This year is the 100th Tour de France, and although Lance Armstrong’s drug use can’t help but come to mind it’s severely outmatched by the sheer scale, drama and pageantry of literally the only sporting event that I watch (I don’t watch the Olympics, possibly because it’s lacking in ancient castles perched on sharp-edged mountains beside the races).
Here’s my personal highlights so far:
The two-year old Australian team (Orica GreenEdge – developed the year after the Australian leader of team BMC, Cadel Evans, won the tour) started day one with a comical (and potentially deadly) saga: their team bus was stuck fast under the finishing banner as the riders raced towards the line. Bits of the bus were coming off; the fire department was on the scene and helpless; the riders were advised over race radio that the race would finish three kilometres early (some heard the warning and some didn’t). . . . and then it cleared up just in time.
Only days later, with literally centimetres to spare, an Orica GreenEdge rider – Australian Simon Gerrans – JUST BARELY won a stage (ie he came first that day). This was a huge boon for the team.
The following day, Orica GreenEdge won the fastest team time trial ever in the Tour de France by a fraction of a second. . . which made Simon Gerrans the overall fastest thus far. That meant he got to wear the incredibly coveted yellow jersey (and it also meant that the team would take the lion’s share of on-road pacemaking responsibility while he had it).
He kept it the next day. The day after that, he gave it up – by choice – having worked out that if he dropped back a few places at a crucial moment, his own team-mate Daniel Impy would get to wear the yellow. Daniel Impy is the first South African – the first African – to wear the yellow jersey – and apparently all South African cyclists wore something yellow that day to celebrate.
In other news, on the sprinting side, Marcel Kittel won the first stage (which meant he got to wear the yellow jersey on day 2), Mark Cavendish won a stage (he’s won more stages than anyone ever and is a rather unpleasant but intensely skilled rider), and his ex-team-mate Andre Greipel also won a stage (which made me happy, because I like Greipel – partly because he has a history of frantically pedalling after Cavendish and/or getting left out of the Tour altogether).
And then came the mountains – when middle-of-the-range teams like Orica GreenEdge drop back and the overall contenders and mountaineers come to the fore. On the first day, Chris Froome of team Sky (the same team that won last year – Froome was in a supporting role then, and came second, with observers wondering if he should have been the team’s choice to win) shot ahead, leaving serious contenders like Cadel Evans behind by minutes – in Tour de France terms, a huge amount. Australian Sky team member Richie Porte was instrumental in helping him (just as Froome was instrumental in supporting overall winner Bradley Wiggins last year).
Many people, myself included, concluded that Chris Froome would win, Richie Porte would come second, and perhaps Alberto Contador would come third. On the very next day, however, Richie Porte fell back a huge amount, and Froome survived with barely any help from his team. Tomorrow is a rest day, so either team Sky will recover and soldier on – or Froome will try to win alone, and will certainly fail.
We’ll wait and see!