So the Tour is over. Won and done. One for the history books. All that is left now, before turning the page on it, is to take a quick look back. A few thoughts on the winners, a review of my predictions and some awards before saying goodbye. Then I’m off on my holidays for a while. I won’t be bringing my bike and I won’t be thinking about professional cycling either. I’ll return, I hope, in time for the Vuelta.
If I told you before the stage to name me one team that would thrive today in cross winds, who would it be? My guess is you would name either Lotto Soudal or Quick-Step. And that would be my pick too. Yet, when the winds blew and the gaps began to form, Quick-Step where missing.
Dan Martin, their best placed rider on the general classification (5th at 1’12”) was left exposed. A climber by nature he isn’t built for this and needed his team more than ever. Heck, they have been absent in the high mountains so now seemed like a good time to show up for him. But where was Quick-Step? Philippe Gilbert didn’t start the stage citing illness, but the rest were off the back. Way off the back. Protecting the green jersey of Marcel Kittel instead. Continue reading The cross winds arrive and Dan Martin’s GC hope get blown away as Quick Step drop the ball
I was out on the bike on Saturday morning so missed the live coverage of the stage. Looking at the profile I had hedged my bets. It looked like a stage for exciting racing, but without too much in the way of major climbing. I felt it was unlikely that the balance of the race itself might swing. But as I swung into a small town and pulled over at a coffee shop, I pulled out my phone and seen the notification: “Froome back in yellow.”
What on earth had happened? I bought my tea and a butter tart, and sat down to catch up.
From what I could gather on the run in to Rodez, and towards the ramp up to the line, Fabio Aru had been isolated. His Astana team, broken and decimated by injury, were missing again. In stark contrast, the Sky team were all around Chris Froome. They kept him near the front while Aru slipped towards the rear. It takes a lot of effort to stay at the front and trying to do so without the protection of a team expends a lot of energy. After getting worked over the day before, but maintaining his jersey, Aru had to be tired.
Froome’s domestique and bodyguard elect, Michal Kwiatkowski noticed Aru isolated. He called on the radio for Froome to smash it and the Sky leader pushed for the line. Michael Matthews gave the Sunweb team their second victory in-a-row, and Froome came in 7th a second behind. 25 seconds later, Aru limped over the line, exposed and out of yellow.
The balance of this Tour had once again flipped in favour of Froome by 18 seconds. Romain Bardet lost 4 seconds to Froome and so now finds himself 5 seconds out of second place. Two others alert to the damage were Rigoberto Uran and Dan Martin who finished with Froome. Uran is putting together a very impressive Tour and is now within half a minute of yellow. Written off or overlooked by many, his performance in France may come as a surprise to some, but it shouldn’t.
You need a strong team to win the Tour and this proved it once more. Aru’s Astana team are struggling and it could be the difference in him not winning this race. As an individual, Aru has rode very well. He looks strong and well matched to Froome on the climbs. But it’s on days like this he remains vulnerable.
Take what happened the following day as another example of the benefits of a strong team. Froome had another mechanical at the worst possible time, and this time there was no waiting. We’re too deep into the race now for unwritten rules. A quick wheel change by his domestique turned mechanic, Kwiatkowski, got him on his way, but he was 45 seconds behind. Froome encouraged Landa to remain in the pack up front while other Sky riders worked on pacing Froome back. As they went up the category one climb of the Col de Peyra Taillade, the gap began to reduce. Bardet’s AG2R team kept the hammer down on the front, but the strength of Team Sky was evident. On the way up they blew past the fast fading Nario Quintana. His effort on Friday doomed to be that of a stage hunt rather than a realistic bid to get back into GC contention. Once Froome was alone, but not far behind, Landa dropped back to help him pull up to the rear of the pack. Job done. They crested the climb and from there it was about consolidating.
Had Froome gone over the top still off the back of the group, I doubt he would have got back on. His Tour might have been in tatters. It was a testament to his team and his own strength, and leadership, that this didn’t happen. It was a smart call to leave Landa in the group ahead. Had Froome failed to get back on, Landa, still well positioned on GC after some strong racing in the days before would still be in the mix. But with Froome getting back up and having spent through his team mates, he could still call Landa back for the final push. And when back in, Froome still had a team mate and wasn’t left isolated. It quietened the suggestions that Landa has gone rogue. He is still part of the Sky plan.
Froome looked vulnerable at times in the second week of this Tour but looks to be coming good now. He is peaking at the perfect time, or so it seems. He had been well short of his usual standards in the pre-Tour tune up races and it left people doubting his form. One explanation for this was that Froome was looking to peak later in the Tour. With a lot of sprint stages in the early going, Froome was going to try survive the early climbing stages and ride into his best form. Now with the third week looming, and facing a crisis on the Taillade, Froome’s strength shone through. He flew up that climb to regain contact. Had he not had the mechanical and instead attacked them, who knows what shape this race would now be in?
But that is hypothetical. So is my theory on Froome’s condition. The next few days will answer to what form his is in. Another hypothetical is where Dan Martin would be had he not crashed on stage 9? The Irishman jumped off the front yet again today to steal back 9 seconds. That is 18 seconds he has taken on two stages over three days. In that crash in which he fell over Richie Porte, Martin lost 1 minute, 15 seconds. As things stand he is 1 minute, 12 seconds behind Froome. Of course, the reality is that had he not crashed his move on Sunday would have been shut down immediately. He has gotten a little more freedom thanks to how compact the standings are in front of him. But what is evident is that Martin is in superb form. His rivals have yet to drop him. His only time loss has been as a result of that crash.
Up ahead on Sunday’s stage, a large 28 man pack that had escaped earlier in the day would decide the stage winner. Bauke Mollema made the timely move with 29km to go, attacking on the descent of that final big climb to forge ahead. The chase came too late and the Dutchman stayed clear to take his first Tour stage victory. This time last year Mollema was sitting second on GC and the biggest threat to Froome. That all came tumbling down in the final week. This year Mollema has come looking for stage wins. Now he has one and they can never take that away from him.
And so to a rest day today and how they need it. Tomorrow is a stage that should favour a breakaway though could end up in a bunch sprint and thus win number six for Marcel Kittel. Then it’s into the high Alps and come Thursday evening I’d be shocked if the standings are still as tight as they are now. This is the tightest a Tour has ever been for the yellow jersey this far into the race. It’s been a terrific show so far and I get the sense that the best is yet to come.
General classification after stage 15:
1. Chris Froome (Sky) in 64h40’21”
2. Fabio Aru (Astana) +18″
3. Romain Bardet (AG2R) +23″
4. Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale) +29″
5. Dan Martin (Quick-Step) +1’12”
6. Mikel Landa (Sky) +1’17”
The Vuelta is underway. Three stages in now and already there are echo’s of this years Giro. It too started with a team-time-trial and then seen Michael Matthews grab a stage win and the race leaders jersey. The only real difference between the two is a lack of Northern Irish rain and the Garmin team not crashing in that team-time-trial.
Things are still fairly packed in the GC; Dan Martin finished second to Matthews today with Chris Froome and Alberto Contador in the same group. Alejandro Valverde lost 7 seconds but maintains a strong placing out of those considering themselves favorites over this three week race. Thibaut Pinot was someone I thought might contend despite tired legs following the Tour, but he lost 4’21” on today’s stage and must surely be here for stage wins alone.
One man missing from when I wrote about how packed this Vuelta field was, is Chris Horner. He withdrew in the days leading up to the start, not because he’s still suffering from an illness, but because he took medicine to combat it. Horner had been suffering with bronchitis and the medication of cortisone he took to get better in time required a TUE, which was fine by the UCI, but because his Lampre team are a member of the MPCC — the Movement for Credible Cycling — they would not let him race so close to using those drugs.
Never mind a years training washed out because he needed medicine when sick, we’re now deprived of seeing how this aging defending champion would get on against the likes of Froome and Contador. I don’t think Horner would have been able to beat that pair, but now we’ll never know for sure. Horner will not lose his Vuelta crown on the road.
I admire what the MPCC teams are trying to do, but sometimes the logic makes you wonder. Sure there is a drive to return credibility to the sport, but at what cost? Can you imagine flying to Spain to watch Barcelona play only to find out that Messi wasn’t in the lineup — not because he wasn’t fit — but because he had been ill last week and had to take some medicine?
Granted Horner is no Messi and perhaps nobody has flown to Spain specifically to see him ride, but he’s the defending champion nonetheless. The MPCC has good intentions, but this is the drawback to it.
The Vuelta continues however and we’ve still the potential for a brilliant race. I’ll continue to hope that neither Froome or Contador find a way to crash before we hit the big mountains where this race will, as ever, be decided. And it’ll be intriguing to see if anyone else can put themselves in the mix and beat this pair who so far seem more interested in their ALS Ice Bucket Challenges with Froome recently nominating Contador.
Standings after stage 3:
1. Matthews (OGE) in 9h27’53”
2. Quintana (MOV) +4″
3. Valverde (MOV) +11″
4. Uran (OPQ) +15″
5. Caruso (CAN) +17″
6. Caves (OGE) s.t.
12. Contador (TCS) +23″
23. Froome (SKY) +31″
Everything looked to be shaping up as normal as the race headed into its final 12 kilometres yesterday … the early break was being swept up and the final climb to the finish beckoned. It was a chance for the favorites to try and steal a second or two over one another and for Michael Matthews to try hang onto his pink jersey for another day. But laying underneath it all was the rumblings of chaos.
That break had just been caught, the rain was falling and the roads were becoming ever greasy, the pace was being ramped up as the race charged towards that climb and everyone was scrambling for position. Cadel Evans seen all the hallmarks of a crash and he put his team on the front.
And then there was a crash.
Two crashes in quick succession, the first bringing down a handful of riders, the second bringing down — or at least holding up — what appeared to be some 186 riders. Only eight men remained in motion and one of them was Evans. Three of them were his teammates. Another was the pink jersey of Michael Matthews.
The hammer went down and the time gaps began to grow.
Another left behind and on the ground was Giampaolo Caruso. He lay motionless for quite some time before finally being lifted into an ambulance though did appear to be conscious.
Onto the climb and Evans had his BMC boys put down a hard tempo. Eventually Evans himself took over as the gap hovered anywhere from 30 to 40 seconds from a large group chasing behind. As they neared the finished the pink jersey of Matthews sprung past Evans to take the stage, but the older of the two Australians will not have worried too much. The time gained in the bigger picture was what mattered to him most.
Further back was Joaqium Rodriguez, brought down in the crash and losing huge chunks of time. Nicholas Roche was also stranded with a broken bike and because of the carnage was left waiting a length of time for a new one that ruled him right out of Giro contention. He would roll home more than 15 minutes behind the stage winner. Rodriguez would lose 7 minutes, 43 seconds and later abandon the race with a broken rib and broken thumb.
What it has done is put Evans in a superb position and so long as he keeps himself up right he can go into the mountains looking to contain his rivals rather than having to take time. That style of racing will suit Evans best, especially at the age of 37 now. Others like Nairo Quintana and Rigoberto Uran, who came home in a large group 49 seconds behind Evans, will be forced to go on the attack. While it’s a shame to lose Rodriguez from the race and Roche from GC contention, the race is still up for grabs and the Giro has still a lot to offer in the coming weeks, though I can see how it’s beginning to look like the winner might be whomever is the last man standing!
1. Michael Matthews (Orica Greenedge) in 6-37-01
2. Tim Weelens (Lotto Belisol) + s.t.
3. Cadel Evans (BMC) + s.t.
4. Matteo Rabottini (Neri Sottoli) + s.t.
5. Ivan Santaromita (Orica Greenedge) + 13 sec
6. Steve Morabito (BMC) + 23 sec
15. Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) + 49 sec
19. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) + s.t.
28. Ivan Basso (Cannondale) + s.t.
89. Joaqium Rodriguez (Katusha) + 7-43
171. Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) + 15-08
1. Michael Matthews (Orica Greenedge) in 24-18-14
2. Cadel Evans (BMC) + 21 sec
3. Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) + 1-18
4. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) + 1-25
5. Steve Morabito (BMC) + s.t.
6. Matteo Rabottini (Neri Sottoli) + s.t.
11. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) + 2-08