Tag Archives: Tour de France 2013

2013 TOUR REVIEW: Back to reality as the circus leaves town

A brief look back at what was before getting on with the summer; also a look at how my poorly picked pre-tour predictions turned out; and the results of that fictional pure-sprinters competition I made up…

So the dust has settled on the 2013 Tour de France and on Monday I found myself coming home from work and for the first time having to look to see what was on TV. I no longer had a recording of the days stage to keep me entertained for the evening. The withdrawal had set. Nothing left to do now but look back at the memories it created.

All in I wouldn’t say this Tour was one of the all-time classics, but there was enough in there to make it fantastic in its own right. Then again, that could be said of every tour. For a fan like myself there is no such thing as a dull Tour. How could that ever happen over three weeks of relentless racing across all sorts of terrain? That is what is so special about the Tour. It is a three week TV drama; a travelling circus, and the story lines develop and take shape as the days go on. Any Tour serves up enough action to write a book about and in this case you had the 100th edition starting on the beautiful island of Corsica, that packed the Alps into the final week and that finished under the lights of night-time Paris, to only add to the magic.

Chris Froome may have taken control by the end of the first week and all but cemented his victory on Mont Ventoux at the end of the second, yet there was still questions about the strength of his Sky team and given the number of riders so tightly packed on time behind him, there was, if not the question of whether collectively they could still attack him often enough in the Alps to finally crack him, then the race to be the final two on the podium. And that played out right to the final climb of the Tour.

But the lack of a Yellow jersey battle going to the wire, as we have seen in some recent years, and general classification attention being on second and third places alone didn’t spoil the race. There was still so much else to captivate us: The King of the Mountains competition that went back and forth all through the Tour and was only decided on the final mountain; the battle of the four sprinters, Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel, Marcel Kittel and Peter Sagan; the desperate hope that a break might survuve; looking for a French stage win; the question of whether the tricky descents might catch someone out; Echelons; Bus-Gate; and of course the sporting arena in which it all takes place … France.

A whole country.

The scenery from Corsica to Southern France, to the Pyrenees, to Mont Saint Michel, to Central France, to the Alps and to Paris at night, was as ever, spectacular. Chateau after Chateau, stunning Tour related art work at the sides of the road best viewed from the helicopter, huge crowds on the mountains, beautiful small towns, and the wish that I was somewhere on the route watching the race go by before shuffling into a little cafe to watch the end of the stage on TV ahead of going off to explore the region.

So before turning attention back to the real world and contemplating the rest of the summer, the Vuelta, Autumn, the World Championships, Thanksgiving, Hanging up my bike for the winter, Christmas, New Years, Winter skating on frozen lakes, Spring, the Giro and the arrival of another Summer and another Tour starting this time in England for three stages, let’s take one last look back at the 2013 Tour that was and ten moments that captivated my memory and that will stick with me for the long haul:

The Orica GreenEdge bus, Stage 1
Remember that? Seems so long ago now but who could forget the drama that unfolded as the Orica GreenEdge bus arrived at the finish after the finishing banner had been lowered and as a result got stuck under the banner just as a charging peloton hit the final five or six kilometres. Chaos ensued and the finish of the race was moved briefly to the 2 kilometre to go mark before the bus was moved and normal order restored. The panic in the peloton caused a crash that eliminated a number of the sprinters. That is except Marcel Kittel who took the win and the Yellow jersey.
Result: 1. Kittel; 2. Kristoff s.t.; 3. D. Van Poppel s.t. Overall: Same.

Fastest TTT in history, Stage 4
Nice was the first stop when the race returned to mainland France for the team-time-trial. A chance for me to see the city I had visited exactly two years before. Teams like Sky, Omega Pharma Quickstep and Garmin were favorites but it was the Australian outfit who shocked the Tour by beating Quickstep by less than a second in what was the fastest team-time-trial in history and it put their man Simon Gerrans in Yellow.
Result:: 1. Orica GreenEdge; 2. Omega Pharma Quickstep +1″; 3. Sky +3″. Overall: 1. Gerrans; 2. Impey s.t.; 3. Albasini s.t.

First African in the Yellow jersey, Stage 6
The stage itself was largely uneventful but a little split near the end meant that South African, Daryl Impey, became the first African born rider to don the Yellow jersey. Yes, Richard Virenque was born in Morocco, but Impey was born and bread on the continent. Many expected this piece of history to be made in this years Tour, but everyone expected it to be Chris Froome and not Impey. It was an historic day.
Result: 1. Greipel; 2. Sagan s.t.; 3. Kittel s.t. Overall: 1. Impey; 2. Boasson Hagen +3″; 3. Gerrans +5″.

Sagan and Cannondale dump the sprinters and go for Green, Stage 7
It was a stage with a few small climbs in it. Nothing to upset the favorites but something that could put the pure sprinters in trouble if the pace was lifted. And lifted it was by Peter Sagan’s Cannondale team. He dropped all of Cavendish, Kittel and Greipel on a climb before the intermediate sprint and after taking full points there decided to have his team press on to the finish. It was a mammoth team-time-trial and it paid off when he won the sprint to take what would be his only stage win. The points he sucked up here was what won him the Green points jersey.
Result: 1. Sagan; 2. Degenklob s.t.; 3. Bennati s.t. Overall: 1. Impey; 2. Boasson Hagen +3″; 3. Gerrans +5″.

Foome on Ax 3 Domaines lays down his marker, Stage 8
There’s always question marks until the first big climbs of the Tour and after waiting a week we finally got answers. By the time the day was done there was no doubt who the strongest man on this Tour was. Chris Froome. Young Nairo Quintana attacked with one climb to go, but it proved to be a little too far out for the Colombian and when Froome ditched the rest on the road to Ax 3 Domaines he quickly caught and dropped Quintana to win solo by a huge margin. His Sky team-mate Richie Porte was second showing just how strong Sky might be in this Tour. Froome pulled on the Yellow jersey and wouldn’t let it go the rest of the way.
Result: 1. Froome; 2. Porte +51″; 3. Valverde +1’08”. Overall: 1. Froome; 2. Porte +51″; 3. Valverde +1’25”.

Sky implode proving they aren’t quite US Postal MkII, Stage 9
By the time the cameras went live the race had been blown to bits. A high pace set by the Garmin team as well as Saxo-Bank and Movistar caught a tired Sky bunch napping after their big effort the day before. Froome was left isolated with a number of climbs to go, but rather than continue to attack him in turns everyone stuck together and Froome was able to follow wheels. The big loser was Porte who conceded 18 minutes, the big winner was Dan Martin who in winning the stage became Ireland’s first stage winner since Stephen Roche in 1992.
Result: 1. D. Martin; 2. Fuglsang s.t.; 3. Kwiatkowski +20″. Overall: 1. Froome; 2. Valverde +1’25”; 3. Mollame +1’44”.

Echelon’s split the race to pieces, Stage 13
It wa supposed to be a flat stage for the sprinters and looking at the days winner you would think it was, but it turned out anything but. Strong cross-winds forced the race into echelon’s and with it, splits in the bunch. First Kittel was distanced and the race became one sprinters team trying to catch the front group, but then Valverde punctured dropped him back to the chase behind in a mechanical incident that would cost him more than ten minutes. But the best drama was still to come: Late in the stage more cross-winds put Saxo-Bank on the front and they distanced the Yellow jersey of Chris Froome. The pressure was on Froome for the first time and for the first time he was going to lose time to his rivals. It was meant to be a quiet day but it turned into one where both fans and riders spent it on the edge of their seats setting up nicely the stage to Mont Ventoux two days later.
Result: 1. Cavendish; 2. Sagan; 3. Mollema. Overall: 1. Froome; 2. Mollema +2’28”; 3. Contador +2’45”.

Froome does a Merckx on Ventoux, Stage 15
It’s one of the most iconic climbs in the sport and one everyone wants to win on. And this being the 100th edition of the Tour there was that added incentive, not to mention Bastille Day for the French riders. It was a flat stage into the Giant but once on the slopes the action kicked off. The front group shrank in numbers as the pace went up and when it was reduced to just Porte, Froome and Contador, the Yellow jersey made his move. In a stunning turn of pace, with such a high cadence, Froome distanced Contador and rode across to Quintana. He later dropped the Colombian and rode to his second solo victory proving that he wasn’t just going to defend his Yellow jersey but continue to attack. He became the first man to win on Ventoux while wearing Yellow since Eddy Merckx and 46 years after the death of Englishman, Tom Simpson on the mountain, a British rider had finally won there.
Result: 1. Froome; 2. Quintana +29″; 3. Nieve +1’23”. Overall: 1. Froome; 2. Mollema +4’14”; 3. Contador 4’25”.

France get their win on Alpe d’Huez, Stage 18
The idea of a 100th Tour de France without a French winner sounded wrong but as the stages went by and opportunities were squandered — not least stage 16 when three Frenchmen finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th — there was a fear that they might miss out. Stage 18 was the one we’d all been waiting for, the one in which the organisor decided in a stroke of genius to send the race up Alpe d’Huez twice in the one day. It was a stage filled with drama as we watched to see when the rest would attack Froome. Contador tried on the descent off the Alpe but couldn’t make it work and eventually cracked on the second run up. Froome himself cracked when he ran out of food and it forced Sky to hand Porte an illegal energy gell that Froome then took. Both received ten second penalties. But the best drama was at the front as American Tejay van Garderen seen his dreams of a solo ride to the summit implode just kilometres from the finish when Frenchman Christophe Riblon sent a nation into celebration when he powered past Van Garderen to take that first French win of the 100th Tour at the most historic of settings.
Result: 1. Riblon; 2. Van Garderen +59″; 3. Moser +1’27”. Overall: 1. Froome; 2. Contador +5’11”; 3. Quintana +5’32”.

Paris at night, Stage 21
Yes it was a big day because Kittel won his forth stage and broke the dominance of Mark Cavendish who had been looking for his fifth straight win in Paris, but in reality the entire occasion made the day. The ride into Paris at night under the lights, going around the Arc de Triomphe for the first time, and that same monument being lit up for a digital fireworks display and in Yellow as Chris Froome took to the podium as champions of the 2013 Tour de France with five time champions Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain standing alongside to celebrate the 100th Tour.
Result: 1. Kittel s.t.; 2. Greipel s.t.; 3. Cavendish s.t. Final Overall: 1. Froome; 2. Quintana +4’20”; 3. Rodriguez +5’04”.

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How my pre-Tour predictions turned out

I guess looking back at how things finished up I can’t help but wonder why I didn’t pick someone to finish where they did. How could I not have seen Chris Froome as the winner, how could I not have seen Cadel Evans struggle as much as he did what with the Giro in his 36-year old legs? Hindsight is a wonderful thing and in not predicting a single position correctly — in the General Classification at least — you’re reminded why any future predictions should not be taken to the bookies for you to bet on.

The following are in order of how I picked them to finish with their final general classification positions:

1. Alberto Contador: 4th at 6’27”

2. Chris Froome: 1st

3. Ryder Hesjedal: 70th at 2h 21’41”

4. Tejay Van Garderen: 45th at 1h 38’57”

5. Joaquim Rodriguez: 3rd at 5’04”

6. Thibaut Pinot: DNF

7. Jurgan Van Den Broeck: DNF

8. Richie Porte: 19th at 39’41”

9. Cadel Evans: 39th at 1h 30’14”

10. Pierre Rolland: 24th at 52’15”

And the other competitions:

Points: Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel: Got this trio in the correct order.

Mountains: Joaquim Rodriguez, Thomas Voeckler, Dan Martin: Nairo Quintana won it with Chris Froome and Pierre Rolland in second and third.

Young: Tejay Van Garderen, Thibaut Pinot, Andrew Talansky: Getting Talansky in the top three was correct, though he did end up second, but it was Quintana who won the prize with Michal Kwiatkowski in third.

Team: Sky: 11th at 1h 13’19” (Saxo-Tinkoff won the prize).

Most stage wins: Mark Cavendish: Finished on two; Marcel Kittel had the most with four.

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Pure sprinters competition final standings

Earlier in the Tour you might remember I decided to forego the points classification as an indicator to who the best sprinter was in this years Tour de France and instead invent my own competition. The points classification as we know it had gone out of the hands of the purest sprinters like Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel thanks to Peter Sagan’s ability to climb well on the smaller hills and pick up points on stages his rivals couldn’t keep up on. As a result he rightfully deserved to win the Green jersey, but more so as the most consistent rider in the Tour, than as its best sprinter. So who was the best when it came to all-out sprints?

This was the results of the top three (six points for first, four for second, two for third) on the purely flat stages in which all of Kittel, Cavendish, Greipel and Sagan were able to compete in the dash for the line … that is if one didn’t miss out from being caught up in a crash, which happened from time-to-time.

So here’s how it worked itself out:

Marcel Kittel
Stage 1: 1st — 6 pts
Stage 5: 187th — 0 pts
Stage 6: 3rd — 2 pts
Stage 10: 1st — 6 pts
Stage 12: 1st — 6 pts
Stage 13: 124th — 0 pts
Stage 21: 1st — 6 pts

TOTAL: 26 pts

Mark Cavendish
Stage 1: 58th — 0 pts
Stage 5: 1st — 6 pts
Stage 6: 4th — 0 pts
Stage 10: 3rd — 2 pts
Stage 12: 2nd — 4 pts
Stage 13: 1st — 6 pts
Stage 21: 3rd — 2 pts

TOTAL: 20 pts

André Greipel
Stage 1: 181st — 0 pts
Stage 5: 4th — 0 pts
Stage 6: 1st — 6 pts
Stage 10: 2nd — 4 pts
Stage 12: 33rd — 0 pts
Stage 13: 15th — 0 pts
Stage 21: 1st — 4 pts

TOTAL: 14 pts

Peter Sagan
Stage 1: 154th — 0 pts
Stage 5: 3rd — 2 pts
Stage 6: 2nd — 4 pts
Stage 10: 4th — 0 pts
Stage 12: 3rd — 2 pts
Stage 13: 2nd — 4 pts
Stage 21: 4th — 0 pts

TOTAL: 12 pts

No surprise really to see Kittel as the winner. He took four stage victories — as many as Cavendish, Greipel and Sagan combined — and while he didn’t come close in the Points competition, he proved that in an all out sprint he had dethroned Cavendish and become the new fastest man in the world. For now. This really was one of the best battles of sprinters that we’ve seen in the Tour for many many years and I get the feeling that these four will battle the sprints out for several years to come and what a treat we’re in for.

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Goodbye to the Tour

And so, just like that, the Tour is gone for another year. Like a kid on boxing day you always wonder just where it all went. The build up was immense but the event itself just flashed past. And like that kid, we were spoiled once again. Don’t try telling it to the riders that the whole thing happened a little too quickly however.

There’s no doubt that the three weeks of racing are as grueling as they come. Indeed, in many ways as they rolled into Paris, the three full weeks and a day it had been since they began in Corsica, seemed like a long time ago. So many questions had been answered; so much drama had unfolded. To think that those athletes had been on the saddle for all but two of the days from then until now reminded you just how long the race was, but you still couldn’t get away from thinking how quickly it had all past.

That’s the Tour de France for you. For the riders it’s a long three weeks of suffering, but for the fan who might be standing at the side of the road, they speed past in the blink of an eye and they’re gone.

I’m now heading off on holiday for a few weeks to visit family and friends and to do a bit of cycling. Enjoy the rest of your summers now that the Tour has released you from its magical grip to get on with the rest of your life!

Cav beaten on Champs-Elysses; Froome seals the deal

It was the usual run in to Paris in so many ways, but then, in so many other ways it was very unique. Sure there was the usual moments of the various jersey winners posing for their picture at the front of the final stages roll-out, sure there was the obligatory glass of champagne for the Yellow jersey on the outskirts of Paris, and sure the stage still finished with its crit up and down the Champs-Elyeese, but then there was all the new stuff: Finishing at dusk, going around the Arc de Triomphe and someone not called Mark Cavendish winning the stage.

As ever the stage was a slow one to begin with. Everyone was celebrating the fact they had made it through three weeks of hard racing and nursing a few heavy heads and stomachs from their rare treat of junk food and an extra glass or two of wine the night before given the real work had been completed. That jersey picture was taken, the glass of champagne drank, and even Nairo Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez — second and third in this tour — spent about ten minutes on the front of the peloton trying to light a cigar.

It was a parade, a closing ceremony if you will, and everyone was reveling in the moment that they had made it. For Froome it was the chance to realise his dream of winning the race, for Sagan it was enjoying the repeat of the Green jersey, for many others it was the satisfaction that they had simply finished it. Take Canada’s Svein Tuft. A 36-year old veteran cyclist who was riding his first Tour. He finished dead last as the 2013 Lanterne Rouge. His job was as a domestique: He worked for the team, he helped them win the team-time-trial, he spent time on the front of the peloton relentlessly over the first week when his Orica GreenEdge team were passing the Yellow jersey among themselves, and he suffered over the mountains. Finishing last isn’t a disgrace in the Tour. It’s respected because you still finished and so he too could enjoy the moment.

Still, none of them could let their guard down entirely. While the ride into Paris might be a traditional ceasefire, once they arrived onto the famous streets of the Champs-Élysées, the gloves come off again and the racing started for real, one last time. Don’t get dropped, don’t crash, make sure you cross the line at the end of the nine laps because if you don’t, the last three weeks have been for nothing. For Froome he needed to make sure he didn’t get caught out in an accident outside the 3 kilometres to go banner which could have seen him lose time. It was unlikely but it could happen and not until inside that marker could he truly throw his arms up. Indeed, he chose to do this by sitting back with his team-mates and crossing the line with them, altogether, arms around one another. It cost him 43 seconds on his podium rivals but that’s a time-loss that won’t bother him at all.

So spare a thought for Lieuwe Westra who was an example of why it isn’t over until you cross the white line in Paris. He spent the morning in the sunshine as the celebrations went on around him, ambling his way towards Paris at a pace that even I could keep with, but when the racing got hot the German was shelled out the back, suffering from an illness contracted during his trip through the Alps, the finish coming a day too late. The Champs-Élysées had become his boulevard of broken dreams. He fell back and abandoned. 3,354 kilometres completed, a mere 38 left to go. He goes home a DNF, albeit one who technically still made it to Paris.

The race went on. The usual small break went clear but never got more than a few seconds up the Avenue before eventually being reeled in just in time for the sprinters to have their moment … their reward for suffering over the mountains to make it here.

And for the first time in years it really was a showdown of the best sprinters in the world. Mark Cavendish looking to win for a fifth straight time on this stage, Marcel Kittel looking to make it four stage wins, Andre Greipel looking for his second, and Peter Sagan hoping to do what Cavendish did last in 2011 and win into Paris with the Green jersey on his shoulders.

It looked good for Cavendish all through that last lap. His team took to the front as the bunch swept through the tunnel under the Louvre. His leadout train were well set, but then on the inside came their nemesis, Argos-Shimano. Kittel was being set up in a way that only Cavendish normally is in Paris and when the Omega Pharma Quickstep rider on the front of the race swung off, Gert Steegmans wasn’t there to take it up. As they swept into the Place de la Concorde, Steegmans noticing he was tucked on someone elses wheel, moved aside and Cavendish was left to take it on himself. By now Argos-Shimano had seized control and blazed through that final forty-five degree corner like the trains of Cavendish normally do. His rivals had learned how he did it and were now employing it against him. Kittel was second wheel as he got the sling shot out of the corner towards the line. From that point he was on the front.

That’s how Cavendish has won it four times, but this time he was having to come from behind, on the inside, 150 metres from the line with Kittel and Greipel already in front of him. No bother to a pre-2013-Tour version of Cavendish. There was time for the second kick that would drive him past for the win, but the kick wasn’t there. He couldn’t get past Greipel never mind Kittel and the young German took his forth stage victory in this Tour cementing himself as the new fastest sprinter in the sport.

It won’t sit easy with Cavendish but rest assured he’ll bounce back. In 2014 his ‘train’ should be better polished and with the addition of his old leadout man, Mark Renshaw, they could be ready to deliver him to his fifth Paris victory, but for now there’s a new kid on the block and there’s multiple sprint trains to overcome.

All that was left was the prize presentations and what a show the Tour and Paris put on. The Arc de Triomphe was lit up like never before. Light video’s, digital fire works, and shining Yellow as Chris Froome took to the podium to recieve his final Yellow jersey, surrounded by past five time champions, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain. Other five times winner, Jacques Anquitel is dead, and former seven times winner turned no-times winner, Lance Armstrong was the uninvited ghost hovering over it.

“This is one yellow jersey that will stand the test of time,” said Froome at the end of his eloquent and pre-prepared podium speech. And with that, we hope for Froome’s sake and sanity, the ghost of Armstrong past — which he was clearly referencing — was exorcised and the partying could begin.

What a Tour, what a finale, and what am I going to do now?

Quintana cements his potential as a future Tour winner with stage win, KOM title and Young riders crown

If you weren’t sitting on the edge of your seat screaming and yelling for Jens Voigt to shut his legs up as he so often does himself, hoping upon hope that somehow the pace behind would relent allowing him the kind of buffer he would need going into the final climb to win what would have been an epic solo victory for the 41-year old German, then you’re probably not a cycling fan. It was a big effort as he left everyone else in his breakaway group in his wake on the penultimate climb of this Tour — including King of the Mountains chasing Pierre Rolland and a few other noted climbers — in a bid for a great victory. It wasn’t to be though and when the general classification favorites upped the anti on the climb to Semnoz, everyone in front was swept away and it was Nairo Quintana, a pure climber out of Columbia who had already sealed the Young riders competition and who at 23 was marking himself out as a future winner of the Tour, who broke clear to win his first Tour de France stage and with it seal the King of the Mountains prize.

It was a fantastic stage to bring to a conclusion a fantastic week in the Alps. From Pierre Rolland continuing where he had left off the day before in going after as many King of the Mountains points as he could, to Voigt’s big effort, to Quintana winning solo as he so deserved, to Froome crossing the line moments later to all but carve his name into the Tour de France winning trophy, it was a great finish.

You know, when they put this stage together just a day before Paris the race organisors must have hoped that the Yellow jersey battle would have come down to this climb and not just the King of the Mountains prize and had you been told before the Tour started that Froome would come into the day with more than a five minutes lead you might have thought it would be a dull finish to the climbing, but as this Tour has proven throughout: Just because someone has a pretty commanding lead in the general classification — even from the earliest days of the second week of the Tour, it doesn’t mean the racing itself can’t be great to watch and indeed even the battle at the sharp end of the overall standings have proved intriguing to the end.

While Froome just had to save himself from any kind of disaster day, those placed in the four positions behind him had everything to race for. Seconds separated second to fifth and two spots on the podium were very much up for grabs. Arriving into the Alps, Alberto Contador had hoped to try take the race to Froome. To attack him on the climbs and the descents and try to break his spirit. And try he did, winning himself many fans, but it never worked and in the end it only served to exhaust himself. But as he said last week, it didn’t matter to him where he finished if it was’t in first and so he was willing to risk his place on the podium.

Once Rolland and his group, that included Tejay Van Garderen — trying to redeem himself for falling short on Alpe d’Huez — had been caught, followed shortly after by Voigt it became a showdown for the top five. The pace was high before they even hit the climb and it shrank the group to just a handful of riders. At first it seemed as though Froome might ride for his superb domestique, Richie Porte, to try pay him back with a stage win, but when Quintana and Rodriguez attacked, it looked as though Porte accepted he couldn’t go with them and allowed Froome to go on ahead. Froome bridged across and attacked himself.

This wasn’t the Froome we seen on Ventoux however. He didn’t quite have the strength to continue on … the three weeks of racing taking their toll even on him it would seem, and the two climbers got on terms with him. The result however was a broken Contador who himself was exhausted after three weeks of chasing. His legs and even his age catching up to him at last, no longer the punchy attacking rider we once knew, he began to lose time heavily and with it that podium position he was prepared to risk.

The three that were becoming the podium three of this years Tour, fittingly you might say, took the race to it’s final summit. Froome looked to be struggling but suddenly found the legs to attack. I think in hindsight it was the act of a tired man, testing his rivals to see if perhaps they were feeling worse than he. But they weren’t. They caught him and then Quintana went alone with just over a kilometre left. Rodriguez had no answer but to ride on ahead of Froome and so they each came over the finishing line alone with a job complete.

For Quintana he had won a stage he utterly deserved giving his attacking instincts throughout this Tour. For Rodriguez had had succeeded in using the Alps to jump his way up the standings and onto the podium with perfect timing. And for Froome it meant all he need do now is stay up right into Paris to become the second British winner of the Tour de France in two years.

For me Quintana might be the best young talent to come into the Tour de France since Jan Ullrich in 1996. Back then Ullrich won the White jersey and finish second overall but had gotten stronger and stronger as the race went on proving to the world that he was on the path to greatness. As it turns out he won the Tour the year later but would never win it again … issues over his weight and commitment to training often getting in his way of overcoming a certain Lance Armstrong. Now it’s Quintana coming second and winning the White jersey and even adding the King of the Mountains to it. In 1996 it was Richard Virenque who won that polka-dot jersey — something Rolland failed to do despite his frequent long attacks chasing every point he could much in the guise of Virenque — and not Ullrich, so Quintana has something on him there. Can he come back in 2014 and go one step further on the podium? Chris Froome will hope not.

And so with the Alps now behind us and another Tour all but into the history books we head to Paris for the first night stage in what I like to refer to as the annual Mark Cavendish final stage win. It’s going to be a great setting and while not even the Green jersey remains up for grabs, it’ll still be a special stage to watch as the 170 men still left in this Tour charge up and down the Champs-Élysées in front of every past competitor of the Tour still alive as the 100th edition of this great race comes to a close.

Stage 20 result

1. Quintana in 3h 39’04”

2. Rodriguez + 18”

3. Froome + 29”

4. Valverde 1’42”

5. Porte + 2’17”

6. Talansky + 2’27”

7. Contador + 2’28”

General classification after stage 20

1. Froome in 80h 49’33”

2. Quintana + 5’03”

3. Rodriguez + 5’47”

4. Contador + 7’10”

5. Kreuziger + 8’10”

6. Mollema + 12’25”

King of the Mountains classification after stage 20

1. Quintana – 147 pts

2. Froome – 136 pts

3. Rolland 119 pts

Rui Costa wins again

Where have we seen a finish like this before? I know, it was three days ago in Gap. Same man, same kind of victory and both brilliantly executed. It’s hard to believe that three days after infiltrating a break and then riding away from them near the end his rivals around him let him do it again, but that’s exactly what Rui Costa did for his second stage win in what turned out to be a tough mountain stage with a very tricky descent into Grand Bornand.

It was especially tricky because of the weather. Late on in the stage but with the final climb to come the rain started falling in a deluge. There was thunder overhead and before long it looked as though they were rehearsing for the night time finish into Paris such was the darkness. The TV camera’s may have made it look darker than it was, but as the clouds descended over the Alps and the rain fell, the cars following the riders had their headlights on and the shine of it was reflecting on the wet roads and the riders freshly shaved legs.

What the conditions did do was open an opportunity for someone confident in their descending to go for the win and it was Costa who seized it. He flew down the wet descent to the point where I was often cringing as he swung into a corner that at any moment the bike was going to go from under him. But it never did. It was a brilliant display of bike handling and by the time he reached dry roads again his lead was secure and he came home 48 seconds ahead of veteran Andreas Klöden who beat home scatterings of riders from the earlier break.

As for the peloton, or what was left of it, the rain also presented an opportunity for someone to make a late throw of the dice on this Tour. I had a feeling Alberto Contador might attack on the final kilometre of the final climb and try ride away on the risky descent, but nobody budged and the pack came down into Grand Bornand together 8 minutes and 40 seconds behind Costa.

That means Chris Froome will take a almost insurmountable lead of 5 minutes 11 seconds over Contador into tomorrow’s final mountain stage and it would take a collapse of epic proportions for him to lose that. What’s more likely is that the two small men in Nairo Quintana in third and Joaquim Rodriguez in fifth will try and vault over Contador in the standings for the final podium positions. Contador leads Quintana by just 21 seconds with Rodriguez 47 seconds behind his fellow countryman.

One final prize up for grabs tomorrow is the King of the Mountains competition. A host of points are up for grabs including 50 for the first man to the summit finish at Annecy-Semnoz and just 11 points separate first place Froome from fifth place Christophe Riblon with Pierre Rolland, Mikel Nieve and Quintana wedge in between. Safe to say the first man to the top of tomorrow’s final climb — the final climb in this Tour — will pull on the King of the Mountains jersey. It would be quite an achievement to see Froome win both the Yellow and the Polka-Dot jersey’s but I think it might be nicer to see it fall onto the shoulders of either someone who really wants it — Rolland — or a pure climber like Quintana. Also on someone who will wear it into Paris as the actual winner and not because Froome is wearing the more coveted Yellow.

We’ll watch with anticipation as we have this whole Tour.

French win at last; Froome gets penalty, blows, still increases lead … Why haven’t they done a twice up Alp d’Huez stage before!?

It was the stage that sent a gasp around the media centre when the Tour de France route was unveiled in Paris all them months ago. Two trips up the fabled Alp d’Huez in the one day. It looked iconic, it was sure to be epic, it would be the stage we’d all be looking forward to. And it was. It was everything we could have hoped it was and more. Drama from the beginning, action up and down the mountains, a throw of the dice by Alberto Contador on the descent we were waiting to see, a heroic effort by Tejay Van Garderen that fell just short, the sight of the Yellow jersey of Chris Froome attacking and then … wait for it … blowing, Froome getting a time penalty for taking on food too close to the finish, and the French timing it perfectly — literally and emotionally — in the guise of one Christophe Riblon to win their first stage of this 100th Tour de France.

Maybe it’s just perception, but every time I watch the Tour go up the slopes of Alpe d’Huez, and aside from promise that next time I’ll be there, I could swear the crowds are bigger than ever before. Often it maybe just seems that way, but this year I think it genuinely was. When it came down to deciding which mountain stage people would take in I think they quickly settled with this one given that the entire days wait to see the race arrive would be worth it because they’d get to see them all twice. It was a stroke of genius by the race organisors and give its success I think it’s something we might see again in the future.

The crowds packed in. There was the famous Dutch corner, and to rival it the newly founded Irish corner, and with everyone else standing ten deep with a gap wide enough for the riders to move through in single file only, it was everything you imagine about the Tour. Yes there was the idiots who felt the need to run along side the riders and on some occasions almost knock them off, but let’s face it … nobody was knocked off and that running is just another part of the Tour’s special culture.

The stage began where it finished on Tuesday in Gap and right away the attacks came. A hot pace was set on the hill out of Gap and it quickly isolated Chris Froome. It only turned out to be a prelude to what might lie ahead because the pace soon settled as the typical break of non-general classification names established a lead, but it hinted that maybe Sky could be put under pressure. Short climbs came and went and unfortunately nobody elected to go on a suicide mission. Saxo-Tinkoff sent two men up the road in the hopes that later Alberto Contador might bridge across but that move came too early and they were soon swept up by a surging bunch on the first trip up the Alpe. By then the leading break was splintering apart and it became obvious that only three men might survive. Tejay Van Garderen — a fifth place finisher in last years Tour and a man tipped by some to perhaps move onto the podium this year but who has been having an off Tour in 2013 — looked the strongest, Moreno Moser was riding inspired, and Riblon was riding for the French.

The three hit the chaotic descent back down to the bottom of Alpe d’Huez together — a descent best described as a paved goats path — but Van Garderen soon ran into a mechanical issue and dropped back. Then as the peloton followed them down, Alberto Contador made his first move. It’s the move we had been waiting for. There was a little second category climb just after Alp d’Huez called the Col de Sarenne and I thought Contador might try attack then to establish a lead to take into the descent, but he elected to wait until the tricky road down to try tempt Froome to go with him and perhaps into a mistake.

Froome played it smart though, he let Contador go, aware that the best Contador could hope for was thirty or forty seconds over him at the bottom, something he must have felt he could make up on the way back towards the sun. As it turned out Contador didn’t get anywhere near the gap he needed despite his team-mate Roman Kreuziger joining him and even fell back to the team-car to change his bike upon being swept up. I can only assume he was hoping to get a big enough gap so that the team-car would be able to come through and when that didn’t happen he made the change behind. It was Contador’s second change of the day and it briefly sparked rumours that news of bikes being weighed by the race referees after the race had leaked out and Contador was making a correction. The reality was that Contador was merely shifting back to the bike better geared for climbing having used a different bike that would allow him to speed on the descent. Simply put, the gamble didn’t work.

Back on the final assult on Alpe d’Huez it was clear the drunken masses gathered on the side of the hill had spent the time waiting on the race to come around again drinking a few more beers and were rowdier still on the second pass. Van Garderen was able to chase onto his two rivals and drop them in what looked to be an epic solo ride to glory on the most famous climb in cycling. The only clock that we thought mattered was the one between him and the GC bunch that were beginning to gain ground him with a long way still to go. Could he hold on we wondered?

The pace in that peloton had been forced by Froome who decided to stretch his legs and leave the rest behind. Nairo Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez quickly bridged across to him but Contador was left reeling. Saying that, Froome’s attack was nothing like we’d seen earlier in the Tour and the gap only went out slowly. Froome didn’t look his usual self and Quintana and Rodriguez were able to distance him when they did what the purest of climbers do best and attack with speed. Froome didn’t need to worry about them too much, he sat in his own rhythm and gradually pulled both of them back.

Up ahead the time was falling fast but suddenly nobody was thinking about whether Van Gardern would be caught by the Quintana, Rodriguez, Froome trio, but rather if he could hold off one of his earlier compatriots in Riblon. Suddenly it became obvious that the Frenchman had timed it far better, he hadn’t panicked when Van Gardern attacked earlier, but set his own tempo and now it was the American who was beginning to struggle and the Frenchman who was growing in strength. At last the tables were turning for the French and before long Riblon had Van Gardern in his sights. A big effort and he had him. He steadied himself only briefly before pressing on much to the devistation of Van Garderen who in that moment must have seen his hopes, dreams and the legendary status as a winner on Alpe d’Huez slip through his fingers and past his exhausted legs.

Riblon, as Phil Liggett loves to say, was free to fly and by the time he approached that final left hand turn — the one that Marco Pantani almost missed way back in 1995 — he had time to raise his arms and begin the celebration. The crowds were cheering and you couldn’t have scriped it better for the home nation. With Van Garderen cracked, Riblon had the final straight all to himself and crossed the line with his arms in the air for a famous French victory.

Yet the drama didn’t finish there. Further down the mountain Froome was talking on the radio. He was talking to Richie Porte and then he signalled for the team-car. Froome was in trouble. Forget stage 13 when he missed the split in the echelon’s, this truly was the first time we’d seen Froome on the ropes and exactly why he has continued to go for added time in two mountain stages and two time-trials so far in this Tour. Quintana and Rodriguez spotting the trouble attacked and left him behind. There was 3 kilometres to go, but he was inside the limit for taking on food from the car and a food bonk is the worst kind of bonk and a potential disaster for Sky. So Porte went to the car, grabbed an energy bar much to the anger of the referees and took it up to Froome. Technically Froome hadn’t taken something from the car but it was clear what Sky were doing. With that little energy gel inside him, Froome only lost 1 minute, 7 seconds on the line to Quintana and was able to keep Contador 57 seconds behind him.

After the finish the bikes were weighed and as far as I’m aware nobody got in trouble. The trouble was spared for Froome for taking on that energy gel. Both himself and Porte were docked 20 seconds, but I have to think Froome will accept that without much complaint. Without that energy gel he could well have lost much more. Sky love their calculated risks, especially Froome who at times seems glued to his ear piece awaiting instructional tactics from the team-car behind, and this was one calculated risk that certainly paid off. Foome had his worst day yet Contador was worse again and so Froome still came away with an even bigger lead on second place than what he went into the stage with.

Tomorrow they have even more climbing to do and it’s going to be very interesting to see who has recovered. Is Quintana going from strength to strength, up to third overall now and thinking about going higher? Can Contador bounce back and still try something dramatic in the hopes that Froome himself won’t recover from today and will have another bad day? Watching Froome struggle today will give the rest hope that he’s maybe hit his limit three days too early, but it’s more likely that with a proper feed tonight, a good sleep and better distribution of the energy bars he will recover. Whether we see him go out on the attack again will depend on how much today put the frighteners into him. He may elect to follow wheels into Paris now. Let’s hope not though … the rest attacking Froome and Froome attacking back is making this Tour fantastic even if he’s had a very comfortable lead for over a week now.

As for today’s stage. Well, we wont forget it in a hurry. Unless something very dramatic happens in the next two days — and I wouldn’t rule it out — then this, along with perhaps that trip up Mont Ventoux, will be the ones we look back on with wonder in years to come.

Stage 18 result

1. Riblon in 4h 51′ 32”

2. Van Garderen + 59”

3. Moser + 1’27”

4. Quintana + 2’12”

5. Rodriguez + 2’15”

6. Porte + 3’18”

7. Froome s.t.

8. Valverde + 3’22”

Others:
11. Contador +4’15”
12. Kreuziger +4’31”
26. Mollema +6’13”
37. Ten Dam +9’54”

General classification after stage 18

1. Froome in 71h 2’19”

2. Contador + 5’11”

3. Quintana + 5’32”

4. Kreuziger + 5’44”

5. Rodriguez + 5’58”

6. Mollema 8’58”

Froome wins third stage; increases lead in GC heading into the high Alps

Chis Froome loves his calculated risks and once again he took one on this stage and it paid off. He changed his bike, like quite a few others did, once he crossed the second of the two climbs in today’s time-trial and the time lost in doing so was less than the time he made up in using the slick aerodynamic machine as he powered the final kilometres, overturning a 2 second deficit to Alberto Contador at the 6.5km check (top of the first climb), a 20 second deficit at the 13.5km check at (bottom of the second climb), and an 11 second gap at the 20km check (top of the second climb) to win the time-trial on the line by 9 seconds over the Spaniard. The result was Froome’s third stage victory in this Tour and puts him 4 minutes, 34 seconds ahead of Contador who himself lept up into second overall as they get ready for three brutal day in the Alps.

Contador has said he’s feeling better by the day and fully intends in bringing the race to Froome over the next three stages, and why not. He’s said he doesn’t care about finishing 2nd or 12th, it’s the win that he would prefer, and so that should set us up for some fantastic racing. Of course, the 4’34” he needs to overcome does look a little much but stranger things have happened in the Tour and all it takes is one bad day from Froome — indeed, one bad climb by Froome — or some unsavoury incident on one of the descents and everything could change. Not that we want something like that to swing the balance of the race, but all it takes is some of the weather we seen today and the race could be thrown into chaos before the weekend.

That weather was meant to upset the times of the GC favourites going later in the day. It started to lash with rain and hail and you couldn’t help but think the leading time set by Tejay van Garderen right before the rain came was going to stand for the afternoon as the rest were slowed by the wet descents, but either the top ten went super fast on the climbs or the rain didn’t affect the course in the way it looked like it might as one by one the times began to fall. Alejandro Valverde looked to have rode the time-trial of his life when he charged over the line but it was soon bettered by Joaquim Rodriguez, then Contador and finally Froome. Indeed Rodriguez himself put in a blistering ride for a man not known for his strengths against the clock but that only proved how big a factor the two category two climbs were on the stage as well as the descents for which Rodriguez is a specialist.

His heart must have been broken when he seen Contador roar up the finishing straight and beat his time by less than a second but will have been glad to see Froome power home on his time-trial bike ten seconds quicker than him. Easier to go to bed knowing you were beat by ten seconds than half a second.

The big loser on the day with regards to the GC was Bauke Mollema. He came into the stage in second overall but fell to fourth when he posted a time 2 minutes, 9 seconds slower than that of Froome, while his team-mate Laurens Ten Dam fell further behind the top five with a time 20 seconds slower than Mollema’s. One many who will be pleased with his result was Andy Schleck. The RadioShack rider has been a shadow of his former self this season, in part due to an injury that kept him off his bike for most of last year, but in the kind of stage you wouldn’t have expected much from him even in spite of the two climbs, he posted the 15th quickest time, albeit still 2’27” down on Froome. He’ll hope this is the beginning of a little form and he can yet leave this Tour with a stage win or at least a showing on one of the final mountain stages.

Someone who really will be looking for a stage win will be Cadel Evans. The Australia coasted around the course today clearly content to lose as much time as possible to the top names in the hopes of being allowed into a breakaway group, perhaps as early as tomorrow. I say that only because he should wake tomorrow with fresh legs because his 167th best time on the day was a whopping 8 minutes, 4 seconds slower than the Yellow jersey. And spare a thought for Jean-Christophe Péraud who came into the stage as the highest ranked Frenchman in ninth — impressive for the 36 year old former mountain biker — but he crashed badly in warmup and broke his collarbone only to bravely start the stage anyway and crash again. He didn’t finish; his tour now over and the highest ranked Frenchman now falls to Romain Bardet in 20th place almost 29 minutes behind Froome.

So no more time-trials, now everything comes down to climbing and it should be great to watch if even on a stage by stage basis, if indeed Froome’s lead proves to be unassailable. Nobody want’s to see a blow out typically, but I’d rather see Froome romp to another stage win or two and a ten minute overall total victory or to see him have a bad day and have this race go all the way to Saturday than for it to die out with those behind Froome content to leave him be, focusing on the defence of their podium places, and Froome content to mark his rivals wheels. Given the entertainment of this Tour despite Froome’s dominance so far, I don’t think we’ll see a quiet trip through the Alps.

Stage 17 results (32 km ITT)

1. Froome in 51’33”

2. Contador + 9″

3. Rodriguez + 10″

4. Kreuziger +23″

5. Valverde +30″

6. Quintana +1’11”

OTHERS:
11. Mollema +2’09”
15. Schleck +2’27”
16. Ten Dam +2’29”
27. Tony Martin +3’06”
28. Hesjedal +3’07”
32. Dan Martin +3’22”
167. Evans +8’04”

General classification after stage 17

1. Froome in 66h 7’09”

2. Contador +4’34”

3. Kreuziger +4’51”

4. Mollema +6’23”

5. Quintana +6’58”

6. Rodriguez +7’21”

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Heading into the Alps the race to finish last in the general classification and sweep the Lanterne Rouge prize is still wide open. Knowing that riders can and will lose more than half an hour in an Alpine stage you can see why the 27 seconds splitting first (last) and third (175th) means very little. All it takes is one to make the mistake of getting into an early break which keeps them clear of the autobus by the finish and they could blow their chances at the iconic prize. Of course you don’t want to drop too far off the back either in case you miss the time limit. Going for the Lanterne Rouge is a fine line between doing too much and doing too little. Of course, I say all that in good humour. The three men at the bottom of the GC standings will be merely hoping to survive through the mountains and will look and see where they land up overall once they’re clear and headed towards Paris. I’ll keep track though, if only for entertainment purposes. They really should have a jersey for this guy!

Race for the Lanterne Rouge

1. Dimitriy Muravyev

2. Tuft +12″

3. Veelers +27″

Rui Costa wins as the only man in the picture; while Contador attacks, Froome reacts and both almost crash

Rui Costa of the Movistar team was the man who emerged from the large breakaway group, attacking alone on the last climb of the Col de Manse and dropping like a stone into Gap to finish with the solo victory as the only man in the photograph. A fantastic ride by the 26-year old from Portugal giving the Movistar team their first victory of the Tour.

If you were to open your text book of cycling stage racing to page five under the heading ‘Transition Stage’ and note the description, that is exactly what you got here in stage sixteen. Indeed, one click of the link at the bottom of the page (if you’re reading the digital edition, that is) and you’d be taken to this stages video highlights, such was the expectancy of it.

The break went clear early, a huge group of riders, plenty of whom are made for these kind of stages, and they built a large enough lead to ensure they wouldn’t be caught but not large enough that they wouldn’t be chased either and fought it out for the win. It was Costa who made the winning move and try as the chasing quartet may, they couldn’t bridge across to them. With the number of Frenchmen in the attacking group this surely served as their best chance yet to win a stage in this 100th edition of the Tour, yet they couldn’t find a way to get it done and the French had to settle with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th place positions, 42 seconds behind Rui Costa.

Time is running out for the French to get a stage win and if they don’t it would be the first time they went without since the 1999 Tour. A national crisis is brewing.

Rui Costa’s victory made it the 8th different nationality to take a stage win here in the 2013 Tour (Germany 5, Great Britain 4, Belgium 1, Australia 1, Slovakia 1, Ireland 1, Italy 1, Portugal 1), and but for his waiting for team leader Alejandro Valverde on stage 13 in which he lost 8 minutes, 45 seconds to the Yellow Jersey, he would be up to 14th overall rather than the 20th place he now currently sits. Of course, had he not waited on stage 13 he might not have been allowed away on today’s stage to win by as much as he did.

Another big winner on the GC was Daniel Navarro. He was the best placed rider in the break and took back 9’42” on Froome when he crossed the line 18th, 1’26” behind Costa. That bumps him up from 20th to 14th overall, 13’54” down.

The only point in which the stage deviated from the script of transition stage was when the peloton hit that final climb. Alberto Contador decided to stretch his legs and try a flurry of attacks, of which Froome matched them all. What it did do was break the race to pieces and only six others could remain with the Spaniard and the Yellow jersey.

Contador said on the rest day that he didn’t care about finishing 2nd or 12th and that he would aggressively throw everything he had at the race over the final week. If this was a prelude to what we can expect from him, then the Alps could be very exciting. Not so much because he looks like he will shake off Froome, but because he’s at least going to try. That will win him a lot of fans.

One area Froome may be exploited is on the descents of these Alpine mountains. On the way down off the Col de Manse, Contador set a searing pace and at times was forcing Froome to chase hard to bridge the gap he would create on the hairpins. Unfortunately Contador overcooked one corner and it brought both himself and Froome to a standstill and the pair, along with Richie Porte, were forced to chase back to the group in front. They managed it and everyone finished the with same time (Laurens Ten Dam being the loser on the day dropping 1 minute to Froome and falling from 5th to 6th overall), but it highlighted just what might be up for grabs if someone risks it on a descent.

One wet day in the Alps could change everything and all reports suggest the descent off of Alpe d’Huez is chaotic. Froome should have a big buffer to play with come then and might not feel the need to take the same kinds of risks, but who knows, right now he seems intent on marking every move by a top ten rider. If Contador lives up to his promise of aggression we will either see him fail spectacularly, or blow this race wide open once more as his team did back on stage 13. So far though, Froome looks strong but the best is yet to come either way.

Stage 16 results

1. Costa in 3h 52’45”

2. Riblon +42″

3. Jeannesson s.t.

4. Coppel s.t.

5. Klöden s.t.

6. Dumoulin +1’00”

General classification after stage 16

1. Froome in 65h 15’36”

2. Mollema +4’14”

3. Contador +4’25”

4. Kreuziger +4’28”

5. Quintana +5’47”

6. Ten Dam +5’54”