Tour Comment: And we thought 2007 was good

It seems like yesterday that I was driving down to Monaco with colleague Lionel Birnie, in the [car kindly provided by] Skoda, looking forward to some fine French cuisine and watching Mark Cavendish challenging for the green jersey.

We knew he’d win stages, everyone did, and, if we’re honest, we now expect nothing less. But although he was playing it down, the prospect of Cavendish going for green was an added layer of intrigue and excitement that was going to help us fill pages and keep our readers interested.

We were cruising down through France in fine style [is that enough plugging for Skoda?] happy that wins for Cavendish and some good rides from Bradley Wiggins, probably in the time trial, were going to keep the profile of the Brits flying high at this year’s race.

It’s a shame we only had four starters and not seven, like in 2007, and of course we’d love the Tour to come back to Great Britain, but 2009 was still going to be a good one for British cycling fans. We were confident of that.

Just over three weeks on and we’re now coming to terms with the fact that Great Britain now has a genuine Grand Tour contender. Someone who could possibly win one of the three major Tours in the next five years.

And it’s no new flash in the pan either. No half-Brit, half-Italian rider with a new passport (sorry Max). It’s Britain’s Bradley Wiggins; the lanky lad who grew up racing around Herne Hill, who likes a beer, Paul Weller and entering the odd ten mile time trial or Premier Calendar when he gets the time.

Can this be right?

We knew Wiggins was in great shape after his ride at the Giro, and we knew he’d lost a good chunk of weight. He’d been talking about having personal ambitions at the Tour, and that a top 20 was a target, but we weren’t getting carried away. Wiggins had never before performed consistently over three weeks or even consistently ridden at the front of the bigger races.

What if the Tour field was that much stronger than the Giro? What if he couldn’t sustain the effort and concentration over three weeks, or if he crashed or got ill? All these factors can affect Grand Tour riders, and Wiggins himself admitted he was going in to the unknown. This was after all only his third appearance at the Tour de France.

There’s also the belief that Brits just don’t do Grand Tours. We do prologues, track racing and downhilling. Three-week races are for little Spaniards, brash Americans or flash Italians. They just ain’t our thing.

They are now.

It wasn’t long ago that British Cycling’s President Brian Cookson copped a load of flack for saying he believed we’d see a British winner of the Tour within 25 years.

When I agreed with him in a comment piece in Cycling Weekly magazine there were still people sniggering at the back, despite the Olympic success and open secret of the emergence of Team Sky.

Win or not within that time-scale, its safe to say that from now on there’ll be more and more for British fans to cheer about at the Tour. Next year, Team Sky will be on the start line, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see at least one rider from this year’s top ten in their kit (just not the one that many expect). And as more and more British talent comes through the system we’d expect British participation to also increase.

However many Brits ride next year, they’re going to have to go some if they want to match the phenominal Tour the Brits had this year. To illustrate how good it was we’ve dreamed up a tenuous statistic. The Brits made up a measly 2.2 per cent of the field in this year’s Tour but ended up taking 28.57 per cent of the stages.

No other country can boast such impressive figures: Italy amazingly didn’t win any stages while Germany’s one win will be taken away from them when Heinrich Haussler swaps his Deutschland passport for an Aussie one. And that’s the only way the Australians will gain a stage win this year too.

Okay, so people from the Isle of man could justifiably say that they took 28.57 per cent of the stages with just 0.55 per cent of the field, but what are statistics for if not to be manipulated to prove your point?

The fact is, it was a great Tour for British fans, and it’s set to get even better next year.

2009 Tour de France: The Brits
The British riders:
Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC)
David Millar (Garmin-Slipstream)
Charly Wegelius (Silence-Lotto)
Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream)

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Number of stage won by a British rider: Six
Number of individual stages with a British rider in the top ten: 14 out of 20

Stage 1, Monaco–Monaco ITT
Winner: Fabian Cancellara
Best Brit: Bradley Wiggins, third

Stage 2, Monaco–Brignoles
Winner: Mark Cavendish
Best Brit: Mark Cavendish, first

Stage 3, Marseille–La Grande-Motte
Winner: Mark Cavendish
Best Brit: Mark Cavendish, first

Stage 4, Montpellier– Montpellier, TTT
Winner: Astana
Best Brit: Wiggins/Millar (Garmin), second

Stage 5, Le Cap d’Agde–Perpignan
Winner: Thomas Voeckler
Best Brit: Mark Cavendish, third

Stage 6, Gerona–Barcelona
Winner: Thor Hushovd
Best Brit: Mark Cavendish, 16th

Stage 7, Barcelona–Andorra Arcalis
Winner: Brice Feillu
Best Brit: Bradley Wiggins, 12th

Stage 8, Andorre-la-Vieille–Saint-Girons
Winner: Luis-Leon Sanchez
Best Brit: Bradley Wiggins, 24th

Stage 9, Saint-Gaudens–Tarbes
Winner: Pierrick Fedrigo
Best Brit: Bradley Wiggins, 41st

Stage 10, Limoges–Issoudun
Winner: Mark Cavendish
Best Brit: Mark Cavendish, first

Stage 11, Vatan–Saint-Fargeau
Winner: Mark Cavendish
Best Brit: Mark Cavendish, first

Stage 12, Tonnerre–Vittel
Winner: Nicki Sorensen
Best Brit: Mark Cavendish, eighth

Stage 13, Vittel–Colmar
Winner: Heinrich Haussler
Best Brit: Bradley Wiggins, eighth

Stage 14, Colmar–Besançon
Winner: Serguei Ivanov
Best Brit: Bradley Wiggins, 70th

Stage 15, Pontarlier–Verbier
Winner: Alberto Contador
Best Brit: Bradley Wiggins, fifth

Stage 16, Martigny–Bourg-Saint-Maurice
Winner: Mikel Astarloza
Best Brit: Bradley Wiggins, 13th

Stage 17, Bourg-Saint-Maurice–Le Grand-Bornand
Winner: Frank Schleck
Best Brit: Bradley Wiggins, seventh

Stage 18, Annecy–Annecy ITT
Winner: Alberto Contador
Best Brit: David Millar, fifth; Bradley Wiggins, sixth

Stage 19, Bourgoin-Jallieu–Aubenas
Winner: Mark Cavendish
Best Brit: Mark Cavendish, first

Stage 20, Montélimar–Mont Ventoux

Winner: Juan Manuel Garate
Best Brit: Bradley Wiggins, 10th

Stage 21, Montereau-Fault-Yonne–Paris Champs-Élysées

Winner: Mark Cavendish
Best Brit: Mark Cavendish, first

Stage wins by nation (excluding TTT)
Great Britain, 6
Spain, 5
France, 3
Denmark, 1
Germany, 1
Luxembourg, 1
Norway, 1
Russia, 1
Switzerland, 1