In the late 1980s the bosses of the Tour de France became turned on by the idea of ‘mondialisation’, of bringing the Tour to the world, and opening it up beyond its traditional heartlands. We’ve had non-European success before, but rarely on the scale of 2002. It has taken until now for the sporting reality of what they craved to hit home. Riders from 12 different nations stood on the victory podium, while the home stars managed just 2 stage wins.
The overall and points competition prizes have gone outside Europe, and those winners, Lance Armstrong and Robbie McEwen, were joined by Brad McGee and David Millar in plundering 8 stage wins between them. Did Felix Levitan and Jacques Goddet realise this would ever happen when they dreamt of global domination for their sporting event? It’s unlikely, and the way Armstrong and McEwen performed in their respective competitions indicates that next year could be more of the same.
Lance may have looked like he wobbled a couple of times, but was anyone really fooled when he came home behind Botero in Stage 9’s TT?. Two dominant wins in the Pyrenees, and the support of his best ever US Postal team meant that Big Tex was never in trouble. If he stays clear of injuries, and maintains his formidable focus and determination, the record equalling 5th win should be there for the taking. Beyond Lance’s brilliant achievement, what were the other highlights and lowlights?
1. Laurent Jalabert’s farewell. A great champion goes out in style. Jaja has been a class act since he first started his pro-career. The KoM victory, and his inspirational attacking riding were special, but no one will forget the ovation he received from the fans and his fellow riders when he finished at Plateau de Beille applauded by Franck Renier.
2. Robbie McEwen put a couple of indifferent years behind him in style. 2 stage wins and the green jersey, ended (forever?) the Erik Zabel hold on the jersey. And pulling off victory on the Champs Elysees for the second time? There are sprinters who’d sell their souls for that.
3. Cramp can be a pretty painful cross to bear, especially when you’ve been on the attack all day, and the big, bad peloton wolfs you down. Thor Hushovd was all for quitting on Stage 2, but was cajoled to the finish by his DS Roger Legeay. Thankfully, he hung in, as he recovered for a terrific, breakaway win at Bourg-en-Bresse on Stage 18.
4. A lot of people aren’t going to like me writing this, but Richard Virenque’s win provided the French public with a lot to shout about, and gave him some sort of redemption. 200km in the lead, and a win on Mont Ventoux. Love him or not, it was a mighty impressive show of determination.
5. A lack of professional decorum it may have been, but Miguel Martinez gave us a refreshing burst of enthusiasm, and now we know how it feels to get close to one of your heroes! Rather than react to Laurent Jalabert’s attack on Stage 13 Little Mig started shouting “Go, Jaja, go!”
1. It looks like goodbye to Jonathan Vaughters. The American had promised so much, especially after his Dauphine Libere win in ’99, but lady luck just wasn’t with him, as evidenced by a litany of crashes and injuries. He failed to finish his 4th consecutive attempt at the Tour, and is heading back to the US. All his fans across the English speaking world, and beyond, will miss him a lot.
2. An injury lowlight was the terrible crash which hospitalised Michael Sandstoed of Team CSC. Multiple broken ribs and a punctured lung are not the souvenirs that anyone wants from the Tour, but at least his DS Bjarne Riis said he’ll still be on the team next year.
3. Drunken fans hassling Lance on the Mont Ventoux. Lance is big enough, and has enough minders, to handle himself, but all riders are vulnerable in a situation like that. We don’t want to see cycling having to defend itself against hooliganism charges, when a lot of press are out for any ‘doping scandal’ they can find. Which brings us to:
4. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano’s ‘positive test’ that never was. He had a certificate. It was all above board. There was no dope story. Until someone mentioned it to an impressionable journo.
5. Although they did try, ONCE came up short on their challenge in 2002, and things became just a little predictable. Message to all other candidates for 2003 – TRY HARDER!!
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