By Chris Carmichael
The 2002 Tour de France drew to a close with a great sprint on the most famous boulevard in cycling. Robbie McEwen’s win on the Champs Elysees signaled a changing of the guard in the peloton; but regardless of those changes, Lance Armstrong plans on continuing to lead the Tour de France.
McEwen is the first Australian to win the green jersey in the Tour de France, and the first man other than Erik Zabel to win it in the past seven Tours de France.
That battle went right down to the wire, and McEwen left no doubt as to who the faster man was by showing the entire field his back wheel and winning the stage.
Zabel’s seventh place finish today was somewhat surprising. He was in a good position coming out of the final corner, but he ended up in a little bit of a traffic jam with one of McEwen’s teammates. Before you cry foul, it was nothing that doesn’t happen in the majority of sprints, and Zabel is one of the best at getting out of traffic.
Today, McEwen was just faster and he took home the green jersey because of it.
Can Erik Zabel return to the Tour de France and reclaim his green jersey in 2003? I think he can wear the green jersey next year, but he has not dominated the competition in either of the past two years. Recall that Zabel’s battle for the green came down to the final day last year, too.
The other sprinters are catching up to him and his top-end speed is not what used to be. It will be interesting to see how Zabel chooses to deal with not winning the green jersey for the first time in seven Tours.
Laurent Jalabert’s decision to retire at the end of the year means the French will lose one of their cycling heroes and a main animator of the Tour de France. Jalabert is an excellent example of a well-rounded cyclist. During his career he won two green jerseys and two polka dot jerseys.
Along the way he also won Tour stages in all conditions and over all terrains. His race resume includes wins in Spring Classics, both minor and major Tours, time trials, road races; you name it, Jalabert won it or something like it. Laurent Jalabert is going out on top, and going out as a champion. After a 14-year professional career, he will be remembered as a tough, intense, intelligent man with an unbeatable will to win.
Kevin Livingston’s departure from the peloton is another sign that an era is changing. Livingston played a huge part in Lance’s recovery from cancer Livingston and he was a key player in Lance’s first two Tour de France victories before transferring to Telekom last year. His presence in the peloton will be missed.
The more things change, though, the more they stay the same. Lance’s desire to continue winning the Tour de France is as strong as it has ever been. He loves training and racing, and he greatly enjoys the Tour de France. Our preparation for the 2003 Tour de France will begin in a few weeks, and with a lot of hard work and some luck, we will be here again next year writing about a fifth Tour de France victory.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank VeloNews and VeloNews.com for their excellent coverage of the 2002 Tour de France and for including my column as part of that coverage. I have enjoyed writing about this Tour and I hope to do it again next year.