Sunday, July 21, 2013

Fresh faces turn the page for 100th Tour de France

All hail the Arc d'Triomphe, which the riders
should circle every year.
 When you celebrate a century of doing pretty much anything, you have a tendency to look back. Given the fresh faces that dominated the 100th staging of the Tour de France, though, the event has every reason to look forward.

The sport is trying to ride away from its past, filled with doping scandals for the past two decades. We can't guarantee that the newcomers who dominated the Tour this year are clean, but it's a good sign for the race that the old guard was all but absent from the podiums this year for a sport looking for a new start. Among the riders we hope  to see more of for years to come:

Chris Froome: Like last year's winner, Bradley Wiggins, he has answered every question about doping. Both grew tired of the subject, especially since they vow that they are riding clean. Unlike Lord Wiggins, he answered with dignity, rather than profanity.

Nairo Quintana: He makes climbing look like flying. Easy, effortless, like a 15 mph loll along the Grant's Trail. Only when you see the faces of his competitors do you realize how hard it is to keep up with him. It is a magical sight. Let's hope there's no smoke and mirrors behind the magic. Phil and Paul were prone to hyperbole on the final stages, predicting he might someday win the Tour. He has to learn to time trial, and his slight frame make him prone to being caught out in crosswinds and on hard, rolling stages.

Peter Sagan: Green goatie, wheelies on Alpe d'Huez. He makes cycling look like fun. And it is for him, which makes it easy to forget that he's also a superb bike handler and perhaps the most versatile rider in the peloton. Unlike the other contenders for the green sprinter's jersey, Sagan can climb the lower slopes with the big boys, meaning that he is a threat on all stages but the mountain top finishes. He is almost omnipresent, but fans don't tire of him because he's so entertaining. And, he's only 24, so we'll see lots of him. Those interviews in his broken English and simultaneously painful and hilarious.

Andrew Talansky: The 24-year-old from Garmin rider got better as the Tour went on, climbing to a top 10 finish. His recuperative powers are a key to becoming a threat for the podium of Grand Tours in years to come.

Richie Porte: Who better to lead the first lap around the Champs Elysees than the guy Froomie leaned on most heavily? He was MVP of the Tour. He was a yo-yo on the tough mountain stages, but managed to rediscover his legs and return to Froome's side on all stages but one, Stage 9. But Porte saved Froome's bacon when he made an illegal trip to the team car for a sodie as Froome was bonking on Alpe d'Huez. Without the illegal sugars, Froome could have lost five minutes, and the Tour. Perhaps most important, Porte is  smart enough to defer when asked if he could see himself in the yellow jersey one day. Nah, he said. Froome had to deal with "a lot of crap" that he didn't seem eager to take on. Phil and Paul ALWAYS refer to him as "Richie Porte." Never just Porte.

Michal Kwiatkowski: The young Polish rider proved as versatile as Sagan. He's a better climber, though not quite Sagan's match in the sprints.

Big Jens rolls over my toes
 at the 2006 Tour.
The Arc d'Triomphe: Riders should circle it every year as part of the final stage. The final stage should end at night, too. Much more of a spectacle. The light show was a bit too Disco Euro-Trash, though.

Big Jens Voigt: OK, so he's the oldest guy in the race, but he competes with joie de vivre. He says he's finished with the Tour, but rode his last like a teenager, attacking on the final mountain stage of his career. I had the privilege of having Big Jens run over my toes after the finish of Stage 19 at the 2006 Tour. As I took this picture, I muttered to myself a version of Jens' mantra: "Shut up, toes. That's Jens Voigt rolling over you. What an honor!"