2011 Tour de France

Usually I post photos taken by myself, friends and family. In this case I had a few photos I had downloaded from the net from the 2011 Tour de France. These photos show some of the beauty and intensity of this amazing race.

Photo credits: all photos by Philip Van der Vossen. If you are the photographer or copyright owner and want me to change the way these are credited, please write or call. I'll even put your name in crazy huge type if you want. Just ask. I just like the photos and want to talk about what they illustrate. Now on to the race...

Like any sport, bicycle road racing has a certain muscular beauty to it. Every detail of form, movement and teamwork is aimed at delivering a handful of men to their destinations as effortlessly as possible. That handful of men is, typically, one champion from each of several teams. The job of the team is to deliver them to the finish line (to win the stage or compete for the best overall time), to an intermediate sprint point (to win in the points competition) or to the top of each mountain (to win the King of the Mountains competition).

Unlike many sports, bicycle road racing takes place in public, where anyone can come out to watch. Rural roads are favored as they are uncluttered by the roundabouts and lane dividers that are needed to tame traffic in cities. Mountains sort out the great from the greatest, usually determining the overall winner. Anyone who likes to tour along roadways knows that these are beautiful places to travel. Hence the beautiful shot. Then again, beautiful shots can also be found in cities.

This is the last day of the race, where they follow tradition by riding into Paris and racing along the Champ Elysees.

I confess I don't recall many of the details of this year's tour. I remember the important stuff, like the way the very intense and emotional Cadel Evans somehow transcended his role as the crybaby of past tours to become the Patron of the 2011 race (I am told that's what the French press called him). This year he kept his emotions and his effort in check. He wore the same determined expression every day, whether things were going well or badly. When the kiddies, er, competition, got too far out in front, he turned up his effort and used his teammates just enough to keep everyone in check. In the photo above, Cadel is in the lower left of the photo wearing the Yellow Jersey and a matching helmet. The red guys next to him are teammates. I also remember watching as defending champion Alberto Contador was delayed by crashes and never recovered. It was also the year that a rogue French TV crew drove their car into one of the racers, causing two men to go down spectacularly.

Here is a shot of a breakaway group, about an hour or so before a car would hit one of them and two would crash. This particular day was pretty impressive, even without the car. The man out front is Johnny Hoogerland, a Dutch rider on the Vacan Soleil team. Johnny has a reputation for racing out in front of the field, often by himself and at times when no sensible person would do so, and getting a lot of attention. Since the teams are supported by corporate sponsors, getting attention is part of a racers job, though winning races is much preferred. Because of his antics, Johnny is considered very entertaining. This is his first Tour de France.

The second guy in the shot is Thomas Voeckler, a Frenchman from the Europcar team. Thomas is a more experienced rider with a modus operandi similar to Johnny's, only less crazy: get in the breakaway, get attention, and maybe even win a stage (each day's race in the Tour is called a "stage"). Thomas is famous for gaining the overall lead in the Tour back in 2004 and somehow hanging onto the lead for several days. He even held his own in the mountains, for a while, before giving up the lead to that Lance guy. Thomas doesn't know it yet, but he is about to experience deja vu. On this day, Thomas and Johnny were fighting over each mountain-top King of the Mountains summit until they worked out a deal. Johnny would help keep Thomas out in front of the rest of the field, so Thomas could become the overall leader and once again wear the coveted Yellow Jersey. In return, Thomas would let Johnny get to the summits first, so he could regain the lead in the King of the Mountains race and wear the somewhat-less-coveted Polka Dot Jersey. They would both succeed, but only after the last guy in the shot, Juan Antonio Flecha of Spain, was hit by a car.

The car swerved to avoid a tree at the edge of the road, moving sideways into Juan and Johnny. Juan went down and Johnny somersaulted off the road and into a barbed wire fence (ouch!). The other riders avoided crashing and slowed up enough to get the group back together. When this happened Johnny already had enough points to regain the Polka Dot Jersey, so he was motivated to finish the stage. They both finished the entire race.

I love this shot. It's a riot of color. You can see Johnny Hoogerland in the lower right of the shot, wearing the red and white Polka Dot Jersey (and matching helmet). He doesn't look happy, but this shot was from two days before the crash, so we can't blame the barbed wire. Maybe he's just been told that racing ahead of the pack just for fun isn't how the King of the Mountains is supposed to behave.

For my money this is one of the most amazing photos of the tour. I remember seeing this moment of craziness on television. The Tour is the absolute apex of cycling competition and is often decided on mountain roads, like this one, where the fans can get right up and "cheer" the riders. Loudly. Right in their ears. Some of the fans wear crazy outfits and do crazy things just so their friends will see them on TV. All this is happening as the riders are pushing themselves to their absolute limits.

Pictured is three-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, perhaps the best cyclist in the world. Earlier this same year Alberto so completely dominated the Giro d'Italia, the Italian equivalent of the Tour, that everyone else spent most of that three-week race competing for second place. Alberto was so dominant in the Giro that people speculated that he was hoping to win all three grand tours in one year (the third grand tour is the Vuelta Espana, in Spain). His hopes were dashed when crashes early in the Tour cost him too much time.

So here he is climbing one of the toughest mountains in the 2011 Tour, fighting to climb back up to at least a top-three finish, and this jackass fan, dressed up in a doctors smock and mask, runs along next to him while poking at him with a stethoscope as if to listen to his heart while he was racing. Alberto, already at his limit of endurance, spends energy to punch this idiot. As the stakes get higher the people get crazier.

Another beautiful shot. In yellow is our man Thomas Voeckler. He held on to the Yellow Jersey through several mountain stages, many more than I expected, and finished 4th overall. Alberto finished 5th.

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2011 Tour de France / Jonathan Krall / revised November 2011