Tour de France 2017: A to Z part 1 – Aruuuuuuuu to Most Valuable

It’s time to run down the A to Z of the Tour de France 2017 – and we’re going to start with a song! Let’s go back to Dusseldorf when the Tour had yet to start and everyone was, in the words of the late Dusty Springfield… wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’.

A  is for Aruuuuuuuuuu

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Fabio Aru that is. The young Italian’s second excursion around France was much better than his first. In 2016 he had a nightmare on the penultimate stage and tumbled out of the top 10. This year he took a swaggering stage win and the polka dots at La Planches des Belles Filles, battled bronchitis to finish 5th overall and was the only non-Team Sky rider to wear the maillot jaune. When he wasn’t in yellow or polka dots, he wore the beautiful Italian tricolore with much panache. Of course, he also provided much discussion on the unwritten rule of attacking the yellow jersey when Froome raised his arm for a mechanical. It’s not really a proper Tour de France without some #Astanadrama.

B  is for Barguil & Bling

With four stage victories, the King of Mountains and the Points jersey, Team Sunweb were a tour-de-force this year – no argument. We LOVE them because not only do they ride for each other but they also have fun doing so. It seems Michael ‘Bling’ Matthews and Warren ‘Wawa’ Barguil were not scheduled to share a room, but once they did it was a match made in heaven. Colour it #bromance!

Let the guys tell you the story with these two videos. Honestly, Warren had me at Hellooo-oh and the story about Bling sleeping in his jersey.

C  is for Comedy Gold

Fans from Down Under deserve a mention. Not only do they watch all the European racing in the middle of the night but they’re such a joyous, interactive group – they even have their own hashtag #couchpeloton, for goodness sake. From #vache spotting to #trolldj (I had to ask too), #toursnacks and sharply comedic remarks about commentator foibles, they never fail to make me giggle. The gold tweeting is wrapped up for each stage by the brilliant Les Vaches Du Tour.

Their fame spreads beyond just cycling. You might have seen one of the doctors on the race with a mop of curls, affectionately nicknamed  Dr Leo Sayer.

Well, it seems the man himself has seen the tweets as well…

#Couchpeloton we salute you, and see you all again for the Vuelta.

D is for Debuts

There is always something special about taking part in your first Tour de France. Imagine the frisson of excitement and nerves that Fortuneo-Oscaro’s youngest rider on the start list Elie Gesbert had to control as he stood on the TT ramp in Dusseldorf waiting to kick the whole thing off. This year we had a first time team made up of first time riders – a debut of debutantes if you will. Step up to the spotlight Wanty Groupe-Gobert. The Belgian Pro-continental outfit certainly made themselves known. Hardly a break went up the road without their kit gaining precious air time and both Yoann Offredo and Guillaume van Keirsbulck made the podium as most combative rider. [And Yoann made it as one of our riders of the race too! – Ed]

It wasn’t just on the flat stages either, young French climbing hope Guillaume Martin finished third on the stage into Station des Rousses and in the top 20 at both Planches des Belles Filles and Peyragurde. All nine riders made it to Paris, where some of them hit the break yet again. I’d call that some debut, guys.

E is for Extra-Extra Extraordinary stage 9

When it comes to those year-end round-ups of the race season, there will surely be two stages that stand out on the 2017 Tour. One involves the expulsion of the World Champion under very dubious circumstances (we’ll get to that later). The other has to be be the extraordinary stage 9 to Chambery, packed with dramatic incidents and far, far too many accidents that altered the course of the race. It was the stage that Richie Porte, Robert Gesink, Manuel Mori and Geraint Thomas crashed out of the race. The day the unwritten rules about attacking the yellow jersey were brought to the fore – again. The photo finish wasn’t without incident as Warren Barguil was taken to the podium protocol tent only to find out he hadn’t won the stage and burst into tears. The victory went to Rigoberto Uran riding a bike that was stuck in one huge gear. You know it’s a key stage when this incident goes almost unreported…

F is for the Fugl-o-meter

Yes really, this is how Danish TV station TV2 rated Jakob Fuglsang‘s performance on a daily basis. Some days, you’re the hummingbird (kolibri) and some you soar like an eagle (ørn). I think most days he was rated as a crow (krage) and once gained seagull (måge) status #grrrr. I’m not sure what happened to the Fugl-o-meter after Birdsong’s painful abandon on stage 13. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if he hasn’t gone on a wild Viking raid, stormed the TV studios and burnt it. I know I would!

G is for Giro/Tour Double

Movistar’s Nairo Quintana was the latest GC contender to attempt the modern equivalent of the search for the Holy Grail. The Colombian who scored second at the Giro was all but invisible at this Tour. It was similar story for 4th-at-the-Giro Thibaut Pinot. FDJ’s capitain came in search of stage wins and the polka dots after a 4th place at his first Giro. Sadly he was more often seen at the back of the peloton even before he abandoned sick, a mere shadow of his majestically stomping-to-victory self. Both riders cited bad legs, exhaustion and problems with timing peak performance after a tough outing in Italy and have forsworn ever attempting the double again.

It wasn’t all bad news for those riders seeking to circuit both Italy and France. King of the Giro Mountains, Mikel Landa, just missed the podium in Paris. Trek Segafredo’s Bauke Mollema made top ten at the Giro and took a fabulous solo victory at Puy-en-Velay.

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H is for Happy Endings

Three riders experienced the heartbreak of being so close to a career-altering stage victory only to have it snatched away. Wawa was wrongly called as the winner of stage 9. Bora-hansgrohe’s Maciej Bodnar was caught by the sprinters metres from the finish line on stage 11 and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) twice found himself on the wrong side of a photo finish on stages 7 and 16. As much as the Tour can be a cruel mistress so the cycling gods can also smile and who didn’t just love it when all three got to stand on the top step of the podium. #TearsofJoy

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I is for Icing on the (birthday) cake

If I had to choose my favourite victory, it would be Direct Energie’s Lilian Calmejane soloing into Station des Rousses on stage 8. A crazy day of racing, an incredible fight between the Frenchman and LottoNL-Jumbo’s Robert Gesink on little more than a goat track, a win placed in peril due to cramps with 5kms to go, and all on the birthday of team owner Jean Rene Bernadeau.

With a debut stage win, a day in the polka dots and two awards for most combative rider it’s no wonder he is often compared with Bernard Hinault.

I promised at the start of the Tour that I’d ride offensively and I’m glad I was true to my words.

 As long as I breathe, I attack” anyone?

He’s also a joker, here he is pulling Tommy ‘The Tongue’ Voeckler faces on his way to victory.

It was done with much affection however.

J is for Juries

Ain’t this the truth!

Race jury decisions are never going to please all of the people all of the time, but those delivered at the Tour this year beggared belief. Not only were they incomprehensible in some cases, but also exhibited the worst characteristics you want from people who are there to see the rules are applied and adhered to –  inconsistency and lack of transparency.

From that sprint on stage four which culminated in World Champion Peter Sagan thrown out of the race for ‘endangering fellow competitors’, to the whole flip-flop of a mess thrown up by time penalties and reversals for taking bidons in the last kilometres on stage 12 left many people questioning not only their wisdom but also their impartiality. When the outcome of a race is affected by such decisions, the least stakeholders should expect is some explanation, not just ‘the jury’s decision is final’. Don’t even get me started on the whole super-combative prize not awarded to Thomas de Gendt.

K is for Kittel

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Marcel Kittel was ON FIRE this tour. The Quickstepper sprint ace romped his way to 5 stage victories taking his TDF tally to 14 and surpassing Erik Zabel‘s all-time German record. The most astonishing thing was the manner of his sprinting. Eschewing the formal sprint train, he preferred to have his team work to keep him position in the final kilometres then set him free to surf the wheels. Once he got within closing distance, he only had to fire up the fast twitch muscles and no one could catch him. As he said himself in the video below, sprinting is like playing a game of tetris.

His competition with Michael Matthews for the maillot vert was fascinating. Marcel wore the jersey for 10 days and held all the aces on the flat terrain, the Sunweb rider getting closer and closer as the terrain got hillier. Illness and finally an abandon on stage 17 robbed us of a potential showdown in Paris.

L is for Last Men Standing

Three weeks of gruelling racing takes its toll. Of the 22 teams on the start line in Dusseldorf, only 7 made it to Paris with all nine riders. Worst affected were FDJ, who finished with three riders and could have swapped their team bus for a family car. Stage winner in the #bleublancrouge Arnaud Demare battled sickness and the clock on stage 8 surrounded by his sprint train, but could not repeat the feat the following day. To much raising of eyebrows, he missed the time cut along with three of his guardian angels. Arthur Vichot and Tibbles abandoned in the following stages. The three musketeers who remained didn’t just ride home in the pack. They attacked the breaks, interfered in the finishes and carried the colours to 6th place on the Champs Elysee. Chapeau Rudy Molard, and roommates Davide Cimolai and Oliver Le Gac  who refused to be parted even when a single room was offered.

 M is for Most Valuable

Would Chris Froome have won the Tour de France without Michal Kwiatkowski? I don’t think so. Even in a team packed with superdomestique superstars #KwiatKrush is a cut above the rest. In his own right, he led the way in the opening TT and was a single second away from victory at the closing. As wingman for his captain, his work rate was simply outstanding. Always there for bidons and musettes, wheel changes and echelons, pace setting on mountains and chasing down the break. Unflappable and with a wicked sense of humour.

Hoping to see more of Michal magic later in the season.

To go to part 2, N to Z, click here 

Header image: © Chris Graythen/Getty Images

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