And so, another Tour de France has ended in the city that, since its inception in 1903, has played host to the final stage.
For me, as a sport journalist who specialises in cycling, it's been a good Tour.
Because for the first time in quite a few years, there has been no
doping scandal that has sent the writers of French sports newspaper
L'Equipe and others who chose to sensationalise, aflutter.
There was a period when a doping positive was big news and in fact led
to more newspapers being sold. The past decade, however, has finally
exposed just how rife cheating is, and how, bad news does everyone
Riders receive lengthy suspensions that in many cases
put an end to their careers; fans lose interest, which leads to certain
publications and TV networks choosing not to send reporters to cover
the race; and by consequence of the latter, sponsors pull out, leading
to a market flooded with talented riders but no team to sign for.
Which is why Lance Armstrong's presence, love him or loathe him, is good Ã¢â¬â no, great Ã¢â¬â for our sport.
If Armstrong was not there, at least half the English-speaking world would not have followed Le Tour with such vivid interest.
If Armstrong was not there, there would have been little to write about
in the second week of the Tour Ã¢â¬â a Tour that, remarkably, saw only two
changes of the maillot jaune Ã¢â¬â that was characterised by a rather staid
race leader in Rinaldo Nocentini and a lacklustre course, particularly
in the Pyrenees, which demonstrated a lack of inspiration on behalf of
the race organisers.
Not again, please, ASO.
Armstrong was not there, there would be no news of a third
American-registered ProTour team in 2010. Yes, there will be no
Armstrong-Contador polemic but quite frankly, there was too much
written about it even if it was true.
Radio Shack excites me,
even as an Australian, because it means despite a global recession, the
sport is growing outside mainland Europe, and in the largest
English-speaking market of all, interest in cycling is still there.
Will Cadel Evans be signed? Not a chance, because as the Astana
situation has shown, it's an unhealthy dynamic, having two leaders
vying for the same end-goal, even if in the end, one falls short of the
mark. As far as I'm concerned, Lance will be the outright leader.
But Cadel needs to find a new team, because the current Silence-Lotto formation seems to no longer suit him.
Besides, that team has now discovered a future star, and in Belgian
Jurgen Van Den Broeck, one of their own. Though having finished 15th
overall, almost 21 minutes down on race winner Contador, Van Den
Broeck's still got some way to go, and whether he will go on to achieve
anything like the success of Evans is unsure.
Did Evans peak
too early? He says he can't say why for "professional reasons". He was
flying at the Tour de France lead-up event, the Criterium du DauphinÃ©
LibÃ©rÃ©, where he finished second overall to Alejandro Valverde. But he
achieved the same result at the DauphinÃ© last year, too, where he
recorded his second successive second-place at the Tour.
year, the competition was a little stronger at the Tour, with Contador
and Armstrong, and a matured, far stronger Andy Schleck. But I'm
convinced Evans can make the Tour podium again, as much as I'm
convinced his current team no longer suits him.
Evans is a
unique individual with a unique personality, and he needs to find a
squad and a sport director that can deal with that, as well as groom
the Victorian into more of a leader, because to spearhead a
Tour-winning team, he must lead by example, which he has trouble doing.
Other than his current team-mate Matthew Lloyd, I don't really see any
Australian riders with the potential to do what Evans has already
achieved at the world's biggest bike race. Maybe that is why I'm so
desperate to see Cadel realise his full potential again.
America, a land that struggled to find a future champion after Greg
LeMond and Andy Hampsten's retirement in the early 90s and Armstrong's
initial exit in 2005, now has a rejuvenated Lance back, as well as
another podium contender in Christian Vande Velde. As for Great
Britain, they can now rest their hopes on Bradley Wiggins, clearly the
revelation of the 2009 Tour de France.
We don't have a guy with
the presence, pull or the enigma of Lance Armstrong, but surely, as a
nation, we have shown enough potential to warrant the creation of
Australia's first ProTour team. There's been much talk about it, but
still nothing on the plate for 2010. Until we get it happening,
Australia may never celebrate our first Tour de France champion.