It's only now, a fortnight after another Tour de France is done and dusted and I'm back home in Oz with the 'flu feeling sorry for myself (yes, I know, I keep telling myself to harden up, as Stuart O'Grady loves to say) that I've had time to read the July 26 edition of L'Equipe, France's leading sports daily, owned by the same parent company that runs the world's biggest bike race, Amaury Sports Organisation.
In something of a ritual, I always make the effort to grab a copy of the 'morning after' edition following the final stage of the Tour, for the simple reason that it contains some interesting factoids I sometimes attempt to pass as my own, to come across as more intelligent and informed than I really am.
So, rather than reveal any more of my surfeit insecurities, I'd thought I'd share a few tidbits of theirs and mine with you.
If anyone needed reminding just how close Alberto Contador came to losing this year's Tour de France, know this: after 3641.9 kilometres, 429 metres Ã¢â¬â the distance between the Spaniard and runner-up Andy Schleck Ã¢â¬â was all that separated the pair of prodigious mid-twenty-somethings.
In terms of time, 39 seconds puts the Contador-Schleck duel fifth on the all-time list of narrowest winning margins. Here's the top 10:
1. LeMond-Fignon, in 1989 Ã¢â¬â 8sec
2. Contador-Evans, in 2007 Ã¢â¬â 23sec
3. Pereiro-KlÃ¶den, in 2006 Ã¢â¬â 32se
4. Janssen-Van Springel, in 1968 Ã¢â¬â 38se
5. Contador-A. Schleck, in 2010 Ã¢â¬â 39sec
6. Roche-Delgado, in 1987 Ã¢â¬â 40sec
7. ThÃ©venet-Kuiper, in 1977 Ã¢â¬â 48se
8. Anquetil-Poulidor, in 1964 Ã¢â¬â 55sec
9. Sastre-Evans, in 2008 Ã¢â¬â 58sec
10. Armstrong-Ullrich, in 2003 Ã¢â¬â 1min, 1sec
While the French experienced something of a renaissance at this year's Tour, being the nation with the most victories (six, compared to Great Britain's five Ã¢â¬â all thanks to Mark Cavendish; Luxembourg, Switzerland and Italy took home a pair each), there's one glaring omission: they still don't have a bona-fide title contender, and don't look like having one in waiting, either. Ag2r's John Gadret was their best GC performer, finishing 19th overall, 24min 4sec behind Contador; the grand old man of French cycling, Christophe Moreau, was the second-best local, whose at 39-year-old legs were still good enough for 22nd overall Ã¢â¬â chapeau!
Speaking of veterans of the peloton, at 36 years young, was Alessandro Petacchi the oldest winner of the green jersey? Nope Ã¢â¬â it was another Italian, Franco Bitossi, who won the maillot vert classification at the 1968 Tour Ã¢â¬â aged 42!
And on the subject of sprinters, Cavendish now matches five-time Tour champion Bernard Hinault in terms of victories amassed within the space of three consecutive Tours. His bullet-speed sprint on the Champs-Ãâ°lysÃ©es took his tally to 15. But Cav' and Hinault aren't in a league of their own Ã¢â¬â that honour goes toÃ¢â¬¦ that's right, the Cannibal, of course Ã¢â¬â a.k.a. Eddy Merckx Ã¢â¬â who racked up 18 stages in the 1969, '70 and '71 Tours (and did the same again between 1970-72).
In terms of overall victories, Contador obviously isn't the greatest of all time, although he is chugging along very nicely, thank you very much. His hat-trick of Tour triumphs puts him in the same league as Thys, Bobet and LeMond, but he's still two wins away from the five-times club quartet (Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault and IndurÃ¡in) and four away from the guy who stands above all others in victories amassed, which is of course none other than Lance Armstrong himself.
But if Contador does indeed pursue his dream of targeting all three Grand Tours in a season and pulls it off, as he may strive to do in 2012, I'd undeniably say that would be a feat never to be matched again.