Tour de France 2012 highs and lows
The Tour de France is done and dusted for another year, with a new champion, a string of new characters, and new episodes for some older stagers. Here are some of my personal highlights and lowlights from the race. Please, add your own in the comments.
1. What Brad Wiggins’ win will do for cycling in the UK
Remember how good it felt in Australia last year when Cadel Evans became the first Australian to win the Tour de France? The validation of road cycling as a sport and the interest it generated from people who had previously been only peripherally aware of it?
The same will happen in the UK as a result of Wiggins’ historic win. Cycling has been experiencing something of a boom in popularity in the UK over the last few years, in various ways.
Achievements at an elite level (primarily through the British track squad, Mark Cavendish, Wiggins and the rest of Team Sky) have spurred interest in cycling as a sport, which legitimises professional cycling in the eyes of a sometimes sceptical, sometimes indifferent public.
The UK has seen enormous concurrent growth in cycling as a grassroots sport and participatory activity, including organised rides, sportives, hill climbs and track days.
Cycling as transport is also booming, which attracts people with no previous sporting interest, and there are a host of other interwoven subcultures and community organisations including fixed gear and courier culture, cycle to work schemes, bike hire schemes and many more which operate at the grassroots levels of cycling.
A British Tour de France winner should be an enormous positive influence on all of these factors, with the end result being more people involved at all levels of cycling in the UK, and more political influence for cycling organisations, to the benefit of cyclists in that country.
Fans of the sport and lovers of cycling all around the world should be pleased by this.
2. The sprint rivalry between Cav, Greipel, Sagan and Goss
The battle for supremacy between the big four sprinters of the Tour was easily the best contest of the race. Three stages each to Sagan, Cavendish and Greipel means it’s hard to split them. Each was excellent in their own way – I can’t pick the best rider out of the three.
Poor Matt Goss, perennially making up the podium without ever quite getting to salute, but he was clearly the best of the rest. He will be disappointed not to have claimed a win, but until his green jersey campaign was strangled by a much-debated disqualification, Goss was riding with confidence and aggression. He will be back.
Greipel used his powerful Lotto Belisol team to perfection in the first week of the Tour, but as the team’s focus shifted to the GC ambitions of Jurgen Van Den Broeck it became more challenging for Greipel. Still, three stage wins is pretty outstanding.
Sagan’s overall consistency and ability to win the difficult uphill sprints, and survive the mountains better than his rivals, means he was definitely a deserved green jersey winner. But for being outsmarted by Luis Leon Sanchez in stage 14, he would’ve almost certainly had a fourth win. He could be anything, given time.
What can you say about Cavendish? For a man who spent long days looking dejected and unloved by his focused team-mates, Cav’s devastating victory in Stage 18, followed by his textbook fourth consecutive win on the Champs Elysees provided serious redemption. His top speed is clearly better than anyone else in the pro ranks, and it’s scary to think what he might have achieved if his team had been focused on him. Rumours of a move to a team built around winning sprint stages are getting louder.
3. The new young guns
This year the race was lit up by a number of great performances from young riders. How exciting were Peter Sagan (22), Tejay Van Garderen (23), Pierre Rolland (25), Thibaut Pinot (23), and Edvald Boasson Hagen (25)?
With a few old favourites like Menchov, Vinokourov, Valverde, Petacchi and Basso fading, these young fellas really brought some excitement to the race. The future is looking bright for quite a few of the next generation.
4. An Australian team in the Tour de France
I know everyone really wanted them to win a stage, but the mere fact that Orica-GreenEDGE – an Australian pro team! – was in the Tour de France would have been considered a minor miracle just a couple of years ago. The team will have learned a lot from this campaign, which should stand them in good stead for the latter part of the season, and for next year.
And they actually went bloody close to getting a win.
In my opinion, the best riders in the team were Albasini and Goss, but Weening animated a good few breaks as well. The loss of Brett Lancaster’s strength and experience certainly didn’t help, and they probably wanted more out of Simon Gerrans, but you can’t always control circumstances and the crashes in the first week took their toll.
I hope the team picks some of its young Aussie stars for the Vuelta, because this time next year it’d be great to see the like of Durbridge, Bobridge and Meyer in the Tour.
5. Thomas Voeckler’s polka dot jersey assault
For a man who suffered through the first week with a knee injury, losing buckets of time, Thomas Voeckler had a magnificent Tour de France. His dramatic style may have earned him the nickname ‘Hollywood’, but he’s a French national hero for a reason – he knows how to entertain. Liberated from the constraints of the general classification, Voeckler was allowed some latitude to attack, and attack he did.
He was first over three HC climbs, the Col du Grand Colombier, the Col d’Aubisque, and the Col du Tourmalet. One stage 16 he won all four categorised climbs, and then the stage. The next day he won the first three climbs, for good measure.
His net result was two stage wins, and the polkadot jersey. Not bad for a guy who looked spent after a week.
The spectre of doping suspicion continues to cast a dark shadow over the performances of cyclists who probably don’t deserve it.
This Tour suffered guilt by association when news and rumours about Lance Armstrong, USADA, and secret confessions began to swirl. These sorts of headlines are a cancer, as casual observers see “Tour de France” and “doping investigation” and assume some new crisis, not the rehashing of (alleged) past sins.
Unfortunately the arrest of Remy di Gregorio, and the positive test of Frank Schleck, brought doping back to the present, and the drums started up again as sceptics questioned the dominance of Team Sky.
I understand why people ask these questions, but it saddens me that many people’s default response to a strong performance is now, “he must be doping”.
2. The race becoming a procession, far too early
You can’t blame Sky for being great at their jobs, but the combination of a time trial-heavy parcours, the strength of the British super team, the absence of Contador and Andy Schleck, Ryder Hesjedal’s crash, and Cadel Evans not being up to his 2011 level meant this Tour was effectively dead as a contest after stage 9.
That’s the last thing race organisers want.
3. Too much time trialling
Quick, what do Fabian Cancellara and Brad Wiggins have in common?
That’s right, these two specialist time triallists were the only two riders to wear the maillot jaune in 2012.
Having two long individual time trials and a prologue really unbalanced this Tour, creating time gaps that simply couldn’t be made up in the mountains, given the structure of the climbing stages.
Apart from that, time trials are hardly the most compelling viewing, especially when it’s after midnight and the best riders are still in the sheds on rollers.
4. Repetitive ads on SBS
SBS does a pretty amazing job televising the Tour de France, with every stage live, regular highlights packages, and wonderful supporting coverage on its website, through its Fantasy TDF competition, and its Tour Tracker app. Its strong audience figures this year are a fair reward for a job well done, and the fan-hostile Australian commercial free-to-air networks should take a good hard look at what SBS does.
If I never see another ad for erectile dysfunction pills, European station wagons, insurance, or vitamins, it will be too soon. Please SBS, for our sanity, sell your ad space to a broader range of buyers next year. What you’re doing to your captive audience is not giving us Stockholm Syndrome, it’s just torture.
5. Thomas Voeckler’s sex face
The flipside of Thomas Voeckler’s constant exciting attacks is the hours spent seeing close-ups of his gurning sex face as he suffers in the mountains.
Voeckler climbs like he’s possessed by demons, hunched over his handlebars muttering to himself, lips contorting, tongue tasting the air, eyes rolling. He twitches and lurches around on his bike, out of the saddle, now seated, never still.
It’s a horrible sight.
Tim Renowden has been following professional cycling closely since Indurain won his first Tour. A former A-grade club athlete, and now a keen recreational cyclist and roller racer, he once rode very slowly up Mont Ventoux. Tim tweets about sport at @timehhh_sp.