Tag Archives: Tour de France 2015

Le Tour review: In conclusion…

So often the Tour de France is defined by the high mountains. All our memories are built around the big mountain stages when we think back to some of the most magical moments of the Tour. The Alps and the Pyrenees dominate the historic books just as they dominate the horizon when the race approaches. The obvious exception was, perhaps, last year when that epic stage on the cobbles became one of those stages for the ages. And maybe that’s fitting because it’s only in the most recent of Tours that the race organisation has tried to put more emphasis on stages away from just the mountains.

There’s too much love for the suffering and drama of those high Alpine and Pyrenean stages to remove them (though it would be fascinating to see a Tour with just one mountain stage and lots of others like what we seen in the first week or on the transition between the Alps and Pyrenees! Peter Sagan would surely fancy his chances!) but the race organisors have been looking for ways to spice up the first weeks racing in an attempt to make those stages count for something in the grand scheme of the three week race.

And now they have succeeded.

For the first time that I can remember, this Tour might well be remembered most for the first week of racing. Gone for sure are the days of sprinters dominating the first week of racing with the contenders doing little more than avoiding accidents on pan-flat stages while using them as glorified training sessions to find their form ahead of the real stuff in the later two weeks. Once upon a time only a time-trial could sort out the general classification before the mountains. But not this year.

No doubt, the Pyrenean stages were decent, and in the case of the first one to La Pierre-Saint-Martin, decisive as Froome took 1min 14sec (including the time-bonus) out of Nairo Quintana, a mere 2sec more than which he won the Tour by. Likewise the Alps, as two young Frenchman, as well as the reigning champion, took victories to salvage their respective Tours, before Quintana made a last ditch bid for glory and almost pulled it off as Froome began to struggle and we found ourselves on the edges of our seats for the first time in over a week.

All great moments, but lets not kid ourselves, the first week stole the show.

The short individual time-trial in Utrecht in the Netherlands did little to affect the contenders but it seen the fastest time-trial in Tour history, by Rohan Dennis, breaking the record set by Chris Boardman at the 1994 prologue. From there we had three distinctly different classic type stages — in cross-winds, on the Mur de Huy and on the cobbles — in which more time was won and lost in a way that twenty years ago would only have been seen on a long time-trial or on the side of an Alpine mountain.

We seen Cancellara take Yellow, then abandon. Then Froome lay down a psychological marker and take the race lead, only for the ever popular Tony Martin to win on the cobbles and overcame three days in which he had missed out on Yellow to three different men by five, then three, then a single second, to finally pull on his career first Maillot Jaune. It didn’t last long though, on stage six he too crashed out when he came down and brought three fifths of the ‘boy band’ of Quintana, Van Garderen and Froome with him. It caused a brief fallout between Nibali and Froome with the former blaming the later and the later storming the team-bus of the former. Their fued would ignite again on stage 19 when Nibali would attack to win the stage while Froome was suffering a mechanical.

There was also the traditional first week crashes, and none so serious as on stage 3 when several riders came down hard, consuming all medical personnel behind the race. The result was the sight of the race being stopped briefly. Several riders abandoned that day including Cancellara who rode the final 50km to the finish with a broken back, while others soldiered on. Adam Hansen separated his shoulder and Michael Matthews broke ribs and while both suffered greatly, both made it to Paris.

The sprinters got their bunch gallops, but only twice in those first nine days as Greipel won his second stage (having survived the cross-winds of stage 2 to win) and Cavendish took what would be his lone win of the Tour.

By the time they had rode up the tough Mûr-de-Bretagne and suffered through a team-time-trial that came so late into the Tour that many teams were already without riders and many riders were already suffering from tired legs, the GC had been blown to bits.

We had witnessed a magical first nine stages in which all the contenders looking to win the Tour in the mountains that still lay ahead had been active almost every day trying not to lose it. It had exhausted them before what they might have perceived as the ‘real racing’ had even begun. And, as we found out, it took its toll on many legs throughout those mountains.

Chris Froome, expected to spend the first week limiting his losses came out in Yellow, while Vincenzo Nibali, expected to make a lot of gains that first week, had been shedding time. And that only continued into the mountains as for a brief time his team management stripped him of team leadership. All before he finally found his legs in the final days in the Alps, though too late to win the Tour, but enough to vault himself back into the top 5.

Beyond that first rest day the race was split into three parts for me: Froome winning the Tour in the Pyranees, Sagan winning the points competition on the transition stages, and the young Frenchmen rescuing their Tours with wins in the Alps.

Sadly though there was a fourth part to this Tour that, along with the first week, done its best to steel who spotlight, and that was the treatment of Chris Froome in the (French) media, on back corners of social media and, worst of all, at the side of the road. The later was clearly influenced by what was said in the media as the likes of Laurent Jalabert began to doubt Froome and pseudo scientists on social media took up the baton with innuendos that led others to outright condemnation. We see this stuff every year now, things took a more sinister twist in 2015 when so-called fans at the side of the road spat at Froome and one so-called human threw a cup of urine in his face.

And all this for a man who has done little more than win. Win in the face of little hard or even circumstantial evidence of any wrong doing. It was fascinating to watch the likes of Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador get a free ride (and rightly so in the sense that no fan interference is warranted on any rider, whatever the situation), while Froome bore the brunt. Of course, this is the price to pay when you wear the Yellow jersey, it’s nothing new. Merckx seen it because he would dominate the event year-in year-out; Froome is seeing it because the generation before him that won, cheated. And only in the Tour. During his rider to Giro victory Contador got a virtual free ride by comparison to Froome and the later is without history here.

But unlike the generation before in Yellow, say Lance Armstrong seven times, there has been no covered up tests, no back-dated TUE and certainly no disgruntled ex-team-mate looking to sell his story, and we all know there’s some disgruntled ex-Sky employees out there.

And yet, Froome handled it with a class that not many could. He’d have been forgiven for losing it in a press conference, certainly with a fan at the side of the road, yet he kept his composure, he maintained his focus, he responded calmly and articulately when questioned and then he got on with racing his bicycle.

In the end, nobody knows 100% that Froome is clean except himself, but at some point in sport, just as in life, we need to give some people the benefit of the doubt. This is a bike race and there is going to be a winner; someone has to win. If the point comes at which I can no longer give anyone the benefit of the doubt by weighing up what I see and how I perceive them, then I wouldn’t watch anymore. Why be a hypocrite? Why waste your time watching, or tweeting, or waiting at the side of the road to throw urine when there’s so much else to do?

As things stand, Froome is deserving of that benefit of the doubt. I’d prefer to give him the chance and be let down than to condemn and abuse and later find out there was nothing in it. But maybe that’s the human being in me. The way in which Froome carries himself as a person on (riding style aside!) and in particular, off the bike is only to be admired. The way he faced the kind of adversity he did, the way he reacted to it, and the way he overcame it to remain on the moral high ground leaves him as the kind of athlete – the kind of person – I’d want my kid to look up to. Dangerous ground you might say, not just with athletes but cyclists too, but sometimes you have to be courageous enough to believe in someone.

Anyway, let not the final words on this years Tour be overshadowed by a subject and incidents that in the end failed to overshadow the race itself. Froome won it in the end and that’s what mattered.

And so there goes the 2015 Tour. That first week of winds, Murs, cobbles, grit and exhaustion; that second week of Froome on the first Pyrenean stage and Sagan attacking day after day but without reward of a win; and that third week of French wins, Nibali winning and Quintana making a go of it only to fall short as Froome stood victorious a-top the podium in Paris. Many came in hoping to make their mark on this years Tour, and some did. Some came in hoping to win it but one by one they fell by the wayside, and only one did. It wasn’t the greatest Tour ever, perhaps highlighted by the first week being so damn good, but no Tour is bad, none resigned to failure nor worth forgetting.


Le Tour review: Alternative standings – the boy band, the French and the Lanterne Rouge

Back on each rest day I had looked at three alternative, unofficial standings to see how they were playing out. Here then at the end of the Tour is those three categories and who came out on top. Sadly no jerseys awarded!

‘The boy band’:

1. Chris Froome in 84h 46′ 14″

2. Nairo Quintana @ 1′ 12″

4. Vincenzo Nibali @ 8′ 36″

5. Alberto Contador @ 9′ 48″

Well the man who felt they should be known as the five-piece boy-band and not the ‘big four’ or ‘fab-four’ as they had been known coming into the Tour, Tejay Van Garderen, was the only one who failed to make it to Paris, falling ill on the first day in the Alps when placed strongly. Vincenzo Nibali muscled his way back in over the same mountain range and ended up ahead of Contador in the pecking order. But as close as they came to fulfilling their prophecy as the ‘big four’, Alejandro Valverde finished in third overall and replaced the departed Van Garderen in the band of five.

The Frenchmen:

Not just a list of the top Frenchmen, but the Frenchmen many believed might have a crack at a top 10 placing overall before the Tour, in particular those young bucks from last year and Warren Barguil riding his first Tour. At the last time of writing, Barguil was the best of them with Tony Gallopin as the surprise package. On the other hand Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot were struggling to live up to the expectations put on them from last years strong rides. So how did they finish?

1. Romain Bardet (9th overall @ 16′ 00″)

2. Pierre Rolland @ 1′ 30″ (10th @ 17′ 30″)

3. Warren Barguil @ 15′ 15″ (14th @ 31′ 15″)

4. Thibaut Pinot @ 22′ 52″ (16th @ 38′ 52″)

5. Alexis Vuillermoz @ 1h 19′ 6″ (25th @ 1h 35′ 6″)

6. Tony Gallopin @ 1h 24′ 44″ (31st @ 1h 40′ 44″)

7. Jean-Christophe Peraud @ 2h 19′ 10″ (58th @ 2h 35′ 10″)

Well the final week of the Tour was a good one for the young Frenchmen with Bardet riding superbly to win himself a stage and only lose a collective 2min 50sec on Froome over the Alps. He leapt to the top of my ‘selective French standings’ ahead of Pierre Rolland who himself got in several breaks. Indeed, Rolland was the best of the lot across all the mountains. Beyond the first rest day when the race entered the first high mountains of the Tour, only Nairo Quintana (-47sec) and Alejandro Valverde (3min 35sec) lost (or gained) less time to Chris Froome than Pierre Rolland who over 7 mountain stages and 12 in total conceded just 5min 47sec to the eventual champion. Thibaut Pinot also won himself a stage on Alpe d’Huez though he couldn’t quite overhaul Barguil who finished third on this list. Tony Gallopin fell away in the end while Alexis Vuillermoz had a solid Tour to go with his stage win on the first week. As for Jean-Christophe Peraud, after coming second last year, it was a race to forget. He had a bad crash and it left him limping around at the back of the field into Paris.

Lanterne Rouge:

The Lanterne Rouge; the last man in the race. That went to another Frenchman, Sebastian Chavenel, who came home 4hrs 56min 59sec behind Froome. It may seem to an outsider as an (unofficial) award that no man would want, but in cycling there’s a honour to it. Sure you were last, but you made it. You suffered on the edge of time elimination through the mountains and survived. 38 others climbed off their bikes between Utrecht and Paris, but you finished it. Indeed, there can even be financial rewards via invites to the post-Tour criterium circuit.

160. Sébastien Chavanel (FDJ) @ 4h 56′ 59″ to Froome

159. Svein Tuft (OGE) @ 8′ 51″

158. Kenneth Van Bilsen (COF) @ 15′ 32″

157. Bryan Nauleau (EUC) @ 16′ 47″

156. Matthias Brandle (IAM) @ 19′ 23″

155. Davide Cimolai (LAM) @ 23′ 38″

Sam Bennett who looked on to win this contest, abandoned the Tour on stage 17 passing the Lanterne Rouge to the bike of Sébastien Chavanel. Svein Tuft, previous winner of this contest finished in 2nd, while Bryan Nauleau leapt up into the top 3 come Paris.

Le Tour review: Other official standings

While a lot of my attention tended to be on writing about the battle for the Yellow jersey as well as the stories out on the road of individual stages, there was as ever other jersey prizes up for grabs. Some were won by predictable contestants and another was won by someone who achieved something last done by Eddy Merckx.

Green jersey points classification:

Peter Sagan once again triumphed for a fourth straight year in the Green jersey competition despite the best efforts of a brave Greipel. The German won four stages and for a long time made it a closer contest than it has been for years. Sagan was often beaten in intermediate sprints and on the line, but he kept his nose in and when they hit the mountains he was able to infiltrate breaks that Greipel never could and thus pick up points on the road, and even on the line, without reply.

1. Sagan (TCS) 432pts

2. Greipel (TLS) 366pts

3. Degenklob (TGA) 298pts

4. Cavendish (EQS) 206pts

5. Coquard (EUC) 152pts

6. Froome (SKY) 139pts

Polka-Dot jersey King of the Mountains classification:

Changes to this contest to take it out of the hands of those who snatch up points on the lower classification hills and into the hands of those who feature in the highest of mountains paid off, though it resulted in two men, who were targeting the Yellow jersey, finishing up in first and second of the KOM as a by-product. And in first was Chris Froome who became the first man since Eddy Merckx to win the Yellow jersey and the King of the Mountains title in the same year. It would be fascinating to go through the history of this contest and re-calculate the points awarded to this years standards to see whether outcomes may have changed, though Richard Virenque would prefer that you didn’t. It was a shame in a way that someone like Romain Bardet, Thibaut Pinot or Joaquim Rodriguez, who by the second week had turned to targeting the prize, but then again there is no sentiment in the Tour and the jersey is designed to go to the most consistent climber in the highest mountains.

1. Froome (SKY) 119pts

2. Quintana (MOV) 109pts

3. Bardet (ALM) 90pts

4. Pinot (FDJ) 82pts

5. Rodriguez (KAT) 78pts

6. Rolland (EUC) 74pts

White jersey Young Rider classification:

In the young riders contest it was Quintana who triumphed, though the Tour organisors really need to consider making it one for riders 23 years old and younger as Quintana certainly isn’t seen by many as one of the young up and coming riders anymore. Given the depth of young talent in the field, a 23 and under contest may have been more appropriate. Had that been the case, Warren Barguil (riding his first Tour) would have come out on top. Expect him, Bardet and the Yates brothers to feature heavily next year.

1. Quintana (MOV) in 84h 47′ 26″ (age 25)

2. Bardet (ALM) + 14′ 48″ (age 24)

3. Barguil (TGA) + 30′ 3″ (age 23)

4. Pinot (FDJ) + 37′ 40″ (age 25)

5. Jungels (TFR) + 1h 32′ 9″ (age 22)

6. Sagan (TCS) + 2h 13′ 43″ (age 25)

Team classification:

The team prize went to Movistar. No surprises given they completed the podium after Froome but they won it though by a staggering 57min 23sec over Sky. It’s a bit of a sideshow contest, highlighted by the time-gaps, and I’m not sure how seriously the riders even take it — especially a team like Sky who were more than happy to sacrifice all their men at the expense of one Chirs Froome winning the Tour — though I suppose to some teams it is a bargaining chip for sponsorship.

1. Movistar in 255h 24′ 24″

2. Sky + 57′ 23″

3. Tinkoff-Saxo + 1h 00′ 12″

4. Astana + 1h 12′ 9″

5. MTN-Qhubeka + 1h 14′ 32″

6. AG2R La Mondiale + 1h 24′ 22″

Most aggressive rider classification:

The most aggressive rider went to Romain Bardet. Aggressive for sure in this final week as he attempted multiple times to win a stage and finally came good but surprising nonetheless, but perhaps one for the home fans because other riders had spent more time in the break. Peter Sagan was active almost every day in his conquest to win the Green jersey and finished in the top five in 11 of the 21 stages. Or indeed how about Thomas De Gendt who spent the most amount of kilometres off the front in breaks at 679km (or 20% of the race). He highlighted this distance on his own Twitter account after the Tour, reminding us that it came on top of “several days working hard for @AndreGreipel all this with a broken rib. What do i have to do more for the combativite”? What more indeed?

1. Bardet (ALM)

Le Tour review: The Top 10 against my predictions

So the Tour is over and it has been won and lost. What now follow is a collection of articles on a review of the Tour. The winners, the losers and a little bit of analysis. Firstly, a look at the official top 10 (and a few others) followed by a look at my predictions pre-Tour and how wrong I was!

The Final General Classification:

1. Froome (SKY) in 84h 46′ 14″
Struggled with illness in the final days and it was the only time he looked beatable, but a superb first week, a dominant display in the Pyrenees, and the strongest team in the race ensured a bad day did not prove costly.

2. Quintana (MOV) @ 1′ 12″
A huge talent and without a doubt a future winner. He got stronger as the race went on but on a course in which the Tour was won in each of the three weeks, he was unable to overcome Froome.

3. Valverde (MOV) @ 5′ 25″
So much for him fading due to sacrifices in aid of his team-mate. Valverde did help Quintana but he was strong himself and just when you expected it least, he got his first Tour podium.

4. Nibali (AST) @ 8′ 36″
A disasterous first week for the reigning champ left him playing catchup throughout. He struggled too in the Pyrenees but came good in the Alps to jump up into the top five, but it was too late, though he did win a stage.

5. Contador (TCS) @ 9′ 48″
The Giro-Tour double always seemed like it would be too much for him no matter how sucked into the possibility anyone got. He looked solid through the first week was soon exposed in the mountains and never climbed like his usual self.

6. Gesink (TLJ) @ 10′ 47″
A brilliant ride by one of the forgotten young stars of yesteryear. He has faced so much adversity in recent years and so it was great to see him back at the sharp end. Rode extremely well throughout.

7. Mollema (TFR) @ 15 ’14”
A consistent top ten. Never featured too much at the front but clearly hung in when others couldn’t and achieved his third top 10 finish in-a-row at the Tour.

8. Frank (IAM) @ 15′ 39″
Will have been a surprise to many to have finished this high up and for a while it was looking unlikely until on stage 17 to Pra Loup when he got into a break and finished 5min 36sec ahead of the Yellow jersey vaulting himself up from 13th overall to 8th. He rode very well to maintain that placing showing himself as someone who only gets stronger as a three week race goes on.

9. Bardet (ALM) @ 16′ 00″
He finished a few places back on last year but this will still be seen a Tour in which the young Frenchman progressed. He had it tough in the first week but came back strong in the mountains, putting on a clinic in descending and winning a mountain stage solo. He was in contention to win the mountains jersey right until the end.

10. Rolland (EUC) @ 17′ 30″
Given how well he rode in last years Vuelta perhaps it was unfair to overlook what is still a young rider in favour of the likes of Bardet, Thibaut Pinot and Warren Barguil. Once he knew any hope of a top five was gone he got himself into breaks and tried for stage wins. It didn’t work out but he was consistent and deserved the top 10 to remind everyone of his talent.

Select other Brits, Canadians, Irish, and Sagan!:
15. Thomas (SKY) @ 31′ 39″
16. Pinot (FDJ) @ 38′ 52″
35. Roche (SKY) @ 1h 54′ 8″
39. D. Martin (TCG) @ 2h 3′ 37″
40. Hesjedal (TCG) @ 2h 4′ 37″
46. Sagan (TCS) @ 2h 14′ 55″ wins)
142. Cavendish (EQS) @ 4h 12′ 5″
159. Tuft (OGE) @ 4h 48′ 8″

And how about my predictions:

1. Chris Froome (Finished: 1st)
2. Vincenzo Nibali (4th)
3. Thinaut Pinot (16th)
4. Nairo Quintana (2nd)
5. Tejay Van Garderen (DNF)
6. Alberto Contador (5th)
7. Romain Bardet (9th)
8. Ryder Hesjedal (40th)
9. Pierre Rolland (10th)
10. Rui Costa (DNF)

Other jerseys:
Green: Peter Sagan (1st)
KOM: Pierre Rolland (6th)
White: Nairo Quintana (1st)

So I was actually correct, for once, on who would win the Tour, though I was hardly sticking my neck out in picking Froome. By stage 10, with that tricky first week behind him, it looked a safe bet.

I also done pretty well with my predictions for Contador, Bardet and Rolland. I felt the Giro-Tour double attempt by Contador would be too much, and it was.

Nibali fell a bit short on my guess, doing worse in the first week than I ever imagined. Quintana on the other hand navigated it better than I thought he might and thus was always on the podium come the mountains.

Tejay Van Garderen and Rui Costa failed to finish though it’s unlikely Costa would have achieved a top 10 had he remained in the race. Van Garderen on the other hand…

As for Ryder Hesjedal. Well, given his big effort in the Giro, I should have known better. He spent the first week ‘chilling’ at the back of the peloton. It cost him time and he lost more in the Pyrenees. He was clearly he was setting himself up for a stage win and he came very close with a second place on Alpe d’Huez.

As for the other jersey’s: Sagan was as safe a bet as there was in the race, Rolland never really put his nose out for this contest and while I listed Bardet as the white jersey winner (due to me picking him to finish 7th overall) I did so because I failed to realise Quintana was still eligible for it. Had I known, I’d have obviously picked him given I had him at 4th overall, so I’ll take that one!

Greipel makes it four while Froome makes his win official

Stage 21: Sèvres > Paris Champs-Elysees, 109.5km

The final stage into Paris is always a procession, at least until they get to the Champs-Elysees, though this year they took that procession to a new level, rolling along at speeds that your granny could muster as the driving rain combined with tired legs from the 20 devastating stages that had come before left nobody with the desire to move quickly until they had to. And then, when push came to shove, André Greipel moved quickest of them all, again.

That driving rain was so bad that race officials decided the times towards the general classification would be taken on the first trip over the finishing line, leaving the circuit racing up and down the Champs-Elysees to those wanting to risk their necks and fight for the stage win in what is the unofficial sprinters world championship. As it turns out they all raced those laps anyway, despite the fear for the absurd sight of everyone, baring a handful of sprinters teams, sliding off the back and touring their way around Paris until they had concluded their quota of laps.

And everyone made it to the first passage over that finishing line before the pace began to hot up, though Chris Froome of all people was the one who almost ran into disaster. During the usual rigmarole of pictures of Froome holding champagne, pictures of the jersey winners riding at the front together, and pictures of the winners team riding arm in arm, Froome was almost brought down when team-mate Richie Porte, who had proven so valuable to him the day before, almost lost his balance when attempting to ride with no hands in order to pose for that team picture.

Disaster averted and onto the Champs-Elysees, Froome was safe and only a couple of mechanical issues — one of which seen a bag trapped in his real wheel forcing a bike change — got in his way, though the official time had already been accounted for. Another moment of madness came on the final lap when a protester took to the route and stood with his arms out stretched as the on rushing peloton swept around him. Miraculously nobody hit him and everyone got home safely.

So it was over to the sprinters to decide the stage, once a couple of forlorn hopes had made their attempt to spoil the fun only to be reeled in, and who else should take the win but Greipel? Far and away the best sprinter in this years Tour, taking his fourth stage win. He beat Brian Coquard into second and the strong Alexander Kristoff into third. Peter Sagan never got close enough and an ill Mark Cavendish was way back in sixth on what used to be his stage.

A minute or so behind, though unofficially, came the Sky team, once again arm in arm but this time with a more secure looking Richie Porte. And in the middle…Chris Froome. In his Yellow jersey and as champion for the second time; the first British man to win the Tour on two occasions after Sir Bradley Wiggins had become the first Brit to win it just three years ago.

So after a savage 3,360.3km raced at brutal 39.64km/h in which just 16 men finished within an hour of the race winner Froome, all that was left was the pomp and ceremony on the podiums and then the after party. As he stood on the top step with the Champs-Elysees sweeping up to the Arc de Triomphe behind him, Froome gave a short but poignant speech. “This is a beautiful country and it hosts the biggest annual sporting event on the planet. To win the 100th edition is an honour”, he said after thanking numerous people from his team-mates to his family. “This is one yellow jersey that will stand the test of time.” It was all he needed to say and it highlighted once more the class of the man to show such grace given what he had gone through on the road to winning this 2015 Tour de France.

This is a beautiful country and it hosts the biggest annual sporting event on the planet. To win the 100th edition is an honour… this is one yellow jersey that will stand the test of time,” he said from the podium.

Result: Final classement:
1. Greipel (TLS) in 2h 49′ 41″

2. Coquard (EUC)

3. Kristoff (KAT)

4. Boasson Hagen (MTN)

5. Demare (FDJ)

6. Cavendish (EQS) all s.t.

1. Froome (SKY) in 84h 46′ 14″

2. Quintana (MOV) + 1′ 12″

3. Valverde (MOV) + 5′ 25″

4. Nibali (AST) + 8′ 36″

5. Contador (TCS) + 9′ 48″

6. Gesink (TLJ) + 10′ 47″

Froome goes to the limit to win the Tour…Pinot rescues his Tour on the most iconic of mountains

Stage 20: Modane > Alpe d’Huez, 110.5km

It was a stage of two parts. Not a split stage like those from the 1980s, but rather a stage in which two stories were written. The first was the very sudden realisation that perhaps this Tour was not over and that at last the Yellow jersey appeared to be in trouble, with a seemingly won and lost Tour up for grabs on the most iconic climb in the race and the final climb at that. The second was the race to actually win on that iconic climb as a young Frenchman timed his moment of redemption on this years Tour to perfection, much to the joy of his adoring home nation.

When Thibaut Pinot was seen standing on the cobbles of northern France almost three weeks ago, throwing his arms in the air in frustration that a mechanical was sending his Tour dreams up with the dust that surrounded him, it looked as though he might just quit there and then. It might have been the easy thing to do. Likewise on stage 17 when, having long since turned to hunting for stage wins, he crashed on the descent of the Col d’Allos. A younger version of himself might well have folded and rode anonymously into Paris but last years high finish has clearly given him a deep belief in his ability and the 25 year old Frenchman gutted it out and continued to hunt, until today, when on the grandest stage of all at Alpe d’Huez, he got his win.

It was a superb ride by Pinot. He shook off the rest of his breakaway companions, the last of which was the always gritty, always strong Ryder Hesjedal, and soloed to a win by 18sec over a fast charging man on a mission, Nairo Quintana.

From the top of the first mountain of the Tour to the foot of the last, Chris Froome winning this years Tour de France has seemed a foregone conclusion with everyone else either fighting to maintain a podium place or a position in the top ten. Either they seemed incapable of distancing the Sky rider or, dare I say, unwilling to attempt it at the risk of blowing their own position.

Nairo Quintana, who had entered the mountain stages nearly two minutes behind Froome and then lost more time on that first mountain stage, had spent the better part of the past week making small attempts to shake Froome only to find himself consolidating his podium position by dropping most others but with Froome always close by.

That isn’t to say there were signs that Froome was beginning to look tired; no longer was he initiating the major moves, but even yesterday Quintana only managed to pull back a mere 30sec when he finally shed himself of Froome, leaving Froome still 2min 38sec to the good with just this final stage to go. But nobody wins the Tour without some kind of adversity, and while Froome has faced a lot of his from the actions of some idiot fans, on the bike he was, at last, about to get a taste of adversity courtesy of the little Colombian.

There was only two climbs here and the first on the Col de la Croix de Fer was too far out as Quintana found out when he briefly attacked only to sit up on the descent. With a long ride along the valley to the Alpe, it would have been madness for Quintana to push on. It appeared too late for Quintana, just as it had been each time a day ticked by with Froome still in a commanding lead, and so with only the Alpe remaining, focus was already fully upon who from the early break off the front might win the stage itself.

In the end it was too late, but for a short while, Froome appeared to be in real trouble. Quintana attacked early on the Alpe and nobody reacted. Froome watched him go, but this time there was no holding his power threshold and slowly bridging back across. This time the gap continued to open until which times Quintana was no longer on the same stretch of road between hairpin bends.

The gap grew to 30 seconds and it held around there for a while as Froome sat on the wheels of his super domestique, turned bodyguards, Wout Poels and Richie Porte. The last act of Porte in service to his captain before moving away from Sky at the end of the season would be to try and save the Yellow jersey for the Sky leader.

As the crowds swarmed and the threat of attack loomed, the Sky duo in front of Froome powered their way through, the crowds moving back just in time as the clock on the top of our TV screens continued to tick upwards and up over a minute. Froome was in trouble, with several kilomtres still remaining, the Tour appeared to be slipping away.

Everyone was scrambling to do the maths in their heads. How much could Froome afford to lose now and how many kilometres were left? Was he keeping something in the bag…riding to a level he knew he could maintain without losing enough time? Or was he on his limit…starting to panic as the time gap continued to rise and the legs refused to react? He wasn’t looking any stronger as the hairpin bends were counted off, and what if he suddenly cracked?

Behind the Team Sky bus paced Sir Dave Brailsford, going through all these emotions with the sane side of his brain telling him that the allowable gap versus the distance remaining left a power requirement of Froome that he could surely manage. The other side of his brain was remining him (and all of us) of the human element of the Tour in which sometimes power numbers, data, stats and everything else could become irrelevant when troubles come and all that stood between you and the glory was the desire to suffer that little bit more, to find the strength to hang on.

Into the final kilometre and Brislford could begin to relax. Quintana hadn’t gained enough. That moment in which it looked like we were witnessing one of the greatest comebacks/collapses in Tour history was fading. Quintana finished and 1min 20sec later, so to did Froome. He looked to the clock, a look of a man that didn’t have it all under control after all, but took note that he had won the Tour by a mere 1min 12sec; a figure nobody could have imagined his lead dropping to when the day began.

Quintana will surely question his bad timing today. A little too late to overhaul Froome for the Tour win and a little too late to overhaul Pinot for the stage win and he will head home as the winner of the young rider competition, but empty handed without a stage victory unlike those two men who got in his way overall and for the stage. That said, he will win stages and should win himself a Tour one day, and what he did perhaps do was prove himself as the finest climber in the world, one who stays strong over the course of a three week race. It will have left him and his fans wondering what if regarding that treacherous first week where on stage two in the cross-winds he lost 1min 28sec to Froome, more than which he has now lost the Tour by.

Of course, for Froome he has proven to have timed this Tour to perfection. You can say ‘what if’ there had been another mountain today, or another mountain stage tomorrow, but there wasn’t and there isn’t and Froome stands in Yellow. And while Quintana can say he lost the Tour in the winds of Holland, Froome could also point to that first mountain stage to La Pierre-Saint-Martin where, with the stage win, he put 1min 14sec (including the 10sec time bonus) into Quintana, 2sec more than that he won the Tour by.

In the end though, the best man always wears Yellow in Paris and Froome has proven himself to be the best across the entire three weeks of the route that was put in front of them and not just the four days in the Alps. He’ll ride into Paris tomorrow and baring some kind of unforeseen disaster will win his second Tour in three years and Sky’s third in four.

Result: Classement:
1. Pinot (FDJ) in 3h 17′ 21″

2. Quintana (MOV) +18″

3. Hesjedal (TCG) +41″

4. Valverde (MOV) +1′ 38″

5. Froome (SKY) s.t.

6. Rolland (EUC) +1′ 41″

15. Nibali (AST) +3′ 30″
16. Contador (TCS) s.t.

1. Froome (SKY) in 81h 56′ 33″

2. Quintana (MOV) +1′ 12″

3. Valverde (MOV) +5′ 25″

4. Nibali (AST) +8′ 36″

5. Contador (TCS) +9′ 48″

6. Gesink (TLJ) +10′ 47″

Nibali rolls back the year!

Stage 19: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne > La Toussuire-Les Sybelles, 138km

This morning twelve months ago it was all very different for Vincenzo Nibali. They were heading into stage 18 of the 2014 Tour de France and he had the Yellow jersey on his back and three stage wins to his name. He had an unassailable 5’26” lead and was set to win his first Tour de France. That morning he would climb on his bike for the stage to Hautacam and once again go on the attack winning his fourth road stage of the race, the first since Eddy Merckx to achieve such a feat.

Today, here in 2015, the defending champ rolled out towards La Toussuire without a stage win to his name and in 7th overall, 8’04” behind the Yellow jersey, now on the shoulders of Chris Froome.

It had been a tough Tour for the Italian. Caught behind a crash on stage 2, he lost time. On stage 3 to the Mur de Huy he was distanced by Froome. He tried for all it was worth on the cobbles on stage 4 but conditions didn’t suit and he failed to gain back that lost time. By stage 8 at the Mûr-de-Bretagne in which he once more lost valuable seconds, Nibali sat 13th overall, 1’48” behind Froome, his Tour in trouble after a first week that was meant to suit him best.

Things didn’t get any better down in the Pyrenees either. On that first mountain stage to la Pierre Saint-Martin, Nibali lost a massive 4’25” to Froome and people began to wonder whether he would even make it to Paris. It would have been easy to quit, to find an excuse beyond a lack of form and leave the race. Indeed, even his own team management appeared to be quitting on him as Alexander Vinokorov installed Jakob Fuglsang as team leader for the rest of the race.

The next day he lost more time but a brief attack distanced Fuglsang and ended the leadership debate. Whatever you might think of that moment, Nibali has slowly begun to come around; quitting or laying down is not in his nature and slowly but surely the proud champion has begun to find some form; gradually climbing the general classification albeit out of overall contention but with a stage win still a realistic goal.

He finished with Froome at Plateau de Beille and the next day was on the attack, albeit a futile effort. He lost 30 seconds into Mende, but took back 28 seconds on the stage to Gap before the second rest day – the first time he has taken time from his rivals so far. The day after the rest he once again lost a little time to the Yellow jersey but took some back on others and as a result found himself in that 7th place at 8’04”.

Twelve months to the day since his magnificent effort to Hautacam, the writing ought to have been on the wall and when he attacked on the ascent to the col de la Croix-de-Fer, it would be the last any of his rivals would see him. The attack was controversial…Chris Froome had picked up a mechanical issue at that moment and was therefore able to respond. After the stage Froome confronted Nibali and while the Italian denied knowing about Froome’s issue, video replays suggested otherwise.

Still, an opportunity had to be siezed. Nobody waited on stage two when he was caught behind a crash and on this very stage to La Toussuire in 2012, Chris Froome made a move against his Yellow jersey wearing team mate, Bradley Wiggins. That isn’t to justify Nibali’s attack, but sitting as far back as he did on Froome, it wasn’t as though this was a direct assault on the jersey anyway.

And still, with 59km to the finish, Nibali had a lot of work ahead of him. the previous 18 stages suggested he wouldn’t last, but form is temporary, class is permanent.

As the day wore on Nibali swept up all those in the leading break and eventually caught the leader on the road, Pierre Rolland. The Frenchman didn’t last long and soon, with 16km remaining, the defending champion was on his own, on a redemption mission to show his class, to salvage his pride and to go out as a champion fighting.

Behind, Nairo Quintana wasn’t going down without a fight either, he attacked with 6km left and while he may have been hoping to do to Froome on this climb what id done to Floyd Landis in 2006, it wasn’t to be and the Colombian had to make do with a mere 30 seconds regained overall. It leaves him 2’38” behind Froome with just one mountain stage remaining…worth throwing caution to the wind for, but looking like more than a mountain to climb.

The day belonged to Nibali though. He came in 44 seconds ahead of the charging Quintana and 1’14” ahead of Froome. Still 6’44” down overall but his effort and with the subsequent attacks on Froome isolating many of those around him on GC, it leapfrogged Nibali right up into 4th place, just 1’19” behind Valverde for the final podium placing.

Just a few days it looked like Nibali might go home, or even ride into Paris outside the top 10. Of the big four, that became a big-five when Van Garderen made his intentions known, he was the one struggling most, but now he’s back in contention for a podium placing, and the way his confidence is building, you wouldn’t rule it out. Today’s ride by ‘The Shark’ has left us looking back at the last two weeks and wondering, ‘what if’?

Result: Classement:
1. Nibali (AST) in 4h 22′ 53″

2. Quintana (MOV) @ 44″

3. Froome (SKY) @ 1′ 14″

4. Pinot (FDJ)

5. Bardet (ALM)

6. Valverde (MOV) all s.t.

9. Contador (TCS) s.t.
53. Thomas (SKY) @ 22′ 00″

1. Froome (SKY) in 78h 37′ 34″

2. Quintana (MOV) @ 2′ 38″

3. Valverde (MOV) @ 5′ 25″

4. Nibali (AST) @ 6′ 44″

5. Contador (TCS) @ 7′ 56″

6. Gesink (TLJ) @ 8′ 55″

15. Thomas (SKY) @ 27′ 24″