In part one of our round-table we focussed on the race and the riders. Today we talk about some broader topics relating to the race.
Let’s start by throwing ourselves in at the deep end. Assuming they have the Sky and Astana A teams supporting them – Froome versus Nibali, who wins?
Chris: In the Tour de France? Froome beats Nibali by 2mins. Just think about these four guys: Richie Porte, Rigoberto Uran, Sergio Henao and, if he actually helped, Bradley Wiggins. Astana can’t shake a stick to those guys!! Can you imagine if the Death Star assembled all these Sith Lords for one Grand Tour?!
Sheree: On current form and team composition, you have to go with Froome. But remember Froome was Alexandre Vinokourov’s pick for the top step of the Tour and as they’ll be going head-to-head in 2014, Alex knows he’s got to reinforce Nibali’s team. Post-Tour he’ll be flexing Astana’s Amex Card (the Black one).
Jack: At the moment I can’t see anything but a comfortable victory for Froome. Having said that, I’d love to be proven wrong.
Tim: For me, these two are now streets ahead of the competition, including any of the Spanish Armada. If Sky ever put their A team together, they would certainly be stronger than Astana. Froome’s a better time-trialist and a slightly more explosive climber, but Nibali is a better descender and perhaps a bit more consistent. But over the course of three weeks I think Froome would just come out on top. Just.
Cavendish versus Kittel versus Greipel: how do we see this panning out over the next couple of years?
Chris: Well, I see Cav racing less days next year so he’s fresher for the Tour. I believe he’s also bringing back Mark Renshaw to improve the OPQS train. His next Tour de France will be about exacting revenge. That being said, Kittel and Argos now have the confidence to give Cav fits for years to come!
Sheree: No one really wants the outcome of any stage to be a given. More competition = more interest and excitement, plus acts as a marvellous encouragement and example for other up-and-coming sprinters like Bryan Coquard (Europcar). Of course, Kittel wins hands down in the hair stakes.
Jack: Kittel and Cav are clearly in a different league to everyone else, though labelling the former the best sprinter in the world is still premature. Not only was Cav not in top shape at this Tour, but OPQS haven’t been as well-drilled as Argos in their leadouts. Providing these issues are ironed out, then I still think Cav would be faster, though he’s now facing tougher competition at the top than he’s ever faced before. He may still be the fastest, but the era of Cav domination could be over.
Tim: If they’re all at 100%, I see Cav edging Kittel with Greipel being pushed to the margins somewhat. Greipel frustrates me. He’s a likeable guy and on his day he’s unbeatable – but only when everything goes right. Cav and Kittel are more flexible. Also, without wanting to make excuses for Cav, he had a lot of racing in his legs including the punishing Giro. I’ll tell you what, though: Cav has more and better competition now than at any time in his career, which could bring out the best in him. Either way, it’s going to be brilliant to watch.
Kathi: Argonauts are going to rule – they’ve got their sprint train down, they have one purpose, they have the Divine Haunches. I’d love for the Lotto boys to get Greipel in the mix more just because I love their team – like the Argonauts, they’re so in tune with one another. Not to take away from OPQS but I think, team-wise, the other two have it down pat.
Ant: If OPQS are already setting about bolstering their roster with strong lead-out riders, then they will be on a more level playing field with Argos-Shimano, which in theory should keep Cavendish on top of the pile for a little longer. Kittel has had a brilliant Tour, and has been talked about for some time as a real up-and-coming talent, so we know it’s no flash in the pan, so I expect this to become quite a tidy rivalry. It will be interesting to see how John Degenkolb adapts to this though, maybe he’ll become more of a Classics rider than an out-and-out sprinter, which I can see him doing pretty well.
Has Alberto Contador officially lost his mojo?
Sheree: This year, yes, but I don’t think it’s gone for good, it and he will be back. I loved the fact that he was prepared to gamble his second place for a chance to win – so few riders are prepared to do this – even though he ultimately failed.
Jack: Yes. Cast your mind back to 2010, when Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador emerged inseparable from the mist at the summit of the Col du Tourmalet. Back then, the prospect of the former finishing 20th and the latter fourth would’ve been unthinkable. Fortunately, there’s more than enough time for both to find their best again, and let’s hope they do – cycling’s less fun without them near the front.
Tim: Yes. A fine ride in the mountain TT aside, he has looked a shadow of his former self. He’s still the best street-fighter, still the most exciting to watch, but is he the best rider in the world any more? No. He’s not even second-best any more. Froome and Nibali are the men to beat now, and the likes of Quintana and Carlos Betancur could soon be on the same level.
Kathi: Yes. But I still think he’s one of the most exciting to watch – if he hadn’t been in this Tour, it might have been dire.
Ant: I would have to say yes. It may be a blip this year, but I suspect that he’s going to struggle to challenge Froome, Nibali, Quintana, and next year a revitalised Andy Schleck ;).
Chris: El Pistolero seemed to be shooting blanks this entire year. Frankly, his dramatic decline, especially in the mountains, raises questions about his previous results and the methods he used to achieve them. Yep, I went there.
After five stage wins last year, this wasn’t a great Tour for French riders as we had to wait until stage 18 for the sole French victory: Christophe Riblon’s epic triumph on Alpe d’Huez. What (if anything) went wrong?
Jack: Given France still doesn’t have a genuine world class rider in any of cycling’s disciplines, they still rely on opportunistic moves to pick up wins. By definition, opportunism is dependent on good fortune, which – partly thanks to illness and bad form – they didn’t seem to have much of this year. They still have a talented crop of young riders coming through, and there’s no need for a big inquest.
Tim: A more competitive overall field than last year’s, a yellow jersey who was willing to attack on every stage rather than accumulate marginal gains, and a lack of form by the likes of Voeckler and Pinot. France overachieved last year and underachieved this year. The renaissance continues, but the results weren’t there this time. It happens. I’m not sure anything went wrong as such.
Kathi: Ach, no idea. But I love Christophe. LOVE HIM.
Ant: There seems to be plenty of strength in depth, but I wonder if there is too high a concentration of French riders in a small number of teams. Other than that, Tim and Jack are both on the money in terms of the way the Tour panned out.
Chris: FDJ went wrong for sure. Where were they in the race?? Both the domestic and world tour teams from France seemed to be lacklustre in almost every aspect.
Sheree: I’m not sure anything necessarily went “wrong” more that it was unfortunate a number of riders were downed by illness, injury and the enormous weight of expectation – some of it unrealistic.
Thankfully we’ve had no doping scandals at the Tour, but there has been a lot of talk comparing climbing times, calculating W/kg and encouraging teams/riders to release power data. Is cycling eating itself in its attempt to prove the legality/illegality of riders’ efforts?
Kathi: It seems to be very polarised now. To be honest, I think it’s more a matter of people not liking someone who is doing well and using doping suspicions to vomit up abuse. We should never see a result through rose-coloured glasses but the evisceration of Froome was ridiculous. I’m not a Sky fan by any stretch of the imagination but some of the crap I was reading on Twitter was close to hysteria. That said, we need to have a governing body that we trust, we need independent doping body to verify the results, etc etc. And Sky needs to be on the forefront of this – after all, they promised transparency. They need to deliver on that promise – for their sake, as well as ours.
Ant: You know what, I think that some people spend the off-season visiting nurseries to gleefully tell children that Santa doesn’t exist! I know Santa doesn’t exist, but I bloody well love the presents. It’s all too easy to point the finger, and we could pretty much level suspicion at any rider, in fact, I find the fixation with the top guys is just plain lazy. If doping still goes on, then it is just as likely to be the young domestique desperate to live his dream as it is a Grand Tour winner. So I think, like Kathi, we need a system and structure that takes care of this, and leaves the fans to enjoy the racing.
Chris: Oy vey. I hope that Froome’s comments about his victory standing the test of time are correct, but I will tell you this: Marcel Kittel is definitely hair doping. No one can have hair that looks that good!
Sheree: I was much amused to read that Team Sky had offered to share Froome’s data with WADA and they declined. Sky sent the data to L’Equipe, which passed it onto FDJ’s trainer Fred Grappe but while he made some interesting observations he said it didn’t disprove doping! What’s a team to do: dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t.
Jack: As ITV’s Gary Imlach said, winning itself has become enough to warrant suspicion. Thanks to the doping culture which became ingrained in cycling in past decades, questions asked of the cleanliness of any successful rider are unsurprising – and indicative of cycling’s untrustworthy institutions. Until, through reform, this trust is earned, the suspicion will continue.
Tim: I think teams and riders can do more to increase transparency, but I am also wary about the amount of pseudo-science out there. I’m sorry, but comparing climb times with races from several years ago is ludicrous. Over the course of years, riders continue to improve naturally, then you have to take into account differing road conditions, race situation, wind direction and speed, is it week one or week three, what does the rest of the stage look like – so many variables that mean you’re never comparing like-for-like. Data like this can be a useful tool, but it should never be taken as hard evidence of cheating (or not cheating). It has to be looked at within the wider context.
Enough moping. Let’s consider all things Colombian. Quintana, Betancur, Uran, Henao – who will be the first of these to win a grand tour?
Ant: It’s easy to say immediately after the Tour, but Quintana looks like the best bet to me.
Chris: Hmmm. Which one is riding the Vuelta first? That’s who my money is on.
Sheree: It all depends on who gets the first opportunity as a) team leader in a Grand Tour and b) improves their ability on a time-trial bike. So it’s hard to say but on current evidence you’d have to go with Quintana.
Jack: Quintana, though Betancur pushes him close. Seeing both pick up Grand Tour wins in the next couple of years wouldn’t surprise me, though Quintana’s superior team gives him an added advantage over Betancur at the moment.
Tim: After the Giro, I said Betancur would beat Uran to become the next Colombian to win a grand tour. I’m going to modify that now and say it will be either him or Quintana. And it’s very much a case of when rather than if.
Kathi: Quintana. Uran didn’t seem to be bothered to go for the win in the Giro – he doesn’t strike me as having a real killer instinct, which you need to win a Grand Tour.
Give the 2013 Tour de France a score out of 10, and explain why.
Chris: 9/10 based on these words: Corsica, Kittel, Sagan, GreenWedge, Double D’Huez, Ventoux, Riblon, Quintana, Froome, PolkaPocs, Ryder’s googles and Ax 3 Domaines.
Sheree: I’m giving it 10/10 for sheer enjoyment, element of surprise, magnificent parcours, spectacular finish in Paris, fab weather, start in my home town and yet another British winner giving me bragging rights down at my (French) cycling club in perpetuity.
Jack: 7/10. Let down only by the GC battle, or lack thereof.
Tim: 9/10. It doesn’t matter that the GC battle didn’t go all the way – it was still an exciting race, particularly for the podium places. And, unlike the Giro, which was epic in a different way, we had glorious summer weather for almost the entire race. This was a thing of beauty – we’ll remember it for years to come.
Kathi: 8/10. But it felt more like 10/10 in comparison to last year. It was exciting and guys came to race. And they raced the whole time.
Ant: 9/10. I would have liked to have seen a tighter gap between Froome and the other podium places and a better challenge from Contador, but the contest for 2nd and 3rd place was fantastic, so that’s more of a niggle than a genuine complaint from me.
And finally, as is traditional, summarise the 100th Tour de France in five words.
Sheree: One to savour and remember!
Jack: Surprises everywhere but the GC.
Tim: Froome zooms, echelons, double Alpe.
Kathi: Surprising, exciting, full-on, teamwork, Argonauts
Ant: Polkapants, Hesjegoggles, Kittel, Haircut 100. Or more seriously – God I love this race!
Chris: I was going to go with, “Who has a 61cm Bike!?” but I think I’ll go with, “Thanks for the memories, France!”