Au Revoir Tour: The Blessed & the Damned
To some, it was a war of attrition, for others, a road to perdition, and in terms of the chase for Yellow, the Tour was akin to a medically induced coma, with the fleeting pangs of excitement resulting from the involuntary finger twitch. Sure, it certainly began with potential, but after Stage 10, the Tour turned into the same race that it is every year — a battle for second place. Though, of course, this is summarily speaking. Between the margins, the race was actually more nuanced and interesting than it’d been in years. So let’s take a skip down Memory Lane and get into the highlights, and lowlights, of this year’s Tour.
Of course, the big winner was Nibali. Coming off a slow, seemingly uneventful spring campaign, he was the perpetual underdog of the Big Three. But where he truly succeeded was in his trolling of the entire peloton. You see, I’m almost of the mindset that his “poor performances” and the alleged Vinokourov letter were, in fact, misnomer mines planted in the media with a full intent. In the Ardennes and Milan-San Remo, Nibali demonstrated that he had the legs, just not the will to take it all the way.
If this were the case, however, it would’ve been a clever ploy worthy of Vino-weirdness, but regardless, his manner and style put on display what we love about him. Never glued to the powermeter, he dominated the cobbles, remained calculated on the climbs, and attacked like a champion — not just when he needed to be one.
And while some might grumble and argue about what would or could have been had Froome and Contador not crashed out, it’s worth noting that this contingent is glaringly missing the point. The moral to be taken away from this story is that team positioning and posturing is of nearly equal importance to climbing and time trialing when it comes to a Grand Tour. However, this isn’t to say that the big teams were ignorant to this. After all, how many times did we see Contador or Kwiatkowski riding as the second or third wheel in their teams’ lead out trains? Simply put, Astana and AG2R were just better at keeping their men out of trouble, and for this reason, it’s not hard to understand why they’re on first and second steps of the podium.
The Winners: The Rest of the Podium
Let’s not kid ourselves; had Froome and Contador not crashed out, the makeup of the podium would have been completely different. That being said, there was no shortage of rabid hopefuls to contend for the open spots, particularly when it came to the French. Yes, they were ravenous, and yes, they were awesome to watch. Bardet, Pinot, and Peraud kept Valverde against the ropes on nearly every mountain stage, yet the knockout punch took an excruciatingly long time to deliver.
To me, this is where the excitement of the Tour suffered a bit. Yes, there was plenty of action, but more often than not, none of the attacks possessed any stick. Time and time again, the finishing order, despite attacks within 2k to go, was mirrored to the GC order that headed into the day. It was kind of like eating a rice cake — I was consuming volumes, yet my hunger was rarely satiated.
The big question is this: does the French invasion have any sticking power? When it comes to Pinot, I’d say yes. Ever since I saw Marc Madiot completely lose his shit during his breakaway success, I knew that the kid had something special.
Bardet ranks a little less favorably to me, especially when pitted against other rising stars like Fabio Aru. And Peraud? Well, I’m not really sure how that happened, but good on him, I suppose.
Kevin Reza proved to be on the path of super domestique, and really showed some chops out there. Seriously, though, he was pulling hard in the mountains with the same aplomb and skill as in the lead out, where he was easily one of the most aggressive people on the road when it came to creating a lane for Coquard. And most importantly, he handled a piss situation with great dignity, while also making one of the best videos of the year.
Luke Durbridge gained some street cred later in the race as well, but admittedly, it was a pretty weak push.
And I also think that any of the riders who snuck into the top 10, like Zubeldia (who’s been grabbing podiums since ’99), König, Ten Dam, and Mollema, deserve some added credit. After all, with the exception of König’s first moves in the Alps, none of these guys got any airtime.
The Return of the Jerseys’ Competition
With the exception of Sagan’s Cannondale team, every other team contending for a jersey was operating on a plan B status. Joaquin Rodriguez came to the Tour targeting stages and the Polka Dot Jersey as a result of his crash in the Giro. Meanwhile, Majka was full of creepy winks on his way to claiming the KOM, fueled in part by the champagne wishes and caviar dreams promised from Oleg Tinkov — turns out that he didn’t get that Aston Martin.
And even though this is from Rogers, it’s still pretty awesome, and it sums up the post-Contador spirit of Tinkoff-Saxo.
The Best Young Rider competition was also spirited, but honestly, it wound up being an award derivative of GC standing. Though, for the first in a long while, the pursuit of the jerseys created a sense of urgency in nearly every stage, which made up for a lackluster race for first place.
The Biggest Losers
Obviously, this award would go to the fellas that came in on form and crashed out early — Froome, Contador, and Cavendish. Yet, while Tinkoff eventually rallied, Team Sky was left fledgling. And once Porte proved himself to not be in GC condition, they leaned on Kiryienka to make the break stage after stage — this man had a very difficult, unsuccessful Tour. Understandably, Sky only came in with a very strong Plan A, but when their impromptu Plan B failed, the world was left wondering, where’s Wiggo?
But to avoid digging into a rather annoying conversation from the past, the scenario seemed to provide the answer to the spring’s nagging debate on Sky’s Tour selection.
The runners-up for the peloton’s saddest would have to Valverde. Poor Valverde. Seriously, he’s an impressive rider, packed full of punch, but he just can’t ever get it right for the Tour. He delivered this year, but he still came up short. And sadly, absent a team change, this will probably be his last shot.
True, this was the Tour that could have been, but it was still an interesting race — interesting for the Tour because things actually happened. The climb on Jenkin Road in Stage 2 showed that a real fight could have happened, but alas, it just wasn’t meant to be. Thankfully, between the Giro and the Tour, we’ve been able to see the faces and names of the sport’s rising stars, some of whom will deliver a reckoning next year. Quintana, I’m looking at you.
Now, one more body-check for the road.