“We still have to make the final decision, but the Tour de France is pretty likely,” said Sunweb director Aike Visbeek. “There are a lot of rumors about what the Tour will look like. We will wait to see.”
Sooner or later, Dumoulin will take on the Tour with the full intention of winning the yellow jersey. Many see Dumoulin as the first rider to have the time trial and climbing skills to truly take on Chris Froome. That is certainly the long-term goal. But if Tour organizers present a route that is tilted against Dumoulin’s strengths, July won’t be the centerpiece of his 2018 season.
Filled with confidence, Dumoulin wants the challenge of racing the Tour for the podium.
“We know if he goes to the Tour, he has to race against Chris Froome,” Visbeek said. “That is also an advantage for him. It gives him a motivation to test himself against the best.
“The Giro podium was already a very strong podium, with [Nairo] Quintana and [Vincenzo] Nibali. Tom has to bring his A-game next year to race against guys like Froome. It’s a good position start for Dumoulin next year.”
Dumoulin will close out his season at Tre Valli Varesini and the Giro di Lombardia, and then will take a breather before going into the challenges of 2018.
The Tour route will be revealed October 17, and Dumoulin will be as interested as anyone to see what they come up with. The more time trials the better for the “Butterfly from Maastricht.”
Though Tour officials deny they design a course to attract a specific rider profile, seeing a Tour route with more time trial kilometers next year won’t be a surprise. This year’s Tour was short on TTs, and though ASO likely won’t deliver a TT-friendly course like they did in 2012, more kilometers against the clock are expected.
What’s little we know about the 2018 Tour route is intriguing. The race starts in France’s Vendée with a traditional road stage, so no prologue or short time trial. There’s a likely ride over the Passage du Gois, the treacherous cobblestone causeway that’s underwater during high tide. A team time trial could be in the works in the opening stages. There are rumors of a return to the cobblestones of northern France in week 1. Dumoulin’s Sunweb team recently won the world team time trial championships as well in Norway.
“He is a guy who is very focused. The biggest thing is the confidence knowing that we can do it. The challenge now is to keep working, and stay focused on the details,” Visbeek said. “Tom was making the sacrifices now for many years. To have that payback will only motivate him even more. It was an historical victory, and if he keeps working that way, there will be even more.”
“Now he has the knowledge and confidence about how to win a grand tour,” Visbeek said. “And for our team, it’s even more important. Now we know how to work and manage a grand tour. And that will only help us in the future.”
Plus, we talk about the unconventional La Course women’s race. First it went up the Izoard. Then, it raced around Marseille. Former world champion Lizzie Deignan liked part of it — but not all. Also we talk to Polish champion Kasia Niewiadoma.
This past Saturday, Chris Froome sat in a conference room in Marseille and faced the unwashed masses of the Tour de France press corps. Do not for a moment underestimate my use of the word “unwashed” here. Marseille was swamp-hot on Saturday. Many of us had not done laundry since stage 10.
The pungent press peppered Froome with questions ranging from the bizarre (Will you come to China this year?) to the basic (What was the best moment of this year’s Tour?) to the strangely personal (You’re getting older, how does that feel?). The consummate media pro, Froome offered insightful perspective, cracked jokes, and sidestepped dozens of PR land mines, all while maintaining his usual aww-shucks demeanor.
Chris Froome is very good at media.
Yet for much of this year’s Tour, Froome kept those ninja-like media skills to himself. It is tradition at Le Tour for the maillot jaune to hold a press conference during at least one of the Tour’s rest days. The conferences provide an opportunity for journalists to pose more thorough questions than what can be asked in a post-race scrum.
This year, Team Sky held zero press rest day press conferences. Instead, it hosted an invite-only Q-and-A with select broadcast outlets (no print or digital) on the Tour’s second rest day. Froome took personal responsibility for the silence, and chalked Sky’s media policy up to — you guessed it — marginal gains.
“Rest days are meant to be rest days, and a big press conference is certainly not conducive to recovery,” he said on Saturday. “I felt as though it really helped me this year, being able to switch off on my rest days. That’s what those days are there for, otherwise they’d be called media days.”
Look, I have no doubt that press conferences are annoying and repetitive and are not great for resting sore legs. You must meet with the team media director to go over the potential PR grenades, and then sit down in front of a roomful of pesky reporters (the worst!). But with all due respect to the four-time Tour champ, his 2017 media blackout stunk worse than a roomful of sweaty cycling journalists on a muggy July afternoon in Marseille. Next year I hope he brings the press conferences back. Ditching them altogether sets a bad precedent for the sport.
By inviting some media while denying others, Froome — whether knowingly or inadvertently — copied the “Bad Old Days” media playbook of Lance and Johan. I’ll save you my in-depth analysis on the power of selective media access. Instead, just compare “Every Second Counts” with “Seven Deadly Sins.”
Froome also missed an opportunity to bring back transparency — even just a shred of it — to an otherwise cloudy year for team Sky. In case you missed the 12 months, Team Sky has endured The Year of PR Hell thanks to the cascade of bad press and and some heavy parliamentary probing due to the JiffyWiggogate mess. Froome distanced himself from the mess and clarified his perspective on the situation. Would journalists have asked Froome about Fancy Bears and TUEs and jiffy bags in a press conference? You bet. But denying reporters that opportunity just reinforces Sky’s reputation for obfuscation, not transparency.
Finally, Froome’s invite-only press policy set in motion the worst media moment in recent Tour de France memory. On the Tour’s second rest day, a reporter from Cyclingnews.com arrived at the Sky hotel without an invitation. Team Sky Principal David Brailsford reportedly berated the journalist in front of other reporters for his critical coverage of the team, telling the reporter to, “Stick it up your arse.” Details of the event quickly made their way online, adding more clouds to Sky tour.
Look, I do not wish to bore you with an insider-baseball analysis of the Tour de France’s media infrastructure. Opportunities for any type of in-depth questioning of the major players are few. Every day there are chaotic scrums, mindless TV interviews, and video chats with the maillot jaune. Few of these interactions provide the opportunity for follow-up questions or inquiries about broader topics than the race action.
Does a press conference solve all of these problems? Of course not. But these conferences do enable journalists to broach broader topics. This media dynamic is especially important for Chris Froome, because Froome has a nuanced and intelligent perspective on his sport. He has great takes!
On Saturday we stinking journalists also asked Froome about Sky’s year from hell. We asked him about his perceived place among cycling’s greatest champions. We asked Froome to share his perspective on pro cycling’s budgetary inequity, whether the sport needs a salary cap.
Froome sat for a minute to collect his thoughts, and then gave his answer:
“If you just look at football for example. You look at the best teams typically win the most and can then afford to buy the biggest players and the best players and it’s almost this cycle. We’ve found a similar thing in cycling. Obviously I think my teammates have shown that they are the strongest team in the race. We’ve won the team classification. Mikel Landa has just missed the podium as well. It’s been an amazing race for us this year. If that’s all due to budget — I can’t say. I personally think that is how professional sport works. If a team is successful it is able to reinvest its funds and develop the sport further. If you put a budgetary cap maybe it doesn’t quite incentivize successes they way it is at the moment.”
It was an articulate, thorough answer that would have NEVER come out in a post-race scrum. Froome had to be present and so did the media — stink and all.
Now, many in the cycling world believe Dumoulin is the new rival for Chris Froome, with the skill set that could defeat the British rider at the Tour de France.
“Among the new generation of GC riders, [Dumoulin] is at the top,” said BMC coach and former pro Marco Pinotti. “I think he will be one of the favorites for the Tour de France for the next five years. He has the physical skill, and mental skill.”
DUMOULIN WON A LIVELY and taut 100th edition of cycling’s most unpredictable grand tour. It was the most complete performance in a decade. The Dutchman beat back a fleet of the world’s best climbers with a mix of panache and confidence coupled with climbing finesse and a final-day time trial knock-out.
Journalists often compared Dumoulin to time trial great Miguel Indurain, who won his first major grand tour at 27. There’s a sense within cycling’s pundits that Dumoulin is cycling’s next big rider.
“We already saw what he could do in 2015, and we knew that he could win a grand tour,” said Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué, who directed Indurain in the 1990s. “He rode an impeccable Giro. He deserved the victory.”
Dumoulin’s path to the Giro’s maglia rosa and his steady rise to being the new GC man on the block has two narratives: first, his ascent from the depths of disappointment in the 2015 Vuelta a España to the height of success in the Giro some 20 months later. Second, how Dumoulin fended off a band of climbers in what was arguably the deepest Giro field in decades.
“I’m not the first time trialist who can do well in the mountains,” Dumoulin said. “Miguel Indurain is five steps ahead of me.”
Ask anyone about Dumoulin and they all agree he is a cool cat. He grew up in Maastricht, in the “hilly” part of the Netherlands (elevation 150 feet above sea level). At 6-foot-1 and 157 pounds, he is tall with wide shoulders, and he has found a way to become extremely aerodynamic and powerful simultaneously. He once wanted to become a doctor, but after scoring early successes on the bike, decided to go all-in with cycling. Dumoulin brings intelligence and curiosity to his racing.
“He is very funny and smart, but very competitive, too,” said American teammate Chad Haga. “I’ve seen how hard he worked for this Giro. We spent weeks together at altitude. Tom came here believing he could win.”
Dumoulin turned pro in 2012, and quickly made marks against the clock, winning the bronze medal behind Bradley Wiggins at the 2014 world championships. It was his break-out Vuelta in 2015 that saw Dumoulin’s grand tour potential come to the fore. Without truly targeting the race, he came within one mountain stage of winning the Netherlands’s first grand tour since 1980. It was only superior tactics by Astana that delivered the win to Fabio Aru on the penultimate stage.
“When he lost the Vuelta two years ago, it wasn’t because he wasn’t ready for it. It was because he got out-maneuvered by another team,” said Orica-Scott sport director Matt White. “Had there been anyone else in that valley, he would have won it. He’s been around a couple of years. He’s the man of the future for the grand tours.”
Despite the promising performance in the 2015 Vuelta, he turned all of his attention to honing his time-trial form for 2016. He had two major objectives: the time trials at the Tour de France and the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. He delivered two stage wins in France, including the stage 13 time trial, and won silver in Rio, ahead of Froome in bronze.
“Tom is used to performing under pressure,” said Sunweb sport director Aike Visbeek. “That Tour win had the entire nation watching him, even the king. So he doesn’t get nervous in big races anymore.”
Central to his Giro success was how Dumoulin changed his training over the winter — from one-off peaks targeting specific stage wins to racing and defending for three weeks. When the team saw the Giro’s parcours last winter, they knew it was an ideal next step in Dumoulin’s development. He spent most of his winter and spring camped at altitude in Spain.
“Tom lost weight, a few kilos, and went to training camps for weeks and weeks at Sierra Nevada and Tenerife,” Visbeek continued. “He came to the Giro ready to race.”
Dumoulin is a straight-talker, practical, and not afraid to speak his mind. Always keen to share his thoughts, Dumoulin even joked after his roadside issues on the Stelvio. On more than a few occasions during the Giro, he ruffled feathers during his grand tour coming-out party.
The most telling moments came following an intense defense at Ortisei deep in the Dolomites. He kicked off an old-school “he-said, she-said” polemic when he chided Vincenzo Nibali and Quintana for not helping to chase, haranguing them with, “I hope they lose their podium spots.” They might call him the “Butterfly of Maastricht,” but he clearly has a sting.
“He is a gentleman, but you have to be tough in the mind to be able to win a grand tour,” Visbeek explained. “When you have the jersey, you know they are going to attack you. He is learning that.”
DUMOULIN’S VICTORY WAS IMPORTANT on many levels. The statistics alone are impressive — the first Dutch rider to win the Giro; the first Dutch grand tour winner since Joop Zoetemelk in 1980; and only the third Dutch cyclist in history to win a grand tour.
“He is the next big GC rider,” White said. “I think the Tour de France suits him better than the Giro. At next year’s Tour, he will go into it as one of the favorites. He can match Froome in the time trials, and from what he’s shown at the Giro, staying with the best climbers in the world, he can match him there, too.”
Indeed, his victory seemed to harken the arrival of the first rider who could truly challenge Froome in the Tour on equal footing. While riders like Nibali and Quintana have proven pesky to Sky’s dominance, no one packs that elusive combination of time trial strength and climbing chops to take on Froome on equal terms. On top of that, Dumoulin’s gritty Giro victory only served to prove that he will not crack under pressure.
“When you are leading a grand tour, everybody will want to steal the jersey,” Pinotti said. “It’s a mental fight. He is really showing that he can handle this.”
Dumoulin also hails from cycling’s “new generation,” and neither he nor his team are tainted by the scandals that ripped the sport apart a generation ago.
“Among the new generation of GC riders, Tom is
at the top. I think he will be one of the favorites for the Tour de France for the next five years.”
Dumoulin’s Giro confirmation certainly put him front and center on Team Sky’s radar. “I’ve been following him for a few years, and what he showed during this Giro, I saw it coming awhile now,” Sky principal Dave Brailsford told Dutch journalists. “He has the skil lset to win the Tour. Of course, we want to win a few more first.”
With Froome likely to have only another few years at the top level, some speculated that Sky might try to lure Dumoulin away from Sunweb. However, after winning the Giro, he re-signed with the Dutch Sunweb squad through 2021. The team aims to bring additional heft in the mountains and flats to support him for an assault on the Tour.
“We want to build a team around Tom,” Visbeek said. “He feels comfortable on this team. This is his home, and we are going to do everything we can to help him try to win the Tour.”
Dumoulin’s Tour attempt will have to wait at least until 2018. For the rest of this year, he’ll target the world time trial championship in Norway. A Froome-Dumoulin might have come at this summer’s Vuelta, but the Dutchman confirmed he won’t race the Spanish grand tour, while Froome will.
Dumoulin’s already done something that Froome never has: win the Giro d’Italia.
“Now I want to try to win the Tour de France,” Dumoulin said. A big smile creased his face in Milan. “I need to keep working and improving, but I believe I can do it.”
It’s becoming obvious that when Dumoulin sets his sights on something, he delivers. Cue up the hype machine: Froome vs. Dumoulin, coming soon to a Tour de France near you.
2017 Tour de France, stage 18: Briancon – Col d’Izoard, 179.5km
The Col d’Izoard is a climb of legends in the heart of the French Alps and in the 2017 Tour de France, it happened to be one of only three summit finishes. Normally the Izoard features on stages with more renowned Alpine finishes such as Alpe d’Huez, La Toussuire, or Gap.
The last mountain stage in this year’s Tour finished on the iconic summit. The riders ascended through the lunar-like Casse Déserte, making it tough to choose the best place to grab images. Iri elected to tackle the Casse Déserte. I [Jim] handled the summit finish. I was fully committed to the finish line shot and was secretly hoping for an iconic winning moment. Perhaps a win so bold as the maillot jaune crossing the line first? It could happen, but heck, any dominating solo victory was sure to be epic in the truest sense of the word.
After parking on the backside of the climb (incidentally, the side they climbed on the previous visit to the Izoard), we reached the summit and boom: The image was immediately striking for multiple reasons. The most stunning component was the “reveal” as the riders closed on the finish line. Also, they were graced with an essentially clean background — just jagged spikes of the distant Alpine range.
I arrived at the finish a full three hours ahead of the race only to find photographers already there and claiming spots. I got a front-row, low-angle position for this revealing finish line photo. Then, I had to decide what my framing and composition would be. My options were to shoot tight or a bit wider for more rider and maybe even the finish line banner as well. The peaks in silhouette provided the perfect backdrop, so I chose to start my shots in tighter on the reveal and zoom out a bit as the full bike crested to capture the rider head to toe with his arms up and the fan-lined road at his side. The fans were so energized and jubilant, you can feel their noise in the image.
As the stage played out, we were presented with a battle on this hallowed mountain landscape that one could only dream of. Frenchman Warren Barguil in the maillot à pois made a valiant effort to catch the lone leader and somehow pulled off the unthinkable: a solo victory in the king of the mountains jersey on top of the Col d’Izoard. It happened in the most majestic of places during the greatest race on Earth.
Key image specs:
• Canon 1DX
• Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM
• 1/1250 sec @ f/5.6 ISO 320
• Focal Length: 349mm
• File format: RAW
• Shot from the front row of the finish line
After the Tour de France’s final stage in Paris, Ralph Denk, general manager for Bora-Hansgrohe, told VeloNews that he still believes the UCI botched its decision to disqualify Sagan in the wake of his controversial collision with Mark Cavendish on stage 4. Denk believes the UCI jury was too hasty in its decision, and in doing so, violated its own rules.
The jury never asked Sagan to present his side of the story.
“I wanted the UCI to follow the rules and to have a hearing from the athletes. In this case, that was Peter,” Denk said. “Nothing happened, and that’s why we decided to fight against it.”
Denk is referencing rule 12.2.006, which states, “The Commissaires Panel may judge the matter only if the offending party has had a chance to defend his point of view or if, being present when summoned, he fails to respond.” Denk said Sagan was never asked to testify to the UCI jury before it decided to remove him from the race.
“We have a responsibility to challenge [the ruling]. I think we have a responsibility for all of cycling,” Denk said. “Each sponsor puts in millions in the teams. So we need clear rules for situations like this.”
Sagan’s expulsion was one of two disasters to strike Bora early in the race. The team’s GC rider Rafal Majka crashed on a slippery descent during stage 9 and later abandoned. With both star riders sidelined, Bora had to refocus its efforts around new goals. Denk said the team began to target stages, and ride in support of 25-year-old German rider Emmanuel Buchman.
The pivot in focus presented serious challenges. On stage 11 Polish rider Macej Bodnar looked poised to win after a 200km breakaway. The peloton caught him within sight of the finish line. Bora missed the day’s 54-man breakaway during stage 18 to the Col d’Izoard and was forced to ride the front alongside Team Sky.
“Morale was low — it was deep underground and we had to reset the team,” Denk said. “The guys were all here to support Peter and [Majka].”
Bora pressed on. Buchman rode aggressively in the Alps, pulling himself up to 15th-place overall. The young German notched his country’s best GC result since Andreas Kloden in 2012.
The team then scored its biggest result of the Tour when Bodnar won the final time trial in Marseille. That win, plus Sagan’s stage victory on stage 3, brought Bora into rare company at this year’s Tour de France. Only four teams won two or more stages at this year’s Tour: Bora-Hansgrohe, LottoNL-Jumbo, Quick-Step Floors, and Sunweb.
“We win two stages,” Denk said. “So all is fine for us.”
“I am fourth in the Tour de France, and I don’t feel anything special at all,” Landa said. “I feel empty.”
Landa was perhaps the strongest climber in this Tour de France. Team Sky deployed him perfectly to help carry Froome to a fourth yellow jersey. And Landa kept his part of the deal, staying close to Froome and following team orders.
“In the second week, I had legs to drop everyone,” he said. “But everything unfolded like it did, and that’s how it will always be.”
Landa emerged as one of the top protagonists during this Tour. After the 2015 Giro d’Italia, where he was third overall with two stage wins, Landa went to Team Sky. He’d hoped to lead at the Italian grand tour. In 2016, illness disrupted his racing program. This year, a crash on the stage to Blockhaus derailed his GC ambitions. Still, he bounced back to win the best climber’s jersey and a mountain stage.
The Tour was almost an afterthought. Landa had no ambitions other than to help Froome. That started to change as he rode into form.
“It took me a few days to get my legs into the race, but I was OK because I knew I would be a key piece in the tactical game of the team,” he said. “On the Izoard, I attacked to force Urán and Bardet to come with me, and Froome could come over the top. … I never did anything to put Froome’s leadership in danger. I know that I came to do a job. I cannot complain.”
During the Tour, he knew he would be on a leash. Twice during the race, Landa was called back. First, on the stage to Rousses in the Jura, Landa snuck into a break, but the team told him to sit up. And when Froome suffered a mechanical in stage 15, Landa also waited and helped tow Froome back to the front at a critical moment.
An even more telling moment came on the road to Foix in stage 13. Team Sky started to pull after Landa rode into a promising four-man breakaway that included GC dangerman Nairo Quintana (Movistar). Landa might have gotten yellow that day had Sky not pulled so hard to prevent Quintana from riding back into the GC frame.
Landa deserves credit for not succumbing to temptation and attacking for his own interests. Yet he admits missing out on the podium by one second will sting for quite some time.
“I didn’t give everything I had. Maybe in a month or so, it will seem incredible, but right now, I don’t feel so good,” he said. “When you start to think about where you could have taken back a second … ufff, que rabia!”
“Now I know I can be in the fight for the Tour GC in the future,” he said. “I don’t want to miss any opportunities in the future … This Tour is a crossroads for me. I cannot let this situation repeat itself. It’s my fault that I did not demand to be a leader. I will not return to a grand tour without leadership responsibilities.”
FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Michal Kwiatkowski says he was just doing his job helping Sky teammate Chris Froome win a fourth Tour de France over the last three weeks, but his rides stood out from there rest.
“For sure, the cameras were on me, and for sure people could see when I was there working, bringing bottles, but people just see that because the cameras are on me,” he told VeloNews.
“All of my teammates did a hell of a job. We rode as a unit, all nine, we missed G [Geraint Thomas] after he crashed out, but Luke Rowe, Christian Knees, Sergio Henao, Mikel Nieve, Mikel Landa, Vasil Kiryienka, and Chris Froome, we were one unit. I’m thankful to be part of that team.”
Kwiatkowski joined Sky for 2016 after racing for team Quick-Step Floors. His grand tour climbing legs developed past the point that earned him 11th in the 2013 Tour de France. Often, the television cameras would spot him in the final third of a stage leading Sky over the penultimate pass in a mountain stage. He would typically continue to the last pass, before turning it over to Spaniards Nieve and Landa.
“That it is really important to focus on one goal,” he said when asked what he learned from this Tour. “It was enjoyable to just focus on Chris riding for the GC, and that was important to see that if you just focus on that then you can really perform well over the entire three weeks. That’s my lesson.”
He learned his lessons after years of work. With Quick-Step for four seasons, he won the Amstel Gold Race, the Volta ao Algarve, and the 2014 world championships in Ponferrada. Sky saw potential with Kwiatkowski’s rides, including his 11th in the 2013 Tour, and signed him for the Ardennes classics and smaller stage races.
It did not click in the first year, and he suffered trying to adapt to Sky’s rigorous training. “There are plenty of reasons,” he said in March after winning the Strade Bianche. “I had health problems, but I was pushing my limits. I wanted to impress everyone in training and everywhere. I’m not a machine, sooner or later you pay the bill.”
Over the winter, he had a long talk with team boss David Brailsford and trainer Tim Kerrison. They decided to use a mixed approach, incorporating some of Kwiatkowski’s own training routines with Sky’s.
“I needed to find a balance between racing and training,” he continued. “In Team Sky last year I trained so hard, we found that being ambitious with the recon and power meters wasn’t the way.”
The balance worked. He carried his fitness though the three weeks in France. Kwiatkowski capped it off in the stage 20 time trial with a second place behind Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe). Coincidentally, Bodnar was one of the Polish teammates that helped him to his 2014 worlds title.
“It’s too early to say [if I can ride as a grand tour leader], but I enjoyed racing for Team Sky, performing so well during the entire race.
“Chris was amazing throughout this whole race and I was so happy to support him. For sure, if I can improve a little on the climbing and time trialing, and performing [in] stage races, then I’ll for sure try.”
The 2017 Tour de France wrapped up Sunday with a fourth yellow jersey for Chris Froome. In some ways, this year’s Tour felt familiar. His Sky team rode mercilessly at the front of the peloton, snuffing attacks from rivals. Yet in other ways, this Tour was singular. Froome never unleashed a withering attack in the mountains — he didn’t win a single stage for that matter. Also, his margin of victory was smaller than in any of his other victories at the race, 54 seconds. What does this mean? Did the Tour succeed in building an entertaining race with an unconventional route? Should we reign in Sky’s $40 million budget? Time for a post-Tour roundtable!
How does this Tour title compare to Froome’s three other yellow jerseys?
Fred Dreier (@freddreier): To paraphrase Froome: it was his closest, but not his hardest of the four. In terms of watchability, I’d put it second, behind 2013. Watching Froome battle Quintana (and get dropped) on l’Alpe d’Huez and then Semnoz was real drama.
Caley Fretz (@caleyfretz): It was less dominant, more tactical, and once again proved that Froome is simply a more complete bike racer than most of his rivals.
Andrew Hood (@eurohoody): “Narrowest” gap does not mean the most difficult, or most entertaining. Froome’s 2015 Tour was more challenging to win against a superior Quintana on Alpe d’Huez. What this win represents is Froome’s (and Sky’s) ability to manage the race no matter what they face. This victory was more measured and finessed than his others simply because there were fewer opportunities for Froome to mark differences. Add another mountaintop finale or a longer TT, and the differences would have been more “Froomian” and well into minutes.
Spencer Powlison (@spino_powerlegs): This one is third out of four. My favorite was 2016, when he attacked like a crazy person and won three stages. Sure, the margin of victory was over four minutes, but that was pure panache. I agree that 2013 was a great edition also, with Quintana’s last-ditch attacks on the Alpe. That one is number two. Froome’s 2017 vintage was okay. It had a nice body of uncertainty with a whiff of desperation, but overall it wasn’t lively enough.
Was the ASO’s unconventional Tour route a success, a flop, or irrelevant to the quality of the race?
Fred: For those who were expecting something truly unconventional, This tour became a flop the moment Richie Porte crashed out. I totally get it. I actually expected more dominance from Sky, so I was pleasantly surprised by the small gaps on GC.
Caley: I liked it. A few of the pure sprint stages should have been spiced up a bit (a flat stage finish in Liège? Have they not seen the Ardennes before?), but on the whole the tight GC battle made for good racing.
Andrew: Having climbing stages earlier in the race — stage 5 to Belles Filles and stage 9 to Chambéry — brought some early excitement into the race. Some of the much-bemoaned longer stages are partly geographical, though organizers could whack 25km off those longer stages and have the same result. I like how the Tour is different every year, and TdF technical director Thierry Gouvenou is doing an exceptional job at trying to keep things interesting. At the end of the day, it’s up to the riders to race. I’d like to see one more of those shorter, explosive climbing stages included in each year’s route. One in the Pyrénées, and one in the Alps; fireworks assured.
Spencer: I stirred the pot yesterday with my column on three ways to improve the route. Andy is right that more short mountainous stages would help. Also, would it kill them to add just one more mountaintop finish. And finally, to Caley’s point, the flat stages … so boring. If there wasn’t such a close battle for the second and third positions on the podium, between Rigoberto Urán, Romain Bardet, and Mikel Landa, I would have called this an outright flop. Let’s hope for something more traditional (and entertaining) in 2018.
What stage was the biggest missed opportunity for Rigoberto Urán in the GC race?
Fred: I actually don’t think Rigo missed any opportunities that were truly open to him. Had he lost stage 9 due to that shifting problem, then that would be the easy candidate.
Caley: Looking back, taking a few more risks in the Dusseldorf time trial might have been worth it. Urán lost 1:03 in 14km in the first time trial and just 31 in 22.5km in Marseille. If he’d stayed closer in that first TT he may have found himself in yellow after Froome lost time on Peyragudes.
Andrew: Urán rode a smart race. His team was the most inexperienced among the big GC challengers, so he knew his best opportunity was simply hovering close to Froome and hoping for an opening. Had Froome faltered, Urán would have been first in line to press the advantage. One ill-timed puncture or crash, and Urán might have ended up on top spot in Paris. Is that racing with panache? No. But following wheels was the most prudent thing Urán could have done considering the circumstances of the race.
Spencer: Caley’s right that his stage 1 time trial wasn’t coherent with his station as a true GC contender. Come on — even Bardet beat him that day! He should have also joined Fabio Aru on the attack in stage 9 when Froome had the mechanical. Race or wait? I say game on, especially when you’re an underdog.
What stage was the biggest missed opportunity for Romain Bardet?
Fred: Bardet and Fabio Aru may be kicking themselves for not attacking earlier (and with more force) in those final 10km to Peyragudes. Froome has now admitted he was in the red and possibly bonking. So one has to wonder how he would have reacted to a bunch of attacks earlier in the final climb.
Caley: Stage 14, when Froome had his second key-moment mechanical. Bardet’s Ag2r team smashed it but he should have taken matters into his own hands.
Andrew: Stage 12 in the Pyrénées. When Froome didn’t open up an attack on the Peyresourde, it was a sign that Froome was not on his best day. Even by Froome standards, he looked awful. Bardet played it right by attacking on the final ramp at Peyragudes — he won the stage, after all — but his short-term gain might have been his longer term loss. Had Bardet attacked over the top of the Peyresourde, Froome might have been gapped, and the entire dynamics of the race could have been permanently altered.
Spencer: I agree with Fred and Andy: Stage 12 was the do-or-die moment, and Bardet, even though he won the stage, didn’t take advantage of the situation. Sure, there’s a chance he could have taken time out of Froome on stage 14, but that is less of a sure thing, compared to a summit finish.
Should cycling cap team budgets to encourage parity in big races like the Tour?
Fred: Yes. We’ve now seen cycling’s answer to the New York Yankees/Man United win five of the last six Tours. If that isn’t proof that cash can get you to the top during this era of pro cycling (when spent wisely, of course), then I don’t know what is. A budget could force Sky to look at its murderer’s row (Geraint Thomas, Michal Kwiatkowski, Wout Poels, Mikel Landa, Mikel Nieve, Sergio Henao) and keep two or maybe three.
Caley: Nah. There are other ways to decrease the dominance of a particular team. Dropping team size would be far more effective.
Andrew: That is not realistic in the business model of today’s peloton. Salary caps and budget limitations only work in a “closed” league where teams also share the benefits and have a permanent spot at the table. Money is not the only reason Team Sky is dominating the Tour. Froome is one of those “once in a generation” riders. Put him on another team, and he’d still be very hard to beat. Put a Quintana inside the Sky machine, and the result might be the same. Other teams are catching up, and Froome is getting older. Cycling needs more money, not less.
Spencer: In a fantasy world, I say yes, cap the teams, give them a degree of parity that you see in the NFL, for instance. But as Andy astutely points out, cycling’s messy business model precludes such a controlled system. The good news is, Froome won’t be racing forever, and as Richie Porte, Mikel Landa, and Geraint Thomas have shown us, just because you wear a black-and-blue (or I guess white in this Tour) kit, doesn’t mean you’re a shoo-in for a grand tour victory.