An emotional end to an incredible Tour
For every rider who is not at the Tour de France, especially riders like me who have experienced the final stage firsthand, seeing the peloton ride into Paris on television is hard to watch. You want to be there.
After going through three weeks of battle with these riders, the camaraderie during the first half of the final stage is special. Everyone is your buddy; everyone is smiling and patting each other on the back; everyone is looking forward to seeing his family and friend and going to the Tour parties that night.
Then, you start to sense that Paris is just around the corner, and the peloton starts to speed up. Riders try to play it off all cool, but it's an electric feeling when you get that first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower and when you reach the Champs-Elysees. I wish I would have taken more time to enjoy it, but you're so focused on the wheel in front of you. It's truly something I would love to experience again. I don't know if I am too old, but the Champs-Elysees is holy ground for any cyclist.
But seeing my Team CSC-Saxo Bank teammates together Sunday at the front of the peloton and seeing Carlos Sastre in yellow and Andy Schleck in white (for the best young rider of the Tour), it was an emotional day for me. It was difficult to watch because you want to be there with your teammates. So I got a little teary-eyed watching them enjoy the moment.
From day one, CSC went into the race with a three-pronged attack and an idea of winning the Tour. It made all the right moves at all the decisive moments. To get through the race with relatively no injuries, crashes or sickness, and make all the right moves on top of that, is amazing. But we worked really hard at this; it didn't happen overnight. We've been second and third overall before, but finally this year, CSC won the big one. It goes to show that the planning and piecing together a team is not something that happens overnight. A team can buy the right riders and put them together, but they have to be strong and have to work together. CSC has had its ups and downs, but members of the team really worked together and looked out for one another, especially during the Tour's first week. For them to do that, then dominate they way they did in the mountains -- it was a great all-around team effort.
The sport itself
We definitely have egg on our face from the past couple of Tours. Cycling has had many dark clouds, and we had a few this year at the Tour. But I think cycling has definitely turned a corner and weeded out the cheaters. This was the cleanest and best Tour ever. But the sport still has its issues. Doping always will be an issue. Nowhere in the world can you put 200 people together and not have one person putting those others' reputations at risk. We have to be honest with ourselves and realize that's human nature.
For example, I have allergies, but I have to avoid certain medications that any normal person could take without thinking. You have to be careful. My daughter has gummy bear vitamins. I jokingly popped one in my mouth (they taste pretty good, by the way!) but then thought, "Should I have done that? What's in it? You never know!" It's crazy that it went through my mind, but we're conditioned to think that way because of all the information we receive from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which tells us names of products and the chemicals in them that are not allowed. You always have to be careful not to be even in that gray area of what's not allowed.
But this is one of the sacrifices we make because we know we'll be under the microscope. You could have the biggest stage of your life, as Sastre did in Saturday's time trial, but you'll cross the finish line and be surrounded by drug chaperones. You always have to be in their line of sight until you get to the doping control room. Sometimes it's a pain, but we're used to it now. And the more you test, the greater the chance you'll weed out the problems and find those cheaters. It's a better scenario than less testing, in which you have less of a chance to weed out the problem athletes.
The other issue we have to solve is the conflict between the Pro Tour and the Amaury Sport Organisation, on top of the fact that quite a few teams are running without sponsors. But potential sponsors will see all the things the sport is doing to stay clean and look at this year's Tour and see it's a great investment for them. We're doing something about the problem. We're not scared to put it out there and show the world what needs to be done to clean up cycling.
Overall, I think this was a great Tour. It was an exciting Tour -- many changes of the yellow jersey, constant attacks, three stage wins by French riders, which is important for the host country, and a new generation of riders taking advantage of the new standard and learning. Mark Cavendish, who won four stages this year, has established himself as the best sprinter in the world at age 23; Andy Schleck came in with big goals and got the white jersey. Schleck and Roman Kreuziger battled it out for the best young rider's jersey; in a year or two, those two will battle for yellow.
This is the real deal. We can watch cycling now and believe in it 100 percent. But one thing hasn't changed -- how important experience is. CSC and Sastre proved that this year. Those young riders might have fewer miles under their belts, but experience goes a long way.
My favorite moment
It was when Frank Schleck took the yellow jersey after Stage 15. He finally dropped Cadel Evans after trailing him by just one second. I felt for Schleck because I've been in that situation before, and it's so hard to get that one second. I never got it back, so it was great to see him succeed. Also, seeing Sastre on Saturday in the final time trial, seeing that cool cat put all doubts aside and do a great stage. Both were my top moments.
As for me
It's tough not riding in the Tour or the Olympics. You question yourself and wonder whether you could have done something more or focused more. Sometimes, things happen for a reason; life happens and family happens, and sometimes they don't totally jibe with cycling.
But I am off to run a few races in Italy in early August. I also will join other riders from CSC who won't be going to the Olympics at a training camp in Luxembourg before doing the Tour of Germany and Tour of Poland. Then I'll decide whether to give worlds a shot. I am riding my bike, feeling good and plan on finishing the season. I feel an obligation to CSC and my teammates. When you see those guys performing the way they did, you want to get back in it.
Bobby Julich, a member of Team CSC-Saxo Bank, will be providing a diary for ESPN.com throughout the Tour de France. The American has been a professional cyclist since 1992. He finished third overall in the 1998 Tour de France and won the Paris-Nice race in 2005.
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