The Grand Tours of 2013
While there are a couple of smaller races still happening around the globe, the professional road season is largely finished for 2013 and I’m already bored. This is partly my fault since I do not follow any other sports other than cycling. So let’s revisit the three Grand Tours and the great men who won them.
Tour de France : Chris Froome, Team Sky (GBR)
When he is on his bike, Chris Froome’s face rarely changes: his jaw set, features fixed in total concentration. As he rounded the Arc de Triomphe on July 21st for the first time, in 20th place in the pack, with his Tour de France victory all but in the bag, the long, painfully lean cyclist’s expression was the same as it had been for so many of the 84 hours he had spent in the saddle since leaving Corsica 22 days earlier.
The ecstatic smile and the tears would come later on that balmy evening, after 10 laps of the Champs Élysées. It is rare for a Tour winner to lose any time on the final stage but, in the final kilometre, Froome slipped off the back of the pack on purpose in order to share the final moments with his Team Sky teammates, crossing the line as a unit. Dropping back those few hundred metres meant the young Colombian Nairo Quintana closed by 43sec to be 4min20sec behind Froome in the standings, but that barely counted in the context of the previous 3,400km.
The Champs Élysées in the gloaming: a dream venue for a romantic evening. The Parisian sunset greeted the 169 survivors of the Tour, in a race climax put back by several hours to finish as the sun dipped over the French capital’s western edge, as part of the celebration of the race’s 100th edition. It was a gamble made with television images in mind and it paid off, with le couchant, or setting, bathing the riders in a golden haze for the final miles.
The previous evening Froome spoke of his “incredible journey”, from mountain biking as a 12-year-old on Kenya’s dirt roads to wearing the yellow jersey of the Tour de France. It is a voyage with a unique conclusion: the Tour has never had a finish quite like this. To mark the 100th Tour, the riders were made to race around the Arc de Triomphe, in Place d’Étoile rather than doing a U-turn hundreds of metres short of the great monument as is usually the case, to provide the most symbolic backdrop possible.
Froome had dominated the 20-stage race, taking three stage victories, one at the distinctive Mont Ventoux mountain top in Provence to clock up the biggest winning margin in 16 years. It was a perfect reflection of the form book, as the Kenyan-born Briton has dominated multi-day cycle racing this season, winning four major events before he even started the Tour, where he was the clear favourite.
As the first winner born in Africa, Froome received his final yellow jersey with the Arc de Triomphe lit up against the night sky in honour of the 100th edition of the Tour. Vast projectors installed on the Qatari embassy bathed the great monument in a spectacular son et lumière. This had been billed as a tourist’s Tour de France, taking in France’s most iconic sights, including Mont Saint Michel, Lyon’s Basilica and the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. The climax was no exception, beginning by the sumptuous splendour of Louis XIV’s formal gardens at Versailles and closing below Napoleon’s arch. However, the next time the Tour caravan convenes, the race will have a grittier ring to it; on 5th July 2014, the 101st edition race begins with a 120-mile (190km) run from Leeds to Harrogate, which will be followed by visits to Sheffield and London: from the home of fine wine to the land of Last of the Summer Wine. Whether or not Froome makes it a double next year, 2012 to 2014 will go down in the race’s history as Les Tours Anglais.
Giro d’Italia: Vincenzo Nibali, Astana, (ITA)
Merely winning is never enough for Italian cycling fans and media, hence the significance of Vincenzo Nibali’s two stage wins in two days at the Giro d’Italia en route to what should be a convincing overall victory on the Sunday in Brescia. The Tre Cime di Lavaredo finish on the Saturday was planned to be an epic apotheosis, and it panned out that way after a certain amount of suspense over whether it would happen at all. Nibali’s stage victory in a white-out 2,300m above sea level amid vast snowdrifts will be the abiding, if blurred, image of the 2013 Giro d’Italia.
The final kilometres to the finish line were hellishly steep whatever the weather conditions, but the cold turned them into a battle for survival. Nibali had only to follow his closest challengers to seal victory overall after his stage win in Thursday’s mountain time trial, but he chose instead to go on the offensive two and a half kilometres out as the gradient tightened to about 18%.
From there he had only to solo to the finish line, barely visible at times in the fat snowflakes and murky fog, and surrounded by adoring tifosi, who sometimes threatened to fall under his wheels. The stage win underlined that he has ridden a near-perfect race over the past three weeks, although his margin at the finish was relatively narrow: 16sec ahead of a trio of Colombians: Fabio Duarte, Rigoberto Urán, and Carlos Betancur.
Two of the South American trio had agendas other than the stage win. Urán, who had taken over leadership at Team Sky after Bradley Wiggins’s withdrawl, was involved in a tight battle for second place with the 2011 Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans, who had flopped in Thursday’s time trial, and who suffered again in the final kilometres on the Tre Cime, and slipped to third overall. Betancur, on the other hand, was a few seconds behind the Pole Rafal Majka in the contest to be crowned best young rider; he, too, achieved his goal, climbing the standings to fifth place.
The day was Nibali’s, however, and the 29-year-old from Sicily, who finished third in last year’s Tour de France behind Wiggins and Chris Froome, since this 2013 Giro is his second Grand Tour win of his career after the 2010 Vuelta a España.
Vuelta a Espana: Chris Horner, RadioShack- Leopard, (USA)
The American veteran Christopher Horner won the Vuelta a España on Sunday at the age of 41, making him the oldest champion of one of cycling’s three-week grand tours.Horner completed the traditional arrival to the Spanish capital with his RadioShack-Leopard team-mates without mishap. Horner, who will turn 42 next month, beat his nearest challenger, Vincenzo Nibali, by finishing ahead of the Italian in each of the final three mountainous stages before the 110km flat ride from Leganes to Madrid.
Hoy mi cuerpo necesita de ti…88’
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