By Jonathan Wilkinson
Another year and another doping scandal in the Tour, oh wait, there wasn't, well not yet anyway. So now that is out of the way lets get down to the review of the Tour, one of the best in recent memory and also one of the closest, with just 39 seconds between 1st and 2nd:
The Chain that cost Schleck the Tour
That 39 seconds is most likely the most controversial 39 seconds in Tour history because it is the precise amount that Contador took off Schleck on stage 15, when he attacked Schleck as his chain came off. Now Contador claimed not to have known anything about this until it was too late and that he was going to attack anyway but the truth is Schleck was moving away from Contador, who had been slow to react so that was the lamest excuse by a Spaniard this year in sport, well until this weekend's GP.
Now some people out there might be thinking "so what?" but in cycling there is an unwritten rule that you don't attack someone if they have a mechanical fault or an accident, Tour history shows this time and time again. Lance Armstrong waiting for Ullrich or Mayo waiting for Armstrong. This was seen as not in the spirit of the sport and will overshadow his 3rd victory.
The Duel - Schleck v. Contador
Chain aside, this was one of the finest duels between two cyclists we have seen for decades. The highlight of this was the duel up the last mountain of the tour, Col du Tourmalet. When Schleck attacked, after his team had set him up on the final climb, only Contador could go with him, then we saw them proceed to ride up the mountain almost as one, with Schleck doing all he could to get rid of his rival but he just couldn't do it, then Contador launched an attack of his own, at first it looked like he would sail off into the distance but Schleck pulled him back. Contador did the decent thing and let Schleck take the stage, since he had done all the pace making.
Then we went to the last time trial, a formality for Contador, all the experts cried, after all he had wiped the floor with Schleck in the TT last year but Schleck had other ideas, at the first check point he was somehow 6 seconds up and within just 2 overall of yellow. This time it was Contador that reacted and increased his overall lead but if Schleck can carry on improving his TT skills, next year could be an all time classic.
Goodbye to the king of the Tour
This was Lance Armstrong, 7 times winner of the Tour between 1999-2005, last ever tour. Last year he managed 3rd but a series of bad luck, including a crash on this year's edition meant that was never likely. He had one effort at winning a stage but it was not to be, still he made it to Paris and we all said fair well to the guy who dominated this race for so long.
Hell of the North
This year there was a stage that was flat that lead to significant time gaps, the cobbles in the north. Riding cobbles is a specialist area, there is a huge skill in riding on them. Unfortunately it also saw the exit of Frank Schleck, who crashed out but that aside, I hope they bring them back for future tours, it really did add something to this tour.
The Greatest Ever?
Mark Cavendish, the British sprinter won 5 stages on this year's tour, to go with the 4 he won in 2008 and the incredible 6 he won last year. He has 15 Tour wins, which places him equal 12th in terms of all time stage wins. Above the likes of Zabel, McEwen and Cipollini, yet he is only 25. But it's not just his number of wins that has led to Chris Boardman to comment he is the greatest sprinter ever, because it is the manner of his victories, he wins by lengths not just inches, he wins with his world class lead out train but then when Renshaw was kicked off the Tour for headbutting, he went on to prove that he can do it on his own, (although credit has to go to his HTC team mates for their pursuit of breakways) Then on Sunday he stormed to the victory on the Champs-Élysées.
In my opinion he is the greatest British sports star we have at the moment, and if he carries on his form, he could be a contender for our greatest ever.