Every year, a dozen or so riders set out in the Tour de France with hopes of winning or at least finishing on the podium in Paris. And every year most of them lose their dreams because of crashes, sickness or injuries — or they simply fail to find the good form they thought they had.
This year, two contenders crashed out before four days were completed. Christian Vande Velde of Garmin-Transitions was one of scores of riders who fell on the overly slick descent of the Col de Stockeu on stage 2, but he ended up with two more broken ribs to add to the three he’d cracked at the preceding Tour of Switzerland. He couldn’t start the next day.
There were more crashes and pileups on the cobblestones of northern France the next day. Only two of the injured men couldn’t continue. One was Saxo Bank’s Fränk Schleck, who had a broken clavicle. It was a blow for Andy Schleck to see his brother leave the Tour so early.
“I’ve missed him a lot,” he later said, “Fränk was in better shape than me.”
No other favorites dropped out of the race, but several had their races wrecked by crashes. So, with just the ceremonial final stage on the Champs-Élysées remaining, these are the failures and successes of Tour 2010, starting with those who dropped back first.
Michael Rogers: 34th overall, at 1:09:36 (95th in stage 19 TT, 1:08:52)
The HTC-Columbia team leader was lying in 10th place after the first mountain stage at Avoriaz. But his challenge fell to pieces on the first Pyrenean stage to Ax-3 Domaines, where he lost 15 minutes. After that poor showing he said, “I’ll never win the Tour de France. I’ll have to focus on one-week races now.”
Ivan Basso: 32nd overall, at 59:33 (145th in stage 19 TT, 1:10:47)
As the winner of an extremely difficult Giro d’Italia, the Liquigas-Doimo team leader came to the Tour with hopes of finishing on the podium — as he did in his last appearance in 2005. But Basso was already out of it (in 13th, 2:41 back) after the first mountaintop finish in Avoriaz, where he was expected to shine. A debilitating Giro was still in his legs and in the final week he suffered with bronchitis that led him to be content with just finishing the Tour.
Cadel Evans: 26th overall, at 50:27 (166th in stage 19 TT, 1:11:53)
Everything seemed to be going right for BMC Racing’s world champion in the first part of the Tour when he finished with the winning break on the cobblestones and rode solidly in the first alpine stage to take the yellow jersey by 20 seconds over Andy Schleck. But Evans crashed early in that same stage, and X-rays showed a broken elbow; the pain (combined with the huge efforts he had made at a tough Giro) put paid to his chances on the next stage’s Madeleine climb. “My legs feel good,” Evans said, “but it’s too painful when I climb out of the saddle.” After that, he went through the motions, typified by his cruise-control time trial on Saturday.
Brad Wiggins: 24th overall, at 39:24 (9th in stage 19 TT, 1:04:29)
As the highest paid rider on Team Sky, Britain’s biggest-ever pro team, the lanky Londoner was talked up by the UK media as a probable podium finisher, even the potential winner. Those expectations took a dive when his team chose to start him early in the prologue and he got the worst of the rain, conceding half a minute to Contador. His hopes improved after a good ride over the cobblestones, but by the Avoriaz finish he was back in 14th overall, and things went downhill from there. The first Pyrenean stage put an end to his top-10 hopes, after which he said, “Last year (when he placed fourth) was a fluke.” But his final time trial performance (it could have been a top three in the early conditions) gives him hope for the future because his ninth-place finish was no less than 2:41 faster than Contador’s time.
Lance Armstrong: 23rd overall, at 39:20 (67th in stage 19 TT, 1:08:01)
Things started well for the seven-time winner in the second year of his comeback when he rode a faster prologue time trial than all the other pre-race favorites. A flat tire prevented him from matching Contador (or possibly gaining more time on him) on the cobblestone stage; and then he had the harsh experience of being involved in three crashes on the first mountain stage — which effectively ended his GC hopes. No one knows what would have happened without those setbacks (and the injuries), but he restored his standing with brave performances in the Pyrénées that helped RadioShack win the prestigious overall team prize (and his place on the podium in Paris).
Carlos Sastre: 20th overall, at 26:37 (48th in stage 19 TT, 1:07:26)
The 2008 Tour winner, like Basso and Evans, suffered from the effects of a highly rigorous Giro. He lost time on the cobblestones and was 2:40 down by the first rest day in Morzine. His climbing legs never returned, despite efforts to get into breakaways in the Pyrénées, and he’ll be better remembered for his calling the peloton “a bunch of spoiled brats” because of them sometimes following the “unwritten rules of the peloton” and at other times not.
Alexander Vinokourov: 16th overall, at 17:46 (33rd in stage 19 TT, 1:06:28)
Of all the Giro protagonists, Astana’s controversial team captain had the most successful Tour. He won the stage into Revel in typical Vino fashion after team leader Contador “robbed” him of victory the day before at Mende. He was also Contador’s most valuable teammate in the flat stages (remember the cobblestones?) and in the mountains (along with Dani Navarro).
Andreas Klöden: 14th overall, at 16:36 (87th in stage 19 TT, 1:08:31)
As RadioShack’s third in command (after Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer), the veteran German was expected to play a stealth role in this Tour. But Klöden’s below-par form put him out of the picture early on, so he rode like a conventional team man. Despite a stomach upset in the final week he was a vital part of The Shack’s winning team-race performance.
Levi Leipheimer: 13th overall, at 14:40 (41st in stage 19 TT, 1:06:55)
After Armstrong had his bad crash and two tangles on the stage to Avoriaz, Leipheimer was designated Team RadioShack’s GC leader. At that point, he was lying in eighth place, just 1:13 behind Contador (who was in third), but instead of progressing Leipheimer faded on the Madeleine stage (when Contador and Schleck made their first uphill attacks), and then he slowly drifted out of contention — leaving Chris Horner as the U.S. team’s only top-10 finisher. But the overall team prize wouldn’t have been possible without Leipheimer’s presence.
Roman Kreuziger: 9th overall, at 11:54 (82nd in stage 19 TT, 1:08:21)
Starting the race as Basso’s first lieutenant, the Czech rider had a steady race. Kreuziger was as high as seventh overall on the first rest day; but he has ended up in ninth, the same as last year, when he fully expected to advance in the standings.
Joaquim Rodriguez: 8th overall, at 11:37 (154th in stage 19 TT, 1:11:13)
This smart Spanish climber, riding as a leader for the first time after years of service to a recently disgraced Alejandro Valverde, did his Katusha team proud. He gained more confidence the longer the race went on, with the highlight being his third place on the Tourmalet stage behind Schleck and Contador. His time trialing needs to improve to make him a true contender — although talk of Denis Menchov coming to his team may preclude his role as a leader.
Samuel Sanchez: 4th overall, at 3:40 (40th in stage 19 TT, 1:06:47)
Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Olympic champion is not a spectacular rider, but his qualities of bravery and doggedness made him a near podium finisher by the end. He steadily moved up from ninth on the first rest day with excellent performances on the climbing stages to Mende, Ax-3 Domaines and Luchon. His stage 19 time trial on Saturday was by no means a disaster as TV commentators seemed to suggest: He did lose two minutes to a superb Menchov, but the Spanish climber conceded just eight seconds to Contador over the 52km.
Denis Menchov: 3rd overall, at 2:01 (11th in stage 19 TT, 1:4:47)
The feisty Russian has given Dutch team Rabobank its first-ever podium finisher, so they may be reluctant to let him leave to Katusha. In this Tour, Menchov was always the sleeper who could come good in the final time trial — and he did. His consistency in the mountains was partly due to his not defending his title at the Giro d’Italia, so he came into this Tour fresher than he has ever been before. His plan worked to perfection.
Andy Schleck: 2nd overall, at 0:39 (44th in stage 19 TT, 1:07:10)
Second again doesn’t tell the story of the Saxo Bank rider’s incredible progress. More confident than ever before, Schleck was the equal of Contador in the mountains, but he lost the Tour in the time trials. With more work on his positioning (he needs to lower his upper body a touch and bring his arms closer together), the younger Schleck can easily match Contador in the future. This year, perhaps his biggest handicap was losing his guardian angel, older brother Fränk, in a crash on the cobblestones stage.
Alberto Contador: 1st overall (35th in stage 19 TT, 1:06:39)
The Astana team leader and defending champion needed more grit than he has needed in any of his five grand tour victories to clinch his Tour hat-trick. When he was within a second of losing his lead to Schleck in Saturday’s time trial, Contador looked on the verge of cracking. He was constantly shifting his position on the bike and clearly uncertain about what to do. But he pulled himself together and finished his race as stylishly as he has in the past. He also had to fight harder than ever before in the mountains, and without huge climbing performances from teammates Dani Navarro and Vinokourov, he would have had to race even smarter to match a highly confident Schleck.