2011 Tour de France Postlude
If the 2011 Tour de France had ended after Stage 9, a wag might have dubbed it the Tour de Crash.
If the 2011 Tour de France had ended after Stage 9, a wag might have dubbed it the Tour de Crash. At the end of that stage, six riders who might have made an impact on the race--Bradley Wiggins (Sky), Jurgen van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Alexander Vinokourov (Astana), Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Chris Horner (RadioShack), and Janez Brajkovic (RadioShack)-- had withdrawn because of crash-related injuries. Andreas Kloden (RadioShack), who was injured in a Stage 9 pileup, would withdraw after being being banged up in a Stage 12 crash.
In addition to the withdrawals, Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), and defending champion Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) were delayed by crashes or had their performances impaired by injuries suffered in crashes. Last but not least, vehicles struck Nicki Sørensen (Saxo Bank-Sungard), Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky), and Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM). The last two riders were hit by a French media vehicle whose driver disregarded instructions not to go forward and sent the men flying. Hoogerland sailed into a barbed-wire fence and wound up with 33 stitches. All of the riders struck by vehicles finished the Tour. Under these circumstances, one might be tempted to say that Cadel Evans's (Team BMC Racing) victory is tainted.
Think again. First of all, in any sport, injuries are part of the action. Second, Evans was injured in a crash in 2010. Was Contador's victory less meaningful because of that? Third, it is important to note that Evans was not involved in a single crash. Why? Because his team had experienced riders who remembered that riders are safest at the front. BMC made sure that Evans was at or near the front at all times. Moreover, Frank and Andy Schleck (both from Leopard-Trek), the first siblings to appear on the Tour podium, did not crash once. The lesson is clear: If you want to win and avoid crashes, ride at or near the front.
Avoiding crashes was not the only thing that went right for Evans. The Australian rode a calculating race and judged situations well. In addition, Evans unleashed his strength when he needed to. He pipped Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) to win Stage 4, strung out the field in pursuit of Andy Schleck to save his Tour in Stage 18, and let fly with a time trial that the Schlecks could not match to win the Tour in Stage 20. Evans finally showed the physical prowess that observers knew that he had.
For many, the thing that kept Evans from winning a Grand Tour was never physical ability. Rather, it was a seeming passivity and lack of killer instinct. Evans does not attack, they said; he follows others' attacks. He should be better than he is, they asserted, but he is a head case.
Mind you, Evans was never bad. He was an accomplished mountain biker before becoming a full-time road racer in 2000. The Australian finished 14th in his first Grand Tour, the 2002 Giro d'Italia, and he wore the maglia rosa for one day. He won the 2006 Tour of Romandy and the 2009