The race and the riders
All the voices got together t
o give our final views on this year’s 100th edition of the Tour de France. It was one of the most exciting Tours in, well, since most of us can remember so there’s much to discuss! In the first part of this round-table we focus on the race and the riders, while in part two tomorrow we talk about some of the broader points around the race.
So, that was the 100th edition of the Tour de France. Did it live up to its billing?
Kathi: Yes. It was a difficult, imaginative and surprising parcours and all the guys brought their A game. The race was on, in one way or another, right till the end. It was magnificent.
Ant: Totally! Even with the pre-race favourite taking the win, it was full of surprises, excitement, and some wonderful stories, from the GreenWedge to Ted King to Rui Costa and Nairo Quintana. Wonderful from start to finish.
Chris: It was Panachetastic!! The first week set the tone for a wild and wonderful ride even though the GC battle seemed like a formality after Ax 3 Domaines. The parcours was tough, innovative and inspiring – I wish ASO would think like this for every Tour de France!
Sheree: Absolutely! I’ve loved every minute and am now having severe Tour withdrawal symptoms. Okay, so the outcome was known well before the penultimate stage but there were other battles still in play. I’d say it was a fitting swansong for Tour de France course director Jean-Francois Pescheux and a magnificent homage to the 99 editions that came before it.
Jack: I agree with Kathi and Chris – the parcours was fantastic, offering up sights and stories that only the Tour can. For me, the thoroughly one-sided GC battle was a dampener, though neither Chris Froome nor the ASO can be blamed for his obvious superiority over everyone else. Froome’s epic performances can themselves be seen as befitting the 100th edition of the Tour, and, as Sheree suggests, numerous other magical moments were played out along the brilliantly constructed route.
Tim: It thrilled, it surprised, it amazed and it left us with some wonderful memories. The only thing missing was a dramatic battle for the yellow jersey on the final climb of the final mountain stage. Other than that, this was everything a grand tour should be. Chapeau, ASO.
What was your favourite stage or moment of the entire three weeks?
Ant: It can only be the final stage and seeing David Millar’s solo break, although that’s largely because I was there. There were so many other amazing moments.
Chris: My favorite moment was running alongside Tejay van Garderen on the double ascent up Alpe d’Huez in skimpy pants with velovoices.com painted on my chest! I also really enjoyed the millions of fans cheering as the race went up Mont Ventoux.
Sheree: Tim, you know I hate these questions. My favourite moment is always the first moment of the first stage because I know I’m in for three whole thrilling weeks of entertainment!
Jack: For sheer excitement and drama, it has to be stage 13. In racing terms, it was Saxo-Tinkoff managing to take so much time in such a bold, unexpected move that was my highlight. However, honourable mentions should go to Corsica for managing to look so stunning over the opening few stages, while I loved the classic baroudeur Blel Kadri earning his day in polka dots.
Tim: I’m with Jack: stage 13. No stage that flat should be able to produce that much drama. But first OPQS and then Saxo-Tinkoff tore up the script to give us a stage that was tense and dramatic and captivating almost from the first kilometre to the last.
Kathi: I have to agree with you both, I think it’s stage 13 for me. But there are so many – I also loved Double d’Huez, Sagan’s stage win, Kittel’s win on the Champs …
I don’t think there’s any question that Chris Froome was a worthy champion, but what do you think of the other podium finishers, Nairo Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez?
Chris: I’m a huge fan of Nairo Quintana. He seemed like the only rider willing to truly attack Chris Froome. He put Sky under pressure on the stage to Ax 3 Domaines and Movistar reaped the rewards on the next stage by eliminating Richie Porte’s podium threat. I’m still shocked that Purito was third!! Stealth Cigar!
Sheree: Purito did say he was going to finish on the podium and he kinda snuck up on us only to deliver the coup de grace on the penultimate stage along with Nairo Quintana. The latter’s position as runner-up began to look more and more likely as the third week progressed but I bet few predicted the final podium, the top step maybe, but not the other two places. Of course, all three are worthy winners.
Jack: Both riders were totally worthy of their respective finishes. Quintana looked on fantastic form throughout – from his attack up to Ax 3 Domaines on stage 8 to his win at the summit of Semnoz on stage 20. Given he was the only rider who looked anywhere near Froome’s level on the climbs, he fully deserved second place. Rodriguez had a quieter race, though he did what Contador couldn’t – riding himself into form over the course of the three weeks. Chapeau to both.
Tim: A contrast in styles, but both worthy podium finishers. Quintana attacked with youthful abandon and in many other years would have won the Tour on his debut. Rodriguez was the Scarlet Pimpernel for two weeks but used his experience as much as anything to peak when it mattered in the Alps. To see the two of them repeatedly slugging it out with Froome was wonderful to watch.
Kathi: I love Purito so I’m thrilled he got on the podium – it’s just a shame he was invisible for most of the Tour and we didn’t really get to see him really strut his stuff during the stages. Quintana, the world’s oldest-looking white jersey winner, he’s great in a different way. He just looked so calm the whole time. I think they both raced very smart and thoroughly deserve their place.
Ant: The race for the podium places was fantastic and really made the Tour exciting. Personally I was really chuffed to see Purito there, as I love the guy, and Nairo, well, he was the rider of the tour for me. He was perhaps lucky that Valverde was blown out of the water so early on, but he rose to the challenge wonderfully.
Which rider(s) exceeded your expectations?
Sheree: It’s hard to know where to start, there were so many great performances but I’m going for those riders that finished fifth, sixth and seventh. Roman Kreuziger has found his niche, freed from the expectations of being team leader at Astana, he’s flowered at Saxo-Tinkoff as Alberto’s wing-man. Belkin’s Bauke Mollema has shone in week-long Tours but this was his first major GC classification in a Grand Tour. Jakob Fuglsang demonstrated single-handedly after his Astana team went MIA that he does have what it takes. He finished where Alexandre Vinokourov said he would!
Jack: I agree with Sheree, I think Kreuziger and Fuglsang were both standout names. Kreuziger was always on hand to help an ailing Contador, while Fuglsang comfortably managed a top ten finish, despite not enjoying the luxury of teammates in the mountains. After he assumed Astana’s leadership following Brajkovic’s crash, few expected much from a rider who has often failed to live up to expectations. But, with his eighth place overall, it’s up to Brajkovic to show he’s got what it takes. Finally, a word for Alejandro Valverde. Sure, he lost shedloads of time in the crosswinds, but he was always up in the action in the mountains. Always aggressive and exciting, he was far from embarrassed by his teammate Quintana.
Tim: The top three in the best young rider competition: Nairo Quintana, Andrew Talansky and Michal Kwiatkowski, who finished second, 10th and 11th overall. Each was equally outstanding in their own way, each has an immensely bright future. I think Quintana is a future grand tour winner for sure, and I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if Kwiatkowski and Talansky both won a week-long race in 2014 (Talansky was already second at Paris-Nice this year).
Kathi: I don’t think I had that many expectations so I’ll tell you who has now come onto my radar and I think is great and that’s Christophe Riblon. His win on the Alpe was amazing – in the break, dropped, back in, off the road, bridging up to Tejay and going past – then sending his team car away so he could ride the last kilometre without a DS going crazy at him. Excellent. Loved that!
Ant: Probably Kwiatkowski or Jan Bakelants for me. I loved that Bakelants just kept on popping up all over the place, he was a terrier!
Tim: I loved the way the double boost of his first win and a couple of days in yellow emboldened Bakelants to constantly go sniffing out opportunities thereafter. It just goes to show how much a stage win or a jersey at the Tour means to a rider.
Chris: Marcel Kittel by a long shot for me! If you would have told me that he would have more stage wins than Cavendish, I would have scoffed. Brilliant riding by the Argos train and super finishing by Kittel showed that they are the future of grand tour sprinting.
And who disappointed you?
Jack: Contador, but more because I love him than anything else. He so obviously wasn’t at his best, with his blistering acceleration and cold, fixed gaze that has marked previous performances replaced by a laboured grind and a pained grimace. He hasn’t looked in peak form in the mountains in his last three Grand Tours (despite winning last year’s Vuelta), and I’m desperately hoping he can get things right soon. At his best, he’s the most exciting stage racer in the world.
Tim: Contador certainly did a hell of a job disguising that he was holding a busted flush throughout. But Cadel, oh Cadel. Having won the whole shebang in 2011, his defence went out with a bit of a whimper last year and this year he was carrying the weight of the Giro in his legs. It’s a sad way for a former champion to go out – I doubt we’ll see him back at the Tour again. Time has finally caught up with one of the sport’s great overachievers of recent years. Also, Lampre – were they actually there at all?
Kathi: Contador – I’m disappointed more for him than by him because he kept attacking and he kept trying. He just didn’t have it this Tour.
Ant: BMC, which I think may stand for Bring More Cojones?
Tim: Or as Richie Porte would no doubt say, ‘swingers’!
Kathi: Hmmm, Bring More Swingers – that could be construed any number of ways, Tim.
Chris: Cavendish… I know he won two stages and any other rider would be thrilled but it’s Cav and I expected much more. I should have picked Sagan for my fantasy team!!
Sheree: No riders disappointed me although I might be disappointed for them. The orange-clad Euskaltel-Euskadi desperately needed a stage win, jersey or high GC finish to help them attract new sponsors otherwise they’re going to be toast. I’m launching a #SaveOurCarrots Campaign – it can’t hurt. I wonder how many cakes I’ll have to flog to make a difference?
We’ve all been playing Fantasy Tour de France, some of us rather more successfully than others. With the benefit of hindsight, now pick your ideal nine-man Tour team, including four GC riders, one sprinter and any other four riders of your choice.
Kathi: I can’t think of four GC riders I’d want in the team so I’m just going to pick 9 guys I like. Much as I did my fantasy league team. Contador, Sagan, Riblon, Kittel, Henderson, Voigt, Hansen, de Kort, Sagan again.
Ant: I’d pick the same team, I like making you guys look good 😉
Chris: Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Rui Costa, Bauk Mollema, Marcel Kittel, Peter Sagan, Michael Kwiatkowski, Richie Porte, and Alexander Kristoff…. but why am I doing this?? I beat all of you in fantasy Tour de France. 😉
Sheree: I’m picking the entire Euskaltel-Euskadi team on the basis that they’d surely have done so much better fuelled by my delicious home cooking and I wouldn’t have told them until after the Tour that the team coffers were nearly empty – didn’t need to have that hanging over them. Of course this means I’d probably fare no better in Velogames Fantasy League but who cares?
Jack: Taking the same massively biased line as Kathi, my ideal Tour team would be: Quintana, Contador, Kreuziger, Valverde, Kittel, Rui Costa, Porte, Kadri, Kennaugh. Poor Marcel won’t have much of a leadout…
Tim: My team is built to do two things: deliver the overall champion and win as many stages as possible: Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Roman Kreuziger, Rui Costa, Mark Cavendish, Michal Kwiatkowski, Tony Martin, Pete Kennaugh, Greg Henderson. And yes, I have deliberately missed out Sagan. There’ll be no wheelies on my team. Bah humbug.
Kathi: That’s okay, Tim, I’ve included him twice. Wheelie away, my Slovakian Musketeer, wheelie away!