The penultimate stage - the climb to the finish at Mont Ventoux - was, as expected, awesome. Grunt, guts, gasping, grabbing and getting blown around.
The visual appeal is absolutely spectacular. This moonscape area above verdant green lower slopes, and yesterday, a monstrous wind of somewhere between 30 - 90kms per hour [depending on the time and area] made for tricky cycling and VERY tough.
As they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and yes, the race leaders were very much at the pointy end of the peloton. Some great tactics and some grunty cycling by the top five or six of the cyclists.
It is one hell of a tough climb.
In about an hour, I shall sit and watch the final stage into Paris. A bit of a laissez- faire event until they reach the Champs Eleysee, when the serious racing begins as this is where there is what is effectively a criterium up and down the Champs. A race for the sprinters today.
But yesterday effectively decided the outcome of the GC [ general Classification, or overall winner]. Alberto Contader retained the Yellow Jersey and second was Andy Schleck with Lance Armstrong third.
The 3rd place by Armstrong is absolutely outstanding. To be away for three years at the absolute top level of a sport and then return to a third place in what is one of the toughest of the tough sporting events is awesome. Sure he does not have the climbing power of a Contador or Schleck, but he is a master tactician plus a lot of grunt and guts and that was seen to great advantage on yesterday's stage. However, they do all need to finish today to get a podium finish!!
Contador - who already had won in 2007 - is a great climber. A few people have questioned whether he is "drug free", and there have been issues around that, leading to his team being not invited to compete last year, although he had tested clean. Neither I or you can answer that.
The French have zeroed in on Armstrong AGAIN this year for drug testing, but it seems as if there might be a touch of spite, methinks.
Lets wait ands see on both issues.
But the tour is a fantastic visual spectacle -over all the various stages, which ran live on TV here in Australia each night for the past three weeks. Yesterday, there were estimates of 600 - 700 THOUSAND spectators who were actually on Mont Ventoux for the final ascent. That is some crowd! There was a vast crowd - definitely.
Normal sleeping patterns recommence tomorrow evening.
[photos from two sources wikipedia for Mt Ventoux; google images for the mountain grades]