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The final stage of the 2011 TDU has been run and won, with the expected wins for Mark Cavendish in the sprint, and Cadel Evans in the overall coming to fruition. A victory on the Champs Elysees is one of the great achievements for a sprint cyclist, and Cav's ability to produce on the big stages with such consistency will already have him posted as a strong favourite to win the World Championships this September.
Today the final stage of the 2011 TDU gets underway, a desperate procession maybe, but it's devastatingly disappointing for me, but also extremely exciting considering it is Cadel Evans who will cross the line the champion today, calamitous misadventure notwithstanding. (brief pause while author touches wood.) I can't believe it's nearly over, and conversely can't believe that Gilbert's win on Stage One was only three weeks ago.
Cadel Evans is going to win the Tour de France in 2011. Hahahaha! I'm going to say that again, just because I can. Cadel Evans is going to win the Tour de France in 2011. What a nice sentence to read and write! The time trial last night was expected to be a shootout between the world's best time triallist, Fabian Cancellara, and the next big thing, Tony Martin.
Two nights ago there four men still in contention, then Contador was out of the race. Yesterday saw the end of Frank Schleck's chances, and tonight will see the demise of the final contender for the Tour. Andy Schleck will hope to defend his 57sec lead over Cadel Evans tonight, and will certainly fancy his chances. The last time he was in this position, Cadel just didn't have enough in the tank to overhaul Carlos Sastre back in 2008.
One more time over some incredible hills. One more chance for the Schlecks to take seconds away from Cadel. One more opportunity for them to sap the power from his legs to minimize the damage he does to them in tomorrow's TT. 100km, three categorized climbs, 2851m vertical ascent. This stage is not as huge as last night's, but being so short and sharp, there is still enormous potential for damage to be done.
If you were lucky enough to watch Stage 18 last night, you saw one of the best days of bike racing in years. Andy and Frank Schleck finally attacked and got it right, using their double-threat to maximum advantage, and as a result achieved another stage win, jumped in the GC to now be in a dominant position, and Andy has ridden a stage that will be talked about for years.
Tour de France 4 Stages... We have finally made it to the first of two stages that have loomed large over this whole race, and will play a huge role in determining who is the 2011 Tour de France champion. Today is officially a filthy stage on the bike. 200km, three hors categorie climbs, approximately 470om vertical gain through the stage, including a single climb from 335m above sea level to 2744m! Holy smokes.
Last night's bike race was a return to normalcy for the boys on the road: the break was allowed to go relatively early, it stayed away all day, and despite a few attempts to put time into each other, the GC boys all finished on the same time. And no, despite repeated claims by Paul Sherwen on the commentary, Thomas Voeckler is not a threat to win the overall. He will possibly finish in the top 10, but only possibly.
Dare We Guess? Ok. So last night was on paper the stage that everyone expected-a breakaway that was difficult to get into, but stayed away once established. And yet it was hardly a predictable result, with a shake-up of the GC, another win to Garmin and Thor, and a request from the Schlecks that every stage please be an uphill time trial, or at worst an uphill two man teams time trial.
Schlecks Shaken... What a stage last night turned out to be! Prior to the stage, the thoughts were that it was always going to be a breakaway, and there wouldn't be much movement on the general classification. Half right! The high likelihood of the break staying away meant that all of the boys not in with a chance on general were hoping to get a piece of the action, meaning it took hours before the break finally got clear.
Back Swinging. After what seems like both forever, and no time at all, we're headed to the final stanza of this year's Tour. Today's stage is another medium mountain stage, with only one Cat. 2 climb to deal with, followed by a short descent into the town of Gap. The day is a steady climb uphill for the majority of the day, with two sharp descents that may be of note for general standings-the descent that leads to the Col de Manse (the climb of the day) and then the 11km after the summit of the Col, which is all downhill to the finish.
"It's over already?" Most of the riders in the peloton would be thinking that as the rest day ends and they prepare for the final week of this year's Tour. The racing has been brutal: nervous and hectic through the first week, typically savage through the Pyrenees (which happened through the second week), and windy and wet virtually the whole time.
And Now ... I love that scene from Dude Where’s My Car? So here we sit: Rest Day 2 already! And yet it feels like forever since the Tour started. Weird stuff happens to sports fans in July. The last few days of racing have been typically explosive, with Cav making it 19 TdF career stage wins (good grief the man can find the finish line) yesterday...
Second Big Test. After a quiet day where the big swinging cats of the peloton were all nice to each other, the fireworks are set to ignite. Hilltop finishes are always a risk for time gaps, and considering Cadel is currently the only contender who would be happy with how things sit on the overall with a 41km individual TT still to come, there are lads who will be sure to attack madly tonight.
The Champ Rolls On... I can remember seeing the photos from the presentation of the teams at the start of the race and thinking how embarrassing it was for the Garmin team to be doing their bow down to Thor thing while he held up a warhammer. I was clearly completely wrong!
More Questions. Ahh the first mountain stage! You’ve just got to love the first chance to have a look at how everyone’s legs are going. Last night showed that Frank has very good legs, Andy may not have legs that are quite so good, Cadel is in very good form, and crucially, Contador is currently not showing great form at all.
Big Hitters' Playground. Gaaaaaame on! It has finally become time for the big swinging cats to unsheathe their claws. It feels like forever since the race started - I reckon the first big climbs don't normally come quite so late-so I reckon there'll be a few lads (and their teams) wondering what their form is like and hoping that they earn the big bucks that they're paid.
Slim To None. The chances of Cav getting beaten two days running in a sprint. Today is a guaranteed bunchie. It's a flat stage heading to the base of the Pyrenees, and the third last opportunity for the sprinters to shine. There's nary a categorised climb to be seen, so everyone's favourite caraccident victim Johnny "Breakaway" Hoogerland will remain in the King of the Mountains jersey for one more stage, although how much longer he can survive in the race itself is anyone's guess.
Attack! Attack! After years of Lance Armstrong inspired sensible bike racing where the best teams would put all of their boys on the from to make life difficult throughout a stage and then have a final climb big gun hit out, early attacks are back. And we, the viewing public, are all the richer for it!
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