I have casually watched the Tour de France the last 3 years. I can’t claim to be a great fan of the sport, but I highly respect the endurance aspect of it all.

The 2011 Tour has been enjoyable (on the days I have been able to see it), but it hasn’t been overly exciting. At least, not until the last 2 days. I did not see stage 18, but looking at all the final statistics of the race, it had to have been amazing. There was quite a shake up at the top of the leaderboard.

Stage 19 (Friday, July 22), was incredible. It certainly was the best stage I have seen this year and maybe the best ever. Towards the end Contador (of whom I am not a big fan) showed some amazing ability on the mountains and pulled away from his main rivals—brothers Schleck and Cadel Evans. I was disappointed that he could not hold the lead to the end. He was not far enough ahead of the Schlecks to take much time away from them. But I really wanted to see him finish the stage in front because of the courageous effort he gave when pulling away from everyone else.

The guy who did win, Pierre Roland, took advantage of the friendship of Contador and Sammy Sanchez. When Sanchez pulled up to Contador to let him know (I think) that Sanchez was there to help pull Contador along, Roland burst ahead on the other side and got far enough in the lead to keep Contador from catching him. Well played! Gripping stuff considering they were at the end of a couple of really tough climbs.

I loved seeing Contador punch the runner. I have been wanting to do that to spectators every time I see the race. I don’t know what was going on, but the guy in green was putting something up to Contador’s face that he didn’t like.  I have rummaged around on news sites and still have not found out what happened with that.

I don’t know that I had a favorite rider in the race this year, but I like the Schleck brothers. Partly because I can pronounce their names. While I admittedly don’t follow professional cycling much, I have grown to respect the Schlecks over the last couple of years. They look strong as riders and seem to keep their nose clean. I have not heard any controversy surrounding the two.

Frank was valiant today. He stayed with Andy and Cadel Evans. Andy seemed to be in control. Evans never took the lead to pull the group along. He let the Schlecks do the work. Frank could not stay in the point position, but he kept jumping up there when he could. Andy did the work to pull the three up the mountains and didn’t even look like he was dying in the process. Though at the end he was spent.

Voeckler (the Yellow Jersey) had a great few minutes in the middle of today’s stage. He was in pain, but launched an attack that made him look deserving of the jersey. Unfortunately that did not last long and he lost quite a bit of time.

I am pleased to see Andy Schleck in the yellow jersey for the final two stages (assuming he keeps his lead tomorrow). I won’t be able to watch Sunday’s final stage, but if he is wearing it after tomorrow’s time trial, then he will cross the line as the winner on Sunday.

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