Lance Armstrong coming out of retirement to ride a full docket of Pro Tour races, including the Tour de France, is a great story. He's got all the right reasons for doing so: He's proving he can race in the new super-strict drug testing environment, he's proving he can hang with guys 15 years his junior, and he's doing more to aid the fight against cancer than, dare I say it?
Anyone in history.
Therefore, I am not here to take anything away from Lance and his efforts. I simply want everyone (particularly, casual American racing fans) to know that this year's iteration of the world's toughest sporting competition had a heaping helping of other intriguing storylines.
(And no, I don't mean the reported "tension" in Team Astana. Their real conflict is money, but more on that later...)
The Schleck Brothers' Display
I came to the realization a few nights ago that Alberto Contador, though a stupendous rider and the best climber I've seen since Pantani, will never challenge Armstrong's record of seven Tour titles in a row. And it's all because of Andy Schleck.
How a man so thin generates so much power I will never know, but the 24-year-old (now a winner of two white jerseys) clearly has a deep well of energy. After watching him attack again and again and again on Mont Ventoux—and that was just in the hopes of helping brother Frank out—I have reason to believe his supply is endless.
And in regards to Frank, because he's nearly as important here, there could not be a better lieutenant (if that is indeed the role he will play). Obviously, the bond of blood will always keep him true to his younger sibling, but in case you're blind, let me tip you off to something: He's a darn good racer too.
But back to Andy. I won't guarantee that he and Alberto will trade wins over the next 10 years, nor will I even guarantee he'll win three of the next 10. He will win at least one in the next five or so, though, and thus prevent Contador from running up consecutive triumphs.
The "baby" Schleck is just too good at this stage of his career to not take the top spot on the podium sometime soon.
Thor Takes Green Jersey, Sleeps Well at Night
Mark Cavendish is a badass, capable of whooping anyone and everyone at the line. I mean, did you see the finish of the last stage? He's a sparkplug (with a terrific team, I might add).
But he got a little too bullish in Stage 10, resulting in him being docked a few points in the green jersey race. Immediately, he was critical of the relegation ruling and of Thor Hushovd, who took and held the prize to the end.
That was after he had stressed in multiple previous interviews that the green wasn't important to him, that his '09 Tour was about stage wins for the team and getting himself to Paris.
Beginning to get confused? Me too. If a man says he wants stage wins (and gets six of them!), what business does he have talking about the green jersey race? If you're going to go for it, go for it every day like Thor did, don't complain about his complaints.
The truth is that Hushovd answered nonverbally but resoudingly. His charge over two climbs in Stage 17 blew my mind, as I'd never seen Thor or any other sprinter charge like that on a mountain stage; plus, he was picking up what Mark would probably call "garbage points" while Cav was sitting in the peloton (or off the back).
And it goes without saying he was near the front of every bunch finish. Thor Hushovd, 2009 Green Jersey Winner, is also a badass.
You Can't Take It Home, but...
Few will remember it, but Rinaldo Nocentini (yeah, not "Nicotini" as the PTI idiots said...what is he, the Italian Marlboro man?) wore the yellow for the most stages of anyone in this year's tour. He took it from Stage Seven to 14, and though he admittedly had a lot of help from teammates, this relative unknown held on when he really had no business doing so.
It was his first Tour; perhaps his greatest accomplishments up to this point would be a GP Indurain win in '07 and a '09 Tour of California stage win. No one would have guessed he'd lead the overall for as long as he did, but I'd hazard one that he could play an important domestique role at some point down the line.
And then there's Tony Martin, who held the best young rider's white until Andy took it after Stage 15. Martin can still say he held it for the most elapsed time, though (12 stages), and he beat everyone ahead of him in the standings up Mont Ventoux.
There's a boy to watch out for in the future; not exactly of the same Tour-winning, climb-dominating wiry build as the Schlecks, but dangerous nonetheless.
Cycling fans worldwide can be nothing but happy at the conclusion of the '09 Tour de France. There was competition for every jersey and every finish, the best riders duked it out for the yellow, and no doping or crashes (save Levi's; shout out to one of the most humble and likeable riders I'm aware of) changed the stakes.
But don't just be satisfied with the one great story that was reported in the American mainstream, that of Lance and Livestrong; seek out more (as Bob Roll would call them) "Adventures from the Epic Cycle!"