The highlights for me have been:
- Mark Cavendish's struggle to find early form and his return to win 4 stages despite the loss of his main lead out man Mark Renshaw.
- Renshaw's disqualification for headbutting one opponent and blocking another - which, to be honest, seemed a little harsh in the circumstances.
- Watching Lance Armstrong in his final Tour and reliving the moment when he ended up riding through a field on a previous tour. which was recreated on the same road this year
- Seeing British rider Geraint Thomas wear the white jersey for best young rider for the first week
It's amazing that so far the riders have completed around 3500 km - that's somewhere around 2200 miles in old money - and the cumulative time difference between the top 2 riders is 8 seconds. How closely matched can you get? It comes to less than a sixth of a minute after 88 hours of cycling.
It's taken me a while to get used to the Tour vernacular. It is a bit weird to hear a person being referred to as "the yellow jersey" and to get to grips with the protocols and unwritten rules of the cycling world.
One of those unwritten rules is that you don't take advantage of a rival's mechanical problem to further your cause. It appears that this is one of these rules that is honoured in the breach after Spain's Alberto Contador sped past Luxembourg's Andy Schleck, whose chain had fallen off. It took him a minute or so to sort that out but by then, even after he had stormed through the field, his 31 second lead had turned into an 8 second deficit and he had to hand his yellow jersey over to the Spaniard. The boos directed at Contador on the podium showed how the crowd felt.
This episode meant that Schleck had to attack on the last climb on Thursday. I watched that very scary climb up the Col de Tourmalet with my heart in my mouth and applauded both riders for the way they stuck to each other like glue. The Contador of last year would have shaken off Schleck, but he was not able to do so. He tried to attack and just couldn't get rid of him. Schleck won the stage by a whisker.
That epic climb is well worth watching:
One of the things that amazes me is how the riders can concentrate with spectators coming so close to them as well as motorbikes and cars which provide them with nourishment and support along the way. They are literally inches away from them. I'd be annoyed about people invading my personal space to that extent in real life, but in the middle of a race upon which my career depended it would be unbearable.
While you might think an 8 second deficit might be overcome easily in today's final time trial, most commentators seem to think that because Contador is a better time trialler, Schleck's chance has gone. I say that that seems so last year. It's clear to me that Schleck has had the better race and but for some mechanical misfortune would still be leading by a margin. To me, whatever happens today, he will be the real winner of the Tour de France 2010 - I hope he can find the form to be the actual one too.
I've loved the unpredictability of the race - all the jerseys have been fiercely contested and have changed hands several times. The scenery is absolutely amazing. It's made me want to visit France, which I've never done. Whether going through flat, forested areas, through vineyards and pretty towns, to mountain top villages with very scary drops, this Tour has showcased France beautifully.
I am looking forward to the climax of the sprinters' competition on the Champs Elysees tomorrow - with Mark Cavendish still in with a chance of winning.
Then it's a long wait to next year's start in La Vendee.