There is only one winner of the Tour de France, but we have two champions – Alberto Contador & Andy Schleck.
Schleck narrowly lost to Contador today, riding a better time trial than most thought possible. Schleck finishes the Tour de France in 2nd place to Contador – for the 2nd year in a row. This year he loses to Contador by a mere 39 seconds – the exact same time he lost in stage 15 due to the chain slip. That controversy will not go away any time soon.
The war waged today between Contador and Schleck was similar to the war waged between the two on the Col de Tourmalet in terms of the magnitude of the battle and the way each gave both stages everything he had. Contador was so spent both physically and emotionally, that he nearly passed out – and he could not control the tears.
On the podium, accepting the overall leader’s yellow jersey Contador seemed exhausted and sort of in shock. He knew without a doubt, that he came very close to losing the Tour de France today.
It wasn’t that Contador fell short, but rather Schleck was that much better and maybe even more importantly, completely confident in his chances. He was not afraid of Contador at any time this Tour. Every time Schleck battled Contador and won (either time gained or an equal finish) he gained more confidence.
That confidence was on display today in the way Schleck rode the time trial. Contador, one of the best at time trials, beat him by only 31 seconds. If you have been watching the Tour, then you’ve heard Paul Sherwen, Phil Liggett, Bob Roll and others, all say that Schleck needed at least one minute, and preferably two, over Contador prior to the time trial, to have a legitimate chance at winning.
Few Tour de France victories have been this close – with two such evenly matched opponents. They are similar in age, personality, strengths and amazingly, are close friends. You don’t see that very often in the world of competitive sports. Their relationship is refreshing and is a testament to the high standard in which they compete. We are fortunate to witness this intense, very top-level bicycle racing in the Tour de France this year – and hopefully, for many years to come.
Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) the time trial specialist finished first and took the stage win. No one, time trials better than Cancellara – that’s a fact.
Denis Menchov (Rabobank) rode a very good time trial and took over the 3rd place podium spot from Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel Euskadi). Menchov is one of the top time trial riders, so it was not a surprise that he beat out Sanchez.
Canadian rider, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) had another strong ride today – possibly the biggest surprise of this year’s Tour – he will finish his first Tour in 6th place overall. American rider, Chris Horner (Team Radio Shack) a long time domestique, surprised everyone and took 10th place overall – the highest place of any of the Radio Shack riders.
Today lived up to all the billing and then some. Schleck almost pulled off the biggest upset since Greg LeMond beat Laurent Fignon in 1989 to win the Tour by a mere 8 seconds.
Contador showed how tough a competitor he is too. He knew he was behind Schleck at the first time check – many riders would have folded under the pressure. Not Contador, he rose to the occasion giving it everything he had – to beat his rival and friend – by 39 seconds.
It was an awesome finish, to an awesome Tour.
*Pictures are from Getty Images
Tomorrow’s stage is more of a processional than a race – at least for the GC top finishers. Only the sprinters and the riders in contention for the Green Jersey will race tomorrow. It is every sprinter’s dream to win on the Champs E’lyse.
Contador and his teammates will enjoy a little champagne and accept the congratulations of the rest of the peloton. The last stage of the Tour is a time for riders to talk, enjoy the accolades of fans and relish in their achievement of finishing the Tour de France. Every rider finishing the Tour de France takes great pride in the fact that they finished the most grueling bike race – and in many people’s minds, (mine included) – the most grueling sporting event there is.
Vive le Tour!