suspected. Of course, Froome also became quite obviously dominant as soon as the mountains appeared and as the would-be contenders faded from view, the hopes that Nibali or Vandenbroeck could pull back the massive time in the mountains needed to best Wiggins' time trial skills became slimmer and slimmer until they entirely disappeared. The only saving grace was that the lack of GC contender fireworks left most of the mountain stages open for other non-contending riders to succeed, and individual flourishes by Pinot, Voeckler, and Lulu Sanchez were all highlights of the race for me.
A year ago, Andy and Frank were standing on the podium together, 2nd and 3rd to the amazing performance of Cadel Evans. This year, Andy missed the Tour altogether with a pelvis injury while Frank showed up out of shape (not expecting to ride it) and then got tossed for alleged doping, which he will obviously appeal, the case will drag on for months if not years, and he will almost definitely end up serving a suspension (as we've seen in nearly every other case). They are reportedly on the outs with their personal funder, who started Team Leopard in 2011 and then merged with Team Radioshack this year, a team that itself had its own doping issues. Not good times. Hopefully with a new team in 2013, Andy will be back to challenge Contador and Wiggins in what has to be a much better Tour.
I hesitate to put Cadel here because he clearly was not on top form, for whatever reason (the team said he had a stomach virus right before his Stage 16 debacle), but he did fight valiantly and never gave up. But it was really tough to see him get passed on the final time trial by his teammate Van Garderen, who started the stage 3 minutes behind him. One year ago, Cadel was having an otherworldly time trial to wrestle the yellow jersey off of Andy Schleck. This year it was pretty sad. He vows to be back in contention next year.
Robert Gesink was supposed to contend for the overall title but a bad crash and the resulting injury forced him out of the race. Same for 4 of his teammates. Laurens Ten Dam and Luis Leon Sanchez soldiered on, entering several breakaways in the final week (Sanchez even winning a stage) but overall it was yet another disappointing year for Rabobank at the Tour.
Team manager implicated in the latest Lance Armstrong doping controversy. Frank Schleck with a positive A sample. Somehow winning the team competition but having no single rider anywhere near challenging for a stage in the mountains despite having the most riders up in the final group in all the mountain stages. Haimar Zubeldia came in 6th overall, Andreas Kloden 11th, and 40-year-old Chris Horner 13th. Maxime Monfort also made the top 20. But none of them made any difference whatsoever in any individual stage or in the overall race. Outside of Cancellara's week one in yellow, the team might as well not even have been there. And it probably will exist no more after this year, leaving the U.S. with only two teams.
Speaking of U.S. based disappointments, Team Garmin lost its co-leaders Ryder Hesjedal and Tommy Danielson in crashes and never really recovered. Sprinter Tyler Farrar was a no show. Christian Vandevelde tried for some breaks and made one that held to the end, only to be nipped at the line by Lulu Sanchez. Only David Millar's solo break win salvaged a thoroughly disappointing Tour for the team that shocked the world by winning the Giro in May.
Team Orica GreenEdge went all-in on multiple stages for sprinter Goss, both for individual stages and for the green jersey competition. But Goss kept falling just shy of Greipel and Cavendish in the sprints and fell way behind Sagan in the green jersey when he made an illegal lurch to block the Slovakian in a somewhat meaningless battle for 7th place on a stage won by a breakaway. That left Goss hopelessly behind and the team without anything left to ride for.
The crash that knocked him out of the Tour also knocked him out of his opportunity to defend his Olympic Road Race title next week, which is disappointing to say the least. And Sammy's absence as a potential co-conspirator to Vincenzo Nibali in attacking Wiggins on the mountains and descents definitely hurt this race.
The Olympic gold medal-winning sprinter was apparently on hand in Paris and they had him give the White Jersey prize to Tejay (they typically have the ambassador or some other notable figure from the country of each jersey winner give them the prize) but Greene was not expecting the honor and not at all dressed for the occasion. Wearing a graphic T-shirt and shorts, Greene looked completely out of place on the podium among the dignitaries and had this to tweet afterwards.
@pixelcrisp @dwuori I did not know they were going have me give anything out. But next time I will be prepared for anything.
God Save the Queen
Nothing could save Lesley Garret's screeching operatic version of the British national anthem. Not even Wiggins was a fan. The look on his face says it all.