Talking Tactics: Tour de France – how the jerseys were won

In this week’s Talking Tactics I’m taking a look at how each of the four major jerseys of the 100th Tour de France were won: overall, points, mountains and best young rider.

General classification

1. Chris Froome (Sky)

2. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +4:20

3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +5:04

4. Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) +6:27

5. Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) +7:27

Image: ASO/B Bade

Image: ASO/B Bade

There’s no question that Chris Froome was the strongest overall rider in the 100th Tour. He built such a huge buffer over the first 2½ weeks – with dominating performances in both the two individual time trials and the first two summit finishes – that when his mask of invincibility did crack slightly on the final trio of Alpine stages it barely made a dent in his advantage.

How the rest of the top 4 compared against Froome (Analysis: Tim Liew)

How the rest of the top 4 compared against Froome (Analysis: Tim Liew)

I’ve excluded the 43 seconds Froome conceded in Paris from my analysis, as this was a result of him voluntarily dropping back to allow his Sky team to cross the finish line arm-in-arm. Instead I’ve taken the previous stage as a ‘true’ indication of time gaps.

Splitting the two time trials out from the rest of the race shows that the ITTs padded Froome’s margin but did not affect the order of the top four. Discounting those two stages – where Nairo Quintana lost 3:16 and 1:11 – Froome nevertheless ‘won’ by 36 seconds, and ‘beat’ Joaquim Rodriguez and Alberto Contador by 2½ and 4½ minutes respectively.

It’s clear that Quintana will need to improve his time-trialling, particularly on the flat, if he is to become a more pressing threat in future grand tours. However, his climbing skills are beyond reproach. Indeed, if one discounts the 1:37 he lost as a sacrificial lamb with his early attack on stage eight, his 36-second non-TT ‘loss’ to Froome would actually have been a ‘gain’ of 1:01. On the other three summit finishes, he lost 29 seconds on Ventoux, a loss exactly matched by his gain on the final summit of Annecy-Semnoz, as well as picking up 1:26 on Alpe d’Huex after Froome hunger-flatted. In truth, he was the strongest, most consistent climber in the race, particularly in the final week where his gains on the climbs outweighed his loss in the ITT.

Joaquim Rodriguez left his push for the third podium spot until late. He was well-placed throughout the first two weeks without ever showing his hand, only hinting at his form with a stealthy ride to fourth on Ventoux, where he left Contador gasping in his wake. That form was confirmed in stage 17’s mountain time trial, where he powered his way to set the third-fastest time, just ten seconds off the pace of stage winner Froome. Like Quintana, he made gains on stages 18 and 20. Having finished the second week 7:11 down, he had recovered 1:24 on the leader by the eve of Paris.

Alberto Contador flattered to deceive. The echelon-busting team effort of stage 13 was the only occasion on which he took time from Froome. Although he was the closest challenger in the time trials, conceding just 2:32, he was dropped on all four summit finishes. And while Quintana and Rodriguez gained time on Froome in the final week, Contador did not. Indeed he conceded more and more time as the race progressed – 1:51 in the opening nine stages, 2:34 in the middle week and 2:45 in the final segment – underlining that he was consistently the least strong of the top four, despite what the standings suggested prior to stage 20.

Points classification

1. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) 409 pts

2. Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) 312

3. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) 267

4. Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) 222

5. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) 177

Sagan celebrates the final summit finish, Robbie McEwen style (Image: ASO/P  Perreve)

Sagan celebrates the final summit finish, Robbie McEwen-style (Image: ASO/P Perreve)

Many suspected this would turn out to be a one-horse race and so it turned out, as Cannondale’s Peter Sagan romped home by a 97-point margin. The keys to his victory? Consistency, versatility and 100% team focus.

Sagan was unable to beat Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel in the bunch sprints but was always best-of-the-rest. His consistency was remarkable: eight top-four finishes in the first 13 stages (nine in all).

What he lacked in finishing pace, however, he more than compensated for with his strength on more vertical stages to score heavily in the intermediate sprints while his rivals were languishing in the gruppetto. The lumpy stage three and the road to Mont Ventoux were prime examples of this.

Finally, his own versatility also combined with being surrounded by a team whose sole purpose was to ride for him: no GC aspirations, no time trial specialists – indeed, Cannondale finished 22nd and last in the team classification. This was most obvious on stage seven – Sagan’s sole victory – a lumpy medium mountain stage where Cannondale executed a 130km lead-out train, firstly to shake off his rivals ahead of the intermediate sprint and then to ensure they could never latch back on to contest the finish.

Would they have ridden so hard ahead of the following day’s summit finish if they also had a GC rider? No, and chances are the peloton would have come back together. Instead Sagan scored the maximum 65 points – Kittel, Cav and Greipel amassed none between them, and the Slovakian’s lead blew out to a massive 94 points. The race was only one-third complete at that point, but stage seven was the day the green jersey was won.

Mountains classification 

1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) 147 pts

2. Chris Froome (Sky) 136

3. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) 117

4. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) 99

5. Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale) 98

Image: ASO

Image: ASO

With the major points back-end loaded into stages 18, 19 and 20, the battle for the polka dot jersey was always going to go down to the wire. In the end, the most closely fought classification was rightly won by the strongest climber, Movistar’s Nairo Quintana.

There were two distinct approaches to the competition. The GC men (Quintana and Froome) gained points almost by accident as a consequence of the battle for the podium, while Pierre Rolland took a more methodical approach, targeting points across the spectrum knowing he would be unlikely to win a head-to-head battle on the three big HC summit finishes (Ventoux, Alpe d’Huez, Annecy-Semnoz) which carried the heaviest 50-point tariffs.

All but four of Quintana’s winning total of 147 points came from just four climbs: he netted 25 on stage eight by leading over the HC Col de Pailheres, 40 for coming second on Mont Ventoux, 28 for fourth on Alpe d’Huez and finally the maximum 50 on Annecy-Semnoz. It was this final effort which clinched the jersey in the three-way fight with Froome and Rolland.

The vast majority of Froome’s points (118 out of 136) also came on four climbs: 20 and 50 for winning on the summits of Ax 3 Domaines and Ventoux respectively, 16 on Alpe d’Huez and 32 on Annecy-Semnoz.

Rolland’s accumulation was more gradual, registering points on nine separate stages (compared with six for Quintana and seven for Froome). He picked off points in breakaways – 52 of his 117 came over the multiple high climbs of stage 19, a further 20, 18 and 16 on stages eight, nine and 20 respectively, five each on stages two and three. The trade-off was that he never really challenged on the big summit finishes, with his highest placing a lowly 16th, missing out on the big points which proved critical in the final analysis.

Young rider classification

1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) 2nd overall

2. Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) +13:19, 10th

3. Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +14:39, 11th

4. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +22:22, 15th

5. Tom Dumoulin (Argos-Shimano) +1:30:10, 41st

Image: ASO

Image: ASO

As at May’s Giro, the best young rider classification was dominated by a battle between a Colombian and a Pole, although it proved to be nowhere as close, with Nairo Quintana accelerating clear in the Alps and Michal Kwiatkowski dropping to third on the penultimate stage.

Quintana won the jersey in the same way he claimed second overall: with superlative climbing performances. His final winning margin of 13 minutes was a fair reflection of his dominance.

Kwiatkowski led the classification for much of the first two weeks, with his best results coming in the first half of the race – including the team time trial he had recorded six top-four finishes by stage 11. He lost the jersey to Quintana on stage eight’s summit finish but regained it after the stage 11 ITT. However, his tenure was always likely to be short-lived against the Colombian’s superior climbing skills, and starting with the Ventoux stage he conceded time to Quintana on six consecutive stages in the Alps.

On the final mountain stage 20, Andrew Talansky leapfrogged him into second, having trailed at one stage by 8½ minutes. However, a place in the breakaway on stage 14 (won by Kwiatkowski’s OPQS teammate Matteo Trentin) allowed him to claw back 7:17, and despite losing 3½ minutes on Ventoux the following day the American had the greater momentum in the final week, eating into his deficit on four of the next five days and finally overhauling the Pole on Le Semnoz.

And that’s it. Four jersey competitions, three winners, each thoroughly deserving. It would take a brave man to bet against any of Froome, Sagan and Quintana repeating their 2013 successes next year!

Talking Tactics is taking a short summer break next week – back in two weeks’ time!

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