It's a little hard to say goodbye to a Tour de France that ended some two weeks ago, but what the hey?
I'll give you boring.
- 2004: Lance beats Kloden by 6.19
- 2002: Lance beats Joey Beloki by 7.17
- 1969: Eddy Merckx wins all four jerseys and defeats second-placed Roger Pingeon by 17 minutes. Merckx had a nasty habit of beating everyone by a ton of time.
- Heck, lots of Tours have had far bigger spreads. In 1984, Laurent Fignon beat Bernard Hinault by 11 minutes... and that was a pretty fun Tour.
- 2011: Cadel Evans wins by 1.34 over Andy Schleck.
- 2010: Contador wins by 0.39, the fourth-closest in history... and with exactly 39 seconds attributed to Andy Schleck's chain gaffe, you could surmise that the rest of the race was a dead heat.
- 2009: Contador beats Schleck by 4.11. He's destroying cycling!
- 2008: Carlos Sastre beats Evans by 0.58, the 8th-closest Tour in history
- 2007: Contador beats Evans by 23 seconds and Levi Leipheimer by 0.31, the second-closest finish in history and the closest top three ever.
- 2006: Oscar Pereiro beats Andreas Kloden by 32 seconds, which would be the third-closest if not for the fact that at the time we thought Floyd Landis had beaten Pereiro by 1.03, itself a top-ten closest entry.
- Then the Lance years. In 2003 Armstrong held off Jan Ullrich by 1.01, the 9th closest race ever.
So there you have it. Five of the ten closest finishes in the 109-year history of the Tour de France (98 editions) have happened in the last decade, plus another nail-biter not far outside the top ten. In other words, if you think the 2012 running was a boring Tour, you're a bit spoiled. Not wrong, necessarily, but definitely spoiled. Average is probably a more accurate way of seeing it.
Something Happening Here
- 2011 Tour: Cadel Evans wins, the first-ever Australian general classification victory in a grand tour.
- 2011 Vuelta: Chris Froome finishes second, narrowly missing out on being the first native of Kenya or South Africa (depending on how you prefer to parse such details) to win a grand tour.
- 2012 Giro: Ryder Hesjedal becomes the first Canadian winner of a grand tour.
- 2012 Tour: Bradley Wiggins becomes the first British winner of a grand tour.
Which begs the question, what Scottish rider is about to win the Vuelta? Or maybe a New Zealander. Perhaps this streak of success is about the Commonwealth of Nations breaking its collective duck in grand fashion. In that case, keep an eye on any Indians, Guyanas, Pakistanis, or Tuvanuians taking the start in the Vuelta. If it's just about speaking English... don't look to any Americans (plenty of wins) or the Irish either. Thanks to Kelly and Roche, a duo so great it's hard not to believe in the Luck of the Irish, the Emerald Isle checked all three grand tour boxes back in the 1980s.
I'm So Bored With the U-S-A
Sorry, I've been trying to get my kids hooked on old Clash records, to no avail so far. Anyway, this was about as poor a year for Americans at the Tour de France in a while. Lots of crashes. No stage wins, no riders threatening the overall classification. Sorta... Tejay Van Garderen finished fifth in the Tour and secured the white jersey. I would argue he was never a threat to win and only an outside threat to reach the podium, since he spent the first two weeks very much in the service of Cadel Evans, and rightly so. Only when Evans faltered did Van Garderen earn his wings, and by then the thought of winning wasn't realistic.
Still, we Yanks can stop bemoaning the lack of fireworks and find quite a bit of solace in what was a truly outstanding Tour by Van Garderen. And while we should caution ourselves about getting carried away, it's hard not to get excited about a 23-year-old registering such a feat. Let's take a quick look at what the white jersey really means. Here's a list of guys who finished in the top five overall while winning the white jersey:
- Didi Thurau -- kind of a fluke that he finished 5th in 1977; he was more of a classics rider.
- Jean-Rene Bernaudeau -- two sixth-pace finishes later on.
- Peter Winnen -- finished fifth, then fourth, then third at the Tour.
- Phil Anderson -- not really a GC threat
- Laurent Fignon -- winner in white in 1983, two wins and a second
- Greg Lemond -- Third in his debut. Three-time Tour winner.
- Andy Hampsten -- fourth in the Tour in his debut and again several years later. Won the Giro with a stage victory in the snow, or so I remember it.
- Marco Pantani -- Third in his debut. Won five years later. Not my favorite data point.
- Jan Ullrich -- second in his debut, winner the next year. Let's move on.
- Alberto Contador -- won in his second and third appearances.
- Andy Schleck -- Two seconds and a win, officially speaking at least.
For young Tejay, you could look at this list and guess he's either a fluke or a future podium contender, maybe even a big winner. Mine eyes tell me he's not a fluke. Whether he wins a Tour is up to him, but his start is a precocious one. Personally I see him as similar to a younger Evans: good but not earth-shattering on the long climbs, very strong against the watch, and very consistent. A couple more years to harden those legs, and maybe even upping his game against the elite climbers, and you will be looking at a serious contender, and Our Guy to Watch for the next little while.
The Non-Trend Trend
Why do people say "crashes are on the rise"? Crashes were not recently invented at the Tour. In fact, they've been around for a while. You might say forever. What nobody will say is statistically whether crashes have in fact increased in any discernible trend. In fact, I cannot locate crash statistics at all for the Tour, at least not after a few different searches. It's a bleak and perhaps a bit nebulous a statistic, since guys doing something silly to themselves may or may not count. At best, you could look at Cosmo's attrition statistics, and look for a trend there. This year's Tour saw only 153 finishers, but that's one brief downturn from two years with over 180 finishers. And anyway, guys drop out for reasons other than crashes.
What we really want to know is whether the Tour is more dangerous, but aside from interesting qualitative assessments by veteran riders, there is no easy way to tell. What is easy is to watch a couple stages, turn your brain off to the history of the Tour, and write that "crashes are on the rise." I'm not really trying to single out Austin Murphy, a thoroughly accomplished American sports journalist by any measure. I'm just suggesting that people talk about the big stories at the Tour with a long perspective. It's been around for 109 years.
Photos by Bryn Lennon, Getty Images Sport