Best rider at the Tour - no doubt at all it was Alberto Contador. He dominated in the mountains and the time trials so thoroughly that he had to start enduring the same "are you on drugs?" questions that plagued Lance when he won seven Tour in a row.
Most improved rider - Bradley Wiggins previous two appearances at the Tour were totally unspectacular. I guess all you have to do is lose ten pounds and still maintain all your power in order to become one of the world's best climbers. Once Bradley understands how to keep himself sharp for the entire three weeks of a grand tour he will be standing on the podium. Pick your step.
Most aggressive riders - the Brothers Schleck lit it up in the last week in the Alps in a style we have rarely seen in the modern era of the Tour. It helped that Astana either couldn't or decided not to try and control the race in the same fashion as Discover Channel/US Postal, but for whatever the reason, Brothers Schleck lit up the afterburners on the most strategic climbs. If Frank had been a tad bit stronger and able to match his younger brother's pace 100% of the time, the outcome of the Tour would have been completely different.
Best Sprinter - while he didn't have the green jersey in Paris, there was little doubt that Mark Cavendish was the best finisher in the Tour. Thor Hushovd was the most consistent finisher over the entire three weeks, but in a pure drag race to the line, the Manxman was tops.
Most Deserving Rider to Not Win a Stage - Tyler Farrar was the only rider to consistently challenge Mark Cavendish in the bunch kicks. He almost pulled off a win on stage 11. Kudos to Tyler and Garmin-Slipstream for making Cavendish earn his six stage wins, hopefully, sooner than later, Tyler and Garmin will get their first stage win.
Recipient of the Thomas Voeckler 'Never Give Up' Award - Thomas Voeckler whose win on stage 5 to Perpignan was proof that if you try hard enough, good things can happen. Even after he won stage 5, Voeckler continued to go up the road in breakaways. He is the most exciting rider the French have with Brice Feillu and Perrick Fedrigo as honorable mentions.
American Idol Most Favorite rider in the peloton - OK. I probably can't speak for all cycling fans out there, but Jens Voigt continues to ride well and his frank and honest commentary on the race make him a crowd favorite. My enjoyment of the Tour took a huge hit when Jens crashed on the Petit-Saint Bernard. Come back Jens, come back!
Comeback rider of the Tour - given how well he rode after his horrific crash in the Giro, Christian Vande Velde's return to the top level of pro cycling at the Tour was an amazing comeback. But, the nod has to go to Lance Armstrong who spent three plus years off the bike engaged in a number of high-profile non-cycling activities. His climb onto the podium in Paris was nothing short of incredible, but he if he rides the Tour next year he really needs to improve on his consistency in the critical stages.
Best Climber at the Tour - that award usually goes to the rider who wears the polka-dot jersey, but for some strange reason, even after doubling the points on the final climb of a mountain stage, nobody really seems to care about who wears the climber's jersey except for the three or four riders who accidentally find themselves in a position to contest for it. In case you were wondering, Alberto Contador was the best climber, polka-dot jersey or not.
Dumbest Rider in the Pro Peloton - While he didn't ride the Tour, Danilo Di Luca proved that you don't need a double digit IQ to be a professional bike rider. There have been at least five high profile riders busted for CERA, the delayed action version of EPO, but for some reason, the double Giro stage winner and eventual second place finisher couldn't keep his hands off the hot sauce. What's up with that?
On a day which didn't change the overall classification one second, it might seem like the race was a bit on the boring side. That was far from the case as a number of the favorites for the overall launched their bids to unseat Team Astana at the top of the heap.
The stage started off with a 14-mile(23.5km), 4200' climb right out of Andorra. Because of the aggressive nature of the Tour this far, a number of riders were seen warming up before the stage, something that rarely happens, especially since the first three miles were neutralized. But, when the flag dropped, the attacks started as the AG2R-La Mondiale team of race leader Rinaldo Nocentini was unable to control the peloton.
There were at least three major groups on the climb at one point and with 5km remaining to the summit of the massive Port d'Envalira, Cadel Evans went clear. Dave Zabriskie covered the move for Garmin-Slipstream. That move was partially brought back, though a group containing Thor Hushovd and George Hincapie did escape on the descent into France(see race notes below).
Things seemed to cool down until the final climb, the Col de Agnes, where Andy Schleck put in a strong attack. All of Astana's heavy hitters were there, but Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre missed the move so even Lance Armstrong took some pulls at the front trying to widen the gap back to Evans.
In the end the fire went out at the front and all the overall contenders were together at the finish. Again, another exciting day at the Tour even if the results at the end of the day didn't reflect it.
The stage victory went to Casse d'Epargne rider Luis-Leon Sanchez. Here is a photo of him celebrating his victory.
For some reason, I seem to be a magnet for stage winners. Sanchez rode right up to me and stopped. I snapped this photo just as the scrum for the first interview began.
I talked briefly with yesterday's stage winner, Brice Feillu. He picked up the polka-dot climber's jersey for his efforts yesterday. He told me he was very happy to have won a stage and have taken the polka dot jersey. He also said that even though he lost the jersey today to Christophe Kern he would fight to get it back.
Because this was a very hilly stage, the organizers had a difficult time deciding where to place the intermediate sprints. These sprints award points for the first three finishers and count toward the green, sprinter's jersey. In the end, the two of the three sprints were only 11 miles(19km) apart. Thor Hushovd, who trailed Mark Cavendish in the race for the green jersey by only one point, broke away before the first sprint. Cavendish's Columbia-HTC teammate, George Hincapie, covered the move, but Hushovd took the first sprint and is the provisional leader in the green jersey competition on the road.
Hushovd beat Hincapie in the next sprint to increase his provisional lead by another six points over Cavendish. The third sprint is after the final two big climbs so most likely neither Hushovd or Cavendish will be contesting that sprint or the stage finish sprint as well. Because of this making the most of these kinds of opportunities is how you maximize your output, but conserve energy. It was a very good tactical move for the Cervelo Test Team. Thor will be in the green jersey tonight.
Garmin-Slipstream rider Bradley Wiggins was a major revelation on the climb to Arcalis in Andorra. Not only was he in the lead group, but even managed an attack with about a kilometer to go. Wiggins, or Wiggo as his teammates call him, has quite the engine as witnessed by his Olympic gold medal in the 4000m pursuit from the Beijing Olympics. He was hired by the Garmin-Slipstream team to help Christian Vande Velde in the mountains and because of this he lost nine pounds in the off season to improve his climbing form.
That Wiggins is nine pounds lighter than last year makes the fact that he was generating a mind-blowing 550 watts during his turns at the front in the team time trial even more impressive. Its one thing to lose weight, but to not sacrifice any power is the best scenario possible. I think we have only seen a brief glimpse on what may be possible for Wiggins.
Yesterday's 135-mile stage from Barcelona to Arcalis-Andorra was medium-tough by Tour standards. It was six hours in the saddle for the riders and two major climbs. Christian Vande Velde burned over 5000 calories during the stage.