95th Tour Review: Sastre!

by Jack  

Now that the 2008 Tour de France has come to a close, I can honestly say I was dead wrong. Wrong in who I predicted to win and how the race would have panned out. There were a lot of surprises and a few disappointments but it was filled with action! Here's the run down.

Spanish rider Carlos Sastre (Team CSC-Saxo Bank) proved he was the strongest rider throughout the 3 weeks and came away as the undisputed winner of this year's Tour. Sastre kept under the radar until it mattered and showed he was the freshest of all of the contenders when it counted, in the final Stage 20 time trial. At 33 years old, Sastre had always been a podium contender but just missed that little bit of something to put him over the edge. Well, he had that little bit of something this year. But also, he (and whomever would have won) benefited from the absence of Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer (Astana) making this Tour as open as the 1999 Tour was. Way to go Carlos!

Australian Cadel Evans (Silence - Lotto) once again came away with only a 2nd place. The biggest favorite of them all just couldn't quite break the grip of Team CSC and came up just short towards his quest for yellow. It's always fun to sit here and think "what if" but with all things considered, he did what he could. If he had a better team in the mountains maybe he could have won. If he didn't have such an aggressive schedule between last year's Tour and this year's Tour, maybe he could have won. Or, if he didn't have to defend the yellow jersey and all of the pressures and time constraints that come with it, maybe he could have won. We will never know. I am sure Cadel is one disappointed cyclist and is already looking forward to next year.

Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner), the Austrian cyclist that probably was the biggest revelation of this year's Tour came away with the mountains jersey and 3rd overall. He's a new name at this top level but has shown moments of possible greatness when he rode with the T-Mobile Team. We have to wait for next year to see if this year has been a fluke.

Russian Denis Menchov (Rabobank) proved that riding the Giro this year did give his form the boost he needed. But unfortunately for him, his lack of attention on Stage 3 and his horrible descending skills cost him at least a podium spot, if not more. I'm still looking for him to come back strong next year.

Then there is American Christian Vande Velde (Team Garmin-Chipotle). Besides Kohl, he is the other big revelation of this year's Tour. We knew he could ride, but we certainly didn't expect him to be amongst the contenders. Like Menchov and Valverde, it's what could have been. Vande Velde could have cost himself a podium spot thanks to the one bad day on Stage 16 where he cracked before the top of the final climb and crashed on the descent to the finish. This year has given Christian the confidence needed to come back and be a contender.

The Schleck's (Team CSC-Saxo Bank)! What an amazing combo. They were the greatest animators of this year's Tour and you can bet that at least one of them will win the Tour in the future. Both Frank and Andy need to work on their time trialing if they want to make their dreams come true though. Since they are still young, especially Andy, they have time on their side.

The other top pre-race favorite, Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) ended his Tour well off the podium thanks to one bad day in the Pyrenees. Again, there could be a bunch of "what if's". What if he didn't take the yellow jersey in Stage 1 and had to defend it? What if he didn't push himself too hard in the Dauphiné? If Valverde did not have that bad day up to Hautacam, he could have easily been in a podium spot. He rode strongly in every other stage and I think still can come back in the future and win the Tour.

Italian Damiano Cunego (Team Lampre) was the biggest disappointment for me. He just didn't have the form needed to compete. I don't know whether it's because he didn't train properly or the Tour is just too hard for a rider of his capabilities. Maybe Lance Armstrong was right when he said Cunego could not compete. To make matters worse, he had to leave the Tour thanks to a pretty serious crash that cut open his chin and bruised his chest. I still hold out hope and believe he can compete in the Tour. He's mentioned that he will evaluate what went wrong and reassess his strengths and weaknesses. Let's hope he doesn't give up the desire to compete for the GC at the Tour.

There are two other notables in this year's Tour. The first includes the dominance of Brit, Mark Cavendish (Team Columbia) in the sprints. He won no less than 4 stages! Cavendish has set himself heads and shoulders above the rest of the peloton as he easily won those stages by at least a bike length. Even though Cavendish dropped out 3/4 of the way through, that doesn't diminish what he accomplished as he awaits Beijing and the Olympics.

The other notable is German Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner), who also surprised the field by taking the Stage 4 time trial. Most thought that was a fluke until he came back and won the final Stage 20 time trial as well. Schumacher also enjoyed a couple of days in yellow and probably could have held on to it a few more days if it wasn't for his final kilometer crash on Super Besse.

Now for some negative news. Like the previous 2 Tours, this year included a few doping positives. But unlike the last 2 Tours, the mood seems to be one of relief. Relief that the system is working and the few riders still willing to cheat are being caught and the peloton is slowly becoming clean. The biggest name involved was Italy's Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott) who tested positive for a new form of EPO. Subsequently, his entire team chose to leave the race, leaving a big hole for the upcoming mountain stages in the Alps. It's hard to believe there are still cyclists willing to risk their lives and careers for a small little boast. I don't know if it's the culture or just the judgment of a small group of individuals but time is not on their side. The system works and is slowly bringing cycling back to legitimacy, if not already. I continue to cross my fingers.

So what about next year? Can anyone say exciting!? I am immediately counting down to next year's Tour. Assuming Astana gets invited, that brings back 2007 champ Alberto Contador of Spain and 2007 3rd place, American Levi Leipheimer. Then also bring in some of the young riders we saw prove their worth this year and we have an exciting race amongst us! Some names to note besides Andy Schleck include this year's winner of the Tour de Suisse, Czech Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas), the 2008 Tour de Georgia winner, Belarussian Kanstantsin Siutsou (Team Columbia) and Russian Vladimir Efimkin (Ag2r).

I see no less than 10 contenders for next year's Tour. If you thought this year's Tour was supposed to be wide open, bring on 2009! ASO usually unveils next year's route in October and it remains to be seen whether the longer time trials will return. Like always, it's the balance between time trials and mountain stages that decide who the contenders are for the Tour. I hope everyone enjoyed the Tour as much as I did but don't forget that the cycling season is still not finished! We have the fall classics, the Olympics, the Vuelta and the World Championships still to come. Stay tuned!

The money shot. Credit: Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images

95th Tour Final General Classification
1 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC - Saxo Bank
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto
3 Bernhard Kohl (Aut) Gerolsteiner
4 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank
5 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Team Garmin-Chipotle
6 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC - Saxo Bank
7 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi
8 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team Columbia
9 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
10 Tadej Valjavec (Slo) AG2R La Mondiale
11 Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) AG2R La Mondiale
12 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team CSC - Saxo Bank
13 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas
14 Sandy Casar (Fra) Française des Jeux
15 Amaël Moinard (Fra) Cofidis

95th Tour Final Points Classification
1 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank
2 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole
3 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Milram
4 Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis
5 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team Columbia
6 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
7 Robert Hunter (RSA) Barloworld
8 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Silence - Lotto
9 Julian Dean (NZl) Team Garmin-Chipotle
10 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Columbia

95th Tour Final Mountains Classification
1 Bernhard Kohl (Aut) Gerolsteiner
2 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Team CSC - Saxo Bank
3 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC - Saxo Bank
4 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Bouygues Telecom
5 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner
6 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner
7 John-Lee Augustyn (RSA) Barloworld
8 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
9 Rémy Di Grégorio (Fra) Française des Jeux
10 Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi

95th Tour Final Young Rider Classification
1 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team CSC - Saxo Bank
2 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas
4 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Cofidis
5 Eduardo Gonzalo Ramirez (Spa) Agritubel
6 Thomas Lövkvist (Swe) Team Columbia
7 John-Lee Augustyn (RSA) Barloworld
8 Peter Velits (Svk) Team Milram
9 Rémy Di Grégorio (Fra) Française des Jeux
10 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne

95th Tour Final Team Classification
1 Team CSC Saxo Bank
2 AG2R-La Mondiale
3 Rabobank
4 Euskaltel - Euskadi
5 Silence - Lotto
6 Caisse d'Epargne
7 Team Columbia
8 Lampre
9 Gerolsteiner
10 Credit Agricole

See the complete results here.

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