Tag Archives: Tour de France 2016

Le Tour review: Overall standings…alternative standings…predictions review…team of the Tour

Here is a look across all the various final standings of the 2016 Tour de France with a little word on each. From the overall classification to the best French riders and from a review of my questionable pre-Tour predictions to my overall team of the Tour of which there can be no debate! First up though, the yellow jersey…

Continue reading Le Tour review: Overall standings…alternative standings…predictions review…team of the Tour

André Greipel keeps his streak alive…Chris Froome wins his 3rd Tour de France

They call the final stage into Paris, and the charge up the Champs-Élysées, the sprinters World Championships, and rightly so. It’s the most spectacular bunch gallop of the lot and the one that every sprinter wants to win…and one of the most satisfying to win at that. Partly because of where it is and partly because of what race it is, but also because you’ve survived 21 stages, several mountain ranges and everything else that comes with a Tour de France to earn the right to partake in it.

It’s why someone like Mario Cippolini, regarded by many as one of the greatest sprinters of all time, never won here. He couldn’t make it through all twenty stages before hand to get the opportunity. Mark Cavendish won four stages this year, but he never made it across the Alps and so he didn’t get the chance either.

Cavendish, of course, has been here before however. He won on this wide cobbled boulevard four straight times between 2009 and 2012 and would surely have been the favourite this time had he made it. Instead it was a fourth straight German win, this time by André Greipel, who won it for the second straight year to go with the two won by Marcel Kittel in 2013 and 2014.

And the winning list here is a roll call of some of the sports greatest sprinters: Freddy Maertens (1981); Jean-Paul van Poppel (1988); Johan Museeuw (1990); Olaf Ludwig (1992); Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, finally in 1993 after his unforgettable crash in the 1991 sprint (and also a winner in 1995); Tom Steels (1998), Robbie Mcewen (1999 and 2002), Tom Boonen (2004), and of course Cavendish and his German pals over the past eight years. Cippolini being one of the few absentees.

There has of course been years in which the sprinters had their party spoiled. It’s almost sacrilege in today’s age to dare to stay away from the annual small group of attackers and hold the sprinters off, but sometimes it does happen, including for three straight years in the late 1970s when Alain Meslet, Gerrie Knetemann and Bernard Hinault all took victories. American Jeff Pierce did it in 1987, Eddy Seigneur in 1994 and Alexander Vinokourov in 2005, and you could say we’re due another, but with the advent of modern sprint trains and tactics and race radios, the likelihood grows smaller each year and it was never likely to happen today either.

The break, which went clear on the early laps of Pairs after the now traditional go-slow procession through the French countryside to the Champs-Élysées, was reeled in with plenty of time for the sprinters to position themselves for the dash out of the Place de la Concorde and up to the line. Alexander Kristoff looked good for a bit, but went too early; Peter Sagan came on strong, but went too late; and it was Greipel who timed it to perfection and kept his streak alive of winning a stage in every Grand Tour he’s taken part in (11 in total; 21 wins) since the 2008 Giro.

Further back, off the rear of the peloton, came Team Sky as a collective. Spread out across the width of the finishing straight, arms around one another, soaking in the moment and the enormity of their achievement, Chris Froome in yellow and the winner of the Tour de France for a third time.

All that was left was the pomp and ceremony: podium presentations for each of the jersey winners, the final podium for the top three in which Chris Froome was joined by Romain Bardet and Nairo Quintana, and then a kind and gracious speech by Froome.

And then it was all over for another year. Hard to believe really. Come and gone, just like that. I’ll let the dust settle and then come back with a review of it all.

Unofficial sprinters World Championships 2016:

1. André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) in 2h43’08”

2. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)

3. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) all s.t.

Final general classification:

1. Chris Froome (Sky) in 89h04’48”

2. Romain Bardet (AGR2 La Mondiale) @ 4’05”

3. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) @ 4’21”

4. Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExhange) @ 4’42”

5. Richie Porte (BMC) @ 5’17”

6. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) @ 6’16”

Top ten shakeup but Froome avoids trouble

On a stage which finished with a ride over the Col de Joux Plane in the driving rain followed by a tricky descent down into Morzine, the potential there was for all kinds of drama, especially after what we had seen in the rain just twenty-four hours before, but as it was, the mayhem failed to unfold and while the the top ten had a few names drop out and a few new ones come in, the top five remained unchanged as Chris Froome kept his cool, avoided trouble and is now a short procession into Paris away from being crowned a three time winner of the Tour de France.

All the major action was reserved for the battle to win the stage. That is if you discount the anticipation of someone taking a risk on the descent to try and unsettle Froome behind. But up front it was Vincenzo Nibali out looking to take a consolation victory away from a Tour in which he arrived as the Giro d’Italia champion but very much out of form and using the Tour to build his condition ahead of a Gold medal bid in Rio in a few weeks time. He made the last major move on the Joux Plane from a large group of stage hunters, made up of many of the same names we have seen day after day trying to take some glory from this Tour, and it looked to be the winning move by the Shark. That was until the pair of Jon Izagirre and Jarlinson Pantano worked their way back to him in time for the summit.

You may have noticed that up until this point in the Tour that there had been no Italian or Spanish stage winners, a rare sight indeed, and only until yesterday, when Romain Bardet won, were the French also looking for a stage. The globalisation of the peloton had never been clearer. So no shock then to see the Spaniard in Izagirre and the Italian in Nibali trying to put things to rights, with Pantano looking for his second stage of this Tour alone.

At this point you’d have staked a lot on Nibali to win from here. The descent was tricky and it was wet and Nibali is famous for his descending abilities. The only problem being the fact he crashed yesterday alongside Chris Froome and perhaps that was weighing on his mind. That and not wanting to repeat it and perhaps injure himself this time…not with Rio looming and all this effort to build form towards it. The form has been coming, but coming slowly and anytime we’ve seen Nibali off the front in one of these large groups in the mountains, he has failed to flatter.

And so it was this time when Izagirre got into his tuck and started to take a few risks through the corners and the gap began to open. Nibali’s heart wasn’t in it and his head calculated the risk-reward ratio and decided not to go after him. That may be unfair to Izagirre though. He’s not a general classification man so we don’t know a lot about his descending skills, but growing up in Spain he was a cyclo-cross champion and by all accounts no slouch when it comes to going downhill. He put all those abilities to good use here and perhaps Nibali couldn’t respond to it; the Astana rider coming home 42 seconds down. Then again, the Italian was also dropped from Pantano who came in at 19sec.

So at the finish, not only did Izagirre throw his arms in the air to celebrate his first Tour de France stage win, but he did so to celebrate the first stage win of this years race for Spain…and just in time. Italy will have to go without baring something unusual tomorrow.

All that was left was the safe negotiation of the descent by the Froome group. It’s been a long old slog to get this far and perhaps it’s beginning to tell on the legs of everyone who has fought to contend for a high placing. Perhaps a sign of where the sport is at in the second decade of the 21st century. Some people have criticised the lack of dramatic all-guns blazing attacks, but they’ve also begged for a clean Tour, and rarely does both go hand-in-hand. But more on that another time.

Tired legs, tired minds and with a hard climb and a wet descent, nobody seemed up for the risk. We had seen Richie Porte and Adam Yates both lose a little time yesterday, so thay may well have been on their limit…especially Yates who started the day just 19sec off the podium and still didn’t fancy it today. Then there was Fabio Aru, he had put his Astana team on the front early and must have been sizing up his chances, but he cracked spectacularly with a food bonk and trailed home 13min 20sec behind the yellow jersey and plummeted from 6th to 13th overall, joining Bauke Mollema as a late casualty of a top ten placing. Capatilising was Joaqium Rodriguez (up to 7th) and Roman Kreuziger (up to 10th), both of whom had got in that big early break and survived to finish in front of what was left of the GC group.

So only Paris to go for Froome. He’s escaped the Alps with one crash that resulted in a final climb on a teammates bike, and a stage victory in the time-trial. He came into the Alps leading the Tour by 1min 47sec over Mollema; he leaves with a 4min 5sec advantage over Romain Bardet in second, the Frenchman who himself was 6th when the Alps began.

General classification after 20 stages:

1. Chris Froome (Sky) in 86h21’40”

2. Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) @ 4’05”

3. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) @ 4’21”

4. Adam Yates (Orica BikeExchange) @ 4’42”

5. Richie Porte (BMC) @ 5’17”

6. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) @ 6’16”

Froome wins uphill time-trial as battle for podium place grows tighter

Baring a disaster of epic proportions, the battle for the yellow jersey is over. Still, the fight for a place alongside Froome on the podium in Paris has rarely been closer or involved so many riders. In what is becoming a Tour much like 2014 when Vincenzo Nibali ran away with the win and a handful of others fought out for the lower podium spoils, this year we have five men positioned from 2nd to 6th sitting within 1 minute 8 seconds of one another after an uphill time-trial that Froome won and the top six remained unchanged but seen a dramatic tightening of the pack behind the Sky rider. Richie Porte continues his third week surge while the likes of Bauke Mollema and Nairo Quintana are very much on the defensive.

Yesterday I said that after today Chris Froome could be leading the Tour by four minutes. He’s not, but he is just eight seconds short of that mark thanks to a mightily impressive ride over the 17km mostly uphill individual time-trial. He timed his effort to perfection, getting stronger as the course went on whereas his rivals slowly faded.

A look at the various time splits gives an idea as to how well Froome measured his effort. At the 6.5km check he trailed the best time of Richie Porte by 23sec, with Porte himself 9sec better off than Dumoulin. By the 10km check it was Dumoulin leading Porte by 9sec with Froome just 1sec further back. 3.5km later at the final check Froome took the lead for the first time, 13sec ahead of Dumoulin with Porte at 22sec. And then on the line, the win for Froome, 21sec ahead of Dumoulin and 33sec ahead of Porte. Another who measured their ride well was Fabio Aru. At each time-check he trailed Porte by 25sec, 14sec and 7sec respectively, and finished on the same time as the Australian.

Froome had staked a lot on this stage before the Tour and knew the course inside out by the time the day arrived, conscious that this late in the race a lot could be won or lost here. As it turned out it in reality it wasn’t a stage that would affected his overall standings after all, but he was still fully committed. He’d done all that work, he might as well try and win it. Prior to the stage Froome had gotten his yellow jersey skin suit tailor made to fit, leaving nothing to chance despite the strong lead coming in.

By the time he hit the line he had won the stage with relative ease and he could likely have worn his regular kit and still been safe with the victory. With their impressive rides Aru moved up to 7th overall, 1min 8sec behind Porte who is now just 44sec away from third place.

Standings after stage 18:

1. Chris Froome (Sky) in 77h55’53”

2. Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) @ 3’52”

3. Adam Yates (Orica BikeExchange) @ 4’16”

4. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) @ 4’37”

5. Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) @ 4’57”

6. Richie Porte (BMC) @ 5’00”

7. Fabio Aru (Astana) @ 6’08”

The waiting game of others pays off for Froome

They waited and they waited and they waited. They waited until the final two kilomtres of the final climb up to the summit at the spectacular Finhaut-Emosson before a serious move was made. By then we already had a stage winner in Ilnur Zakarin, the best of the days large break that had taken so long to form but from which so many common names for such moves in this years Tour finally got away. They waited because they couldn’t go before or because they didn’t want to risk going before? It was hard to say in the moment, but wait they did, and by the time Richie Porte sprung clear the gains were only ever going to be minimal but what became clear was why they were waiting. Chris Froome must have been delighted.

The pace was high all day and that probably played into it, but the stage was made for an early move. For Astana or Movistar or BMC to throw caution to the wind and try to isolate Froome from as many of his men as they could and not wait until the final climb were the pace might limit them. It’s easier to say than to do, and perhaps nobody had the legs to try something like that, the finish perhaps alluded to it. So as it was they waited over two third category climbs, a long valley road and then the first category Col de la Forclaz at 13km and 7.9%, content to sit in the wheels of Sky…and wait.

When they hit the final climb of the day, a brutal 10.4km grind at 8.4% with long sections coming in at over 10%, Astana did move to the front but only to set a tempo. They burned one match after another until suddenly Fabio Aru was on his own, and with it Team Sky slowly retook the front line and continued their pace setting with a thank you very much to Astana for doing some of the heavy lifting.

Dan Martin tried his luck briefly, but it must have felt like a kick to the guts to turn around after a solid effort and see the Sky train hanging just ten metres off his wheel. He was soon collected and spat out the rear. Martin perhaps served as an example as to why nobody else made a serious bid on this climb until they were so far up that even if they got it wrong, at least they wouldn’t pay dearly on time loss. Still, it hadn’t yet explained why rival teams of Team Sky didn’t put the pressure on earlier in the day.

But then when Porte made his move inside those final few kilometres the toll it took on the rest was clear to see and it suddenly became clear that it hadn’t been about defending positions at all, it had been about hanging on. The idea of hurting team Sky earlier in the day, attacking Froome at unusual places and trying desperately to isolate the Englishman was now, in hindsight, so clearly unrealistic. Everyone had been at their limit, stuck by the day-long intense pace and now in trouble as the final climb inched up towards the line.

Nairo Quintana was one such rider. Credit to him for trying to go with Porte when the Austrlian kicked, but moments later Froome blew past and he too fell away. And likewise Aru, and Mollema. The later very much in defense of a podium place mode now; he hadn’t made a move all day but that was because when the pace was raised another notch near the end, he cracked and lost time…though he did retain his second place overall.

Only Froome could go with Porte and when he got onto him he was content to sit on, safe in the knowledge that Porte might be moving up overall but that he himself was extending his own lead in the yellow jersey. From 1min 47sec on Mollema this morning to 2min 27sec by the days end. Adam Yates and Romain Bardet equitted themselves superbly and were able to limit their losses to just a handful of seconds but was also clear that they too were on their limits. Aru and Louis Meintjes lost 19sec with the later moving up into the top ten when it took a further 18 minutes before Tejay Van Garderen came home; the American clearly now turning his attention to stage hunting over the final few days in the Alps as he slid right down to 17th overall and out of the picture. Quintana, he came in 29sec behind the yellow jersey with his team-mate Alejandro Valverde over 2min back; Movistar’s GC ambitions shattered.

Indeed the searing pace of the Sky team was too much on the final climb. Had they all finished on the wheel it might have been one thing to lament their lack of desire, but none of them could. Only Porte finished with Froome and it was the Australian who was setting the pace. He’ll be regretting more than ever the 2min he lost on the second stage when he punctured with just 4km to go. Had he finished in the bunch that day Porte would be sitting in a podium position. If he keeps riding like this though, he still might.

And so the question had been answered as to why a more consented and united inter-team effort to try and rid Froome of his team-mates earlier in the day had been answered, for today at least. There’s an uphill time trial tomorrow and if Froome continues the way he is going he could be leading this Tour by upward of four minutes. And then it won’t matter about trying to isolate him on the following two Apline stages, it’ll be about fighting for, and conserving podium positions.

The question that remains open and will be debated long after the Tour is complete, is why the other teams gave Sky such an easier ride earlier in the race when so much was still up for grabs? Why the likes of Movistar insisted on waiting until the final week? Why was it Froome of all people who turned to the unlikely places to attack and created the opportunities that gained him the time that left the rest having to chase him around France while the Sky rider could simply put his team on the front and control it?

Standings after 17 stages:

1. Chris Froome (Sky) in 77h25’10”

2. Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) @ 2’27”

3. Adam Yates (Orica BikeExchange) @ 2’53”

4. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) @ 3’27”

5. Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) @ 4’15”

6. Richie Porte (BMC) @ 4’27”

7. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) @ 5’19”
8. Fabio Aru (Astana) @ 5’35”
17. Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) @ 23’03

A quiet rest day is how it should be

How strange it must be for everyone on the Tour to have such tranquility on the rest days? It’s been going that way the past few years but more so this year than ever before has there been a distinct lack of gossip and controversy and despite what some suckers for such stuff might tell you, it can only be a good thing and a sign of the times of where the sport is at.

Once upon a time a rest day at the Tour couldn’t come or go without a scandal, and usually a doping scandal at that. A top rider testing positive; a collection of riders being caught. The press would scramble, rumours would swirl and the fallout with threaten to overshadow what was going on in the race itself.

In more recent years with the number of actual positive tests going down the scandal pages (or twitter accounts as it has morphed into) have been filled with speculation, accusation and innuendo. Whomever happens to be wearing the yellow jersey at the time of either rest day — and more so the second rest day because that is often the man in yellow who might well keep it until Paris — is hit with a barrage of questions about his stance on doping and whether he himself might be doping.

It was part and partial of being the yellow jersey,  to answer for the crimes of those that had come before and tarnished it. But Chris Froome is now on his third bid to win the Tour and thus in his sixth rest day before the microphones and there’s only so many times the same questions can be asked and answered with no sign of a legitimate scandal before things should begin to settle down. Especially when Chris Froome speaks so well. Perhaps though it is without a massive effort in the high mountains by the yellow jersey — something that might come in this final week — that have kept those questions at bay. But really, with each passing year the sport appears to be moving further away from those dark days. That isn’t to say everything is rosy, but it is to say that Chris Froome can no longer be expected to answer for all of it…certainly not on mere speculation, or worse, insinuation, stuff that is more and more being limited to a corner of social media.

And so it’s been a quiet day and we’ve been left to try do something else with our time for twenty-four hours…practice perhaps for what we’ll have to do day after day once this beautiful event comes to an end next Sunday!

Talking points

So what news has their been today?

Mark Cavendish has left the Tour officially in the last hour. Four wins to his name appears to be enough and he doesn’t fancy compromising his fine tuning ahead of a bid for gold on the track at the Rio Olympics by spending five days in the Alps. Not for one shot at another victory in Paris on Sunday. It’s unfortunate for he could well have made it five and moved one step closer to the Merckx record of stage wins, but it’s understandable too. If Cavendish can return in 2017 with this kind of form — gained surely by his forcus on pure speed from the track once more — then he could certainly win four stages again and find himself level with the great Belgian.

Sticking with British cycling and it would appear that Steve Cummings has got his Rio wish after all. Many questioned British Cycling for leaving him off their road squad for the Olympics when he won a stage in superb style earlier in the Tour to go with a couple of other brilliant race wins this season, and now it seems that Peter Kennaugh has dropped out of the squad after struggling to recover from an injury and opened up a spot for Cummings. Cummings is an opportunist unlike few others and the course could well suit him. He’ll have to work for Froome but given Froome’s lack of pedigree in one day races he might also get a chance to try something for himself.

Most people think Chris Froome has now won this Tour and many worry that those behind him won’t want to sacrifice their own positions to try and hunt him down. Not so claims Adam Yates who has said he will try to attack Froome if possible.

Another way to beat Froome might be for teams to form an alliance and a rumour coming out of the rest day is that Movistar and Astana may try and do just that to further the ambitions of Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Fabio Aru. With a number of big names on each squad to go with those three, especially Vincenzo Nibali and Jakob Fuglsang at Astana, you have to think they could make something work. To at least shake Sky off their routine at the very least.

So, as you can see. Relatively tame all around and everyone will be delighted to get back to the racing tomorrow to give us all something to talk about, especially with such a big mountain stage to come…one with a hard summit finish that may answer some of the remaining questions we still have, questions that are entirely cycling related.

Rider of the week

It has to be Chris Froome for that run up Mont Ventoux…not to mention his attack with Sagan that helped build on his GC lead and put his rivals into recovery mode before they’d even hit the big mountains. All that and the second place in the time-trial.

Sagan by a tire width

Peter Sagan completed his 100th Tour de France stage today and in it he took his 7th Tour de France stage win. The numbers don’t sound spectacular by his lofty standards, but when you remember how closely he is marked and how often others turn to him to close gaps, it’s incredible to learn that in those 100 races, he has finished in the top ten on 52 occasions, and of those, 33 were podium positions.

Yes, since 2012 when he entered his first Tour (and he’s won the green jersey every year), Sagan is finishing in the top ten of a stage every other time he races at the Tour and a third of the time he’s in the top three. Can you imagine the numbers if just half those podium places had gone another way and he’d won them as, if you remember long and hard, he probably deserved to do? He could already be two-thirds of the way towards catching the spectacular total of wins by Mark Cavendish who himself is just four away from the all-time record of 34 held by Eddy Merckx.

There’s a lot of ‘what if’s’ in that last paragraph, but those hard statistics up top are incredible in themselves. And when you consider a pure climber and often takes those days off, what does that do to his strike rate for top 10s or podium placings in stages not raced in the high mountains? There is definitely a feeling of ‘if only’ within me that wishes he could climb the big mountains that little bit better.

That 7th win today was the closest of them all and afterwards Sagan acknowledged that fate might be finally turning in his favour after so many second place finishes in recent years. It’s hard to argue that, and the idea that if you work hard enough, for long enough and you retain the highest collective talent in the peloton, the wins will finally come. That’s his third of this years Tour already thus meaning that 43% of his Tour de France stage wins have come in 2016. A 5th green jersey is a mere formality.

The stage itself was an interesting one. The rare sight of two team-mates going up the road (Tony Martin and Julian Alaphilippe of Etixx – Quick Step) on the suicide attack of the day only to be reeled in sometime after crossing the border from France into Switzerland before the finishing city of Bern where the twisty streets led to a short but steep little cobbled climb that took them up to a plateau that ran into the finish.

I had tipped Cavendish to win, though I did so before I realised how tough that little climb was. Credit to the Manx Missile though as he got up with a select group and finished on the same time as Sagan. The same could not be said for any other pure sprinter. Fabian Cancellara was the sentimental pick of course, finishing in his own city in his final Tour de France. The big Trek-Segafredo rider got up at the front but had to settle for sixth in the sprint.

So of course it was a finish made for Sagan and it was no shock to see him setting himself up for the sprint, coming around Alexander Kristoff late and lunging for the line to take it by a tires width as Kristoff misjudged the line and failed to lunge until he was passed it. A fellow Norwegian was third in Sondre Holst Enger with John Degenkolb and Michael Matthews finishing in front of Cancellara.

There was no time lost by anyone in the top ten overall.

And so into tomorrow and the final rest day. The natural transition from week two to week three, albeit with week three being a short one but a very difficult one. Four hard mountain stages sandwiching a hard up hill 17km individual time-trial. All to play for then for the skinny men of the peloton and those with the daring belief to risk their own high position to try and unseat Chris Froome from his. The sprinters have only Paris left for their own glory.