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.

Disciplinary Problems? Cavendish v Sagan

So this is something I’ve contemplated writing since Peter Sagan’s disqualification from the Tour de France, but due to my relative inexperience in this sport – it was only during last year’s Tour that I became a regular viewer of the Grand Tours – I was unsure if it was right to do so. However I have decided to write about it as I feel it needs looking into.

 

By now, many people will have seen the dramatic end to Stage 4 of this year’s Tour de France, where Arnaud Démare’s first ever stage victory on a Grand Tour was relegated to being a side-note next to discussions of Mark Cavendish’s crash and Peter Sagan’s disqualification for his part in the incident. Sagan was initially docked 30 seconds and 80 points in the battle for the green jersey, but this punishment was later upgraded to disqualification as he “endangered some of his colleagues seriously.” Cavendish meanwhile, has been forced to leave the tour with a broken shoulder.

My personal opinion is that the initial punishment would have been sufficient. It looked to me that Sagan was simply following the drift of all the racers in the bunch split and attempting to get on Démare’s wheel, unaware that Cavendish – who was behind him – was already in that position. Yes there was a question of his use of an elbow and while some camera angles do make it look bad, others suggest that the elbow was out merely to help him keep his balance. I feel that the punishment has been unduly influenced by the injury to Cavendish.

It is clear that the UCI are trying to improve safety in the bunch sprints – they now allow a 3-second gap between riders on flat stages before they award a slower finishing time, meaning that General Classification riders and teams are not so in the way of the sprinters – and I get the feeling that they will look to reinforce this by being strict on any issues from the bunch sprints. However by that logic, Démare is surely deserving of some punishment as his changes of direction in the same sprint looked far worse and more dangerous than Sagan.

What really surprised and disappointed me, however, was the way that the race commissaires who made the decision to disqualify Sagan did not contain a former racer. In an event like a bike race, there is always an inherent risk, especially in a bunch sprint, so to me a former racer’s perspective should be required to help decide if a crash is simply a racing incident or something more serious.

If we look at another racing sport – Formula 1, they have some very specific rules relating to their officials. From their website I found the following information:

  • At every Grand Prix meeting there are seven key race officials who monitor and control the activities of the stewards and marshals to ensure the smooth and safe running of the event in accordance with FIA regulations.
  • Five of the seven officials are nominated by the FIA. These are the race director (currently Charlie Whiting), a permanent starter and three additional stewards, one of whom is nominated chairman and one of whom is an experienced former driver. The additional stewards must be FIA Super Licence holders.
  • The other two key officials are nominated by the National Sporting Authority (ASN) of the country holding the race. These are the clerk of the course and an additional steward (who must be a national of the host nation). Both must be FIA Super Licence holders.

Notice how of the 7 race officials in F1, at least 5 must be FIA Super Licence holders, a qualification that allows that person to race in F1 Grands Prix. This means that when any incident is looked at during the race, the drivers know that there will be people making a decision who know exactly what is going on at that moment from the point of view of the racers and know exactly what can and can’t be expected from a racer in such a circumstance. It’s not that often that the former racers in the F1 commentary are surprised by the official’s decisions at it also allows them to explain to the armchair fan what will be considered and taken into account about the accident.

I’m not asking the UCI to make as drastic a change as to make the majority of the commissaires former riders, however it is my opinion that they need to have at least one former rider involved in any decisions.

As it is, we have lost 2 great racers for the remaining 2 and a half weeks of the Tour and the green jersey – which has been won by either Cavendish or Sagan each of the last 6 years – is certainly up for grabs. It will be interesting to see where things go from here.

 

What are your thoughts on the incident and the disciplinary procedure? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge

Screwing Up on a Grand Scale

The Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España: the 3 Grand Tours of cycle racing. The best cycle teams in the world fighting it out over multiple stages spanning a couple of weeks for victory in a number of different classifications including Points, King of the Mountain and the all-important General Classification. Victory in these races would be a highlight of a professional cyclist’s career, a chance for them to compete against the best of the best. Yet far too often, we see results being decided by outside influences that are out of the competitor’s control, but could be avoided by the organisers.

When Geraint Thomas began Stage 9 of this year’s Giro on Sunday, he was 2nd in the GC, only 6 seconds behind leader Bob Jungels heading into a stage that could make or break a rider’s GC hopes. By the end of the day, bloody and bruised, he had dropped to 17th in the standings, 5 minutes and 14 seconds behind new leader and GC rival Nairo Quintana. This was not due to him struggling on the Blockhaus climb, but instead was the result of a completely unacceptable accident 13.5km from the finish. With the peloton spread across the road fighting for position, a police motorbike was stopped at the side of the road where it shouldn’t have been. Wilco Kelderman did not have the space to avoid it and in the resulting collision the majority of Team Sky, including Thomas, were brought down, along with Adam Yates of Orica-Scott, who has gone from 3rd (10 seconds behind the lead) to 16th (4 minutes and 49 seconds behind). Both of these riders were contenders for the General Classification but can probably now consider their chances over! Sky’s second GC contender Mikel Landa fared even worse in the incident, losing almost 27 minutes to the leaders.

While this can be considered an unfortunate accident, it is not an isolated incident of a rider being affected by outside forces that should not have been present. I have only started paying attention to the Grand Tours at last year’s Tour de France and in less than 12 months have noticed a number of incidents:

  • On Stage 7 on 2016’s Tour de France, Adam Yates’ attempt to gain time on his GC rivals was hit when the flamme rouge collapsed right in front of him. He had no time to stop before hitting the marker and ended up riding the rest of the Tour with a cut chin. This incident could have been much worse had this happened when the peloton was passing, but it still meant that Yates lost his chance to build an advantage against his rivals.
  • Yate’s trouble with the flamme rouge was quickly forgotten after Stage 12’s incident. After high winds caused the stage to be shortened, much of the last kilometre was left without railings to hold the crowd back. They duly swarmed all over the road, leaving a space barely wide enough for the riders to pass through. This led to an incident where 3 GC riders (Bauke Mollema, Richie Porte and yellow jersey Chris Froome) crashed into the back of a motorbike that was forced to stop by the crowds, leaving Froome’s bike unusable. As the Team Sky car was some distance down the road, this led to the famous images of the yellow jersey running up Mont Ventoux to reduce the hit on his finishing time while he waited for his team to catch up with a replacement bike.
  • Stage 5 of the 2016 Vuelta a España saw Steven Kruijswijk’s season ended early after a collision with a bollard left him with a broken collarbone. This bollard should never have been left in the way and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, was left at an angle pointing towards the oncoming riders. In truth, it is lucky that only Kruijswijk and Jan Bakelants hit the post as the peloton rode past.
  • Just a couple of days before this latest accident, Stage 7 of the Giro saw a miraculous near miss as riders came around a blind turn to find a marshal standing in the middle of the road flagging to warn of a traffic island. Somehow the peloton avoided hitting him, but that could have been a serious incident. Surely it would have been better to use barriers to block the road on one side of the island so that the island was part of the edge as opposed to being in the middle of the road?

4 incidents and a near miss. From just 3 races. And these are just the incidents that immediately came to mind, so there may be others that I have missed. All of these crashes have involved riders that would be hoping to compete in the General Classification, so the race results are being heavily impacted by each of these incidents.

Crashes happen, I accept that. Bad weather or riding too close to someone in a group can easily result in a number of riders going to ground, that is to be expected in the sport. What cannot be considered acceptable is outside factors that are wholly avoidable being allowed to affect the outcome of an entire race!

Would this be accepted in any other sport? If a fan ran onto a football pitch and booted the ball into the net, we would not count it as a goal, so why should we allow a rider’s GC standings to be affected by an outside stimulus? To continue the football analogy, clubs and tournament organisers do not wait for something to happen and then say it will not affect the result, they take steps to stop a match being decided by outside influences. That is why you see stewards and barriers all around the grounds to stop spectators getting onto the pitch. I appreciate that each stage of the Grand Tours is too long to have barriers every step of the way, but there are things that can be done to help. Having more spotters travelling in advance of the race to ensure there are no unsafe obstacles in the way would allow race directors and stewards to take appropriate steps to ensure that by the time riders get to that point in the road there is no chance of an issue.

Hopefully the riders affected will be able to minimise the losses over the remaining stages. More importantly, fingers crossed this is the last time we see a rider’s race ruined by something completely avoidable.

 

What were your thoughts on the accident? Do you think more can be done? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge

Teamwork makes the Dreamwork

Barring a massive shock, Chris Froome will today win his 3rd Tour de France. His lead of 4 minutes 5 seconds over Romain Bardet all but guarantees his place as only the 8th rider to have won the event 3+ times. Cycling has been an area of strength for Great Britain at the Olympics for a while now, and this is beginning to show in the Tour as well, with 4 of the last 5 Tours having now been won by Brits (3 for Froome, 1 for Bradley Wiggins).

What must also be noticed is that all 4 of these wins belong to Team Sky, who have certainly become a dominant name in road cycling in recent years. As great as Chris Froome is, much of the credit must also go to his supporting cast. Cycling may seem at first glance to be a very individual sport, but the team is arguably as important in this as in football or rugby.

 

In recent years, the quality of Team Sky’s domestiques has given their team leader every chance of winning the Tour. You just need to look at what some of these riders have done since leaving the team:

Richie Porte was a key figure in Wiggins’ Tour win and both of Froome’s previous victories; having moved to BMC Racing Team ahead of this season, he has established himself as team leader and finds himself in 5th place in the General classification, despite losing time to a punctured tyre in the 1st week and also being caught up in the crash on Mont Ventoux.

Mark Cavendish was a support rider in the 2012 Tour win for Bradley Wiggins, whilst also managing to win a number of sprint stages. A prolific sprinter now at Team Dimension Data, he is currently 2nd in the all-time list of Tour de France stage wins and has every chance of breaking the record moving forward.

As if having Cavendish and Porte supporting wasn’t good enough, Wiggins also had Chris Froome himself as a super-domestique in the 2012 Tour. Apparently helping his team leader win the Tour wasn’t enough for Froome as he finished 2nd in the General Classification before going on to become team leader and Tour winner himself the next year.

 

The role of a domestique is a selfless one, as we saw in Stage 19 of this year’s Tour. Geraint Thomas, gold medallist in the Road race of the 2014 Commonwealth Games and set to equal his best finish in the Tour de France of 15th in the GC, sacrificed his bike and his race (he lost 6 minutes) when Froome fell on a descent and damaged his bike. Wout Poels then did a great job to lead Froome up the final climb, resulting in him finishing 9th in the stage and actually increasing his lead in the General classification. It was also picked up during this climb that Poels was constantly looking back to ensure that Froome was still with him and benefiting from his actions. This is a team of 8 riders doing whatever is required to make ensure their leader wins with as little drama as possible. It has been mentioned on numerous occasions that there have not been many real attacks from competitors this year, but you just have to look at how Team Sky have raced, setting a hard pace that they are able to raise as soon as someone makes a move in order to draw them back in before they could cause any danger to Froome’s GC hopes.

 

When Chris Froome crosses the finish line in Paris this evening, it is likely that he will have all his teammates around him. Though he will be the one wearing the yellow jersey, this is a win for the whole team and for a fantastic team mentality. Congratulations to them all!