The 2010 Tour de France is over and done, with Alberto Contador winning the event for the second year in a row. After a 2009 campaign that saw the Spaniard dominate the three week event, his 2010 win pales in comparison after a controversial decision to leave Andy Schleck behind just as he was experiencing a mechanical during the Tour's 15th stage.
Monday, July 26, 2010
There continues to be much debate regarding the developments of stage 15, where Andy Schleck suffered a skipped chain in the midst of gapping Alberto Contador. As the Luxembourger, wearing the yellow jersey, slowed to a stop, Contador, Denis Menchov and Sammy Sanchez continued on, never allowing Schleck to rejoin the trio. As it would turn out, the amount of time that Contador took from Schleck on that stage would be the exact amount he would win the Tour by. Whether you agree with Contador's decision to leave Schleck behind or not, it cannot be refuted that the Tour would have turned out drastically differently had Schleck been allowed to ride back to the leading group of three.
At the end of the stage, Contador gained the lead in the race but faced a hostile crowd who jeered him for his tactics during the stage. It is said that Tour de France fans are the most savvy in all of cycling. If the crowd on hand saw fit to boo Contador, then it is fair to assume that his tactics weren't in good sport. Not only was Schleck on the verge of putting more time into Contador at the time of his mechanical issue, but he was also wearing the yellow jersey. To say that Contador was not out of line is innapropriate, especially based on past precedence involving the yellow jersey. More about those thoughts here. Either way, Contador wins the 2010 Tour due to a rival's mechanical failure. Not the most glorious way to win the biggest bike race in the world.
The old schoolers must have silently nodded their heads approvingly as 36 year old Alessandro Petacchi used both his legs and his mind to win his first sprinter's green jersey at the Tour. The Italian took two early stage wins at the Tour, and after mark Cavendish started the Tour slowly the Italian quickly realized that he had a real chance at carrying the green jersey all the way to Paris. As the stages ticked by, Petacchi got closer to his goal and after a 2nd place finish to Cavendish in the final stage, the green was on Petacchi's back for good, and for the first time in his illustrious career.
With his green jersey victory, Petacchi has now one the sprinter's jersey in all three grand tours. He now has 46 grand tour stage wins in his career, putting him among the best sprinter's ever to race their bikes. A doping inquiry continues to hound Petacchi, but the Italian veteran soldiers on, content in his green jersey win. And although Petacchi probably only has one or two more good seasons left in him, he'll always be able to cherish his 2010 Tour green jersey.
As we look ahead to the 2011 Tour, surely the main topic for the overall will be Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck. While contador negotiates a contract extension that will keep him on the Astana team, Schleck and his brother have already made plans to start their own team in 2011. They will leave Bjarne Riis and strike out on their own, as they try to win the Tour de france again next year. Not having Riis could have a bad affect on Schleck's 2011 campaign. Riis has a well-oiled machine in his Saxo Bank squad and he also has the tactical know-how to groom Tour de France champions. He took Ivan Basso to the brink before his doping suspension, won the event with Carlos Sastre and then guided Schleck to back to back 2nd placings. Whether Schelck will be able to duplicate his successes without Riis remains to be seen.
Going back to Contador's decision to drop Schleck during a mechanical, the decision that Contador made could have a profound affect on stage racing into the future. Now that a yellow jersey has been decided on a sporting issue rather than pure tactics and strength, it will be interesting to see if other riders decide to ignore the unwritten rules of pro cycling. And it isn't just Contador who has recently won a grand tour due to a rival's mechanical issue. In the 2009 Vuelta a Espana, Cadel Evans suffered a horribly timed flat tire on the ascent of the Sierra Nevada climb.
Evans ended up losing 2:24 on the stage and lost the Vuelta by 1:32. Clearly, had the contenders waited for the Aussie, he would have taken his first grand tour win. The only fact on the side of the big contenders was the fact that Evans was not in the lead at the time of his puncture. Had he been wearing the leader's jersey, it can only be assumed that his rivals would have had the class to wait for him.
The 2010 Tour de France will be remembered by those that watched it as a two man race for the title. A brutal parcours meant there was never a day of rest and in the end only two riders were up to fighting for the overall win. Whether the best man won will be debated until the end of time. One thing is for sure though, Andy Schleck is getting closer to beating Alberto Contador, and the 2011 Tour should be another for the ages.