Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The Euro-Cycling Awards: Tour De France 2011

I'm lucky enough to be holidaying on Mt Ventoux, about which more later. It's quiet and relaxing and leaves me with plenty of time for thought, and what else would I be thinking about at the foot of Mt Ventoux?

Biggest Winner: Cadel Evans.
Sometime the biggest winner of the Tour isn’t necessarily the man who claims the Maillot Jaune. By the time Miguel Indurain claimed his fifth maillot jaune in 1995 his victory was seen as almost inevitable. Laurent Jalabert’s spirited attempt to claim it for himself on the road to Mende, on the other hand, established Jaja’s transformation from fat sprinter to top class GC rider as a fact. This year, however, the Tour winner and the Tour’s winner are one and the same. With some exciting attacks, gutsy defending and a strong time trial, Cadel Evans has erased from cycling’s collective memory his slappy hissy fit in 2009 or his unexpected inability to wrest control of the race from Carlos Sastre in the final TT of 08. No longer is he the grouchy nearly man, from now on he is Cadel Evans: Champion.

Biggest Loser: Andy Schleck.
It could all have been very different. The retrograde bravery of Schleck’s three-mountain dash through the Alps would have erased all memory of his stage 16 whingeing fit if only it had secured him overall victory. But it didn’t, which is why the lasting impression of Andy’s 2011 Tour will be his petulant whining that people don’t want to see dangerous downhills where fey Luxembourgeouis lose 70 odd seconds on their rivals. He claimed it shouldn’t have been allowed, but it didn’t seem to bother the 35 guys who finished ahead of him.

Jens Voigt Award for Conspicuous Toughness: Johnny Hoogerland
No surprise here. The injury itself isn’t in the same class as all those broken collarbones, wrists and vertebrae ridden through by the likes of Hamilton, Evans or Riis in previous GTs, but the psychological shock of being propelled off the road and into a barbed wire fence by a swerving car adds an extra layer of horror to those 33 stitches that Hoogerland rode to the finish with. His “Leeroy Jenkin’s” method of attacking has caused fans to question his sanity in the past, but no one will ever question his guts.

Johnny Hoogerland Award for Moves of Dubious Sanity: Jens Voigt
Ok, it’s his job to carry bottles and his nature to turn negatives into positives, but the sight of Jens Voigt falling off a mountain one minute, then body-checking France the next, before merrily going back to the team car to load up on bottles was crackers. Take a breath Jens, get the adrenaline twitches out of your system before messing with your weight distribution in front of a moving car on a steep mountain road.

Biggest Villain: France 2/3’s Hospitality Driver
I was tempted to give this to all the second tier sprinters who claim Cavendish is getting towed over the mountains whilst they’re busy being towed over the mountains. In any other Tour that would have clinched it, but this Tour had an obvious and embarrassing villain, and for once it wasn’t Ricardo Ricco. Worryingly, most Tour drivers are ex-riders themselves, so there’s a good chance that Johnny Hoogerland’s 33 stitches were dished out by someone who really should have known better.

Best Attack: Evans’ Downhill
He may have only grabbed a few seconds from Contador and Sanches, but Evans’ attack on stage 16 was about more than just time, it was about breaking from the norm and attack your rivals on a transition stage where everyone would normally be watching the breakaway. It was an unexpected and thoroughly enjoyable attack that made the Tour for me. Ruined it for Andy Schleck though.

Worst Defeat: Edvald Boasson Hagen
We can’t mock Edvald Boasson-Hagen with any real sincerity. After all, he had shingles a fortnight before the Tour yet still managed to turn up and bag two stages. Plenty of teams would have traded a years budget for that. Still, it so easily could have been three. On stage 16 Boasson-Hagen had a solid spot, behind Ryder Hesjedal for the launch but ahead of the brilliant but not-as-fast-as-he-used-to-be Hushovd. For a rider of Boassan-Hagen’s calibre it should have been a simple matter of spending more time looking backwards than forwards, making sure Hushovd couldn’t jump him until he was ready to jump Hesjedal. Sadly, you can pinpoint the single second when Boassan-Hagen’s concentration broke, the brief but pivotal lag between checking his front and turning back to cover his rear that was all Hushovd needed to get the drop in his compatriot.

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