After 21 stages, three weeks of racing, covering 3360km, from sea level to over 2000m, the 160 riders remaining, from an original start line of 198, in 22 teams in the 102nd Tour de France, entered Paris in the processional peloton on July 26.
Chris Froome (Team Sky) led the procession, and wore the coveted yellow jersey, along with the “Sky Train” (Team Sky), who swapped their familiar sky-blue trim for yellow in honour of victory in the Tour.
The Final stage, a prelude for the sprint along the Champs Elysee, is an opportunity for the riders to enjoy one stage in a relaxed spirit of friendship and camaraderie, before the mad dash along the Champs Elysee. Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) powered across the line, holding off the fast finishing Bryan Coquad (Europcar) who came second, and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) who was third. Greipel won the prestigious sprint, underlying his form and dominance. It was his 4th stage victory of the Tour this year.
Chris Froome was the deserved victor, the first Briton to win the Tour twice. He was supported by a disciplined, tactically astute race management by Team Sky and his fellow team members. No other team matched Team Sky for organization, planning and thinking on this Tour. It was the narrowest victory in 7years; only 72seconds separated Froome from Nairo Quintana (Movistar) (after nearly 82hours of racing!) and the first time in over 40years, since the great Eddie Merckx in 1970 that the yellow jersey winner, also won King of the Mountains (the Polka Dot jersey).
Joining Froome on the podium, along with Quintana was Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) who was third. For the first time, the top five finishers on the Tour, had all won a Grand Tour at some stage in their career, underlying the quality of the competition. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). Last year’s winner, was fourth; and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo), fifth, who is currently the Giro D’Italia and Vuelta y Espana champion. With Quintana and Valverde on the podium, it was no surprise Movistar won the Team title.
Quintana won the White jersey for the best Young Rider; Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) was awarded the most “combative” rider of the Tour, underlined by his impressive victory on Stage 18, where he lead from the Col du Glandon, all the way to the final summit at Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.
The Green jersey winner was Peter Sagan (Tinkoff Saxo). He was assured victory by Stage 19. Throughout the Tour has been the most skilled rider: he challenged the intermediate sprints, the hills, the mountains, was involved in the breakaways, led descents, and was always in the mix at the end of each stage.
Froome, in yellow on the podium in Paris paid fitting tribute to his team mates and support staff, and gave reference to respecting the Yellow Jersey. Froome faced as many challenges off the bike as he did on it during the Tour; not only had he to contend with the prowess of Quintana, but also unpleasantness of a minority of the crowd. He handled the race and his situation with dignity and professionalism, and kept focus to win by the slim margin of only 72seconds, after 81hrs 56minutes and 33seconds.
Quintana gained time on Froome in the Alps, but the time lost in the first week and on the Pyrenees, especially Stage 10, on the slope to La Pierre St. Martin, was too much to recover, with Team Sky able to control the peloton. Froome rode a masterful tour: strong in the first week, avoiding the troubles that derailed his Tour last year. He was powerful in the Pyrenees, with a decisive victory on Stage 10 on La Pierre Saint-Martin. Then held his form through the transition and the Alps, before hanging-on up the final climb of the Alpe d’Huez. But it was close.
Arguably, it was the challenging stages in the first half of the Tour that put Quintana, Nibali and Contador at such a disadvantage to Froome. Quintana lost time, Nibali lost both time and form, and Contador, struggled (by his standards) to compete. Once the race reached the Alps, with Team Sky protecting Froome, and controlling the peloton, and barring an injury or a mechanical, Froome just had to hold on, and mark every move by Quintana.
Quintana, a dominant mountain rider, made his move in the Alps. On Stage 19, on La Toussuire he gained 30seconds on Froome. He needed to find 2min 38seconds on the final stage, Stage 20, on the spectacular Alp d’Huez. A climb of 14km, with 21 hairpins that is traditionally lined with manic fans encouraging, cheering, screaming and shouting. By the foot of the Alpe, Froome had Riche Porte and Walter Poels looking after him; Quintana had his team mates Valverde and Winner Anacona to work with. After five breaks Quintana finally had distance between himself and Froome, with 8kim to ride. He powered up the Alpe, overtaking Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale Garmin), but could not catch Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr); and all the time, increased the distance between himself and Froome. Froome was hurting, maybe for the only time on Tour looked vulnerable. He is such a tenacious and gritty competitor, he just kept going, in his inimitable style, seated on his bike, putting every bit of energy into those pedals to bring himself exhausted across the line. In the end, Quintana still needed to find another 72seconds. Froome a tired but deserved winner: Quintana a worthy and valiant opponent.
There is no sport that has an equivalent of the Alpe d’Huez. It is a seething mountain of raucous support, where riders and spectators are in such proximity, that it is almost incomprehensible how riders get through unscathed. The Alpe was full a week before the Tour arrived, waiting expectantly for the finale of the cycling’s showpiece. It rarely disappoints. In glorious sunshine, in one of Europe’s most stunning settings, the 160 riders climb the 14km, 21 hairpins to the summit. Thibaut Pinot, took stage honours, but Quintana and Froome determined the outcome of the Tour.
Paris, was sedate in comparison. It was festive, stylish, with pomp and ceremony. A fitting finale to another incredible event: civilized in comparison to the Alpe. The sedate but celebratory procession through Paris, bar the final sprint, was in contrast to the rigor and stress of the final stages in the Alps.
Despite the off bike publicity, it was left to Froome to echo the words of all riders, when he pronounced respect for the ‘Maillot Jaune’, the Yellow Jersey, and all it represents and signifies to the riders, teams and spectators, that treasure this unique event. In Froome, the Tour has worthy champion. The depth of talent in riders who can challenge for yellow, green, a stage or sprint augurs well for the 103rd next year.
Grahame Carder is a sports enthusiast, writer and former player from representative Schoolboy level, through University and most corners where he’s lived. Currently works as Consultant on Strategy and Marketing.