So the ToC wraps up today with a circuit race (have we ever live blogged a circuit race?), which is always entertaining, especially for those in attendance. The overall should be pretty well etched in stone, though look for Discovery to
launch Allan Davis after any time bonuses available (if there are any) [watch Jens helplessly now that Davis is out], just to be sure.
For the second time, the ToC has proven its worth and then some. Sure, it's not a Pro Tour race and all that comes with it, but it has vastly exceeded its place on the calendar, and could easily rival any of the more famous week-long stage races in Europe. The crowds have been great, the scenery beautiful, and the course masterfully conceived... for a training race. This last point is important: the race could try to feature mountain-top finishes or longer time trials, and I'm sure the peloton would offer up some riders ready to contest such things. But I suspect teams would hold back more if the race went beyond where riders want to go right now. Instead, the program is just right: challenging, but not legendary. And what you see, consequently, is a race contested by teams who are delighted to really battle it out at this level. In February, that's all you could ask for.
Update [2007-2-25 12:59:22 by chris]: Today's NY Times has an article which makes the awkward juxtaposition of the ToC's success with the Paris-Nice situation. The apparent message is be careful what you wish for: the ToC may have Pro Tour ambitions, but all it will get them is the same riders and increased headaches.
Another great feature has been the live feeds. Pitiful as they've been at times, when they're working it has been a treat. Or, put another way, if we'd had to rely on Versus coverage alone, I'd probably have spent the week previewing Het Volk. Cycling is almost always really fun when seen live, even the most boring flat, anonymous Vuelta stage. And when tape-delayed and packaged down to an hour or two, even the best race loses much of its entertainment value. So respect to Amgen for trying with the feeds, and maybe next year they can borrow a more powerful server from CSC.
Finally, the last element of the race that makes it special is the familiarity and access a number of us have with/to the course. I don't spend much time there, but even I can say I've driven through. And a number of you were able to be in attendance and give us sideline views. This is more than can be said about most of the bigger races, though as the community here grows, hopefully we will hear from more of you from places like Meerbeke, Roubaix, Huez, Milan, etc.
Are you attending any Pro Tour races this year? I'm interested in who will be where this year. With two boys under 4, we're still a few years away from serious Cycling vacations. Hopefully the internet won't have been devoured by ads or access fees or the NSA by then, and the Podium Cafe can report live from bars full of drunken Belgian fans.