La Sacrée Finale

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From the moment my tires first touched the hallowed cobblestones of the Champs-Élysées in 1991, I knew they were something special. For me, it was the beginning of my career as a bike racer, my first few days in Europe, in Paris, and the fulfillment of a dream to race bicycles in France.
Entering Paris in 2014, watching the survivors roll over my old training routes, brought excitement. Watching them roll onto the Champs brought a tingle and a sense of relief.
The finish line was in sight and the crowds — deafening and abundant — gave that little bit of extra energy to help the most tired of riders across the finish line.
Sure, there was still a race to be won, the “sprinters’ world championships”, some call it. But for most, the palpable
sense of relief at finally finishing this Tour de France was victory enough.
This Tour will perhaps be best remembered for its attrition. Some will try to dismiss Nibbles’ victory because of those who didn’t make it past the opening weeks. But bike racing isn’t just about the angels of the mountains or the panzerwagen. Nibali and his team showed the savoire-faire and tactical sense to race the crosswinds and the cobbles, as well as the mountains. They rode at the front and had the good fortune to survive the disasters thrown their way. While the Sky machine fell part and Saxo was relegated to racing for stage wins, Astana demonstrated the classic bike racing adage: to finish first, first you have to finish.
This was a Tour of adversity and persistence, as embodied by Talansky’s long, lone effort in front of the voiture-balai and Fuglsang’s continuation despite full-body crash rash and nightmares of hitting water bottles on mountain descents.
These guys continued until they could give no more. Not everybody showed that same commitment. Ahem…Cancellara.
My own career topped out well before I could reach Paris in the bosom of the Tour de France peloton. I raced in the golden age of doping so my career was, in many ways, over before it began.
But this race, this spectacle, still defines who I am as a cyclist. I hope for the sake of the sport and its aspiring young riders that it’s cleaner.
I will nurse my withdrawal from daily doses of Le Tour by watching Slaying The Badger and flipping through old Winning magazines.

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