Although we haven’t yet reached the high mountains, the 2011 Tour de France has already been one giant rollercoaster of a ride. With 10 stages in the books as of Tuesday, we thought it appropriate to take a look back. And besides, who doesn’t love a good Top 10 list?
Top 10 Most Impressive Moments of the Tour’s First 10 Days
(Not necessarily the 10 best moments, mind you…)
RadioShack’s Chris Horner was among the unfortunate victims of a late-race pileup on stage 7. He hit his head hard, and was in a ditch for some time as the race charged up the road. After finally remounting, Horner road alongside the race medical car, where a doctor gave him a quick vision and awareness check, holding up fingers for him to see and so forth.
After finishing in a grupetto 12 minutes back, Horner was clearly dazed when riding through the Tour’s typical crowded chaos just past the finish.
What’s so impressive? Go outside and spin around 30 times with your head on a baseball bat until you’re good and dizzy, and then try to ride your bike.
Cadel Evans suggested before the Tour began that the only way to beat Alberto Contador was to have a head start going into the mountain stages. But no one expected to have a headstart on the race’s defending champion after the first stage. Yet, that’s exactly what happened when Contador got caught up behind a crash in the bunch with about 8km to go and lost 1:20.
“These are things of the race and today it happened to me and tomorrow it could be someone else,” Contador said. “I didn’t have very good luck today, but the Tour is long. One must be optimistic and remain motivated, that’s the most important thing.”
With about 15km to go on a stage that finished with a very difficult few rolling kilometers, Cadel Evans found himself stopped at the roadside with a mechanical. With wet, narrow roads bucking up and down, stage 4’s finish had the feel of an Ardennes classic.
Often, when riders are stopped in the closing kilometers of a stage, there is simply no way they are getting back on the bunch as it roars toward the finish. Yet soon, with the help of BMC teammate Marcus Burghardt, Evans was not only back in the group, but nearly at the front.
As the road hit its steepest pitch, Alberto Contador attacked, but Evans clawed back on, and then drove around for his first-ever road stage win at the Tour.
“We had good preparation for the Tour this year and the team is very motivated to help me, so everything is going very good right now,” he said.
Pre-stage 5 conventional wisdom: Mark Cavendish can only win a sprint when it’s flat and he has a perfect leadout.
Post-stage 5 conventional wisdom: Mark Cavendish can win a sprint if he is there to contest it.
In the final kilometer of stage 5 over a short hill, HTC’s train came apart, and Cavendish was stuck about eight wheels back.
As the sprint opened, Cavendish was nowhere to be seen from the front… then he burst around a group and closed all the way to the line.
“I think it’s one of the best-ever wins we’ve ever seen from Cavendish,” HTC director Ralf Aldag said. “Everyone assumes he’s fastest, but not always the strongest. Today he proved what a great sprinter he really is.”
How often have you seen a world champ wearing yellow? How about a world champ in yellow doing grunt work?
On stage 3, Hushovd flew through the streets of Redon in yellow to lead out his teammate Tyler Farrar for the win.
A select few other world champions have worn the yellow jersey. And in recent years, world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara has worn yellow while he’s done work for his teammate Andy Schleck. But a world road champion has never worn yellow and led out a sprint for a win — at least not in modern memory.
Which was more bizarre — the police hauling off Quick Step’s huge team bus, or Quick Step’s director Wilfried Peeters acting like it was an everyday occurrence?
The bus was given a thorough search by police on the eve of the Tour de France in the western city of La Roche-sur-Yon.
“Everything is OK,” Peeters said.
Sure enough, Quick Step started the Tour the next day as if nothing had happened.
Any win at the Tour de France is special, but an American win on the Fourth of July? Even the cynics have to admit that is pretty cool.
Yet Tyler Farrar’s victory salute reminded all cycling fans that friends and family should be celebrated more than crossing finish lines.
Flying across the line, Farrar held up his hands in a “W” in honor of his late friend Wouter Weylandt, who died tragically at this year’s Giro d’Italia.
“I’ve been through a lot of emotional ups and downs the past few months. I wasn’t even sure I was going to come to the Tour, but I decided the best way to honor Wouter was to come to the Tour and win a stage for him,” Farrar said.
You just can’t make this stuff up. On the biggest stage in cycling, minutes before a crucial stage, the governing body decides to get persnickety about a “rule” that states “the saddle support shall be horizontal.” Nearly every one of the 22 teams at this year’s Tour de France was affected, with riders and mechanics scrambling to tilt their saddles to the UCI’s preferred angle while team directors boiled over with stupefied rage.
Why the UCI waited until minutes before the Tour de France team time trial to get militant over yet another arbitrary decision was beyond anyone.
Although it would be hard to argue that the playing field was leveled because of this enforcement, leveling riders’ saddles certainly caused some discomfort. As to what the end result of all this would be, George Hincapie could only laugh. “I don’t know,” he said. “Ask me tomorrow if my butt is sore.”
Johnny Hoogerland gave the cycling world much to think about. After a television car crashed he and Juan Antonio Flecha while passing the breakaway they were in, Hoogerland plowed into the ground, then catapulted into a barbed wire fence, ripping his skin and clothing into pieces. Cycling fans were amazed as he not only remounted and rode in, blood gushing from his legs, but then took the stage in tears to claim his king of the mountains jersey before medics loaded him into an ambulance. At the hospital, he received 33 stitches.
Perhaps most impressive, however, was Hoogerland’s attitude. While Team Sky threatened to sue for Flecha, Hoogerland looked at the glass as half full. “We can still be happy that we’re alive,” he said. “Nobody can be blamed for this. It’s a horrible accident and I was in it. But I said to Flecha, ‘We’re still alive and Wouter Weylandt died in a crash.’”
It was the Tour’s worst kept secret that Belgian national champion Philippe Gilbert believed he could win the first stage with its stiff final kilometer kick. He dyed his hair blonde to match the yellow jersey, and packed a yellow wristwatch in his post-race bag. His team was full of confidence, too, riding the front for most of the race to set him up.
When Swiss champ Fabian Cancellara attacked, only Gilbert could claw up to him. And then, he stood and delivered, driving an out-of-the-saddle sprint all the way to the line.
“It was a magical last 100 meters,” said Gilbert. “I had a yellow watch in my finish bag that my soigneur brought along, just in case.”