Mark Cavendish’ stunning sprint finish down the Champs Elysees on Sunday brought a close to the Tour De France, and I for one am sad to see it end.

For this year has proven to be the most entertaining Tour in my memory. With competition until the last, controversy following the riders up the mountains and inspired commentary from the Eurosport team (more to come on that another time).

Alberto Contador may have clinched the Yellow Jersey for a third consecutive year once the dust had settled, but this was by no means the formality that it has been previously. Previous years have seen the identity of the winner easily recognisable from the mid-way point, with Lance Armstrong often winning by some distance.

Contador himself won last year’s race by over two and a half minutes. This year saw the front two only separated by eight seconds until the final time trial when Contador opened the gap to 39 and claim the title.

Contador’s tears come the end of proceedings showed how hard he had been pushed by the likeable Andy Schleck. This showed he had been put through a real race. He wasn’t comfortably better than the rest of the field this year; he had been challenged to the very last and those tears displayed as much relief as they did joy.

It would be amiss to ignore Dennis Menchov in all this excitement, with the Russian powering through on that final time trial and last real stage to pip Samuel Sanchez to the final place on the podium, for the first time in his career.

The Green Jersey went to the wire as well, with Cavendish having a mathematical chance of overcoming the lead of Alessandro Petacchi going into Paris, although he was ultimately unable to make up the points to overtake the Italian.

So there were many thrills and indeed spills throughout the tour, making it thoroughly enjoyable. We saw former champion Lance Armstrong hit the deck three times on one stage, whilst another day saw the great man take a tumble in the neutral zone prior to another.

One of the pre-Tour favourites, Frank Schleck (brother of Andy) was ruled out early on, as a bad tumble saw the Luxembourgian shatter his collarbone, requiring eight bolts to repair.

Most notable of the spills or attempted in this case, was the bizarre exclusion of Mark Renshaw of the HTC Columbia team for head-butting. Cavendish’ lead-out man for the sprints was found guilty of throwing three butts at Julien Dean of Team Garmin-Transitions. In addition to this he also then cut across Tyler Farrar in the final sprint to help ensure victory for his team-mate.

This was the first time a rider had been expelled from the tour for non-doping reasons since 1997.

The controversy for this ride around France wasn’t over yet either, as an even bigger talking point emerged in the Pyrenees. With Andy Schleck in possession of the yellow jersey at the time, he went on the attack only to find his chain wasn’t so willing to join him, falling off at the crucial point.

Contador then went on the attack with his rival stranded halfway up the hill trying to attach his chain to his bike again. Whilst there is nothing in the rules in regards to this, it is generally considered poor sportsmanship to attack whilst your opponent is incapacitated.

In fact Contador had waited earlier in the tour when Schleck was grounded. He claims he was already on the attack when Schleck’s chain came off, whilst there was also the issue with Samuel Sanchez, the third-placed rider, who had taken off himself.

It only adds to the fire that Contador gained 39 seconds on Schleck that day; the exact amount he ended up triumphing by.

So all this has made for exceptional viewing. Throw in the fact that this tour has seen the fewest riders thrown out for doping offences in my memory and you have quite the success story.

Whilst this campaign might be over, attentions will now turn to next year’s route. And I’m looking forward to it already.


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