Tour de France review: Round-table part 1 – The riders and the race

As is our wont, we’ve all got together after three weeks in France to discuss what should have happened, what could have happened and what did happen in this year’s Tour de France. And then we discussed some more!

So, Bradley Wiggins: a worthy winner?

Bradley Wiggins on the Champs Elysees (image by Kitty Fondue)

Panache: Absolutely. Bradley Wiggins put almost 8 minutes on Cadel Evans in the time trials alone and was strong enough to drop climbers of the calibre of Nibali. Sky had a plan to put Wiggo on the top step of the podium in Paris and they executed it to perfection.

Tim: Everyone had to ride the exact same course. He finished first, so he was a worthy winner. End of.

Kitty: I agree. Whoever finished first deserves to be there.

Sheree: Ditto.

Jack: No arguments here. You can’t fluke the maillot jaune. Worthy winner, regardless of how it was won.

Tim: Some fans have criticised for not dominating or riding with enough panache in the mountains. Winning is not about how you ride, it’s about how fast you ride. And let’s not forget he actually won two stages. That’s as many as the next eight riders combined.

Kitty: Do you guys think this is the last question we’ll agree on?

Peter Sagan – discuss. 

SuperSagan impressed us all (image courtesy of Davide Calabresi)

Kitty: I love SuperSagan. I thought he really brought some youthful passion and lightheartedness to the Tour. He’s already a huge fan favourite and he certainly deserved that green jersey – he not only won sprints but he was consistent in everything else. I loved what he did in stage 14! He’s just brilliant!

Tim: We always knew Sagan was super-fast and super-strong, but what has impressed me most has been his climbing. To get into the break on a proper mountain stage and then overhaul people on a Cat 1 after being apparently dropped – stunning stuff. Some commentators have said he will become a GC contender at the Grand Tours. I’m not so sure, but the fact that people are even talking about him in that way shows just how special a talent he is. He’s been the star of this Tour.

Panache:  The Velvet Samurai has become what Philippe Gilbert was last year: a panachetastic, dominating badass that can win on a variety of terrain. You’re right, Tim – Sagan’s ride on stage 14 was ridiculous! The look of shock on LL Sanchez’s face when Sagan returned to the elite, breakaway group after getting dropped on the Mur de Peguere was priceless!

He also gave the ‘true’ sprinters a real run for their money.  With a little more experience (better position) on the final lap of the Champs he probably could have out sprinted Mark Cavendish and won another Porsche. (I hear he’s already getting one for winning the Green Jersey)

Sheree: What I also loved about him was his youthful exuberance and apparent wonderment at everything that was happening to him. The look on his face says he can’t quite believe it. When he’s not won a stage through a small error or miscalculation you can see that he recognises it and it won’t happen again. He’s an intelligent, gifted, rider who’s on a steep learning curve. Who knows where that’ll lead – Classics or Grand Tours or both a la Merckx.

Jack:  Without doubt, a brilliant rider. I agree with Tim in that I think those claiming he will be contesting the Tour de France in a few years are getting a bit carried away – he’ll never be able to climb with the likes of Contador and I can’t see why he’d want to. I’m in no doubt whatsoever he will be a real force to be reckoned with both on the flat and the hilly finishes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s wearing the rainbow jersey in the next few years.

Tim: Hmmm, that’s two things we all agree on. Surely there’s got to be some disagreement soon!

Which rider or team surprised and delighted you during the race?

Sheree: Well, I was delighted by Team Sky’s selfless and clinical performance to deliver not just the yellow jersey but also the runner up and six stage wins – magnifique! My Tour surprise was the Tour’s baby, debutant Thibaut Pinot who came off the substitute’s bench, claimed a stage win and finished in the top 10. The kid seized the opportunity with both hands – he’ll go far.

Jack and Kitty particularly loved Thomas Voeckler’s performance in this year’s Tour (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

Jack: Of course, Thomas Voeckler! The stages he won were amongst the most difficult and to see him come away with the polka dot jersey after being distraught by narrowly missing out on the podium last year was excellent. His enthusiasm is infectious and his appetite for racing aggressively is insatiable.

Kitty:  Yes, Jack! He’s my answer as well! When he went into the Tour, it seemed like he might not even make it through the prologue but then he just kicked it into overdrive. That first stage he won where it was like a slow motion sprint and everyone just looked wrecked was my favourite, I think.

Jack: Elsewhere, a rider I’ve long admired is Fredrik Kessiakoff and he put up a good fight for the mountains classification, with Haimar Zubeldia’s 6th place highly impressive ­– especially considering I barely remember seeing him in the entire race! An honourable mention must go to Jens Voigt ­– as aggressive and impressive as ever, at almost 41.

Tim: Europcar as a team delivered more entertainment value – and bang for buck – than any other. Numerous breakaways, three stage wins, the polka dot jersey and eighth overall for Pierre Rolland. However much funding Europcar are providing, it’s incredible value for money.

Panache: Lotto-Belisol really impressed me. Two back-to- back wins for the Gorilla and a 4th place finish over all in GC for Jurgen Van Den Broeck shows me that Lotto knows how to balance the talents and interests of all its riders (plus, he wore white gloves in the final TT… looked like a boss!). I think Greipel would have won stage 13 if he hadn’t crashed at the beginning of the stage.

Kitty: The Lotto boys also looked like they were having the most fun – especially Greipel and Adam Hansen riding their victory lap in surfer shorts and flipflops!

And who disappointed?

Tim: Firstly, everyone who finished is a bloody hero. And those who abandoned showed remarkable bravery to climb back on their bikes and at least finish a stage with broken bones. But my biggest disappointment would be Denis Menchov, the dark horse who revealed himself as more of a donkey as he fell away – again – when it really mattered. The one person I’m not disappointed with is Cadel Evans. The performance wasn’t there, but the heart was.

Sheree: I’m with Tim, everyone who makes it to Paris is a hero and those that didn’t had their dreams crushed by injuries or illnesses. No one disappointed me although I was bitterly disappointed that Samu Sanchez(Euskaltel-Euskadi) crashed out, along with half the team, and that his injuries will prevent him from defending his Olympic crown.

Samu Sanchez’s injury was a major disappointment in this year’s Tour (image by Panache)

Kitty: Nibali. I’m not a big fan of his on a good day but I thought of anyone, he could take it to Sky on the mountains. Sure, Sky were the dominant team but it just didn’t seem like anyone wanted to challenge them and therefore Wiggins never had to lay it all on the line and go it alone at some point. I would have liked to have seen him perform without his teammates around him (time trials don’t count). But I also agree with Tim – Cadel didn’t disappoint. He actually kept trying but just didn’t have it this year. But he was gracious and dignified in defeat and he looked so relaxed and happy on the Champs after the race.

Jack: Kitty, I’d imagine you won’t be surprised to see me take issue with your criticism of Nibali! If anything, he was the one rider outside of the Sky team who was willing – and capable – of giving it a go. Sure, he wasn’t good enough to open up any time on Wiggins, but all of the other favourites looked poor. Truthfully, I don’t think any team were strong enough to crack Sky, and where there were often two or three riders constantly by Wiggins on climbs, other leaders like Nibali or were often left alone on the mountainsides, and therefore it’s little wonder the Froome/Wiggins duo looked so strong.

Panache: Well, for me, it wasn’t a specific rider but a team: Vacansoleil-DCM. Crashes and bad luck took a heavy toll. I can’t name one stage, memorable moment, or gutsy ride containing any of their riders. Five of their riders were forced to abandon and the remaining served as pack filler. I’m not so much disappointed in them as I am disappointed for them. No team wants to come to the Tour and have zero impact.

This year’s race has been criticised by some for being dull and lacking in big mountain stages. What score would you give the parcours (out of five) and why?

Jack:2/5. For me, the race was ruined by the two long individual time trials. I like Prudhomme, and I think the Tours he has produced in the past have been excellent. This year’s edition had its upsides –for example, I think the climb of La Planche des Belles Filles was excellent, as were the rolling, breakaway-friendly stages – but the GC race was over almost as soon as it had began, and a couple more summit finishes could’ve been included.

Stage 9: the killer of the GC race

Tim: 4/5. It’s been a subtle Tour, and one which has been different to recent years. It’s lacked in terms of the number of ‘big’ stages and yet it’s had plenty of steep climbs, peril-laden finishes and well-balanced between mountain stages and time trials. The fact that Sky have been so dominant as a team has made the racing less dramatic, but that’s not the fault of the parcours.

Kitty: I’m with Jack, both with the score of 2/5 and the time trials ruining it. That first ITT just killed the GC race down dead. Without that, it would have been an imaginative, exciting parcours. But because it did, Sky just had to ride to protect Wiggins’ lead so it got to be a bit processional in the GC category. That got very frustrating and boring. I don’t know where you get 4/5, Tim.

Sheree: Riders make the race, not the parcours. It was fine, interesting even with those middle mountain and shorter stages but in practice it probably didn’t pan out the way the organisers anticipated. I think Kitty’s correct, the first TT delivered a death blow from which it never recovered. So 3/5 from me.

Panache: 2/5. ZzZzZzZzZzZzZzZ. Wake up! It’s Sagan.  ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ… Now Voeckler. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Someone wake me up when the Giro reruns come on.

Which were our favourite stages/moments, and why?

Panache:  In a nutshell: David Millar collapsing after his tactically brilliant stage win; Thomas Voeckler, ridding himself of his Kessiakoff; Little French teams sticking it to the big boys – Europcar & FDJ… Chapeau!!; LL Cool Sanchez being rewarded with a stage win for his aggressive panache!; Sagan signing ‘autographs’; Greg Henderson with his arms raised in celebration before Greipel crossed the line; Tyler Farrar storming the Argos bus; WAGWAR and Michelle Cound  (getting me mentioned in the Evening Standard ); Tejay passing Cadel in the final TT; Jens attacking always!!; Big George leading onto the peloton onto the Champs. (little tear in my eye). And finally, the yellow jersey leading out the World Champion for the victory on the Champs!

One of the great moments in the Tour: Marc Madiot’s reaction to Thibaut Pinot’s stage win (Image courtesy of Andy Jessop)

Kitty: Cancellara storming the prologue, of course, and spending a week in yellow in which he animated a couple of stages by trying to win them! And when he passed all those climbers – even on his own team – on the day he lost yellow made me love him just that much more. He wasn’t going to let that go without a major fight! Then it would have to be Marc Madiot screaming at Pinot on the way to the finish line. Absolutely classic! Oh, and Sagan’s Incredible Hulk impersonation … and the Lotto Belisol boys … and Morkov’s solo attempt for his dad and …. sooooo many things!

Tim: Sagan’s sangfroid in sitting on Cancellara’s wheel before unleashing his sprint on stage one. Sorry, Kitty.

Kitty: That was killing me, that stage, but I loved that Fabs went for it – no sitting in the wheels for him.

Tim: To continue (ahem), Mark Cavendish’s seemingly maniacal but oh-so-calculated wheel-hopping in the sprint in Brive on stage 18. And the sight of the yellow jersey charging at the head of the peloton into the Place de la Concorde to lead out Cav on the final stage.

Jack: Thomas Voeckler’s interviews are worth re-watching highlights shows for alone, as are any stages in which he’s in the breakaway. I agree with Kitty though, Marc Madiot yelling at Thibaut Pinot was fantastic too. As for my favourite stage, probably David Millar’s win on stage 12. It was an extraordinarily strong breakaway that went away, and despite being a big Millar fan, I wasn’t too optimistic he’d make it to the line first with the slight incline to the finish. But, he played it perfectly and fully deserved the victory.

Sheree: For me it’s three things: firstly, emerging talent – those that animated stages and finished in the top 5 on a stage or two such as Morkov – more noted as a track rider – and Gorka Izagirre. Secondly, the performance of seasoned riders such as Voigt, Horner and, it has to be said, Evans still giving it 110%; Haimar Zubeldia, whose finish in the top ten went largely unremarked by anyone, including his own team. Then last, but not least, riders who struggled on with injuries like Luis Leon Sanchez who came good winning a stage and challenging for wins on others, totally rescuing Rabobank’s Tour. Or Chris Anker Sorensen, who rode following an overnight operation to repair his badly wheeled mauled hand.

Tomorrow: We debate Sky’s dominance; doping; Wiggo v Froome; and what’s next for Cavendish!

2 thoughts on “Tour de France review: Round-table part 1 – The riders and the race

  1. CJ says:

    ♥ You guys brighten up my Twitter party line with your wonderful humour. I love the multiple @VeloVoices coverage of a race. Keep-up the great race tweets. You have a happy,Twitter fan. Merci beau-coo ! 🙂

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