After Stage 15's brief but beautiful journey through the villages of the Southern France...
...it was time for the Alps!
What words define the Alps for you? Maybe majestic, grand, or even breathtaking. But we Tour fans have our own unique shorthand for describing these magnificent mountains. A picture may be worth a thousand words -- but for us, a simple name brings up a world of images and stories.
Like Col du Galibier, with its misty, treeless summit and winding road, the site of this year's Stage 18 and 19:
That word, Galibier, will now always bring Tour fans back to the thrill of Andy Schleck's solo breakaway on Stage 18 and Alberto Contador's equally daring attack on Stage 19. Who wasn't cheering at their TV's during those stages?!
Then there's the mythic L'Alpe d'Huez, with its 21-switchbacks, wild fans, bright colors, and thrilling finishes...
After Stage 20, it will always be remembered as a very special place for young Pierre Rolland, the first French cyclist to win this legendary climb since the 1980's. That's the beauty of the Tour -- there's a little magic in it for everyone.
This year we can also add new names and images to our Tour vocabulary. Like the high-speed descent through the dark forests of Sestrieres, where in Stage 17 Thomas Voeckler once again defended his Yellow Jersey with so much heart and panache.
Then there was the so-called "transitional" Stage 16, which to everyone's surprise turned into a fantastic GC battle when Alberto Contador attacked on the Category 2 Col de Manse. But that was only half the story! Norwegian Thor Hushovd's victory inspired thousands of Scandinavian fans to cheer him on, chalking his name on the road in grand Le Tour tradition.
And to end this historic week of racing, there was Stage 20's Grenoble. Not a mountain, but a beautiful mountain city, where Cadel Evans launched his magical ride.
What an incredible Tour de France! And after 20 stages of watercoloring, I'm beginning to run out of paint! But I think I have a little left for one more day: Stage 21. Paris.
So fellow TV viewers ... see you on the Champs-Elysees.