When the Tour de France rolls into the Champs-Elysees today, it will conclude what Brian Jensen considers one of the most exciting Tours in recent history.
And Jensen should know.
As Lawrence's lone professional road cyclist, Jensen is closer to Tour de France-caliber than anyone in the 6604X zip code, and just two weeks ago he raced against a couple of Tour veterans.
"It's been one of the best Tours I've ever seen," Jensen said before Carlos Sastre all but won the race with his individual-time-trial effort Saturday, leading up to today's mostly ceremonial ride into Paris. "Though there have been some drug cases, it's the best Tour - really, really close. It's still exciting that it all comes down to seconds."
This year's Tour has been marred by a couple of doping scandals. To Jensen, that's proof that the sport, rocked by drug allegations the past several years, is cleaning itself up.
"I get questions about drugs," Jensen said. "Myself, I've never seen drugs in this sport. I've never been exposed to drugs. At my level, it's not as widespread. Of course, there always will be people who do drugs in all of sports. But the penalty for getting caught is so great, and that's good for the sport. I hope it's getting better. It looks like it's getting better. At the Tour de France, people are getting tired. It used to be, in the big drug days, 10 years ago, they were more like machines."
Though Jensen says he hasn't been exposed to drugs, top-level domestic professional cycling hasn't been unaffected.
Take the Bend Memorial Clinic Cascade Cycling Classic, for instance. The stage race held July 9-13 in Bend, Ore., is the longest consecutively run elite stage race in the country.
This year, it was won by team Astana's Levi Leipheimer, who has four top-10 Tour de France finishes on his resume. Last year, Leipheimer was third at the Tour, but because of Astana's implication in an ongoing doping investigation, it was banned from the Tour. Leipheimer raced for Discovery Channel last year.
Leipheimer was joined at Cascade by some other big names domestically, including Tom Danielson (32nd overall) and Chris Horner (75th).
"The reason guys like Leipheimer and Horner were there was that Astana wasn't invited to the Tour, so they were using it mainly as training," said Jensen, who placed 22nd overall. "But the sport as I know it : three years ago, I was able to place really well by myself in big races. Now the field's a lot deeper. It's a lot more difficult now to place high because there are so many good guys. The sport has definitely developed into something that's a lot faster. Cascade was faster than it's ever been, and it's the oldest race in the United States."
Jensen is going faster, too.
A third-year pro, Jensen, 32, wasn't wild about his finish at Cascade, but he admits he likely would have placed higher in the general classification had he not been cycling with his Successful Living Pro Cycling Team in mind.
"It wasn't a bad performance at all," said Jensen, who also placed second overall - behind teammate Michael Grabinger - at the Sea Otter Classic this past spring. "I was able to help the team. The team itself had two third places and one first place, and I helped the team make those results. I wasn't actually going for an overall result. My season hasn't been as good as other ones. I haven't had as many wins because I'm working for the team, and we're hitting the biggest races. But that's cycling. You race for the team, and that's how the team wins."
Jensen doesn't know how much longer he'll race professionally.
As it is, he's racing primarily only on weekends. He just graduated from Kansas University with a civil-engineering degree and started a full-time job with TradeWind Energy in Lenexa.
A native of Denmark who raced with the KU cycling team, Jensen is working on wind-power projects for TradeWind.
"I'm excited," said Jensen, who recently purchased a home in Lawrence. "I thought I'd start looking for a full-time job in October, but this came up, something that I really wanted. So I'll probably put off cycling a little bit to work on my career as a civil engineer. But I'd say I definitely have a few years of cycling left. I'll still be racing next year. I'm not sure who I'll be racing for, but I still plan to be racing."