I started road cycling in high school in 1999. This is also the first year that Lance Armstrong won the Tour De France. Perfect timing, right?
And from here on out I was hooked on the Tour.
In 2003, I got the opportunity to spend an entire summer in southern France, in Lacoste in the Petite Luberon region of Provence. Yep, it WAS great!
The Tour came pretty close, but we still had to drive a bit to see a few stages. The first stage we saw was on the epic and historic L'Alpe D'Huez. I hiked up to the third switchback (there are about 21 of them?) and staked a spot. It was HOT that day. And at 4-5PM when the riders finally hit the base, it was still hot. So not only had they ridden 100+ miles of MOUNTAINS that day, but they were still sprinting up this climb! EPIC!
|Can anyone recognize the two riders? That is me clapping in the blue jersey.|
(edit: Thanks to Jason @ CookTrainEatRace for pointing this out. Notice they are NOT wearing helmets? I totally forgot about this! I think the rule was no helmets required on an uphill finish? It was cool at the bottom of the hill. The pros would take off their helmets and throw them into the crowds. Talk about rats (spectators) fighting over a freaking helmet.)
This was also the first time I saw Lance Armstrong in person (I later saw him on the Champs Elysees and at the 2004 and 2005 Tour de Georgias). You can tell when Lance is approaching, because the helicopters start hovering overhead.
He emerged from a shadow of a tree and looked like he was sculpted out of stone. He was freaking ripped and dark. Haven't ever seen a white guy with such a tan before! Even on an 8-9% grade, the lead riders went by in a flash. That day the main group included Iban Mayo, Jan Ullrich, Tyler Hamilton, Richard Virenque, and Lance and many other former greats. Interesting that everyone listed has been busted or implicated in doping scandals...
So this is the era that "grew up" with in cycling: The late 90's early 2000's "class" of riders. I knew them ALL. Which races they won, which teams they had been on, who they were riding for, etc.
In this year's tour? I believe only George Hincapie and maybe Thor Hushvod are the only remaining riders that I can think of personally (I am sure there are many others who rode in 2003) who are still riding.
It's a different "class" now. Alberto Contador has taken over the roll as the "boss" and Mark Cavendish is the sprinter to be feared. I guess I now feel a great disconnect from these riders (possibly because I am older than them!) but also because those "older" riders were what I first learned.
So my predictions for this year's yellow and green jersey winners? It will probably be another showdown between the Schleck brothers and Contador. Cadel Evans will shoot some fireworks, but will falter in the mountains. Cavendish, Thor, Phillipe Gilbert, and possibly Tyler Farrar will duke it out for the Green jersey.
I think Contador will pull it out in the end. He can time trial if he needs extra time. The Schleck brothers can't.