We've had plenty of occasions lately to say that what we've just witnessed in this Tour de France, and now that it's a few km from over, let me take a crack at it.
Best Tour Ever?
I voted in our poll for this year as the greatest Tour of the modern era, but a fairer estimate would be that it falls short of the 1989 Tour. That race featured two established champions going toe-to-toe, whaling away at each other, trading leads before LeMond's epic and improbable final say. By comparison, this Tour was pretty strange, and the GC comp seemed stuck in neutral all the way to the Alps, before it started its dash into history.
So What Was It?
- Landis' win on stage 17 was the most impressive, exhilirating ride I have ever witnessed. Never have so many people been moved to type "are you fucking kidding me?" about a bike race.
- You could argue that the conclusion was the most dramatic in Tour history (versus 1989) -- tough call, but arguable.
- Or, how about the most deserved Tour win ever, or at least recent times?
- Easily the most wide-open Tour since the mid-90s; and the closest Tour since 1989.
- Possibly my favorite Tour ever, or at least in 17 years. But there's no metric for this...
So What of Landis?
Landis is a transitional figure. Obviously his win will go down as one of the great unforgettable moments in the race's history, and I'm talking way high up on the list. But in all likelihood he's a bridge to the next era, not the subject of it. He'll make medical history if he so much as finishes another Tour, and my guess is that it will take him more than a year to even approach his former level. The muscle trauma of surgery just seems too over the top.
And then what?
Completely wide open. We've obviously seen a new generation of emerging talent coming on the past couple years, and over time some of them will come to the fore as Tour protagonists or winners. But we've also seen the value of experience here, and people need to be patient with talents like Cunego and Valverde (to name a couple). Meanwhile, the guys who made this year's race great -- Pereiro, Sastre, Kloden, etc. -- will be around a while, and there's no evidence that Ivan Basso won't come back to claim his place in the Tour too, with his name cleared. We shall see about that.