The first week of the 2011 Tour de France has already been one giant rollercoaster of a ride. With the first chapter of the Tour closing in Chateauroux Friday, and the second chapter beginning in the Massif Central Saturday, we thought it appropriate to take a quick look back at the top-10 most impressive moments of the first week. Who doesn’t love a good top-10 list?
10. Horner riding it in despite concussion
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 rode 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 gruppetto 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 while hitting yourself on the head with a baseball bat, and then try to ride your bike.
9. Defending champ losing time on the very first day
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 head start 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.”
8. HTC dominating the peloton for two sprints in one day
Sprinters can mark Mark all they want, but there is simply no coming around the man when he comes off his trusty HTC-Highroad train with the finish in sight.
On stage 7, Cavendish had the confidence to light it up for the intermediate sprint, which was just 25km from the finish. His stalwart leadout man Mark Renshaw set up the intermediate sprint for him, then his entire team quickly reformed around him immediately after.
With 15km to go, the entire squad amassed at the front, taking ownership until Cavendish crossed the finish line for his second win of the 2011 Tour.
Cavendish said his team’s well-drilled discipline doesn’t come through practice. “It’s discipline through trust, through knowing each other, working together, not saying a thing,” he said. “I’m super lucky I can share the experience with these guys. I don’t have to do anything. They delivered me with to 150 meters to go. Yeah, it’s their job, but there’s a passion behind it. There always has been. That’s what makes me so proud.”
7. Evans chasing back on in final 15km… then winning
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 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.
6. Cav’ free-lancing a tricky sprint for the win
Pre-stage 5 conventional wisdom: Mark Cavendish can only win a sprint when it’s flat and he has a perfect lead-out.
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.”
5. World champion Hushovd working for others while in yellow
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.
4. Police carting off Quick Step bus for inspection
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 okay,” Peeters said.
Sure enough, Quick Step started the Tour the next day as if nothing had happened.
3. Farrar winning on the Fourth of July
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.
2. UCI creates pain in everyone’s butt
You just can’t make this stuff up. On the biggest stage in cycling, minutes before a crucial team time trial, 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.”
1. Gilbert pointing to the fences … then delivering
Confident, bold claims are one thing; backing them up at the Tour de France is something different entirely.
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 blond 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.”