Riders coming down the Champs Elysses during the final stage of the 2012 Tour de France.

While most American sports fans were busy watching baseball or preparing for thier fantasy football leagues, a major sporting event was taking place in Europe. It is the Tour De France, the premier event in professional cycling, akin ot the Super Bowl, World Series, et al and the three week long race wrapped up this past Sunday. As American sport following priorities go, it’s pretty much in the cellar and given that Lance Armstrong isn’t riding it anymore, US interest in it is waning. Not in my family at least, which has several cycling enthusiasts in it. Every year we do a TDF fantasy sports competition, which I won this year to go along with my 06 title.

The Tour is an interesting sporting event to follow, with an equally interesting culture that surrounds it. This year’s edition was won by Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky, who became the first British rider ever to win the Tour. His teammate and fellow Brit, Chris Froome finished second and the Italian rider Vincenzo Nibali of the Liquigas-Cannondale team finished third to complete the podium. The yellow jersey, or maillot jaune, worn by the race leader isn’t the only special jersey in the race. There is the white jersey, or best young rider, given to the rider 25 or younger that has the best overall time. It was won by American Tejay Vangarderen who finished 5th overall.The Polka Dot, or King of The Mountains, jersey was won by Frenchman Thomas Voeckler and that’s the closest the French will get to glory in a race in their own country that one of them hasn’t won since 1985. The Green jersey, given to the best sprinter, was won by the young Slovak Peter Sagan, who wore it for all but the first 2 stages and also won 3 stages to boot. German Andre Greipel and Brit Mark Cavendish also won 3 stages each, so the sprinters’ prescence was felt. Mass sprints at the end of stages involving top guys like Sagan, Cavendish, Greipel, Matt Goss or Edvald Boasson Hagen provided some of the most dramatc moments of the Tour.

This year’s edition didn’t have the amount of drama as past ones, due largely to the efforts of Wiggins’ Team Sky in keeping him in the yellow jersey. There were no dramatic breaks on grueling mountain climbs or battles reminiscent of Armstrong-Ullrich in the early 2000s because Sky was methoidical in reining in possible breaks and threats to the maillot jaune. They controlled the peloton and delivered Wiggins to Paris. While it didn’t really make for exciting TV, it sure was an effective strategy and you can’t argue with the results. There were plenty of crashes, but none like last year when Johnny Hoogerland got pushed off the road by a TV car and fell off his bike into a barbed wire fence.

However, the one thing that made up for the sometimes blandness of the race itself is the commentating team of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. This is because they are perhaps the best commentating duo in sports. No joke. They have great chemistry together with both being very knowledgeable of cycling. Liggett has been a race organizer and journalist in the past while Sherwen is a former pro cyclist, having ridden in 7 Tours. It’s not only their knowledge and chemistry that make them so great, it’s the sometimes hilarious, absurd and off-the-wall comments they make every stage of the race. During a stage Phil would say ‘…and there goes Maxime Bouet!’ to which Paul would reply “No Phil, I believe that’s Sandy Casar.’ Phil confuses one rider for another at least 10 times every Tour. Over the years he has gained reputation ovfor his imaginative expressions about riders and racing conditions, which have collected and published as a book. Paul has his own style and is known to describe a cyclist who is digging deep as ‘reaching into his suitcase of courage’. Needless to say, Phil and Paul keep viewers entertained and are one of the main reasons I watch the Tour on TV.