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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tour de France 2009: That's a wrap

Even the brash Lance Armstrong had to admit Astana teammate Alberto Contador was simply too strong to beat in this year's Tour de France.

But, in some ways, Armstrong may be the bigger winner.

The 37-year-old Armstrong surprised many people by standing on the podium Sunday in Paris, relishing his third-place finish. Armstrong, once vilified by the French, received resounding cheers throughout the Tour. When he returns to France next year for Team RadioShack, he will have to be considered one of the pre-race favorites.

The Lance effect on this year's Tour was clear, the New York Times reports:
  • USA Cycling’s general memberships grew about 5.5 percent per year during the time Armstrong won the Tour from 1999 to 2005, Johnson said. When he retired, the membership dropped by 3.5 to 4 percent annually. This year, with Armstrong back in the peloton, Johnson said the membership growth was back at 5.5 percent.

  • The network Versus, which broadcast the Tour, said the average viewership for its live morning coverage was up 95 percent through Stage 18.

As you've read at various media sources during the past few weeks, conflicts were high between Armstrong and Contador throughout the Tour, culminating in Armstrong's decision to skip a celebratory dinner Saturday with Contador and instead wining and dining with officials from Team RadioShack.

You can look at it in at least a couple of ways. One is that Armstrong snubbed the great accomplishments of his Astana teammate. The other is that because of the conflicts, it would be best to let give Contador some space to celebrate.

There's speculation over at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's 10 Speed blog that Astana could pull out of the Tour of Missouri as a result of the split and the likely move of Astana team director Johan Bruyneel to Armstrong's new team. However, Astana teammate Levi Leipheimer, who broke his right wrist during Stage 12 of the Tour de France, indicates he plans to ride in the Tour of Missouri.

“I’m 100 percent for that,” Leipheimer told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. “Well, 99 percent.”

While Contador may want to defend his Vuelta a Espana title and skip Missouri, Armstrong already has a commitment the week of Sept. 7-13. Armstrong is scheduled to participate in the Cedars Tour de Lance 09 on Sept. 11 in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec. The event is a fund-raiser for the McGill University Health Centre's Cedars Cancer Institute in Montreal, and cycling commentator Phil Liggett is expected to join him.

With or without Armstrong, the Tour of Missouri should be a first-rate event. It will be interesting to see how the Garmin-Slipstream/Columbia rivalry will play out in Missouri, especially since it's perceived a Stage 14 charge by Garmin-Slipstream knocked Columbia's George Hincapie out of a chance to wear the Tour de France yellow jersey for a day.

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Roger 1 comments links to this post 11:40 PM

Funny how Lance can redeem himself by coming in third.
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