Tag Archives: Marcel Kittel

Three kinds of Tour stages

There are three kinds of stages in the Tour de France: Time trials, mountain stages, and Kittel stages. Yes, what was once sprint stages on the flat days, now belongs to a 29 year old German. Unbeatable on such days, or so it seems.

Marcel Kittel has won both stages since the rest day, and both with relative ease. Each stage was much like those that came in the first week of the Tour. A small break would go up the road early and get chased down late before the fast men finished behind Kittel. The only difference between yesterday and today was the margin of victory by Kittel. Today was a little closer, though never in doubt. Yesterday he won by several lengths. In truth there ought to have been a time gap to the rest.

Today finished in Pau. The city has a famous history with the Tour with stages having finished there 59 times dating back to 1930. Between 1971 and 1990 the Tour had a stage finish in Pau every single year. Since then it had been every couple of years until this decade. The finish today was the first time they rolled into Pau since Pierrick Fedrigo won in 2012. He also won there in 2010 and along with Bernard Hinault (’79 and ’81) and Eddy Pauwels (’61 and ’62) is the only two time winner into Pau.

There are at least two more stages that suit Kittel so a shot at 7 stage wins is possible. That would put him in a tie for second most with Bernard Hinault (1979) and Gino Bartali (1948). There are three men who have won eight stages at a single Tour; Eddie Merckx has done it twice. The number of sprint stages in this years Tour has put Kittel in a commending lead in the green jersey contest. He now leads Michael Matthews in second by 133 points. Before his disqualification last week, Peter Sagan was favourite to win this contest for a fifth straight year. It was often felt that Sagan could pick up intermediate sprint points on the lumpy stages where the rest could not. But in this Tour, with all these sprints, even if Sagan had lasted I still think Kittel might have beat him.

Kittel won’t win tomorrow though. That much I can guarantee because tomorrow they hit the high mountains once again. Focus will move away from big sprinters and back to little climbers. The race for yellow will intensify once more.


The width of the thread of a tire

“It doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile, winning’s winning.” ~ Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Fast and Furious

But what if the margin of victory is a millimetre. 0.0003 of a second, or something like that. They had to blow the picture up hundred of times over to tell for sure that Marcel Kittel had beaten Edvald Boasson Hagen in the sprint. The standard photo finish picture looks a draw every time. And until recent technology made such blow up images possible, that is what it would have been.

As it was though, it was the third stage victory of this Tour for the big German who has marked himself out as the fastest man in the sport once again. Of course, it’s only natural to ask ‘what if?’ with regards to a lack of Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan. Boasson Hagens has assumed sprinting duties in place of Cavendish for the Dimension Data team. In doing so he almost snuck the win. Few would have tipped him to go so close. And without wanting to discredit his effort, you have to wonder if Cavendish might have gotten that extra inch?

He may have been short on form while he was at this Tour but I now believe had he not crashed out, Cavendish would have a stage win to his name. But the Tour is full of hypotheticals. All that matters is the reality. And the reality not only shows Kittel with a hat trick of stage wins, but the green jersey upon his shoulders.

The big controversy was the photo finish though. Nobody seen the decisive image that the race jury did. And so once again that jury became the centre of attention. It generates talking points but as I wrote the other day, the Tour moves fast and everything will soon move on. Tomorrow they hit the high mountains at last and there will be enough drama there to steal the show. Everything that has gone before will be resigned to Tour history and memory.

Advantage Froome, and Sky, on the opening weekend

We are three stages in now and each stage has been different than the other. The first was a time-trial that gave us a classification and the chance to look at time gaps. The second stage gave the sprinters a turn to stretch their legs. And the third stage was designed to shake up the sharp end of that classification with a short but steep uphill finish. And while Geraint Thomas may have presented himself as a surprise winner of that time-trial, Marcel Kittel and Peter Sagan winning the next two stages, was right on script.

I spent the opening weekend of the Tour out of town. It was the Canada Day 150th anniversary celebrations on the day the Tour started. The celebrations ran through the weekend and into Monday. I was able to watch the Tour, or at least the parts that mattered, and I even clocked up 185km of riding. But I had no time, nor desire, to sit in from of a computer and write about the Tour. Best to let it all play out anyway; let it settle down, bed in, and give me pause for thought before making comment. And so here I am then on Monday evening, looking back at what has been over the opening weekend.

It is hard to imagine that a stage of the Tour that contributes only 0.4% of its total distance, could be any kind of a factor to the greater proceedings. And yet Saturday’s opening time-trial in Düsseldorf, Germany, could prove to be so. The rain fell and played its part in stretching some of the time gaps. It brought back memories of the prologue in 1995 when Chris Boardman, favourite to take the opening yellow jersey, came down hard and had to abandon. The dangers were all too clear on this one and some rode it as such. But it still caught out some. The biggest name of which was Alejandro Valverde. It wasn’t quite the same as Boardman in ’95 in that Valverde wasn’t expected to win today, but it was massive in regards to a contender crashing out so early. And if not a man gunning to win the Tour, then a vital aid in Nairo Quintana’s bid to weaken Chris Froome come the mountains.

Geraint Thomas took a few risks himself, but stayed upright and posted the best time. While his career first Tour stage win and yellow jersey will live long in the memory – a Brit doing what Boardman couldn’t in the wet – it was the GC contenders, sans Valverde, that made for interesting viewing. That isn’t to say Thomas couldn’t be a contender, but we all know he is here to serve at the beck and call of Chris Froome. And Froome himself didn’t take risks, but rode well and put decent time into his rivals. Richie Porte finished 35 seconds behind Froome with Nairo Quintana a further second back. And so we were left wondering how much of an impact this 0.4% of the race might now have? It’s not major time we’re talking about, but 35 seconds in the bank is solid time for someone like Froome. It allows for him to have a semi-bad day in the final few kilometres of a summit finish already. On the other hand, his opponents are already looking for a way to make up time.

The second stage went as planned on the road from Germany into Liege, Belgium. A suicide break containing a few riders from wildcard teams and one from Cannondale got caught late, before the sprinters done their thing. That said, it was closer than they might have hoped. Taylor Phinney, the Cannondale man of choice today, and Yoann Offredo of Wanty-Gobert, managed to survive into the final kilometre. There they got swept up and Kittel proved too fast for the rest. Returning from illness and still well short on form, Mark Cavendish, managed an impressive fourth. On a side note, Phinny was rewarded for his efforts with the polka-dot jersey, a fitting reward for a popular rider in the peloton. It wasn’t to last though, for the following day his compatriot and team-mate, Nathan Brown, took it from him.

It was stage three though that presented first opportunity for Froome’s rivals to try steal back a few seconds. It was the stage that the Tour entered France for the first time this year, coming from Belgium via Luxembourg. Could they catch him out on that 1.8km uphill finish? It was unlikely but on the run up that climb it was Richie Porte who made the first major move. Was it instinctive as he said post race? You could also suggest it was a move of desperation. Worried already about the 35 seconds he trailed his former team-mate. It didn’t work for the Australian, and Peter Sagan, the perennial favourite, reeled him in. Sagan then found himself at the front, peering at his rivals with a look that suggested, ‘I dare you to try come past me.’ And he was so strong that despite pulling his foot out of his pedal with about 250m to go, he still had time to recover, clip in, and surge away for the win. He never lost his lead. It was a show of strength that I’ve rarely seen before. An image later appeared showing the moment Sagan pulled his foot out. To zoom in on the faces of everyone else is to see men suffering as Sagan turns the screw. He already has a gap on second place, while ten to twelve men back a bigger gap is opening to the grimacing faces of Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana.

In the end the stage did little to the times of those expected to still be in the top ten come Paris. Froome finished 9th, on the wheel of Thomas, but ahead of Quintana, Bardet, Porte, Aru and Contador, albeit all on the same time. Dan Martin came third behind Michael Matthews and gained two seconds. The top 25 on the stage looked like that of the UCI World Rankings. All the contenders were up there as well as all the names who feature in the spring classics.

In the general classification Chris Froome jumped up to second behind Thomas. There is a flat stage tomorrow, but with the first serious summit finish on Wednesday, the standings  are thus, and set for a shakeup…

1. Geraint Thomas (Sky) in 10h0’31”

2. Chris Froome (Sky) @ 12″

3. Michael Matthews (Sunweb) same time

4. Peter Sagan (Bora) @ 13″

5. Edvald Boasson Hagen @ 16″

20. Richie Porte (BMC) @ 47″
21. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) @ 48″
24. Romain Bardet (AG2R) @ 51″
26. Fabio Aru (Astana) @ 52″
27. Alberto Contador (Trek) @ 54″

Kittel is prolific in Giro stages held outside Italy; moves into pink ahead of Dumoulin

The only difference between this years opening weekend of the Giro in the Netherlands and the opening weekend in Belfast two years ago is that they began with a team-time-trial rather than an individual TT, and that the weather was better for the Dutch. Other than that it was the Marcel Kittel show once again as the Etixx Quick Step rider took both flat stages ahead of the Giro’s return to Italy and in doing so has now won four career Giro stages without ever having raced on Italian soil given he abandoned after his second win into Dublin in 2014. I assume he has every intention of taking the plane to Italy this time around?

Other than that the race has been largely uneventful. The crowds were big but the drama short and none of the big favourites were seriously tested beyond that of the 9.8km time-trial. Tom Dumoulin won that on home soil by a fraction of a second and thus with it he took the first pink jersey, though he lost it yesterday when Kittel took his second stage win and enough collective bonus time to make good on a solid time-trial of his own to jump into pink.

Fabian Cancellara had hoped to spoil the Dutch party but had taken ill on the Thursday and had to settle for an 8th place finish 14sec behind Dumoulin. He still was clearly struggling a day later when he came in 1min 51sec down on Kittel and again on Sunday when he finished 6min 3sec back. Cancellara will hope to battle through and recover in time for the 40.5km time-trial on stage 9 from which he’ll be on of the favourites for the stage win. Snatching pink for a few days is now a lost ambition.

The biggest loser of the main contenders was probably Mikel Landa of Sky who conceded 40sec to Dumoulin, or perhaps more crucially, 21sec to Vincenzo Nibali who was likely best of the rest as far as the favourites are concerned.

General classification after stage 3:

1. Marcel Kittel (Etixx – Quick Step)

2. Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin)

3. Andrey Amador (Movistar)

4. Tobias Ludvigsson (Giant-Alpecin)

5. Moreno Moser (Cannondale)

6. Bob Jungels (Etixx – Quick Step)

in 9h 13′ 10″

@ 9″

@ 15′

@ 17″

@ 21″

@ 22″


Rider of the week:
I know Dutchman won the opening stage of the Giro in front of his adoring Dutch fans to pull on the pink jersey but I can’t look past two superb sprint wins by Marcel Kittel in which he beat the rest by, what looked like, a collective ten lengths and moved into pink! The German sprinter is in a different class than the rest.

2014 season in review: The year of crashing out of Grand Tours

2014 was the year of Ebola, ISIS, Malaysian airliners, Crimea, Ukraine, Scotland staying in Britian, the Sochi Olympics, Germany winning the World Cup in Brazil, Robin Williams’ death and the ALS Ice Bucket challenge. But it was also the year that the Giro came to Belfast, the Tour came to Britain, and the World Hour record became popular again.

When I think back quickly on the 2014 cycling season without allowing myself anytime to think in depth, three moments spring to mind: The first is Vincenzo Nibali bouncing across the cobbles of northern France in his mud stained yellow jersey. The second is riders crashing out of Grand Tours — from Dan Martin at the Giro (in Belfast in front of huge crowds); Mark Cavendish (in England in front of massive crowds), Chris Froome (before the cobbles!) and Alberto Contador (before the mountains) at the Tour de France; and Nairo Quintana (in a time-trial) at the Vuelta — and I may have missed someone. The third was Jens Voigt riding into retirement by breaking the historic world hour record.

It was a heck of a season in which a variety of riders stepped up to win at various stages of the season. In reality the cycling season can be split into four mini-seasons within one: The early-season week-long stage races, the spring classics, the Grand Tours, and the fall classics/World Championships. But even within the mini-seasons, no rider came forward to dominate and as result we had unpredictable racing that generated some great action.

Those early-season week-long stage races provided a variety of winners from specialists targeting them to others using them as form builders ahead of the Grand Tours.

The spring classics seen four different men win the four spring Monuments, though Fabian Cancellara still come close to a superb spring by finishing second at Milan-San Remo and third at Paris-Roubaix to go with his obligatory Tour of Flanders win.

In the Grand Tours we had three different winners; not unusual in itself but perhaps highlighted when various contenders crashed out of each, removing those head-to-head battles we had been hoping for…especially at the Tour when Froome and Contador abandoned. And those first two Grand Tours will especially be remembered fondly for the big crowds that watched the Giro in Belfast and the Tour in Yorkshire. It was fantastic to see; as a Northern Irishman, I never thought I’d see a Grand Tour in Belfast.

By the time of the fall classics there was a lot of tired legs. Simon Gerrans (one of few who won in early season, in the spring and then again in fall) became the first to do the Montreal-Quebec double, Dan Martin rebounded from his LBL and Giro crashes to win the years final Monument, the Giro di Lombardia, and Michal Kwiatkowski took the World Championships. It left us with a lot of riders (none at Sky though, I would imagine) that must have finished the season satisfied with how their respective years went.

One man whose 2014 season was his last, was Jens Voigt. A stalwart of the peloton for 17 years, Voigt announced his retirement before the season began and went about trying to make it a memorable one. Every race he entered he was on the attack and on the first stage of the Tour in England he got away long enough to pull on the polka-dot jersey for the first time since his first Tour in 1998. Voigt had come full circle, but he didn’t leave it there. On 18 September he took a run at the World Hour record after the UCI announced regulation changes to try and modernise the record. He was the first to do it in nine years, and he set a new standard in what became his retirement ride (what a way to go out!) and ignited a new love-affair with the challenge. 42 days later, Matthias Brandle broke Voigt’s record and early reports suggest as many as seven men will try for it in 2015.

Everyone will have different memories of different moments that stood out to them and different riders that impressed them the most, but below are some of mine, though I hope at the very least you’ll agree with why I’ve gone with what I have, and who I have. So without further ado, here’s The Cycle Seen’s best moments and awards for the 2014 road cycling season.


1. Stage five of the Tour; on the cobbles
The image was brutal and beautiful all at once: Vincenzo Nibali on the drops, in his dirty yellow jersey, pushing it at the front of a select group of cycling s hardest men in the driving rain through the mud of a cobbled lane with grass down the middle in northern France. A ride for the ages that surely lays the foundations for his bid to win the Tour de France. READ MORE>>

2. Quintana attacks on the Stelvio Descent
Nairo Quintana, pre-Giro favorite who looked to be in a little trouble just a few days ago, pulled out what will surely go down as one of the great rides in the history of this great race to win stage 16 and turn a 2 minutes, 40 seconds deficit to fellow Colombian Rigoberto Uran into a 1 minute, 41 seconds lead in this race in one of the most difficult, yet brilliant, stages of cycling you’re ever likely to see. READ MORE>>

3. Voigt breaks the world hour record
It’s been so long since this last happened that a whole generation of cycling fans have come into the sport and grew to love it but without ever having seen one of cycling’s greatest records get broken and so how good it was to see the likable and ever hard suffering Jens Voigt bring down the curtain on a long and illustrious career by setting a new benchmark for the World Hour for a new era of cycling. READ MORE>>

4. Dan Martin crashes out of the Giro in Belfast
You know that theory that you cannot win a Grand Tour on the opening days time-trial but you can lose it? Well, never before has that been so evident as it was today in Belfast for the team-time-trial to start this years Giro d’Italia. A dramatic day of edge-of-your-seat action surrounded by an amazing turn out of fans generating a 21.7 kilometre wall of noise despite the changeable conditions that seen the race play into the hands of some, already begin to slip away from others, and totally vanish for Dan Martin. READ MORE>>

5. Contador returns from a fractured leg to win the Vuelta
On 14 July, Alberto Contador crashed out of the Tour de France with a broken Tibia. On 23 August, he took to the start line of the Vuelta a Espana. Few thought he would make it that far; fewer thought he’d have the form to compete. But he did both. He won two stages, overcame rival Chris Froome and came away with the overall win – his sixth Grand Tour victory (eight if you count the two he was stripped of) – by 1’10” over Froome.


Cyclist of the Year: VINCENZO NIBALI
This wasn’t easy. Not because Nibali isn’t a worthy winner having had a fine season, but because nobody jumped out right away and dominated the season; that at various points in the season different riders came to the fore in their own brilliant ways. In the spring the results were spread, at the Giro it was the brilliant Quintana, at the Vuelta it was the Contador show, and in the fall there was Michal Kwiatkowski’s superb ride at the Worlds. And so, I’ve looked at how different riders dominated certain points of the season and tried to pick who done it best. With that in mind, I couldn’t only go for Nibali for the way in which he won the Tour de France. He took four road stage wins in all (the most since Eddy Merckx in 1974): On the rolling roads of England, in the Vouges mountains, in the high Alps, and the Pyrenees. He won on all those terrains, and then there was the cobbles of Northern France. He didn’t win there, but he smashed his rivals and laid the foundations for his Tour win. It was a command performance and when the dust had settled on it, Nibali had won his first Tour (becoming just the sixth man to complete the Grand Tour career triple crown) by a staggering 7 minutes, 37 seconds; the largest since Jan Ullrich in 1997.
Runners up: Alberto Contador, Michal Kwiatkowski, Nairo Quintana and Simon Gerrans.
Past winners: 2011 – Philippe Gilbert; 2012 – Sir Bradley Wiggins; 2013 – Vincenzo Nibali.

He won the first two road stages of the Giro, in Belfast and Dublin, before retiring with an illness from a race he looked set to dominate and then turned up at the Tour de France and won four stages including the first stage in England which, like last year, netted him the yellow jersey for a day. His biggest rival, Mark Cavendish, didn’t ride the Giro and only lasted one day at the Tour so we never truly got to see them go head-to-head, but even with that, there is little doubt now that Kittel is the fastest man in the world today. Beyond the Grand Tours, Kittel won two stages at the Tour of Britain and three at the Dubai tour.
Past winners: 2011 – Mark Cavendish; 2012 – Mark Cavendish; 2013 – Marcel Kittel.

He skipped the Tour, but his display at the Giro was more than enough to win this award. Every time the road pointed upwards he looked a threat and only got stronger as the race went on. Yes he attacked on the descent of the Stelvio on stage 16, but when it came to the final assent to Val Martello he only extended the time gap he had at the foot of the climb right up to the top. Then on stage 19’s mountain time-trial, he destroyed the opposition to confirm his Giro win. He only took 17 seconds out of the impressive Fabio Aru (see breakthrough rider award), but beat Rigoberto Uran by 1’26” and Pierre Rolland by 1’57”. It was such a shame that we never got to see the best of him at the Vuelta before he crashed out.
Past winners: 2011 – David Moncoutie; 2012 – Joaqium Rodriguez; 2013 – Chris Froome.

I know Tony Martin won time-trials at the Giro and the Tour, but Brad Wiggins wasn’t present for either and so to judge the best we could only go on when they went head-to-head and where better than at the World Championships were Wiggins ended Martain’s run of four straight titles by beat him by 26 seconds over the 47.1km course for an average speed of 50km/h. Beyond that Wiggins won his national time-trial title and the time-trials at the Tour of California (where he also won the overall) and at the Tour of Britain. Next year he’ll go for the World Hour record and it’s hard to believe he won’t smash it.
Past winners: 2011 – Cadel Evans; 2012 – Brad Wiggins; 2013 – Tony Martin.

Classics rider: SIMON GERRANS
He didn’t dominate the classics by any means, but then again nobody did really, though as mentioned above,  Mr. Classics himself Fabian Cancellara, sure came close, but that win at Flanders was his only classic victory and we didn’t see much of him the rest of the year. Gerrans on the other hand was good from the start to the end of the season. Before the classics began he won a stage and the overall at the Tour Down Under, and then in Belgium, won the Monument classic Liège–Bastogne–Liège after Dan Martin (yes him again) crashed at the final corner. But he showed up again in the fall, and won back-to-back races in three days at the Cycliste de Quebec and Cycliste de Montreal, in Canada. Neither are a Monument, but both are World Tour races and extremely challenging to say the least, and many use them as World Championship preparation. Speaking of which, Gerrans finished second.
Past winners: 2011 – Philippe Gilbert; 2012 – Tom Boonen; 2013 – Fabian Cancellara.

Most complete rider: ALEJANDRO VALVERDE
Say what you like about his past, but he’s served his time and this is about the 2014 season. A season in which Valverde showed just what a complete talent he is. He could easily have been my choice for cyclist of the year (Nibali beat him well at the Tour) and he could easily have won the best classics rider also (Gerrans got a Monument to his name) but came up a little short despite being supremely consistent at the front end of so many races. Valverde won the UCI World Tour, which you might think would automatically make him the most complete riders, but that’s not always the case. This time though, it is. He won eleven races on the season including the Roma Maxima, GP Miguel Indurain, La Flèche Wallonne, Clásica de San Sebastián, and two stages of the Vuelta; finished second at Liège–Bastogne–Liège and the Giro di Lombardia; third at the World Championship and Strade Bianche; fourth at Amstel Gold; and was third overall at the Vuelta and fourth overall at the Tour de France. He’s one of the few who can be in the mix for the Grand Tours in the summer, but also compete to win the spring and fall classics.
Past winners: N/A

From top to bottom this is one powerful line-up, especially when it comes to the Grand Tours were they won multiple stages in all three this year including the overall at the Vuelta via Alberto Contador. At the Giro it was Michael Rogers who carried the can, taking two stage wins in a season that really was becoming a throwback year for the 34 year old Australian. And then at the Tour, when Contador crashed out and all seemed lost, it was Rogers doing his big to rescue things with a stage win to go with two stage wins by Rafal Majka, who also won the King of the Mountains crown. It was facinating to see the differences in how both Tinkoff-Saxo and Team Sky reacted upon losing their team-leaders. When Froome crashed out, Sky went into their shell and were barely seen again whereas Tinkoff-Saxo picked up the pieces and got the best out of others. At the Vuelta it was the Contador show, with two stage wins and the overall, to cap a season in which the team won stages throughout. Next year Peter Sagan arrives so they’ll also be strong in the classics and don’t rule out the rare possibility of them winning all three major jersey’s at next years Tour with Contador going for yellow, Sagan for green and Majka for the King of the Mountains.
Past winners: 2012 – British Olympic track team; 2013 – Orica GreenEdge.

Breakthrough young rider: FABIO ARU
Cycling is drenched with young talent breaking through right now. Rafal Majka, Wilko Kelderman, Romain Bardet, Michal Kwiatkowski, Thibaut Pinot and Warren Barguil, to name but a few. Sure there is also Quintana but despite his youth, he’s already knocked down that door to stardom, highlighted by his Giro victory. As such, and for all those names, it was Fabio Aru that leapt out at me this year. Third in the Giro with a stage win and fifth in the Vuelta with two stage wins marked him out as Italy’s great hope for the future and one who will surely push to win a Grand Tour in the coming years. Indeed, next year he will lead his teams bid to win the Giro.
Past winners: 2011 – Pierre Rolland; 2012 – Peter Sagan; 2013 – Nairo Quintana.

Stage ten at the Tour de France and on the descent of the Col du Platzerwasel, Alberto Contador crashed at high speeds. When the cameras picked him up, it was clear he was in pain, limping well behind a charging peloton and his Tour was slipping away. Vincenzo Nibali couldn’t wait on him as a rival in Michal Kwiatkowski was further up the road on the attack (see Domestique award), though at the time many felt Contador may be able to limit his losses, he was still riding after all. But it was only later, after he had eventually climbed off and retired from the Tour, that we found out just how badly injured he was. A broken Tibia, and he had ploughed on for some 20 kilometres trying in vein, but with great courage, to regain contact with the peloton. It was mightily impressive, and not least the fact he returned to the Vuelta just 40 days later to win two stages and the overall.
Past winners: 2011 – Johnny Hoogerland; 2012 – Johan Van Summeren; 2013 – Geraint Thomas.

Domistique: TONY MARTIN
Most people think of Tony Martin as a time-trialist specialist, which he is of course, but it would be wrong to say that he’s a one trick pony and that this is all he offers his team and that was never highlighted better than on stages nine and ten at this years Tour. On stage nine from Gérardmer to Mulhouse, Martin got into a break, went into time-trial mode and won the first road race stage of his Tour career by almost three minutes. It was a superb solo ride and no doubt he was exhausted. Nobody could have blamed him for hiding up in the peloton until the only individual time-trial of the Tour on stage 20. But that’s not the Martin’s way…the very next day he got into the break with his team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski who was trying to recover time he had lost on previous stages and get himself back into contention for a podium position. Martin went to the front and went into time-trial mode once more, pushing himself to the limit on climbs as Kwiatkowski’s time built so much that at one stage, he was provisional yellow on the road. When. with 20km to go and a 2’17” lead over Nibali, Martin couldn’t go any further, he swung to the side and almost came to a standstill. Kwiatkowski couldn’t reward him with the stage win, Nibali overhauled him on the final climb, and Martin limped home 16 minutes after Nibali. But it was a heroic effort nonetheless.
Past winners: 2013 – Adam Hansen.

Etape was a fantastic read for anyone into their cycling history looking across some of the great stages in the Tour de France. It doesn’t shy away from stages now known to be tainted, and while putting everything into perspective it focuses particularly on the racing aspect and what happened on the road on that given day, and I found that refreshing.
Other books I read (and would recommend): Inside Team Sky by David Walsh, RIIS by Bjarne Riis, A Clean Break by Christophe Bassons and Shadows on the Road by Michael Barry.
Past winners: 2012 – The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton; 2013 – Domestique by Charlie Wegelius.

So there we have it. Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. The 2015 season promises to be epic and known as the year of the hour record!

The predictable final day

Stage 21: Évry to Paris Champs-Élysées, 137.5km. Flat.

The slow procession of bikes with hand shakes and clinks of champagne glasses followed by a ramping up of the speed onto the streets of Pairs and the final bunch sprint was inevitable, it always is. The closing ceremony of the big event with a little bit of fun at the end; like a Sunday club run in which a few lads have a dig at the speed signs before rolling home.

And yet a magical day anyway…the Eiffel Tower,  Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre; all as the backdrop for the greatest crit on earth. A few protagonists will try and get away to spice things up before the fastest men in the world get their reward for hauling their big frames over the mountains.

It all started three weeks ago on the dales of Yorkshire, England and ended on the smooth cobbles of the  Champs-Élysées. So different in many ways, and yet the result was still the same: A sprint victory for Marcel Kittel, the nailed on fastest man in the world now.

It’s a day the rest of the bunch get to celebrate their completion of the tour. Stay upright and don’t make some catastrophic mistake that will end all your hard work now. Lieuwe Westra knows this all too well having abandoned in Paris in last years Tour and second place man, Jean-Christophe Peraud almost came to the same fate when he crashed today only for Nibali to control the bunch and let him back on again. Nobody would want to see him lose his podium position in that manor.

Rather it is a day to enjoy the sights and the sounds and roll over the line after the sprinters with a satisfied look on your face or even your hands in the air. Vincenzo Nibali didn’t even raise his arms as you thought he might. Instead his Astana team-mates patted him on the back, finally free of the burden of looking after their leader in this rolling pack of 164 that made it home to Paris.

Then there is the endless parade of riders to the podium. Not everyone gets to go up there and collect their completion medal, but it’s not far off it. The stage winner, all the jersey winners, the most combatitive rider prize (Alessandro De Marchi), the winning team, and then the podium finishers. Lots of flowers, lots of podium girls, loads of Bernard Hinault, and plenty of cheers.

Nibali was the happiest man of the lot, no doubt, but the proudest? Well how do you measure such an individual accolade? Something tells me Cheng Ji, the first Chinese man ever to ride the Tour, and as such the first to finish it, will be just as proud as Nibali tonight despite finishing 6 hours, 2 minutes and 24 seconds behind him as Lanterne Rouge in dead last.

And then it’s all over. Like a three week Christmas Day that suddenly ends on New Years morning and the realisation that the fun is all over, that it’s back to the real world again for another year. Sure there’s the Vuelta, the Worlds, the Giro di Lombardia and then, next spring, the Spring Classics and the Giro, but what’s that old stupid cliche: The tour’s the tour?

I’ll now go and try throw together some review of the whole thing, some thoughts on it all and try put it into some kind of context with which to look back on…or at the very least give some favorite moments! Then it’ll be the next stage of the tour: Tour withdrawal. Into the decompression chamber once more to help with my integration back into regular society!

1. Kittel (GIA) in 3h20’50”
2. Kristoff (KAT)
3. Navardauskas (GRS)
4. Greipel (LTB)
5. Renshaw (OPQ)
6. Eisel (SKY) all s.t.

1. Nibali (AST) in 89h59’06”
2. Peraud (ALM) +7’37”
3. Pinot (FDJ) +8’15”
4. Valverde (MOV) +9’40”
5. Van Garderen (BMC) +11’24”
6. Bardet (ALM) +11’26”
7. Konig (TNE) +14’32”
8. Zubeldia (TFR) +17’57”
9. Ten Dam (BEL) +18’11”
10. Mollema (BEL) +21’15”

1. Sagan (CAN) 431 pts
2. Kristoff (KAT) 282 pts
3. Coquard (EUC) 271 pts

King of the Mountains:
1. Majka (TCS) 181 pts
2. Nibali (AST) 168 pts
3. Rodriguez (KAT) 112 pts

Yong rider:
1. Pinot (FDJ) in 90h07’21”
2. Bardet (ALM) +3’11”
3. Kwiatkowski (OPQ) +1h13’40”

1. AG2R La Mondiale in 270h27’02”
2. Belkin Pro Cycling +34’46”
3. Movistar Team +1h06’10”

De Marchi (CAN)

Hat Trick for Kittel

Stage 4: Le Touquet-Paris-Plage to Lille Métropole, 163.5km. Flat.

It was tighter than yesterday; tighter than expected, but in the end, the result is what stands and yet again it was Marcel Kittel over the line in first. As Vin Diesel’s character said in the Fast and Furious, “It don’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning’s winning.” And winning is what Kittel is doing a lot of. Three of four stages to start this tour … the first man to do that since Freddy Maertens in 1976, and Maertens went on to win eight stages that year.

Kittel probably isn’t going to go that far in this tour, though if he does get eight opportunities in all, you fancy he would very well take them. They may have got close today, but everyone still seems so far behind. I said that Cavendish would be missed from the Tour when he crashed out on stage one and I think now we’re beginning to see why. It isn’t that I don’t like Kittel winning, but it would have been great to see how Cav stacked up against him in this form. Especially when it is apparent that Andre Greipel is struggling to come close; managing only sixth today.

Tomorrow will be a different proposition altogether. It’s more Paris-Roubaix than traditional flat sprinters stage. From stage two’s Liège–Bastogne–Liège look-a-like to this stage tomorrow, these riders sure are being put through the ringer on this first week. That said, it’s flat and it’ll come down to the power men over the cobbles as the favorites look to avoid crashes and mechanical issues and not lose time to each other, so why couldn’t Kittel keep in touch at the front and still come good in the sprint? It’s conceivable, though more likely someone like Sagan or Cancellara will deliver the goods.

Of the favorites I think Nibali might enjoy this the most and could build on his slender lead. With form suggesting that Froome and Contador still have an edge on him in the high mountains it is imperative that Nibali — and a host of other outside hopefuls for that matter — try to do some damage now. Tomorrow is going to be fascinating to watch … not just because of the Pave and the Roubaix-esque style of stage but because its part of a bigger picture and how it’ll play out on the general classification.

1. Kittel (GIA) in 3h 36’39”
2. Kristoff (KAT)
3. Demare (FDJ)
4. Sagan (CAN)
5. Coquard (EUC)
6. Greipel (LTB) all s.t.

1. Nibali (AST) in 17h 7’52”
2. Sagan (CAN) +2″
3. Albasini (ORI)
4. Van Avermaet (BMC)
5. Contador (TCS)
5. Froome (SKY)
6. Mollema (BKN) all s.t.