Twisted Spoke Tour de France report card.
The Tour de France is over and the grades are in. Here’s the Twisted Spoke marks for most of the big teams, with the rest to follow tomorrow when I read the last of the written essays.
When GC hope Christian Vande Velde crashed out and their best sprinter Tyler Farrar fractured his wrist in stage two, Jonathan Vaughters must have felt cursed. Then they lost Robbie Hunter and Julian Dean nearly had his head knocked off by Mark Renshaw. Welcome to Bleakhouse.
But lo and behold, Canadian Ryder Hesjedal goes from mountain domestique to a top seven finish in the Tour and winner of the “major freaking surprise” award. A solid B, which given events, is more like an A+
While Michael Rogers hit a wall of exhaustion and Tony Martin failed to make an impact, it didn’t matter thanks to Mark Cavendish. Five wins is a damn nice haul in the tour and even without Renshaw and his head-butt technique the Cavendish train just kept rolling. While insisting that no win is easy, the Manx Missile made it look … easy. In fact, Twisted Spoke skipped one sprint stage to finish writing a story on Tyler Farrar because a Cav win was a foregone conclusion.
When the Boss clipped a pedal before even getting to the Col du Ramaz in the Alps — losing what, eight, ten minutes — there was shock, disbelief and sadness chez Radio Shack. Then Levi Leipheimer gradually fell off the pace in the Pyrenees. It was left to Sergio Paulinho to deliver a stage win and the amazing Chris Horner, at age 38, to ride himself into the top ten on GC. Radio Shack also finished first in the team competition, which wasn’t what they originally had in mind, but it still makes a nice tweet. We’re torn between a C+ and a B- so you make the final call.
In a tour where crashes and injuries took out a number of top GC hopefuls, BMC also suffered big time. A fractured elbow took Cadel Evans out of contention and the rest of the BMC crew failed to deliver much although Marcus Burghardt tried his best. Big George Hincapie rode a solid, steady tour and impressed Evans but a stage win was not in the cards. C-
Ahh, proof that money doesn’t buy happiness, a stage win or a podium place. Perhaps the immense pressure on Bradley Wiggins had a negative effect and certainly the mountain-heavy, time trial-light course route wasn’t suited to his abilities. As team manager David Brailsford admitted, mistakes were made and they learned some hard lessons. No doubt they’ll come back stronger next year. A solid C.
The Giro-Tour double is an endless debate — some riders still swear it works for them. Like Marco Pantani but he’s dead. It certainly didn’t work for Ivan Basso. He still had too much Giro left in his legs and never got going. Everytime I saw Basso near a summit his face was one big grimace of pain.
The bigger letdown was Roman Kreuziger who came in a very quiet 9th. Maybe they should have brought sprinter Francesco Chicchi in to challenge Cavendish. Some sprint fireworks from the Sheriff would have been much appreciated. Grade: C+
Is team manager Patrick Lefevere a lucky and happy guy? His best shot at stage wins disappears when Tom Boonen can’t recover from injury and misses the tour again. But French star Sylvain Chavenel goes nuts and delivers two stage wins, a few days in le Maillot Jaune, Jerome Pineau has the kooky red polka dot jersey for a week and Carlos Barredo wins the award for Best Thrown Front Wheel At Another Rider. Top that trifecta for all around versatility. Grade: A
Things looked shaky when news of the Schlexodus hit hard in the days before the Tour and Bjarne Riis was forced to fire his director sportif. But Schleck delivered the goods in the mountains and showed that he’s the only rider with a remote shot at beating Alberto Contador for the next few years. He was a slipped chain away from podium step number one. Two words for you, Andy: wind tunnel.
Fabulous Fabian Cancellara again showed he is the dominant force in any race where riders leave one by one and the clock goes tick tick. Nice job by Bjarne Riis of keeping the team together and bonus points for already working out the genius replacement for the departing Schleck Bros. This Spanish rider named Alberto Contador. Grade: A
As much as we like Carlos Sastre, a true gentleman in the peloton, the tires are worn down and the odometer reads “best days over.” You can tell Carlos is on the descent because he now gets cranky all the time. Last year it was complaints about too much attention on Lance and Alberto and this year it was those “spoiled brats” Schleck and Contador. That’s not the real Carlos talking.
Thor Hushovd did deliver an impressive win on the cobbles of stage three but his injuries this season meant he was never 100% in the tour and that in turn made two things evident: no green jersey and no sprint wins. But props for giving it a go and never giving up. Grade: B-
Omega Pharma Lotto
Fifth place for Jurgen Van Den Broeck, a Belgian with a real “Van” Belgian name on a Belgian team — you gotta love that one. JVDB is our new favorite rider for his brilliant ride on Tourmalet right through French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s media moment. And then refusing to apologize, saying “If he’s in my way, I’m going over him. It can be anybody. I don’t care.” That’s the attitude of a guy that’s going to win the Tour someday. Watch out for Van Den Broeck, baby, he’s coming at you. Grade: B+ for bad-ass!
The silent assassin Russian Denis Menchov takes the third step of the podium, the only step available when Schleck and Contador are on another mountain entirely. Then young gun (working the assassin metaphor here) Robert Gesink finishes 6th. A pretty nice score for the Men of Orange. You can say that Menchov’s third place was about as silent as it gets but it’s still a step, on the podium, in the Tour de France — and that still makes you taller than the other 167 guys in the race. Grade: A
No formulas or grade calculations required on this one: A+. A third Tour de France victory and an emotional stage win for Alexander Vinokourov in his return to the tour after a few years away for that bad thing he did that he never apologized for.
A Twisted Spoke retraction is in order because we, like every cycling writer on the planet, made fun of the motley crew Astana put together after Radio Shack stripped the car. But they rode like animals for Alberto, — so, gulp, guilty feeling, we were dead wrong.