Tour de France 2006

The first real mountain stage of this year’s tour is complete and the leader board has finally corrected marking the favorites in the top slots. It took 11 stages and 5 different yellow jersey holders to finally have this year’s top-guns in the top slots but when the big stage finally happened, after 5 horrendous climbs in 6hrs, the men who will take the race home have stamped their authority.

This year’s tour is quite different from the ones we had for many-many years as the last minute pull outs of the biggest names meant the whole pack and the individual teams were confused as to who will tame the peaks and who will break the timing bars. For 11 days the teams struggled without leaders who they can ride for and quite a few times the break-aways never succeeded because of the chaos at the tete de la course.

The crown tournament of the toughest sport in the world began this year amid horrendous controversies. 24hrs prior to the start at Strasbourg, some of the biggest names in the sport and serious contender’s to this year’s tour bowed out due to alleged Operacion Puerto where 23 riders were black listed on the account of doping.

This year with no Lance Armstrong, the loyalist’s of cycling finally had a chance to see if the likes of Ivan Basso, Alexander Vinokourov, and Tyler Hamilton along with the favorite Jan Ullrich would fight out for the coveted title, the champion of the canal le tour. The turn of the perennial second had come, for Jan had a chance to prove once and for all that his triumph in 1997 was no fluke and that he was justified for his 5 second place finishes, and claim that he is the best after Armstrong.

The Black Friday operation that opened the flood gates of allegations against team managers and rider’s alike after the Giro d’Italia, the signature street race of Italy, where in the final time trail Ullrich decimated all competition by winning 28secs ahead of Ivan Basso who is considered the best sprinter in the world of cycling. Also the above mentioned front runners notched up some unbelievable time that sent controversy hunters into frenzied activity and they were rewarded well after unearthing some compromising conversations between team doctors’s and dope suppliers.

All this meant that the top cyclists were forced to withdraw from the signature event in the world of cycling while the teams were left with no choice but to let the riders of the teams fight out among themselves to elect a leader whom everyone would rally around.

The race with the likes of Landis, Menchov, Evans, Sastra, Hincapie, Moncutie, Leipheimer and Kloden never really lacked the drama but by not having Lance and Ullrich, the peleton was scattered like a bunch of amateurs for a long time. The flat stages hardly saw any break-aways succeeding with the sprinters like Boonen and McEwen always finishing off in style. But as always the real test lay in the mountains and today the leaders finally got there act together.

Five Category 1 climbs meant that the peleton would dissolve by the last climb and that’s exactly what happened. In the end, the big 3 and the favorites, Landis, Leipheimer and Menchov came home to give some semblance to the race. The tour is all about working collectively together and kicking in the last possible minute and for these 3, today was that chance. There teams, Phonak, Gerolesteiner and Rabobank have finally found there men and the next 12 days will be all about bringing these 3 men out in front on every climb. Team T-Mobile will join them soon am sure but if there is one team that’s finally cracking after years its team Discovery, the former team of Lance Armstrong.

Unlike many years where Armstrong and Ullrich rode days after days in amazing tandem and sticking together when all the other 188 riders have fallen by to decide the better one in the final gradients of the Pyrenees and the Alps, the likes of Landis, Sastra, Evens and Kloden have to work very hard to get the camaraderie among themselves going and trust each other to be together to the final lengths in the mountains. It’s like that Lance and Jan dominated the race and sport providing some of the greatest displays of human strengths, character and quality that the tour is famous for.

I have followed this sport for a while now and every time when I watch the races this year I could hardly stop myself from thinking how the race would have been in Ullrich and Basso were around. Such was the strength of these guys along with Lance that they made this sport such a pleasure to watch.

The rivalry of Lance and Ullrich may no longer be there but by the end of this race I am sure there will be there worthy successors in place who will make this tour simply the greatest tournament of human spirit in the world.

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