A sequel movie to a box office hit, generally not too bad because it’s of the same ilk but never quite lives up to the first. So was the tour of 2012. The tour of 2011, for Australians, was the first.
The first Australian winner of the world’s greatest cycling race brought the Tour de France and professional cycling to the more immediate public eye. At a train station in Melbourne not a week before the tour this year there was a billboard advertising the Tour de France, saying ‘Yellow, the only true colour for Australia’. Not five years ago my father lost Cadel Evans a bet with his wife. My father approached him at a function and, a little star struck, said to him “I’m sorry to disturb you but I’m a great fan and I thoroughly enjoyed watching you this year, with the heart you raced, it was great to watch.” Cadel turned to his Italian wife as she laughed and handed her five dollars. He then turned to my dad and said “sorry, I bet my wife that no one here would recognise me and she couldn’t believe it, you just lost me five dollars.” Five years ago Cadel was more famous in Italy than his home country, indeed his home city. Now everyone knows him.
So with that fame now comes responsibility, not to be carried alone though, for the first time in history, Australia has a professional road cycling team; GreenEdge. The stage was set, Australians were prepared, SBS was geared up and the headlines were readied. The only problem was, it was a flop. A horrible mix of old ideas, bad plot twists and frustrating glimmers of the future not quite bright enough to light up the tour but just enough to make people feel like they saw a spectacle worthy of calling itself the Tour de France.
The raw facts; the yellow jersey changed hands once, the winner, a British rider, Bradley Wiggins, never fell lower than second. The green jersey did likewise, ending up with a Slovakian named Peter Sagan, one of the future lights. The polka dot jersey was one of the only battles of interest, changing hands a few times with it going down to the second last day and requiring a Hail Mary to pull it off. Thomas Voeckler, the fighting Frenchman, went on a day long attack to salvage something out of a tour he may have thought lost a few days earlier. The white jersey, for the best young rider also changed hands once. Ending with Tejay van Garderen, an American, a future.
Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky controlled the race as if he was Lance Armstrong and they were US Postal. Cadel Evans, the main challenger, faltered like he was Jan Ullrich. Thibaut Pinot, the youngster rider in the race, a Frenchman, rode, attacked and defended like the great Richard Virenque. Wiggins’ lieutenant, Chris Froome, rode strongly on the front of the bunch, but there was a hint of “I could drop you too” almost as if he were telling his team leader that things should be different, rather reminiscent of Floyd Landis’ last year under Lance Armstrong.
This was a year that we’d all seen before.There was the typical drug scandal, Frank Schleck, finally returning a positive sample to a drug test and claiming poisoning of all things. How that’s supposed to get him off the hook we’ll never know. Under the cycling anti doping charter, it states that a rider is solely responsible for everything that goes in his body. Claiming poisoning doesn’t exonerate him, just illustrates that he’s either unimaginative, paranoid or with it enough to know that someone’s poisoning him, but not quite to know where, or to take it to the authorities before they took it to him. In true Tour fashion, there was the rise of a new champion, Thibaut Pinot, the 22 year old Frenchman who gave the French hope. He lit up mountains and proved that the French can actually still ride bikes. The fading of a champion, as much as I hate to write about it, also happened. Cadel Evans will not win the Tour again. When he won he was the oldest winner since the Second World War. To do it again this year would have been hard, however with his old rivals, his new rivals, his age, and the almost guaranteed mountainous parcours next year, a repeat of that feat will be nigh on impossible. Sadly Australia’s shooting star has faded.
However next year, like with every good idea, Batman, Superman, Kung Fu Panda, we will be watching, and boy do we have reasons. Next year is the 100th running of the greatest annual sporting event on the earth. With the new possible French heroes, in the 100th edition, you can bet all stops will be pulled out, a spectacle will appear, we will watch and it will be fantastic.