Hmmm – contaminated meat eh, Alberto? The only time I’ve had contaminated meat it involved too many Jaegerbombs, an ill-advised 4am Extra Value Meal and a disgruntled employee at a fast food restaurant. And you don’t exactly look like the type of person who spends too long under the Golden Arches.
After years of being dogged by more tales of drug use than a Keith Richards biography, the Tour De France had some work to do on the redemption front, but this year’s version looks to have come up trumps with three weeks of drama and minimal drugs revelations. Of course it’ll probably take a few years until we find out if it was genuinely clean or the teams were merely staying ahead of the testers, but for the moment let’s just enjoy it for what it was – a fascinating few weeks of guessing who was on drugs and who wasn’t interspersed with some cycling. Here’s a look at how the race unfolded through the medium of betting odds.
Pre-race: With Contador and the younger Schleck occupying the top two places from the 2010 race, they vie for favouritism at the head of the 2011 betting. Despite some good performances in the race, Cadel Evans wasn’t really fancied to improve on his near misses and was rated a 25/1 outsider.
The first few stages of the Tour are generally a phoney war in which the sprinters take centre stage and the public realise ‘oh wait, I do have Eurosport‘ but this year there was drama from the outset. A few good displays in the early stages saw Evans’ price tumble, but not yet to a level where anyone expected him to win. He’s trimmed to 9/1 initially and after the Aussie takes the 4th stage, by the end of the week he was just 5/1. Alberto Contador is caught up in a couple of crashes in the few days and is eased in the market with Andy Schleck trimmed as he’s still considered the most likely competitor to benefit.
As the peloton headed for the Pyrenees in the second week, the nagging doubts that Contador hadn’t taken his drugs or was genuinely injured and not just making excuses began to take root and he was usurped by Schleck for the favourites’ tag. Towards the closing stages of Stage 12, the reigning champion lost time to his main rivals and for the first time in the 2011 Tour, Evans jumped ahead of him in the betting, although he was still expected to merely play second fiddle to the Luxembourger who was now just above even money to claim his first Tour victory. Thomas Voeckler held on to the yellow jersey all the while, but no-one expected him to be wearing it on the Champs-Elysées – a somewhat harsh assessment that was proven to be totally accurate, despite the stirring efforts of the Frenchman.
We were left with a fascinating final week – especially for anyone raised on the domination of the Indurain and Armstrong eras. Schleck was looking likely winner, but the tenacious Evans was now a serious contender and the threat of Contador couldn’t yet be blithely discounted. The first day in the Alps was pivotal as the champion reminded everyone that he was still there. He attacked on the final climb and while Evans was able to stay with him (and even gain 3 seconds on him), Schleck looked flatter than week old Coke and trailed in over a minute behind his rivals. Stage 18 saw a remarkable turnaround – although not enough to arouse the suspicions of the drug-testers, with Schleck powering up the Col du Galibbier to claim the stage win and reassert his credentials as a potential Tour winner. Contador found nothing when pressed by his rivals and slide out of contention to the point where all the EPO in the world wasn’t likely to revive his challenge.
At the beginning of Stage 19, it looked like Contador may well have consumed all the EPO in the world as he made an early break that wouldn’t be reeled in by Evans or Schleck. They did rally towards the end of the stage to limit the damage and although Contador didn’t go down without a fight, he still went down and was 100/1 to win the Tour despite his noble efforts. Andy claimed the yellow jersey, but with just the time-trial and a procession into Paris to come, Evans was installed as 8/15 favourite, with Schleck 11/8. At about 4.05pm on Saturday when it became clear Evans was putting it a cracking time trial, he was 1/200 before betting ended and the Australians crowing about how good they are at another sport began.