Jeez, There’s No Pleasing Some of You People!
On Wednesday 23rd of July 2008 an invisible man took wing and won Le Tour. Carlos Sastre of CSC attacked on the slopes of Alpe d’Huez and won not only the stage but lifted the Maillot Jaune from the shoulders of his teammate Frank Schleck. It was a carefully dosed effort, he’d been below the radar for much of the race up to this stage.
I wasn’t podcasting at the time and Twitter had yet to become a significant part of my social life so I only remember my own impressions and those of actual, physically present, friends but I recall being pleased for Sastre. He’d been knocking at the door for far too long and we’d all assumed the big one would never feature on his palmares. The Schlecks would have their chance in future years. 😉
There were others less pleased though.
There were whispers of a hollow victory.
Almost a year to the day earlier Alexander Vinokourov had failed a doping control after putting 1:14 into Cadel Evans on the way winning the first individual time trial of Le Tour. The ASO declared Vino’s team Astana to be unwelcome at the 2008 Tour and 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador was therefore absent.
Sastre had won, the doubters said, but against a weakened peloton. Lance Armstrong famously derided the 2008 race “The Tour was a bit of a joke this year. I’ve got nothing against Sastre … or Christian Vande Velde,” he was quoted as saying shortly after the race. “Christian’s a nice guy, but finishing fifth in the Tour de France? Come on!”.
This is ancient history though, why bring it up when our minds are full of one of the best Tours I can remember watching?
Well, here’s the thing…………
This year’s Tour has won almost universal praise. Drama, controversy, packed with excitement virtually every day. Heroic performances from Hoogerland and Voekler. The G.C. contest was a slow burner but once it finally kicked off it was fascinating.
Somehow though the winner, Cadel Evans, seems to have offended a significant number of fans of the sport. Carton Reid’s comments on the most recent Spokesmen podcast moved some listeners to complain about a lack of respect. I’ve seen comments along the lines of “He’s nothing but a wheel sucker”. He’s been criticised for a lack of panache, for his sometimes short tempered relationship with the press, etc, etc.
So, I find myself in the somewhat peculiar position of defending a man I once dubbed “The Bag ‘o Washing”. A man so ungainly on a bicycle that it still pains me to watch him “in extremis”.
The winner of Le Tour is determined very simply. It’s the man who has covered the course in the shortest elapsed time. Who was that man? Cadel Evans.
I think it was Laurent Fignon who stipulated that to be a true Tour Champion you had to win a road stage? Well, Cadel showed grit and bloody minded determination to overhaul Alberto Contador on the Mur-de-Bretagne. Road stage won. He also voiced his disappointment at not getting time checks to Tony Martin in the final time trial because he might have gone for the stage. This was a man who needed to win. On the Galibier when he needed to act or lose the Tour? He acted. Once committed he gave it 100% and never once looked for help. He knew it was his job and just got on with it.
All throughout the race we saw GC guys out of position in the peloton. The bad “luck” suffered by the likes of Contador and the Radioshack guys was often a product of this. Cadel and BMC rode a savvy race. He deserves credit for that.
Now, let’s get back to Sastre and why I mentioned him at the start of this post. His win’s validity suffered, unfairly in my opinion, because Contador was absent. The same can’t be said for Cadel. All the big boys came out to play. Cadel won fair and square.
Say you don’t like him, say he’s not your favourite rider, say anything, but don’t say he didn’t deserve to win the 2011 Tour.