Cadel Evans at the team presentation of the 20...

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It’s over so quickly. What began July 2 in the Vendée region of France, with a seemingly endless vista of stages and miles and days is suddenly over. Twenty-one stages, twenty-three days, 2,100 miles, teams and riders part of our lives for the month of July. Then, an unbelievable moment of letdown, watching the last sprint cross the line on the Champs Elysées, realizing that the Tour de France 2011 is over.

After a shaky first week of mishaps and crashes, a lackluster turn through the Pyrenees—brightened only by the determination, heart and courage by riders like Thor Hushovd, Johnny Hoogerland, and Thomas Voeckler—it took the tour’s celebration of 100 years in the Alps with its almost sadistic climbs to deliver The Tour we had been expecting. On second thought, those climbs were sadistic. Col de Galibier twice, and the second time in conjunction with Alpe d’Huez? What were they thinking?

Perhaps to deliver one of the most exciting final stages ever of the Tour? To set the stage for future epic battles amongst the Schlecks, Cadel Evans, and Aberto Contador? Perhaps.

Looking back over the tour, the biggest surprise came from Team Radio Shack for… well… not playing a factor in the tour’s outcome. Besides 2008, when not invited to articipate (as Team Astana), when has a Johan Bruyneel-directed team not placed a cyclist on the podium? Think about it. About as rare as George Hincapie not escorting the Maillot Jaune to Paris.

When le tour began July 2, Team Radio Shack seem destined to play a dominating role in the race’s outcome. Four potential Maillot Jaune contenders, experienced cyclists… Everything a team could desire entering the race of races. Everything, perhaps, but a clear mission, a team leader. The rider whom all the other team members knew their role was to support, protect, propel into victory. With four of the nine teammates potential winners, who was charged with protecting them in the dangerously chaotic first stages of the tour? Who was Team Radio Shack’s George Hincapie?

A great team. Incredibly talented riders. But no clear “boss.” Was there ever any doubt as to the U.S. Postal Service’s or Discovery team‘s leader during Lance Armstrong’s years? Everyone knew his role was to get Lance safely through the tour. And for his part, Lance directed the team (and ultimately the Peleton) on the road, taking great pride in riding into Paris with an intact squad. Kinda like Team BMC this year.

We may well have witnessed the emergence of a new “patron” of the Peleton. When the Peleton needed to reel in a breakaway on the slopes of the Alps, Team BMC came to the front, taking the leadership reigns and closing the gap. When he had to strike out on his own to chase Andy Schleck or Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans never hesitated… and he never panicked, not even when mechanical issues caused a bike change on the ascent to the Alpe. Evans showed the desire, tenacity, heart, determination, talent, and leadership required of the Yellow Jersey.

So now we wait. Watch replays of stages, former tours. Compare different epic climbs. And anticipate the next edition of the Tour de France. Next year, the sunflower fields, the grandeur of the Alps, the cobblestones of the Champs Elysées once again will beckon. Just have to wait another 11 months.

Magnifique, le tour!

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