Tour de France 2017: A to Z, Part 2 – from Never … to Zig-zag

It’s part two of our super-duper A to Z of the 2017 Tour de France. We go from Never give up to Zig-Zag … (Missed part one? click here!)

N  is for Never Give Up

The Dan Martin ATTACK face

The Tour was interwoven with tales of riders tackling whatever the days brings but none stand out more than Dan Martin‘s roller-coaster GC campaign. After finishing 9th overall in 2016, the Quick-Stepper was determined to improve. A couple of dates with his favoured short, sharp finishes at Longwy and La Planches des Belles Filles saw him zoom to 4th overall. Then Richie Porte‘s horrendous crash on the Mont du Chat took Dan’s bike from under him, leaving him dazed and injured on the road. That he got back on and finished was enough, that he ended the day 6th overall was nothing short of a miracle.

From then on it seemed that every time the road went up Dan Martin attacked – at times he was the only GC contender willing to try and not caring a jot if it didn’t work out. Brilliant as our joint rider of the race on the short, rip-roaring stage 13 to Foix, sneakily wonderful on stage 15 when he stole valuable seconds on Mikel Landa to head into the second rest day at 5th overall. Echelons and tiredness saw him slide back to 6th on stage 16, but he gritted his teeth in the Alps sensing weakness in the struggling Aru one place above him. The Italian held out and Dan finished the Tour in 6th place. It may not have been plain sailing, at times it wasn’t that pretty, but by gosh WE LOVE a rider that gives everything. We’re left wondering what heights he could aim for if he gets a clear run and team built around him.

O is for Off The Front

Who spent more than 1200 km off the front of the peloton? Thomas de Gendt of course! Lotto Soudal’s breakaway machine was his usual awesome self, hitting 12 breaks throughout the race including the one into Paris. When he wasn’t out attacking for a stage win he was riding on the front for kilometre after kilometre in support of his captain Andre Greipel. This phenomenal work rate should surely have been enough to see him atop the podium in Paris for the most attacking rider in the race. Indeed he won the public vote by a huge margin but controversially the jury awarded it to King of Mountains Warren Barguil.

This quote from fellow Belgian BMC’s Greg van Avermaet sums it up:

Most of the riders think about saving, saving, saving, but he thinks about spending, spending, spending. It is a bit strange. He never does the logical thing. If he was not riding in the break, he was riding on the front of the peloton. He is a great athlete and is really strong in Grand Tours. I hoped he would have got the [overall] combativity prize because I think he deserved it.

P is for Poetry

For the last four years, Australian cycling fan TourdeCouch has organised a poetry competition for the Tour. The rules are simple: wrap up the stage in poetic form using 133 characters then share it under the hashtag #tdf133 – one of the best things on Twitter for three weeks in July.

Q is for Quiet Space

Rolling television broadcasts from start to finish give us the flavour of the race, how it develops, how it all plays out. But nothing encapsulates the essence quite like a still image. A moment in time, a fleeting emotion captured with the click of a shutter. This study of Trek-Segafredo’s John Degenkolb by Kristof Ramon needs no further explanation than the accompanying words.

Last week @johndegenkolb came closest to winning a stage in the #TDF2017 where he eventually finished 3rd. Frustrated/disappointed by the race circumstances Dege was left some space/time in the back of the teambus to process it all. I was very anxious whether I should actually be taking a photo of this, but finally decided to try as this situation is as much (even more) part of racing as is winning… As I approached him to the limit (I felt) of his personal space, he aknowledged me but didn't send me off with a gesture or other sign. So I snapped (only) 1 photo. I knew I only needed 1 to document this story. Later that night I showed Dege the pic & asked him if he would be ok if I shared it. After thinking about it for 2 seconds he approved. 'It's ok. That's me'. It became 1 of my fav #TDF2017 pics exactly because of all this. I am blessed to be able to experience this side of procycling as well, because it's on this side the most humane stories take place. Thx J. You are a champ! #tbt

A post shared by Kristof Ramon (@kramon_velophoto) on

R is for #RogueLanda

I wouldn’t hesitate to award Sky’s Mikel Landa the title of strongest climber at this year’s TDF. Whenever KwiatKrush pulled over to the side of the road exhausted, there was always Landa ready to power the Sky train and its captain Chris Froome onwards and upwards. Oh how I longed for more flashes of #RogueLanda after he un-repentedly barnstormed away with Alberto Contador on stage 13. But he was the perfect lieutenant with a face of stone. No one got the meerest inkling of what he was thinking or how close to his limit (or not) he was.

On the crucial stage 18 that finished atop Col d’Izoard we saw a flash of brilliance as he attacked and got a gap, only to lose 12 seconds to Romain Bardet at the finish. The final TT on stage 20 saw him fail to reach the GC podium by one second and wondering what could have been if stages had played out differently. In a recent interview reported by Cycling News it seems he has found his answers.

On the day of the Izoard I could have lifted my foot when they caught me, I could have sat on the wheel, and I would not have lost 12 seconds, but I got ahead and pushed it, which was what Froome wanted, although it was not so good either. He told me to be slower, slower. That day I was very angry because I sacrificed myself without making gains for the team. At no time was the Tour de Froome at risk, and not having made a profit it broke me, to sacrifice my aspiration… it hurts.

The interview goes on to say that he was happy to play the team card, but he does not ever want to be in that situation again, “I would like to win one, or at least try, and if failure or success comes, let it be for my own sake.”

S is for Sky

Five Tour de France titles in six years, four for them for Chris Froome. The captain may not have picked up a stage win for the first time, but Geraint Thomas rode a magnificent opening time trial in his vortex skinsuit to take the victory and the first maillot jaune.  They carried the yellow jersey from Dusseldorf to Paris for 19 of the 21 stages and Luke Rowe managed to acquire the Lanterne Rouge along the way. In a close fought title tilt the team were rarely (if ever) found wanting. Packed with talent, super strong and unflappable it’s no wonder they took the team award for the first time in their history. They certainly deserved the party in Paris.

T is for Third Step

Romain Bardet might have stepped down from second overall in 2016 to the third step in Paris this year but there was a world of difference in his performance. Ag2r-La Mondiale’s captain was ablaze with confidence after a better than expected opening salvo against the clock. His usual devastating descending matched by unflinchingly fierce attacks on the climbs, he took his first TDF mountain finish victory atop the Peyragudes on stage 12 and went toe-to-toe with his competitors for every vital bonus second on the Izoard.

Bardet’s Bandits supported their leader far into the finales, but were at their best as agents of chaos in ambush attacks. Going into the last TT he woke feeling ill and a jour sans it proved to be. The whole of France held their breath as he rode more with his head than his legs, collapsing over the line yet still on the podium by one second. While Bedhead more than matched his rivals on the climbs, his TT skills require some fine tuning if he’s to get to to the top step.

L'objet d'après-Tour : le canapé et l'effort insensé pour en décoller 😌#newbestfriend

A post shared by Romain Bardet (@romainbardet) on

U is for Unexpected Uran Uran

I hardly know what to say about Cannondale – Drapac’s Rigoberto Uran, except that I never saw this coming. The ultimate dark horse just got better and better and closer and closer the longer the race went on. Sure he was 7th at La Planches des Belle Filles but that went unnoticed amidst Aru-mania. In true Mick Jagger fashion, he strutted and freestyled his way to Stage 9 victory on a fixie bike and moved to 4th overall.

Without much support in the mountains he was wonderfully cagey, sticking to the right wheels and sniping for every bonus second he could get. His TT was a flamboyant, no-holds-barred affair that saw him career into the barriers at one point, but carry on to leapfrog into second place. Just watching him on the podium in Paris was a joyful affair, I mean just look at his face.

V is for Victory Roar

There’s nothing quite like getting excited and screaming at the TV at a critical part of the race. I know I’ve yelled myself hoarse at times this year. Sometimes I find myself reaching for the mute button on the TV, wanting to just live in the moment without interruption, but at other times listening to commentators just adds to the buzz. Here’s a couple that made me smile. First up are the Norwegian TV commentators calling home Edvald Boasson Hagen for his solo win on stage 19.

That reaction is staid compared to this from the incomparable Marc Madiot. You can see the explosion building as the FDJ boss watches Arnaud Demare  (nickname Nono) take his first stage victory and the green jersey – wait for it #AllezNono

W is for Wave goodbye

Haimar Zubeldia from Trek-Segafredo and Direct Energie’s Thomas Voeckler bid farewell to the Tour this year. The Spaniard has ridden 29 Grand Tours, the Tour de France 16 times, finishing a la Zubeldia in the top 10 on GC on 5 occasions. Apart from a brief foray to Astana in 2009, he’s ridden for only two teams Euskatel-Euskadi and the various iterations of Trek-Segafredo. He’s the ultimate professional and will be sorely missed.

I can’t think of a more different rider for Zubeldia to make his farewell with than the ultimate showman Thomas Voekler. He has enlivened so many Tours with his derring-do antics.

The tongue and the antics belie his palmares and a rare quality of loyalty to Jean Rene Bernadeau’s teams for 17 years.

Love him or hate him you know you’ll miss him if you look deep enough. Merci Thomas.

The second rest day also brought the announcement of Adriano Malori’s retirement. Movistar’s Italian TT specialist never successfully returned to racing after his terrible crash at the Tour de Saint Luis in 2016 left him with neurological damage.

I want to thank the Movistar family, riders and support staff alike, who have always been close to me, as a rider and as a man. I’ll always have a green ‘M’ on my heart.

Was the is the last wave from Alberto Contador in Paris?

X is for X-riders

We all know how this works, you pair a presenter with an ex-professional to give insights on how the action will play out. But the two have to be complementary and have to have a certain way with chateaux facts for those looong stages with little action. On the start line this year were Robbie McEwan, Sean Kelly, David Millar and Chris Boardman. Now I’d listen Robbie any of day of the week but unfortunately geography makes that impossible.  I’m quite partial to Sean Kelly on Eurosport, he takes no messing about and is a great antidote to outbursts of Carlton Kirbyisms. Over on ITV 4, I’m right with Paul.

Y is for Young Americans

There were three Americans on the start line this year, all of them lining up for Canondale-Drapac. They certainly put the stars and stripes into the whole race – and indeed also the polka dots! Both Taylor Phinney and Nathan Brown wore them after some audacious breakaway action in the first week – and That Boy Phinney was our rider of the race in both Stage 1 and Stage 2 of this year’s Tour.

Z is for Zig-Zag

Stage 15 will be remembered for more than Bardet’s bandits attacking in style and Bauke Mollema‘s solo to victory. It was also stage that gave us Pierre Luc Perichon zigger-zagging up the steepest part of the Col de Peyra Taillade.

Out in the break and anxious to stay there, Fortuneo-Oscaro’s baroudeur wove his way up the incline in fine style. As he said after crossing the finish line, it was either that or explode completely.

So, there we have it our quick run through of the crazy that was the Tour de France 2017.  A bientot

 The last word

I LOVE this image, but that casual indifference reminds me of something…

Style Council anyone? Just me?

For all stage results and final classifications, go to the official Le Tour website

Header Image © Chris Graythen/Getty Images

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