The 99th Tour de France had a bit of everything — including temper tantrums, performances of panache, horror smashes, Gallic flair, British brilliance and whatever lowly adjective that can be used to describe the Katusha team.
Sit back and reminisce over three wonderful weeks in France with the annual Saddles Tour Awards...
Worthy Winner Award: Bradley Wiggins, who triumphantly completed his long journey from track Olympian to winner of the world's greatest bike race with a commanding Tour during which he never sat lower than second on GC. Given the unprecedented run upon which he entered the race, Wiggo's win was entirely logical. But that should not take anything away from the way he rode a race that — fittingly, given his idol Miguel Indurain — was decided by two stupendous performances in the major time trials and frugally consolidated in the mountains. Next time Saddles writes a Tour blog about the Londoner, he'll probably have to allocate space for a 'Sir' before his name.
Best Rider: It may be somewhat churlish to say, but Chris Froome's contribution cannot be underestimated. Not only did he secure the overall win for both Wiggins and Sky through his selfless work in the mountains, he did so while showcasing his superior climbing talent. Should next year's 100th Tour feature more mountain-top finishes, Froome may carry all the aces.
Three-Fingered Salute Award for Best Hat-Trick: With his last day win on the Champs Elysees, Mark Cavendish joined rivals Andre Greipel and green jersey Peter Sagan on three wins for the Tour. But a hat-trick of wins marks Cav's lowest return on the Tour since his breakthrough season in 2007 — ruling him out of this award. Greipel's triple was a triumph of fine teamwork and strong individuality, but Slovak tyro Sagan takes this after picking up his treble in the opening week of his maiden Tour.
Fourth-Best Hat-Trick: Sky managing to turn their helmets yellow for a week...
The Gerard Depardieu Award for Best French Directeur Sportif: Jean-Rene Bernaudeau's avuncular guidance at Europcar did not go un-noticed but he's pipped to this one by FDJ-BigMat's Mark Madiot, whose jubilant fist-clenching encouragements for Thibaut Pinot while dangling out of his team-car window at the conclusion of stage eight provided one of the cinematic moments of the race. Rumour has it, it was Madiot — and not Pinot, the youngest rider in the race — who was required to leave a urine sample at Porrentruy. And to do so, the Frenchman simply had to hand over his trousers...
Best Zen DS: It's a tie between John Lelangue — who calmly led Philippe Gilbert away from assaulting a French family out for a picnic with their pet bear — and Jonathan Vaughters, who steered Tyler Farrar away from Tom Veelers and the Argos Dutch oven.
Panache Award: Shirt undone, tongue hanging out, water over the head... Thomas Voeckler displayed all the attributes for this one, crossing 11 mountain peaks in pole position (while largely talking to himself) en route to two stage wins and the polka dot jersey. As he said after securing the KOM title: "I ride a bike the way I think races should be ridden. What I did today reminded me of the cycling races I used to watch on TV as a boy." Except that in those races, the riders were probably doped up to the eyeballs — where as little Tommy is powered on panache and clear water alone.
Fart-in-the-Elevator Award: In a bid to prove that all Frenchmen are not surrendering defeatists, Pierre Rolland attacked on the downhill ride to Foix. Only after the race had been neutralised following TackGate.
Naughtiest Roadside Pet: At first it looked like a bear and then just an uncontrollable ursine monster mutt. Either way, the huge, lolling, black Newfoundland that brought down Philippe Gilbert and a cluster of other riders on stage 18 was a very bad boy. Not that anyone would ever dare smack his bottom.
Best Cuddly Tour Animals: The cute yellow, green and polka dot donkeys we saw after the Pyrenees, complete with styled fringes. An adorable and distinctive Tour sight.
Best Celebration: Britons David Millar and Bradley Wiggins showed the world that they have perfected the bullish fist pump, but Peter Sagan was peerless in the celebratory stakes, running through a repertoire that paid homage to the YMCA, Forrest Gump and The Incredible Hulk. He also showed off a no-hands wheelie going over one mountain ridge. Aged just 22, Sagan has plenty more tricks up his sleeve — just ask one of his podium girl conquests...
Andouillette Award for Best Guts: Chris Anker Sorensen cut two fingers to the bone trying to remove newspaper from his spokes while riding at considerable speed downhill — but completed the gruelling Pyrenean stage within four minutes of the stage winner while seeping blood all over his handlebars.
Tete de Veau No Brains Award: Sorensen, for trying to remove newspaper from his spokes while riding fast downhill.
Triumph From Adversity Award: Both Rabobank and Garmin were ravaged by injuries following the stage six pile-up but both teams regrouped and picked up stage wins.
Best Team: Sky could even lose one of their mountain generals on stage three and come out the race's dominant force. A constant presence on the front of the peloton, they did everything better than everyone — even if the world laughed at their warm-down al fresco spinning routine at first. What's more, Sky proved they could use choreography to try and slow the peloton, what with Eddie Boasson Hagen's Titanic wings and Bernie Eisel's clapping and pointing to the heavens.
Worst Team: Euskaltel, Vacansoleil and all French teams with the exception of FDJ and Europcar had disappointing races. Lampre were particularly weak, finishing with just four riders, one of whom (Danilo Hondo) did his best not to make it by diving headfirst into a colleague's bike on the Champs Elysees. But the worst team by miles was Katusha, who despite bringing more of a Global rather than Russian squad still failed in their Cycling Project. The only team not to register even a top-five finish, Katusha's best result was a seventh-place by Oscar Freire in the opening week.
Most Attacking Team: Europcar, who were involved in at least 20 breaks over the three weeks. In fact, every member of the team went on the offensive at least once, with Japan's Yukiya Arashiro part of a major break on five occasions.
Biggest Team Soap Opera: RadioShack-Nissan. If the whole Armstrong-Bruyneel imbroglio wasn't enough — not to mention the Fuglsang-Horner selection conundrum — the American outfit plummeted new depths of ridiculousness when Frank Schleck was expelled for taking a diuretic while, as a sideshow, Andreas Kloden was banned from Twitter for taking a very public swipe at his team's PR officer. That the RadioShack Dad's Army finished top of the team standings only made the situation more laughable.
Paris Cafe Helps-to-be-French Award: Jean-Christophe Peraud was given a helicopter ride by race organisers one evening so he could visit his newborn baby daughter. Also, race commissaires cast a blind eye on Jerome Pineau's drafting on Bastille Day — but still had a blast at the Liquigas for tugging Sagan along.
Best Tantrum: Wiggins's rant against anonymous internet bloggers (!) was rather feisty (as was his near-assault of a TV cameraman), but these were outdone by Gilbert's thwarted attempt to punch the owner of the humongous dog which brought him down. But both riders at least had good reason for losing their rag. Tyler Farrar's teary rampage into the Argos-Shimano team bus in a bid to "make Tom apologise" was compulsive viewing — made all the more dramatic by virtue of Farrar actually appearing to be at fault for the stage five crash.
Most Attacking Rider: Jens Voigt showed there was life in the old dog yet, while Luis Leon Sanchez and Voeckler were constant threats. Chris Anker Sorensen was named the official most combative rider on the Tour, but his fellow Dane and team-mate Michael Morkov broke clear of the bunch on six occasions — including his Bastille Day ride in honour of his late father.
Underachievers: Where to start? Of the big guns, Denis Menchov was typically silent but only managed to assassinate his own chances after one terribly off-day in the Alps. Philippe Gilbert's season continued in the same vein as before — the Belgian will be remembered more for his actions off the bike (in chasing after a stray dog) than for those on it. Defending champion Cadel Evans was a flop — but could at least blame illness. Levi Leipheimer and Robert Gesink continued their remarkable tendency to crash more often than others. Jerome Coppel was just Jerome Coppel. Simon Gerrans did practically nothing besides one memorable somersault into a grass verge. Sylvester Szmyd forgot how to climb. Alejandro Valverde won a stage but looked a few vials short of the rider he used to be.
Best Tour Tweeters: Besides @saddleblaze two hilarious spoof accounts got the giggles in @Tweeter_Sagan and @DeniMenchoff.
Best Tweet: @DeniMenchoff after Wiggins takes yellow in stage seven: "In Russia we have saying — is easy to slice beetroot on hill, harder to make borscht on mountain. Race not over yet."
Worst Crash: The catalogue of injuries following the stage six pile-up read like something from a war zone or motorway high-speed smash. But in terms of terrible timing, the collision involving Danilo Hondo and Mickael Cherel on the Champs Elysees was a sad sight. Hondo's bike frame appeared to snap (perhaps after his earlier effort to break clear on the cobbles with Voigt) and Cherel stood no chance when the veteran Italian ploughed into him at top speed. Riding his debut Tour, Cherel had done nothing of particular merit throughout the race with the exception of completing it in one piece — but this was undone with 3km to go. The 26-year-old finished the stage in tears and covered in blood and was unable to partake in Ag2R's lap of honour.
Get Well Soon Award: Wout Poels, who may still lose a kidney after that massive accident in stage six.
Frank Spencer Award for Farce: When Evans punctured on the Mur de Peguere, BMC went into meltdown. First Tejay Van Garderen refused his leader a wheel, then Steve Cummings had no wheel to offer. When finally a wheel arrived, it was left to a masseur with oily hands to make the change as Evans waited, his face a picture of dismay. Two subsequent flats were accompanied by manager Jim Ochowitz falling over in a ditch twice. All this was made even worse when compared to the uniform professionalism of Team Sky.
France's Next Winner Award: In a year with less mountains and more time trials, young climbers Rolland and Pinot both secured top ten finishes, giving some encouragement for the French who have now been outdone by the British as well as the Australians and Americans at their own game.
Cool Head Award: Amid the turmoil at RadioShack, Fab Cancellara led the race with dignity in the opening week after a trademark win in the prologue. He then nipped off to spend time with his new daughter, missing the Schleck bombshell by a matter of days. Swiss timing at its very best.
Joined-at-the-Hip/Wrist Award: Tony Martin and Luis Leon Sanchez, who provided the Tour with a tender bromance after both riders hurt their wrists during stage one.
Most Over-Qualified Water Carrier: Mark Cavendish who, what he lost in bulk, he replaced in bidons over the course of the three weeks.
Fickle Fan Award: To those Australians who booed Michael Rogers and Richie Porte for doing the job Team Sky pays them to do. What's next, Katusha fans booing Vladimir Karpets for giving his Soviet mullet a Spanish shine?
Honorary Italian Award: Sagan's gesticulations behind a swerving Matt Goss betrayed the many years the Slovakian has spent at Liquigas.
Best Bike Accessory: Sagan's green Tourminator bell which he attached to his bike during that spate of crashes. It didn't stop Farrar ploughing into him in stage five, mind.
Unnecessary Bike Accessory: Power metre. And radio earpiece. Tommy Voeckler didn't need either when winning 'au naturel' at Bagneres-de-Luchon.
Brown Trousers Award: Marcel Kittel and Brice Feillu are runny-way winners of this one after their iffy opening weeks. Feillu takes the gong by virtue of actually being quarantined by his team.
Fabulous Fours: Dave Millar, Luis Leon Sanchez, Pierrick Fedrigo, Andre Greipel, Thomas Voeckler and Alejandro Valverde all won their fourth career Tour stages this year. Cav also won his fourth successive stage on the Champs Elysees — a place he's never lost at.
Cheshire Cat Award for Biggest Grin: When Wiggo took third place in the wheel of an exhausted (not to mentioned leashed) Froome at Peyragudes, whereby securing his yellow jersey good and proper.
Unlikely Headline Grabbers: Given his Mod leanings, who would have thought a story about Wiggins and flares would have ever surfaced? The following stage to Foix also marked the first time race reports included mention of 'carpet tacks'. It must have got a certain Russian Movistar rider slightly concerned about that offshore bank account...
Thanks for following Blazin' Saddles throughout the Tour. Be sure to return for a blend of satirical guff and serious commentary during the Olympics and Vuelta a Espana...Follow @saddleblaze