Tour de France Stage 21: Greipel storms to fourth win as Froome claims second title

Andre Greipel underlined his sprinting dominance with his fourth stage win on a damp Champs-Élysées, bringing the 2015 Tour de France to a close. Chris Froome was confirmed as both the overall champion – the third win by a British rider in the last four years – and the King of the Mountains. Peter Sagan claimed his fourth consecutive green jersey, while Nairo Quintana, second overall to Froome as he was in 2013, was best young rider.

St 21 profile

Rider of the day

It was fitting that Andre Greipel should claim his tenth career Tour win on the Champs today, as he has been the outstanding sprinter in this year’s race and, if not for Peter Sagan’s incredibly versatility and consistency, would have been a deserving green jersey winner too. It has taken the affable German a while to emerge from the shadow of former HTC teammate Mark Cavendish (who, after suffering a fever overnight, could manage only a forlorn sixth on the cobbles he once dominated), but this marked the fifth successive Tour in which he has won at least one stage, a tribute to his consistency over that period.

The ‘Gorilla’ turned 33 last week but shows no signs of slowing down. Indeed, like a fine wine, he appears to be maturing with age. Salut!

Five reflections on the race

1. Ifs, buts and maybes. Much has been made of the fact that Chris Froome‘s final advantage over runner-up Nairo Quintana was less than the 1:28 he gained in the echelons of stage two. There’s a certain irony that the biggest factor in the battle between the two best climbers in this year’s race turned out to be the flattest stage of the lot. But to claim that Quintana could or should have won discounting that day is a specious argument. The Tour de France is a 21-stage race that includes climbs, descents, cobbles, time trials and flat transitional days. There are no exceptions – it’s the same race for everybody.

Whoever is on top of the GC when the race hits the Champs-Élysées is the rider who deserves to wear the maillot jaune on the final podium. Any discussion of ‘what-ifs’ are part of the fun of following any sport but they don’t mean a thing in the final analysis. Had Quintana been on the right side of the split on stage two, who knows how the race would have unfolded? The only thing we know for sure is that things would have been different. Chris Froome is the winner of the 2015 Tour and he deserves the plaudits that go with it. That is the only fact that matters. Anything else is pure speculation.

2. Scepticism versus cynicism. When Froome destroyed the field on La Pierre St Martin, the internet was immediately awash with unsubstantiated power estimates, accusations and unrepentant ex-doper Laurent Jalabert making dark comments on French TV about performances that were ‘on another planet’, a loaded statement echoing what L’Équipe once said about Lance Armstrong. When Quintana destroyed the field on Alpe d’Huez, the internet was noticeably silent as fans revelled in the attacking verve of an outstanding climber.

Quintana's performance on Alpe d'Huez was greeted with warmth noticeably absent from Froome's ride on La Pierre St Martin (Image: ASO/B Bade)

Quintana’s performance on Alpe d’Huez was (deservedly) greeted with warmth noticeably absent from Froome’s ride on La Pierre St Martin (Image: ASO/B Bade)

What’s the difference between the two? Sky and Froome are seen as ultra-professional, robotic and the equivalent of cycling’s Big Bad with their big budget and new-fangled science, Quintana and Movistar are seen as the romantic underdogs tilting at windmills. Black hats and white hats.

Now I am absolutely *not* saying that Quintana should have been dogged by the same accusations as Froome. But wouldn’t it have been great if Froome had also been afforded the benefit of the doubt rather than being tried and sentenced in the court of public opinion (aka Twitter)? Everyone has an opinion and a personal favourite and that’s fine – cycling is a passionate sport. But when people start stating baseless accusations as fact and inciting the kind of vile actions we saw directed at Froome, his teammates and support staff on several occasions during the race, that is absolutely not fine. It’s irresponsible, is what it is.

Given cycling’s past history of cheating and deception, it’s right and proper that we should be sceptical. But when scepticism turns to cynicism and cynicism turns to a combination of physical assault (a very few) and defamation (rather more than a few), it’s time to start asking ourselves whether we have lost sight of why we fell in love with the sport in the first place. If we cannot believe in anything, then what’s the point? You don’t have to like Froome, but at least respect his achievements. Here endeth the sermon.

3. Was the opening week too hard? I loved the opening week of this year’s Tour, as did most fans. It had a bit of everything: cobbles, some tricky climbs, echelons, lots of hard, nervy racing and barely a routine transitional stage. It made for spectacular viewing. But was it too hard?

It’s easy for us as fans to bemoan that the second half of the race lacked genuine fireworks until its final knockings, and that Movistar’s tactics in particular were too conservative. But riders only have so much energy in the tank, and when they’re tapping in to their reserves in the opening week it reduces their capacity to make big, bold moves in the closing week. Maybe Movistar were a bit too conservative. Or maybe they simply didn’t have the legs to make big efforts every day in the Alps. All that early excitement and the nervousness that went with it exacted a price. Maybe too great a price. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.

4. Statistical oddities. Chris Froome became the first yellow jersey to also win the mountains classification since a certain Eddy Merckx in 1970. (Yes, I know Carlos Sastre is recorded as the winner of both jerseys in 2008, but only after Bernhard Kohl was retrospectively stripped of the polka dot jersey.) He’s also the first ever winner of the king of the mountains to have never worn the jersey on the road, having been yellow-clad on every day he was leading the climbers’ classification.

Peter Sagan won his fourth green jersey in succession, and for the second year in a row achieved this without winning a stage. It’s the 14th time the points classification has been won without a stage victory, and Sagan is the third rider to do it more than once, after Sean Kelly and Erik Zabel.

Nairo Quintana isn’t the first rider to win multiple white jerseys – but he is the first to do so in non-consecutive years.

And finally, despite sustaining injuries early in the race that forced him to ride the team time trial on a road bike because he could not get into a proper aero tuck position, Lotto-Soudal’s Adam Hansen completed his 12th grand tour in a row dating back to the 2011 Vuelta a Espana (a race so long ago that it marked the first grand tour victories for Sagan and Marcel Kittel). Anyone care to bet against him making it a lucky 13th in Spain in September? Thought not.

(Thanks to @irishpeloton for unearthing the Sagan and Quintana stats.)

5. The forgotten men/teams. Of the 22 teams, only 12 won a stage and five ended the race without either a victory or a top 10 GC position to commemorate, including WorldTour squads Cannondale-Garmin and Orica-GreenEDGE. That’s a tough pill to swallow after three gruelling weeks. But, in truth, each of the 160 riders who crossed the line in Paris this evening is a hero in his own right. It is the riders who make the race, from Froome to lanterne rouge Sebastien Chavanel. Chapeau et merci.

Stage 21 result

1. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) 2:49:41

2. Bryan Coquard (Europcar) same time

3. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) s/t

4. Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka) s/t

5. Arnaud Demare (FDJ) s/t

General classification

1. Chris Froome (Sky) 84:46:14

2. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +1:12

3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +5:25

4. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) +8:36

5. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) +9:48

6. Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) +10:47

7 Bauke Mollema (Trek) +15:14

8. Mathias Frank (IAM) +15:39

9. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +16:00

10. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) +17:30

Points winner: Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo).

King of the Mountains winner: Chris Froome (Sky).

Best young rider: Nairo Quintana (Movistar).

Team classification: Movistar.

Link: Official race website

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