I’m not big on American football, baseball, basketball or any other popular sport. I like hockey because I can respect the elevated skills it takes to play. But I’m still not big on it. I also think tennis requires more than the average fitness level of any athlete to play.
Having played organized sports throughout my life, I realize that they all require skill. They all require those playing them to have an ability above the common schlub watching them. Everyone can play these sports but not not all can play them well. Now, there’s no way I would ever compare myself to a pro athlete (unless were talking sumo here…) so I don’t want to hear any feedback like “Well let’s see you go out and defend Lebron.” The ultimate point I’m trying to make is that of a “pound for pound” type of analysis.
One of the main reasons I like cycling is because it takes so much out of you. In cycling, there is no standing in left field or hanging out in the dugout. There is no period of time to stand around the perimeter of the court watching the play develop. There are no huddles, no time outs and no instant replays. For three, four, five and six hours at a time, cyclists are hammering away and pounding the pavement. The biggest rest they get is from drafting on other cyclists.
After becoming an amateur cyclist (I call myself a schmuck cyclist) I’ve realized what endurance, strength, power and pain is required to ride a bicycle at a racing pace for two or three hours. In my nearly 40,000 miles, I’ve ridden several centuries, numerous metric centuries and various 70 or 80 milers. I’ve discovered what it means to crack after riding 93 miles and having to use every ounce of effort and concentration you have just to keep the pedals spinning to make it another seven. I’ve discovered just how long it takes to drain my body of expendable energy and run on water alone. I’ve discovered what it means to desperately give everything you have without saving it for something else.
I’ve pushed myself harder than I ever have since becoming a cyclist. When that physical threshold cracks, the mental is not far behind. And it’s often that internal mechanism that becomes the only thing keeping you going. I can’t count the times while riding that I’ve thought I just need to get to… and then I’ll take a rest. Of course that rest never comes because I’m still 10, 15, 20 miles from my destination. And it begins again. Okay, NOW I just need to get to…
So, needless to say, it’s good to garner inspiration from where you can to help push yourself beyond your boundaries. This years Tour de France has helped do that for me. In my opinion these were the most amazing performances from 2011.
5. & 6. Juan Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland
These two were part of a breakaway group on stage 9 when they entered some narrow country roads. Unfortunately, a French TV car decided to ride up next to them and have a close encounter with a tree. Instead, the car swerved into the riders and hit them sending Flecha down hard and Hoogerland into a barbed wire fence.
These are some pics of Hoogerland in the wire.
Miraculously, both riders went on to complete the stage and even the entire 2,132 mile race. Truly inspiring.
4. Mark Cavendish
He has four stage wins in the 2011 TdF and could possibly win his fifth at the Champs Elysees. He’ll be the first Britain to ever win the green sprinters jersey and has already collected 19 stage wins. He’s on pace to rival (if not defeat) Eddy Merckx’s record of 34.
3. Thor Hushovd
Not only is Thor named after the god thunder, he rides like it too. He is the 2010 World Road Champion and the Norwegian Champion. He spent a surprising eight days in yellow for this years tour and won two stages. The most awe inspiring for this powerful sprinter was stage 13. He climbed the Col d’Aubisque like a goat and soared down the other side like the lighting that produces his thunder until he caught Jeremy Roy. Thor would later go on to say that this was the greatest race of his life. This stage is forever etched into my memory.
2. Thomas Voeckler
When this Frenchman grabbed yellow from Hushovd, he wasn’t expected to keep it very long, especially in the mountains. But he carried it through the Pyrenees and rode like a man possessed. He was predicted to crack time after time but he hung with everyone and spent 11 days in yellow. He finally lost it in the Alps but only after Andy Schleck had his own epic stage. Watching Voeckler contort his face and throw his life into this race has made him one of my favorite riders. At one point during stage 18 he was caught between the leaders and the peloton. Rather than give up and fall into the peloton, he stubbornly rode on solo and stayed in yellow for one more day. His strength, determination and relentless drive was something I’ve not seen any athlete do before.
1. Cadel Evans
Sure he looks like a gremlin, but the Australian championship mountain biker turned roadie will ultimately claim his first Tour de France after the Champs Elysees. He’s also a former World Champion winning that distinction in 2009. Put simply: he’s just a powerhouse. He’s finished second twice in the TdF and looked strong this year. Today, he rode a great time trial and left my pick to win the Tour (Andy Schleck) in the dust. He looked strong the entire race and never showed signs of weakness. He deserves this win and I’m glad that he got it. It’s his first and he’s the first Aussie to win it. Being the first of anything is always inspirational.