PARIS // On the eve of this year's Tour de France in the heart of Brittany, all the talk was of the possibility of a clean Tour. As it transpired, it was not to be although the general consensus was that the quartet of riders to fail drugs tests, the latest being Dmitriy Fofonov after stage 18, were now the exception rather than the rule in the peloton.
Barring Riccardo Ricco, who was a too high profile rider to ignore, the remaining trio caused little if no stir on the back pages of the French newspapers. Instead, a rider known as Don Limpio (Mr Clean) in his native Spain effectively won the race over the solitary climb up Alpe d'Huez, the stage where Fofonov was exposed as a drugs cheat. Carlos Sastre would not have been most pundits' pick to win the Tour - in fact, most doubted he had it in him to maintain his one-and-a-half minute advantage in the penultimate stage time trial.
But the quiet man of the peloton, who was virtually like a ghost for all but the Alpe d'Huez climb, finally got his say on the winner's podium on the Champs-Elysees. However, the 2008 Tour was not just about Sastre and, as well as cycling cleaning up its act still further, the 2008 race saw the dawn of the new faces in cycling. Most notable among those was Mark Cavendish, 23, the back of whose bike must have made a painfully repetitive sight for his rivals during the sprint finishes.
The Briton won four stages before bowing out in the mountains to prepare for the Olympics. Then there were the surprise packages of the race. Stefan Schumacher, who won both time trials, and Bernhard Kohl, who won the King of the Mountains and was third on the podium in Paris. But the Spanish ended up the true winners of the race with Sastre's countryman, Oscar Freire, taking the green jersey in the points competition to round off a summer of Spanish sporting domination.
In Tour de France terms, that theme looks highly likely to continue next season with 2007 winner Alberto Contador the early favourite for victory, although he was hardly gracious as Sastre took the plaudits in his absence. He said: "I am glad a rider like Sastre won. He improves every year - not spectacular but efficient." However, to describe Sastre's climb on Alpe d'Huez - the one stage coveted by all climbers above all others on the Tour - as anything but spectacular would be an injustice to his efforts.
That move proved a fitting finale to a fantastic Tour. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org