Changing Reputations from the 2019 Tour de France

Changing Reputations from the 2019 Tour de France

The Tour de France was over for another year and while the change from Team Sky to Team INEOS did not stop them winning the race, the line of British riders came to an end as Egan Bernal became the first Colombian to win the Tour. In a race where some of the big names of cycling – such as Chris Froome, Mark Cavendish and Tom Dumoulin – were missing, the race was wide open for many.

Before we start looking ahead to the Vuelta a España, I wanted to bring an end to this year’s Tour to look at some riders who enhanced their reputations and also a few who disappointed by not reaching the levels expected.

Reputation Enhanced

cycling Tour De France 2019 Ineos winEgan Bernal: The Colombian rode his first Grand Tour at the 2018 Tour de France as a key super-domestique for Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome, finishing 15thin the General Classification. Given the joint-leadership of INEOS alongside Thomas this year, he proved to be one of the strongest in the Alps and took the yellow jersey on Stag 19’s climb of the Col d l’Iseran. With Bernal, Thomas, Froome and (according to rumours) 2019 Giro d’Italia champion Richard Carapaz on INEOS’ books next year they are not short for quality, but as the youngest Tour de France winner since 1909, Bernal looks to be a star of the next 10 years.

Julian Alaphilippe: Bernal may have won the race, but Alaphilippe was the star of this year’s Tour and I’m so glad he was recognised with the Combativity award. Last year’s King of the Mountains was always going to be a danger for stage victories, which would give him a chance of wearing the yellow jersey, but he ended up holding the race lead for 14 stages. Rather than just defending the lead, he continued to attack, bringing life to Stage 10 when he used the crosswinds to attack the peloton. Even when people started to say that he was in the stages where he would start to lose time, he won the Individual Time Trial and then put time into most of his rivals on the Col du Tourmalet.

cycling alaphilippe macron pinot
Alaphilippe and Pinot brought pride back to French cycling

He was already the number 1 rider in the world, but in terms of Grand Tours, this race took him from a dangerous rider to a genuine GC contender.

Thibaut Pinot: Stage 10 aside (where poor positioning in the peloton as Alaphilippe attacked caused him to lose time to his GC rivals), Thibaut Pinot was one of the strongest GC competitors this year and looked so dangerous on the climbs, including his win on the Col du Tourmalet. Alongside Alaphilippe, Pinot put pride back into French cycling and would likely have challenged for the race victory over the final stages if he hadn’t been forced to abandon the race with a torn muscle in his thigh.

Caleb Ewan: Moving from the GC contenders to the sprinters, Caleb Ewan may not have been able to win the green jersey, but he was arguably the star of the sprints, with his 3 stage wins the most of any rider this year, including on the Champs-Élysées. Beyond that, though, it was the manner of his victories as he often found his success with a late surge to the first place, while his first win came after he lost his lead-out man Jasper De Buyst when he came off the road trying to bring Ewan to the front of the peloton. We seem to be seeing a changing of the guard with the sprinters, and Ewan looks like he will be at the forefront of it.

Dylan van Baarle: You have to be a high-quality rider to be representing Team INEOS at a Grand Tour, but van Baarle outdid himself this year. With some of their key mountain domestiques struggling in the final week, van Baarle took on an unfamiliar role in being one of the main men leading Thomas and Bernal up the climbs, while his 46th place on GC was by far his best finish in a Grand Tour. Without van Baarle picking up the slack in the mountains, Sky probably wouldn’t be celebrating filling the first 2 stops on the podium.

Disappointing Race

Adam Yates: winner of the Young rider classification in the 2016 Tour, where he finished 4th overall, so much has become expected of Adam Yates, especially considering how well he and brother Simon have improved their performances in Time Trials. Nominated as the Mitchelton–Scott team leader, Yates found himself dropping away from the leaders far too often and was so far behin in the GC, it allowed his brother Simon to switch priorities from supporting him to hunting stage wins just halfway through the race.

Romain Bardet: Another who found himself dropping away from the leaders far too easy in the stages, Bardet has long been the man the French have been pinning their hopes on but was invisible for much of the race. He was so far off the pace, he was allowed to get away in a couple of late breakaways to win the King of the Mountains classification, the only silver lining for a poor race.

cycling QuintanaNairo Quintana: Is Quintana the most disappointing GC rider of recent years? This year’s race saw the Colombian drop so far out of contention that he was allowed to get away in breaks, but then had one super strong day on Stage 18 where he broke the record for the quickest climb of the Col du Galibier, which put him back in GC contention, eventually finishing 8th.

André Greipel: As I mentioned when praising Caleb Ewan, we are seeing a changing of the guard in the Points classification as the young sprinters are taking over from the older racers. At 37 years old, it looks like Greipel’s time competing for Grand Tour stage victories may be over as he only managed to finish in the top 10 of a stage once – 6th on the Champs-Élysées.

Doug Ryder: Finishing off with team owner rather than a rider. Despite having 30 stage victories to his name, Dimension Data chose to not include Mark Cavendish in their line-up for the Tour. The team were initially planning to include him but were overruled by Ryder despite Cavendish appearing to fit the team’s strategy better. Though he has struggled with illness in recent years, his replacement Giacomo Nizzolo managed one 4th and two 7th-place finishes, while Edvald Boasson Hagen finished 5th on the Champs-Élysées… not really the success they would have been hoping for.

Magic Moments on the Tour de France 2019

Magic Moments on the Tour de France 2019

The Tour de France is the one cycling event that is so famous, its name is known well beyond cycling and sporting circles. The 2nd of the 3 Grand Tours every year, injuries to Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin saw them both replaced ahead of the race, but while this impacted the battle for the General Classification, it did not overly harm what ended up being a great race.

We had Movistar and Team INEOS showing the strength of their squads at the front of the peloton… We had one of the closest fights for both the green and yellow jerseys in recent memory… We so nearly had a French champion again, but instead ended up with the youngest champion in 100 years and the first Colombian Tour de France winner ever in Egan Bernal.


General Classification (GC – Yellow Jersey):

  1. Egan Bernal (COL) – Team Ineos – 82 hours, 57 minutes
  2. Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Ineos + 1 minute, 11 seconds
  3. Steven Kruijswijk (NED) – Team Jumbo–Visma + 1 minute, 31 seconds

Points Classification (Green Jersey)

  1. Peter Sagan (SVK) – Bora–Hansgrohe – 316 points
  2. Caleb Ewan (AUS) – Lotto–Soudal – 248 points
  3. Elia Viviani (ITA) – Deceuninck–Quick-Step – 224 points

Mountains Classification (KOM – Polka Dot Jersey)

  1. Romain Bardet (FRA) – AG2R La Mondiale – 86 points
  2. Egan Bernal (COL) – Team Ineos – 78 points
  3. Tim Wellens (BEL) – Lotto–Soudal – 75 points

Young Rider Classification (White Jersey)

  1. Egan Bernal (COL) – Team Ineos – 82 hours, 57 minutes
  2. David Gaudu (FRA) – Groupama–FDJ + 23 minutes, 58 seconds
  3. Enric Mas (ESP) – Deceuninck–Quick-Step + 58 minutes, 20 seconds

Team Classification

  1. Movistar Team – 248 hours, 58 minutes, 15 seconds
  2. Trek–Segafredo + 47 minutes, 54 seconds
  3. Team Ineos + 57 minutes, 52 seconds

In celebration of the 2019 Tour, I wanted to look back at some of my personal highlights of the race. Let me know what your highlights were.

Alaphilippe in yellow

French success in the Tour’s General Classification has been limited in recent years, with Tony Gallopin the last French rider to wear the Yellow Jersey, back in 2014.

Deceuninck–Quick-Step’s Julian Alaphilippe though has been giving his country something to cheer about recently, following up winning the KOM last year with victory at the Tour of Britain on his way to becoming the Number 1 ranked rider. On Stage 3, Alaphilippe took his chance on the final climb, attacking the main group and passing Tim Wellens – who had been the last remaining rider from the breakaway – to cross the line in first, 26 seconds ahead of anyone else. The win and time difference were enough for the popular Frenchman to take the Yellow Jersey from Team Jumbo–Visma’s Mike Teunissen.

Finishing the trifecta

2018 saw Elia Viviani win stages in both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, leaving the Tour as the only one of the Grand Tours where he was still looking for a stage victory. This year’s Giro saw him consistently just missing out to other riders in the bunch sprints and eventually finishing without a win, so coming into the Tour it was obvious that he would want to get a stage victory and complete the trifecta. That came on Stage 4 as a great lead-out from his Deceuninck–Quick-Step teammates saw him cross the line first.

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The Deceuninck–Quick-Step lead-outs throughout the race were a kaleidoscope of colour. Image Source

While that in itself was great, Viviani’s emotional response when he reached his team showed just how much it meant for him, especially as he will be leaving at the end of the season. But what made it even more beautiful was watching the lead-out, as Alaphilippe (Yellow Jersey), Michael Mørkøv (Danish National Champion Jersey) and Max Richeze (Argentine National Champion Jersey) provided a rainbow of colours as they led their man to victory.

Masters of the climbs

Stage 6 and its finish on La Planche des Belles Filles is one that will live in the memory and got my so hyped watching it. It feels so long since Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde has been looked at as a leader and GC contender, but winning the 2018 UCI Road World Championship was a great reminder of his quality. As the race heated up on the penultimate climb, Valverde made his way to the front of the GC group and began to set an incredible pace. Such was the pace he was setting on a tough climb, even the much-vaunted super-domestiques of Team Ineos and other teams found themselves being dropped from a quickly-thinning group. Unfortunately, his Movistar teammates Mikel Landa – who attempted to attack after Valverde was spent and was soon caught – and Nairo Quintana were unable to take advantage and lost time to some of their GC rivals.

Beyond that, in the final kilometre of the final climb, the Yellow Jersey of Julian Alaphilippe suddenly sprung away from the GC group in the dust in an attempt to hold onto the Jersey (he would eventually miss out to Giulio Ciccone, who had been in the break, by 6 seconds). After initially leaving everyone else behind, defending champion Geraint Thomas and France’s best hope for a GC win Thibaut Pinot also pulled away from the group and managed to pass Alaphilippe (on the line in Pinot’s case) to put a couple of seconds into all their rivals. After losing 5 seconds on Stage 3, Thomas showed he was going to be fighting hard to defend his title, while Pinot showed that he is going to put up a challenge this year after a strong performance at the Critérium du Dauphiné.

Gone with the (cross)wind

Stage 10 was meant to be a nice easy day off for the GC riders before the rest day. And then the winds arrived. EF Education First and Team Ineos both tried to throw the peloton into disarray by upping the pace at the front to little effect. Things changed though when Julian Alaphilippe (yes, him again!) decided to take control in the yellow jersey and up the pace with the help of his Deceuninck–Quick-Step teammates, splitting the peloton into multiple groups. EF found themselves outside the lead group, along with Thibaut Pinot and many of the other GC contenders, so Ineos joined in with Deceuninck to take advantage of the situation, resulting in Geraint Thomas rising to 2nd in the GC behind Alaphilippe. Spare a thought as well for George Bennett, who started the stage 4th in the GC (1’ 12” behind the maillot jaune) but due to a questionable team decision found himself at the back of the peloton picking up water bottles for the team as Alaphilippe attacked, resulting in him dropping down to 27th overall, 11’ 01” off the lead.

The first of many

Moving away from Alaphilippe for a moment, Stage 11 is one that will live long in the memory for Lotto–Soudal’s Caleb Ewan. The Australian, riding his first ever Tour de France, took what would go on to be the first of 3 stage victories in this year’s race. While that is obviously great for him, what gets it on this list is that when you watch the stage back, you realise that he lost his lead-out man Jasper De Buyst a few kilometres out from the finish as he came off the road leading Ewan to the front of the peloton. So many people could have given up at that point, but Ewan got himself on the right wheel and timed his sprint perfectly to just get ahead of Dylan Groenewegen before the line.

Trial of the yellow jersey

With Tom Dumoulin and Chris Froome not involved in this year’s race and Rohan Dennis pulling out the day before, the Individual Time Trial looked wide open. Wout van Aert was looking good for an amazing time, until he took a turn a little too tight and caught the fence, coming down hard and having to abandon the race through injury. This left things open for Thomas De Gendt to set the fastest time. Geraint Thomas was the penultimate rider off the ramp and when he crossed the finish line 12 seconds ahead of De Gendt, a stage victory looked on the cards.

cycling alaphilippe ITTAnd then came Alaphilippe. As race leader, he was last off the ramp and though the route was favourable for him, the expectation was that he would lose time to some of his GC rivals on this stage. Instead, he passed the checkpoints with better split times than Thomas and as the home crowd cheered him on, he powered up the final climb and through the last couple of hundred metres to finish 14 seconds ahead of Thomas and increase his lead in the maillot jaune.

French revolution

If Stage 13 was where Alaphilippe would likely lose time to his rivals, Stage 14 and its finale on the Col du Tourmalet was where he was bound to break. Alaphilippe, however, had other plans, as he gained more time on Geraint Thomas in the final kilometre when he, Thibaut Pinot, Egan Bernal, Steven Kruijswijk, Emanuel Buchmann and Mikel Landa pulled away from the defending champion.

In a great day for French cycling fans, Pinot attacked in the final 250 metres to win the stage, while Alaphilippe was next across the line to increase his lead over everyone else in the General Classification.

Weather woes

If Stage 14 was a great day for French cycling fans, Stage 19 was the opposite for them. A tearful Thibaut Pinot was forced to abandon early in the stage with a torn thigh muscle, ending what had looked to be a hugely promising race for him.

Things got even worse as Egan Bernal attacked during the climb up the Col de l’Iseran. While Kruijswijk, Buchmann and Thomas could not stick with Bernal, they were still able to drop Alaphilippe enough for Bernal to take the virtual lead before the summit.

Then things went crazy as the weather turned dramatically on the descent, with a hail storm and snow making the descent treacherous and a mudslide blocking a section of the road, leading to the race being neutralised and cancelled, with finish times being taken from the summit of the Iseran, resulting in Bernal taking the yellow jersey and Alaphilippe dropping down to 2nd.

While this was far from ideal, I can’t imagine any better way to have dealt with this freak occurrence, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for some of the riders as Alaphilippe was gaining time back on the descent and Steven Kruijswijk admitted that he had planned to attack on the final climb.

cycling bernal yellow thomasClimbing to history

The weather that prematurely ended Stage 19 had a huge impact on Stage 20 too, as a series of other landslides blocked sections of road and led to the final stage of climbing being cut from 130km to 59.5km, with just the final climb (Val Thorens) remaining.

Vincenzo Nibali won the stage from the break, but the big highlight here was Alaphilippe being dropped again on the climb, which saw him fall to 5th overall in the GC, while Bernal and Thomas crossed the line together to take the 1-2 on GC, Bernal becoming the first Colombian to win the Tour de France.

Man Down: What next for Froome and Ineos?

Man Down: What next for Froome and Ineos?

Last weekend, Chris Froome was preparing to take part in his 7th Critérium du Dauphiné with a view to being ready to challenge for a record-equalling 5th Tour de France title. Now, he finds himself recovering in hospital, after a high speed crash on a practice run left him with a fractured right femur, broken hip, fractured neck, fractured elbow and fractured ribs.

Such a serious set of injuries will not be a quick recovery and estimates of the time he will be out are starting at 6 months. So the question becomes: What next?

Team Ineos

cycling geraint thomas no1
Geraint Thomas will now surely be Ineos’ team leader as he goes for back-to-back Tour de France victories

I start with Ineos as they are the ones who have more immediate thoughts, with the Tour kicking off on July 6th, they knew immediately that there was no way their team leader would be taking any part following his crash. Luckily, if any team can lose their team leader less than a month out from a Grand Tour and still expect to emerge with the winner, it’s Ineos. Last year’s race showed just how strong they were, with Geraint Thomas winning the race and young Colombian Egan Bernal starring in the mountains. Bernal was in fact meant to be the team leader at this year’s Giro, only to miss his opportunity due to injury. While Froome may have been option A, Ineos’ option B and option C would be option As in pretty much any other team.

Slightly longer term, Bernal’s injury also gave a chance for young riders Tao Geoghegan Hart and Pavel Sivakov to experience leading a team. While they may not quite be at the same level as some of the other team leaders around them, they also went with a relatively young team to the Giro, and a more experienced line-up (including other top domestiques like Vasil Kiriyenka, Michal Kwiatkowski, Luke Rowe and Wout Poels) could give them every chance of competing. Sky have plenty of strength and while Froome is a loss, they can overcome this and may even look back at this as a great opportunity to give some of the next generation of stars more experience.

Chris Froome

As for Froome, recovery is the only thing that’s important right now. I’m no medical expert, but if he is back riding in 6 months then I’ll be shocked. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if, given his previous accomplishments (he has 6 Grand Tour Victories to his name, potentially soon to be 7 after Juan José Cobo was stripped of his 2011 Vuelta a España title after being found guilty of doping), he made the decision to retire from racing, which would be a shame for him to go out in such a disappointing way.

cycling chris froome yellow climb
Have we seen Chris Froome in the yellow jersey for the last time? – Image by ruby_roubaix

If he does come back, will he be able to get back to his best? He will be 35 by the time next season’s Grand Tours come around, an age above which not many riders have won a Grand Tour, especially the Tour de France. If he does return to competing, then I think it far more likely that he is frequently used as a super-domestique for another team leaders and an option B or C in the Grand Tours. He rode as a domestique in the recent Tour de Yorkshire and marshalling the team to help Chris Lawless take the team’s first race victory under the new sponsors. With a number of Ineos’ top domestiques aging, this may be the perfect role for Froome to fill and help the next generation for a couple more years.

Whatever happens in Froome’s future though will likely depend on the success and speed of his recovery. Fingers crossed he has a successful recovery and we get to see him riding for another Tour de France title again in the future.

Eyes On: Tour de France 2018

Eyes On: Tour de France 2018

The Tour de France is over for another year and for the 6th time in 7 years, Team Sky are emerging victorious in the General Classification – though maybe not with the rider everyone was expecting. The final standings in the various classifications were as follows:

  • General Classification:
  1. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) – 83h 17’ 13”
  2. Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) – + 1’ 51”
  3. Chris Froome (Team Sky) – + 2’ 24”
  • Points Classification:
  1. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) – 477
  2. Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) – 246
  3. Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) – 203
  • Mountains Classification:
  1. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) – 170
  2. Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic) – 91
  3. Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) – 76
  • Young Rider Classification:
  1. Pierre Latour (AG2R La Mondiale) 83h 39’ 26”
  2. Egan Bernal (Team Sky) – + 5’ 39”
  3. Guillaume Martin (Wanty-Goupe Gobert) – + 22’ 05”
  • Team Classification:
  1. Movistar Team – 250h 24’ 53”
  2. Bahrain-Merida – + 12’ 33”
  3. Team Sky – + 31’ 14”
  • Combativity Award: Dan Martin

History made, but not as expected

Though many likely expected a Team Sky rider to be standing on the top of the podium, I think most would admit that they would have been expecting to see Chris Froome there winning his 5th Tour de France title and 4th consecutive Grand Tour. Instead, it was his teammate and former super-domestique now co-leader Geraint Thomas who made history by becoming the first Welshman to win the Tour. With Froome having competed in the Giro d’Italia, it was unclear how fresh he would be for this race – and at one point it was unclear if he would be allowed to race while the investigation into his adverse test result from last year’s Vuelta continued – so Thomas was given the lead of the team in the 2018 Critérium du Dauphiné, which he won, and was given protected status as co-leader for this race.

20180730_193411.jpgAs is always the way in the Grand Tours, Team Sky brought a dominant roster to the race which certainly gave both Thomas and Froome every chance to compete, but whereas previously Thomas had struggled from poor days or poor fortune, this time he was able to keep himself where he needed every day and was able to avoid any bad luck, while many of his competitors in the General Classification lost time early on. Chris Froome lost 50 seconds on Stage 1 when he came off the road, while Richie Porte (who later retired injured on Stage 9) and Adam Yates also lost the same amount of time courtesy of another incident. Tom Dumoulin lost time after contact with Romain Bardet left him in need of a wheel change within 6km of the finish line and lost 53 seconds on the road with a further 20 seconds being added as a penalty for spending too much time drafting behind his team car to get back on. Romain Bardet had almost half a dozen bike/wheel changes on the cobbles of Stage 9 and expended so much energy to only finish 7 seconds down on the day, but struggled with a number of domestiques abandoning early, while Vincenzo Nibali crashed out on Stage 12 and Movistar could not decide which rider out of Mike Landa, Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde to support.

Despite all these issues for his competitors though, “G” was fully deserving of the victory as he was able to deal with all of his rivals attacks and was often stuck on Dumoulin’s wheel when he attacked almost as if the Dutchman was another super-domestique, before attacking himself in the final kilometres to win Stage 11 (where he took yellow) and Stage 12 – where he became the first yellow jersey to win on Alpe d’Huez. I’ve noted previously that to win on GC, you have to be strong all-round. Thomas can climb with the best of them and also has a good sprint at the end of mountain stages, while also being an above-average time trialist – good enough to limit Dumoulin and Froome’s gains on the final day to less than 20 seconds. Watching G in interviews, he is just so likeable and after seeing his reaction to winning on Alpe d’Huez and seeing him break down after the time trial, not to mention his off the cuff speech on the podium in front of the Arc de Triomphe where he tried to thank everyone and promptly forgot the names of his teammates and only remembered his wife at the last minute, it was impossible not to be rooting for him.

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7 Grand Tours, 4 Olympic medals & 3 Commonwealth Games medals in 1 photo

Speaking of Froome, do not expect this to be the end of an era. Very few team leaders would ride 4 consecutive Grand Tours and it seems that this was just 1 race too far for him. He was still competitive throughout but in the last couple of days just did not have the legs to hold on against Thomas and Dumoulin, but responded well and became a willing domestique for Thomas in the final days. It will be interesting to see how Team Sky structure their rosters moving forward with both of these riders on their books. Will they use them in separate races to each get the benefit of a full team? Or will they work as co-leaders until the leader is clear and the other becomes a domestique? Do not rule out either option and a continued run of Team Sky dominance in the Grand Tours.

A new star

That dominance in the GC may not even have to come from Froome or Thomas, though, as young Colombian Egan Bernal announced himself on the Grand Tour scene with a wonderful race! The youngest rider in the race did not seem phased and was often one of the last remaining domestiques on the mountain stages and – much like Froome in 2012 – I occasionally got the feeling that he was holding back to protect his leaders. So many times we saw the big names in the GC try to attack on the final climbs only to be drawn back in by a group led by Bernal and his impact on the race only seemed to grow as the race went on, when he could have easily faded due to inexperience and extra workload due to Gianni Moscon being removed from the race. It may not happen this year or next year, but it surely won’t be long until we see Bernal leading a team at a Grand Tour and to be honest, when he gets that chance I’d expect him to be pushing for at least a podium position.

Survival of the fittest

The Points Classification started so well with a couple of early stage victories for Fernando Gaviria, however the excitement soon came to a premature end. Last year’s green jersey winner Michael Matthews was out early following a crash. Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish and Mark Renshaw all missed the cut-off time on Stage 11, while Gaviria, André Greipel and Dylan Groenewegen all abandoned on Stage 12. With Arnaud Démare having had issues on the early sprint stages, the Points Classification was over as a competition Alexander Kristoff failing to win the intermediate sprint on Stage 16 meant that Peter Sagan was mathematically assured of the victory provided he made it to the end. The only excitement came after he fell the next day, though he was able to continue racing without having to worry about competing at the sprints.

Granted, crashes and injuries are difficult to predict, but too often in the Tour de France, the race for the green jersey is more about who can make it over the mountains in decent shape, something that currently too few specialist sprinters are able to do.

Not good enough

A crash for Thomas during the 2017 Giro d’Italia prompted me to write a piece about how outside influences can heavily affect the result of the Grand Tours. Well 14 months later and things haven’t really changed judging by this race.

Froome and Team Sky’s dominance over the years – and Froome’s adverse drug test – have made them very unpopular in France but where most people will g as far as booing, too many people decide to take it further. Team Sky riders, especially Froome, were repeatedly spat at and had liquids thrown at them throughout the race, while one spectator tried to push Froome off his bike on Stage 12 and was actually able to make contact with him (thankfully not enough to make him fall) and another tried to grab Thomas towards the end of one of the recent stages. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Froome actually found himself pushed off of his bike on the way down to the team bus from the finish line of Stage 17 after not recognising him. Not a great look.

It wasn’t just Team Sky who came into problems during the race as a combination of a flare from the crowd, a motorbike too close to the riders and a crowd too enclosed resulted in Vincenzo Nibali crashing on Stage 12 and abandoning the race with a fractured vertebra. Not only that but a protest by farmers on Stage 16 saw them try to block the road with hay bales, while the response of the policy to pepper spray the protesters caused the race to be stopped for 11 minutes after the pepper spray blew back into the eyes of the peloton.

If a professional event like the World Cup or the Super Bowl had even half these issues, there would be hell to pay! The tournament organisers have a lot of work to do to ensure the safety of the riders and the safety of the race result.

The Italian Job: Giro 101

The Italian Job: Giro 101

The 2018 Giro d’Italia came to an end last weekend. 3 weeks of some of the best cyclists in the world making their way around Italy (mostly) in the first of this year’s Grand Tours.

Defending Champion Tom Dumoulin started as he finished in 2017 by winning the short time trial on Stage 1, however he handed over the pink jersey to BMC’s Rohan Dennis after he picked up some bonus seconds during an intermediate sprint on Stage 2 and never manged to get the jersey back, with Simon Yates and eventually Chris Froome the only other riders to wear the jersey during the race. The final standings in the main classifications were:froomepink

  • General Classification:
    1. Chris Froome (Team Sky)
    2. Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb)
    3. Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana)
  • Points Classification:
    • Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors)
  • Mountains Classification:
    • Chris Froome (Team Sky)
  • Young Rider Classification:
    • Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana)
  • Team Classification:
    • Team Sky

Hard-fought victory

This was far from the usual Grand Tour victory that we have come to know from Chris Froome. His preparation for the Giro could not have gone much worse as he has been forced to protest his innocence following an adverse test result during last year’s Vuelta that found his with twice the legal level of Salbutamol in his blood. Things got even worse for him after he came off his bike on his recon ahead of Stage 1, injuring his leg.

zoncolanDave Brailsford said in interviews that due to the Giro being so early in the season, Froome was coming into the race a little below where he would usually be starting a Tour, with the idea of growing into the race, but that his injury meant that he spent the early days recovering before he could begin to grow into the race. He struggled for the first half of the race, being dropped from the leaders’ pack on a number of occasions and not looking at all comfortable on his bike following a slip about 5km from the end on Stage 8. Team Sky stuck with their man though and if anything probably benefited from not having to control the race for the majority of the stages and Froome gave a hint that he was building into the race with his climb up the Monte Zoncolan to win Stage 14. A poor day on Stage 15 suggested that maybe Froome had pushed himself too hard the day before, but after the second rest day he really came into his own. A top 5 placing on Stage 16’s time trial left him less than 40 seconds off the podium and it was his attack on Stage 18 that finally suggested Simon Yates could be beaten. The very next day, Froome attacked from about 80km out to be the first to crest Cima Coppi – the race’s highest point, in this case the Colle delle Fenestre – and take first place in the GC, which he held through the final mountain stage despite a number of late attacks from Dumoulin to become the first Brit to win the Giro d’Italia.

Not only is he the first Brit to win the race, he becomes only the seventh man to win all 3 Grand Tours and the third to hold all 3 Grand Tour titles at the same time, Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault being the other 2. Now Froome needs to find away to prove his innocence in the case of his adverse test result, otherwise all his hard work will have been for nothing.

So near yet so faryatesdrop

While Chris Froome may have struggled in the first 2 weeks, another Brit excelled: Mitchelton-Scott’s Simon Yates. The elder of the team’s Yates twins, Simon Yates has shown in previous Grand Tours that he can run with the best GC riders. He din not take long to make a mark on this year’s race, finishing in the top 10 of the short time trial. Much as he has done on previous Grand Tours, he stuck with the favourites whenever they attacked from the lead groups, but this time he was also able to pick his moments to attack and take time on his rivals, taking the pink jersey on Stage 6. He continued this tactic throughout the race and was the only person to even stick close to Froome on Monte Zoncolan, finishing just 6 seconds behind him. He continued to build on his lead the next day, attacking about 17km out to win Stage 15 – his third stage win of the race – before putting in another strong time trial to hold a 56 second lead over Dumoulin going into the final rest day.

And then on Stage 18, everything began to go wrong for the man who looked destined for the top step of the podium. After covering an attack by Tom Dumoulin, Yates was unable to find the strength to stick with the leaders when Chris Froome came back onto the group and passed them for an attack of his own, eventually finding his lead over Dumoulin halved, before being completely dropped on the Colle della Fenestre the next day and finishing almost 39 minutes behind Chris Froome to relinquish the pink jersey. Yates was broken and he eventually finished the race just outside the top 20, 75 minutes and 11 seconds behind Froome and just under 17 minutes behind teammate Mikel Nieve, who won the final mountain stage.

While Yates will undoubtedly be disappointed in the way the race finished, he has a lot to be proud of and will surely be back competing at the top of the GC in future Grand Tours. Perhaps he needs to take a look at Froome’s style of leading, where he rides more defensively once leading a race. Granted, Froome is a better in the time trials so can afford to make up time there rather than on the mountains, but he is not generally one to expend energy attacking when he is already ahead and instead paes himself to make it through even the hardest climbs.

Odd route

Despite being called the Giro d’Italia, it was not until Stage 4 that the race took place actually in Italy, with the first 3 stages taking place in Israel. This is not the first time a Grand Tour has started in another country, but I just don’t understand the need for it, especially when the country is not even geographically close! It was made even worse when you consider the controversy relating to the conflict with Palestine and human rights issues. I understand the importance of funding, and this is not just a dig at this race as many sports are starting to do similar, but it is starting to feel like money is more important than morals for many at the top in pro sports.

The final stage of this year’s Giro, 10 laps of a route around Rome, was always intended as a procession for the GC riders and just a fight for the sprinters, however the importance of the final stage dropped soon after the riders complained of the road conditions (many sections including cobbles) until the race was neutralised for the General Classification, leaving the riders only needing to complete the race in order to keep their GC position. I don’t understand how the race organisers could not envisage a problem with the route, especially if there had been adverse weather. I have said before that the race organisers need to do more to improve the safety for the riders, before someone has a big accident.

 

Feature image from Mussi Katz on Flickr

To Race or not to Race?

Chris Froome recently competed in the Ruta del Sol, his first race since his adverse drugs test was made public. Now I don’t go on cycling-specific news sites so it may be different there but the mainstream news certainly seemed to less on how Froome’s race was going and more on if he should be racing at all!

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Will Froome (in yellow) have his case sorted before the Giro? Should he race if not? – Picture from Flickr – @ruby_roubaix

The UCI and Team Sky have not suspended Froome while he attempts to prove his innocent and Froome has chosen not to step down while his case goes on and judging by his interviews intends to race in the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France if everything is not settled by that point. But should he carry on as normal or take a step back?

Even his fellow racers have seemed split on the question, with Tony Martin – who has spoken out against Froome a couple of times since news of the drugs test broke – critical of Froome taking part in the race, while last season’s teammate (and now General Classification rival with Movistar) Mikel Landa saying Froome was welcome.

It is a difficult to decide if Froome should have taken a step back while the case was going on and it will probably not be until the case is closed that we really know if it was the right choice. If Froome is found guilty then voluntarily stepping back would have allowed him to return to racing quicker, whereas now he would have to wait longer to come back and likely be stripped of any title he wins in the interim. However if Froome had stepped back from racing and proved himself innocent then he has effectively been stopped from racing for something that he didn’t do. If the case drags on much longer then stepping down could stop him from trying to become only the third rider (behind Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault) to be champion in all 3 Grand Tours at the same time. That would be a big loss for someone proved innocent.

Right now, I still believe Froome’s assertions that he has done nothing wrong so I have no problem with him continuing to race. I just continue to hope that I’m not proved wrong…

Bad Week for Cycling

Chris Froome: 4-time Tour de France winner, 2017 Vuelta a España winner, 2-time Olympic Time Trial bronze medallist, Sports Journalists’ Association Sportsman of the Year 2017… drugs cheat?

This been another bad week for cycling as news has come out that Froome returned an adverse drug test following Stage 18 of this year’s Vuelta, as his urine was found to contain anti-asthma drug salbutamol in concentrations of 2000 nanograms per millilitre – twice the amount the UCI allow without a therapeutic use exemption (TUE).

Cycling has a bad history of doping with big names like Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong having been stripped of Grand Tour victories following doping offences, and the sport has been working hard to improve its image to the general public. Froome’s dominance has caused many people to accuse him of cheating in the past – a view not helped considering the investigations into Team Sky and the ‘mysterious package’ that Bradley Wiggins received during the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine – and though I personally don’t think he has deliberately or knowingly done wrong, it does not look good.

Has the drug helped him? Froome regularly takes salbutamol as he suffers from asthma, like many athletes. Studies have found minimal performance benefits to using salbutamol, other than combatting the effects of asthma, and as it is a drug that clearly shows on tests – and being the race leader, Froome knows that he will be tested – it would seem a poor attempt at illegally doping.

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Will we be seeing Chris Froome (right) at the Giro following the latest news? – Picture from Flickr – @ruby_roubaix

Has he done something wrong? Studies have suggested that dehydration can dramatically affect the concentration of salbutamol in urine, so this could always be having an impact on the result. However from what I have read it is only Stage 18 where the readings have seemed off as opposed to throughout the Vuelta, the studies also don’t usually result in the concentration doubling through dehydration. It is now up to Chris Froome and Team Sky to prove there is a legitimate reason for the adverse reading. That won’t be easy to do!

If Froome is found guilty, chances are he will be stripped of his Vuelta victory and he will also face a ban. Regardless of the result, this is yet more ammunition for those who want to look down on cycling in general and Chris Froome specifically. The timing could not have been much worse as it has recently been announced that Froome will be racing at the 2018 Giro d’Italia with a view to becoming only the third rider to hold all 3 Grand Tour titles at the same time, while he is also nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award on Sunday. In my opinion, his efforts this year should have been enough for him to win the award but he was already likely to miss out due to the negative perception of cycling and his perceived lack of Britishness. This revelation will likely stop him even making the top 3!

I for one will continue to hope that a legitimate reason for this result can be found as I do not believe Froome to be a doper. I sincerely hope that I’m not proved wrong.