What happened? What didn’t happen, more like.
5. Chris Froome didn’t lose the Tour de France
It was never the most likely outcome, but as I said yesterday Froome hasn’t been looking all that fresh over the last few days so there was an element of risk.
When everything went a bit psychedelic on the Croix de Fer (Stage 20 remix) and attacks were going up the road like firecrackers, anything seemed possible. When it all came back together in the valley to Bourg d’Oisans, it was clear that Sky had things well in hand.
Froome should buy Wout Poels a very nice Jag as a thank you gift, as without his perfectly executed tempo riding in stages 19 and 20, Froome might’ve been in deep trouble. Today, Froome also had Richie Porte doing a big job of work (#sherliggettisms #drink etc) making sure Quintana didn’t get off the leash until it was too late to change the final outcome.
When Quintana did attack, the team didn’t panic. Instead they reverted to their training and rode at threshold to the finish, knowing that it would be enough to secure victory.
Exciting for the fans? No. Effective? Extremely. Yes, Froome dropped more time and another day in the Alps might have been enough to cause real palpitations. But there isn’t another day in the Alps, so.
4. Nearly Nairo just adds to the expectation
Nairo Quintana is a freak. Not just because of the way he climbs (a lot of guys can climb like him on their day) but more because he always looks far better in the third week of a Grand Tour than in the first.
He’s done it in two Tours and a Giro now. Probably he’s just better at maintaining his levels as everyone else is slowly collapsing, but that’s the trick with Grand Tours.
After what felt like an eternity of waiting for him to attack, it finally came, but too late to change the overall result. The assault on Alpe d’Huez was one to remember though, even if he fell just short of catching Thibaut Pinot for the stage win, and a bit further short of stealing the Tour from Froome.
Fairly or not, this will still be remembered as a Tour of ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ for Quintana.
Woulda won if he hadn’t dropped 1’24” on stage 2. If he hadn’t lost 1’04 on stage 10 to La Pierre-Saint-Martin. If he’d attacked earlier on stage 19.
Whatever. That’s racing. Froome was better over the duration. But the sensation of Nairo’s unstoppable rise shows no sign of abating. He was 4’20 behind Froome in 2013, and only 1’12” in 2015.
The anticipation for next year has already started.
3. Nibali’s puncture hands Valverde his first Tour podium
You may think that a puncture at the base of Alpe d’Huez is karma’s punishment for riding off on Chris Froome yesterday, but Vincenzo Nibali is likely to argue it just goes to show that when the race is on, there are no favours.
Whatever your point of view, there’s no doubt that the flat tyre came at the worst possible moment for the Astana man. It crushed any chance of attacking Alejandro Valverde’s third position on GC.
This meant Valverde will earn his first Tour de France podium – which seems odd after more than a decade of the Spaniard lighting up the race. It was a consistent performance from Movistar’s number two man, demonstrating that dual leadership is not necessarily a problem for the team, if managed well.
Movistar director Eusebio Unzue has been in the game for over 30 years, and has managed seven overall wins at the Tour (including the difficult transition from Pedro Delgado to Miguel Indurain in 1991). He knows what he is doing.
So does Valverde, and he shadowed Froome up Alpe d’Huez like a perfect team player, guarding his own place on GC without doing anything to the detriment of his young leader up the road.
Turn the image in any direction you want,it will stay as good as it is now #enjoytheshadows @letour #stage20 #cycling @chrisfroome @alejanvalverde #fans #public #shadows #fightforyellow #TDF #TourDeFrance
A photo posted by Tim De Waele (@tdwsport) on Jul 25, 2015 at 2:41pm PDT
2. Vintage Pinot
Redemption for Thibaut Pinot, whose Tour has been one of misfortune and missed opportunities. After a shocking first two weeks, he recovered some form to claim top-five finishes on stages 14, 17 and 19.
His effort on on Alpe d’Huez, the most prestigious of all summit finishes, was something special. Ducking through rabid crowds wielding costumes, flares, beers and flags like weapons, attacking Ryder Hesjedal repeatedly until he was finally alone, riding on adrenaline and fumes in the knowledge that Nairo Quintana was coming up fast from behind.
It was a victory to savour, and for the third consecutive time a French winner on the famous Alpe.
Start the debate: was Pinot or Romain Bardet the better French rider of the 2015 Tour de France?
1. The Alps
The Alps smashed the Pyrenees for excitement this year. Perhaps it was due to their placement so late in the schedule, with riders exhausted and many climbers knowing their GC chances were finished.
In any case, the winners on stages 17-20 (Geschke, Bardet, Nibali and Pinot) all won with rides of huge daring and strength, while the GC battle finally sparked into life behind them.
In the end, the GC battle was much closer than it looked for the entire Tour. Perhaps one more day in the Alps would have changed the result. We will never know, but for my money the four days in the Alps elevated the Tour above this year’s Giro, the first time I’ve said that since 2011.