Tour de France review: Round-table (part 1)

The race and the riders

All the voices got together to 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?

TdF tiny people ASO

Beauty, drama and a whole lotta fans (Image: ASO)

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.

TdF Froome driven away ASO

FroomeDog rode away with the Tour this year (Image: ASO)

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.

TdF Arc blur ASO

Final stage around the Arc de Triomphe (Image: ASO)

Chris: My favorite moment was running alongside Tejay van Garderen on the double ascent up Alpe d’Huez in skimpy pants with 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!

TdF Quintana heart salute ASO

Quintana showing some heart (Image: ASO)

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!

TdF Roche Roman laughing ASO

Nico Roche and Roman Kreuziger aren’t too tired to laugh (Image: ASO)

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!

TdF Bakelants ASO

A star is born: Jan Bakelants (Image: ASO)

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?

TdF through the Alpe ASO

Cadel got lost in the crowd this Tour (Image: ASO)

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.

Close up of Sagan TdF ASO

Kathi would include Peter Sagan twice in her fantasy league team if she could. (Image: ASO)

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!

8 thoughts on “Tour de France review: Round-table (part 1)

  1. Love your passions, but labelling Cadel as an over achiever is a bit harsh. The battle for GC in 2011 was the last real contested TdF. He featured in that contest that made it a dramatic Tour. 2010 was a tainted contest, dramatic, but tainted. 2009 was not a contest and tainted by the return of a podium fraud. 2008 was a dramatic win by another of your ‘overachievers’ (I suspect), with overachiever, Cadel, again making the podium. And 2007 was the most dramatic in years, despite the Rasmussen withdrawal, because it thrust Contador into the limelight and provided the drama for Cadel of losing what he probably could’ve won, by 23 measly seconds. The 8 Tours before that are not worth talking about.
    I may be a one-eyed fan of Cadel Evans, but I hardly see how he gets labelled an overachiever when he has lost closely more grand tours than he has won and has been on the wrong part of the podium before he could bust his hump to get on top. Isn’t he closer to being an underachiever? He and Sastre represent the only dogged fighters that claimed a yellow through grit but no brilliance or windfalls from doping cheats.
    Wiggins and Froome were deserved winners, prepared superbly for the event, with precision team to support them, but the yellow jersey drama was not there in the last two Tours.
    Both Cadel and Carlos were probably fortunate to win their Tours and both probably won their first too late in their career to repeat. I fear that Lance has killed off the era of the genuine multiple Tour winners. Indurain is now the last recognised winner to defend his title, and that was in 1995.
    I think it is worth reflecting after this 100th Tour on what the event has evolved into. The best Tour rider of the last ten years who is still riding still has a cloud over him, has been stripped of one of his wins, and gets booed by crowds lining the route.

    • I’m sure Tim will also comment on this, Crikey, but he’s on holiday at the moment so I wanted to maybe clarify what he meant (as I see it). I think he meant that Cadel was never what anyone considered to be a ‘natural’ Tour talent in that he is a gritty rider who had to work for everything he attained in a time when you had other guys who made it all look easy (for whatever reasons that ease might have come about). So he looked like an ‘overachiever’ just from the sheer strength of will to compete with guys like Schleck and Contador, whose climbing came more naturally for them – and certainly from the perspective of other guys like Cadel might have not even tried. Therefore the label ‘overachiever’ – someone who performs better than expected – would be right, but in a positive way.

      I truly doubt he meant it as an insult and I certainly didn’t think he meant it to belittle Cadel’s achievements as they are incredible and worth praising. There was no offense meant.

    • Aha! Even in deepest rural France, I have a 3G signal!

      Kathi sums up my view very well. I’ve always been a fan of Cadel’s fighting spirit and the fact he never gives less than 100%. When I call him an overachiever, it’s meant purely as a compliment – he has taken the talent he has and achieved so much. His 3rd place at the Giro was magnificent – and I was gutted that that effort seemed to dull his legs at the Tour. It’s not how I’d want him to go out – and, being realistic, at 36 I’m not sure he will have it in his legs again next year.

  2. Crikey Kitty! Thanks for the reply. I have more. When I read my copy of L’Equipe as I flew out of Paris on Monday night, and studied the Le Palmares column, I reflected on the rich history of this event and the list. After chuckling at the fact that only the French riders were in bold print – I was reminded that the Tour has a history of many reigns by multiple winners punctuated by the one-offs (some with chequered histories). I couldn’t help but think that there are basically four types of Tour winners – ‘the superstars’ that dominated for several years and won multiple times – true legends; the ‘one-timers’ that were fortunate enough and persistent enough to have everything go their way so they could pick up a title; the ‘cheats’ that no longer get recognition for a win; the ‘defaults’ that only get recognised for a win that didn’t occur on the podium, but after the flushing of a ‘cheat’. The event wants ‘superstars’. I think all of the ‘one-timers’ deserve equal recognition for what they have achieved, despite their diversity in strengths and talents. History ought to recognise Cadel, Carlos and perhaps Brad and Froome-dog on an equal footing as Pantani, Ullrich, Delgardo and Roche. I’m not sure about where Bjarne Riis sits…and my ‘perhaps’ for Wiggo and Froome is because I suspect either or both will win another Tour – potential ‘superstars’. But the others are all one time Tour winners who deserve the recognition for that achievement. It is interesting to me that you cite Contador and Schleck, Kitty. On my scale, Schleck still sits in the ‘default’ pile. He hasn’t won the Tour on merit. Will he? And Contador has a foot in two categories. I want to believe he belongs in my ‘superstars’ category, but can we ignore his apparent ‘cheat’ episode?
    I have, of course, ignored a fifth significant category. One that many of the ‘one-timers’ could have fallen into…those who had the talent, doggedness, made repeated attempts and had the ‘misfortune’ to never win a Tour, but would have made deserving winners. Often, this was because of the dominant shadow of a ‘superstar’…Rominger, Poulidor, even Menchov…and the likes of Ullrich, Pantani, and Evans could easily have fallen into this bunch had they not broken through.
    Cadel has completed 9 Tours de France. He’s finished each one, between 1st and 39th, with multiple top ten finishes and 3 podiums. That probably makes his TdF Palmares more impressive than other ‘one-timer’, Stephen Roche’s 10 efforts. (Is Roche an overachiever? He is no Sean Kelly, who never won a TdF!) Cadel may not have presented as the flashy, talented and classy rider the Tour beckons, but his grit and persistence earned him one Maillot Jaune – that is one more than almost all of the very large peloton to which he still belongs. When his career ends it will be a travesty for this Tour de France winner, World Road Race champion and Mountain Bike World Cup winner to be considered an ‘overachiever’. But, I am biased. I’m his guardian crocodile!

    • Hey Crikey – I cited Schleck and Contador not as TdF winners (because I don’t consider Schleck to have won one – just as you say, it was inherited but he didn’t win it on the day) – I was just talking about the natural style of them, particularly in the mountains. Interesting that there’s a spate of multiple winners then a few one-offs, etc. I have a theory that I came to with regards to how sportspeople become true legends and I think it has as much to do with having that one great rival that sharpens both parties up so much that they perform at a higher level whenever they are in the same race/match. Lemond v Hinault; Schleck v Contador; Ullrich v Armstrong (to a certain extent).

      Leaving aside the chorus of everyone screaming ‘Doping’, I will use tennis as an example. Borg v McEnroe – reading Mac’s autobiography, you could tell that he worshipped Borg and was brokenhearted when Borg retired just in the midst of their great rivalry. And I don’t think Mac ever played better or with more heart than against Borg. So when he retired, I think Mac lost that person to really take him to the next level and even though he was successful, he could have been so much more if Borg had continued on. Sampras v Agassi – they always brought out the best in each other (probably because their styles were so different); Rafa v Fed – this mumbling of Djokovic v Murray – that’s small potatoes compared to Rafa v Fed.

      The one-offs slip through the cracks because they don’t have that person – Sastre didn’t, Wiggins didn’t – unless it’s Froome, we shall see about Froome. And I think that Evans didn’t have that person either. As we all know, so much luck comes into riding a successful Grand Tour – hell, riding a successful race, full stop – and I think that having that great rival is one of those bits of luck that, if you have it, just brings out the best in your perforrmance.

  3. Hi Tim. Read your last comment after my last ramble. This has just been a launching pad for sharing my perspective. I’m never sure if I want champions to burn out or to rust. I spoke to too many of my countrymen in France, who just 2 years after his national hero status were ‘tearing up his contract’. I hate that we chew up and spit out ‘achievers’ as soon as they stop achieving! Maybe I need to head to the Giro next year for Cadel’s last roll of the dice!

    • velovoices says:

      What a ridiculous attitude (by your compatriots) – so symptomatic of the “what have you done for me lately?” attitude which is affecting all sports, not just cycling. Cadel graced the rainbow jersey, fought with honour to defend the yellow even though I think he knew the form wasn’t there, and has won some terrific races – not least *that* stage at the Giro. If people want to disregard those achievements because they are in the past and he can no longer deliver them, more fool they! Sport is all about creating history and legends, and I rather think history will look back kindly on Cadel, particularly when (as you said) he hasn’t always been competing on a level playing field.

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