Comment: Dan McLay's impressive Tour de France debut bodes well for future
British sprinter takes third top-ten finish in opening four days at 2016 Tour de France
by Colin Henrys
Britain’s Tour de France debutant Dan McLay told RoadCyclingUK he had no reason to fear his Tour de France debut before the start of the race – and the 24-year-old has proved he belongs with the big boys with a string of impressive finishes over the first four days.
After finishing ninth on stages one and three - both won by fellow Brit Mark Cavendish - McLay was then the best-placed British rider in Limoges on stage four as he clocked his third top-ten of the week with a seventh place finish.
McLay told us ahead of the race how he had not targeted an individual stage but was instead keen to test his legs and see how he really matched up against the likes of Cavendish, stage four winner Marcel Kittel and world champion Peter Sagan.
And as starts go, it's been a hugely impressive for McLay - you have to go back to Michael Wright in 1964 to find a British rider with more than three top-ten finishes on their Tour de France debut (though Robert Millar, Chris Boardman and David Millar all won stages in their debut race, the latter two against the clock on the opening stage).
British Tour de France debutants: most top-ten finishes
Michael Wright (1964) – 5
Robert Millar (1983) – 3 (one stage win)
Chris Boardman (1994) – 3 (one stage win)
David Millar (2000) – 3 (one stage win)
Tom Simpson (1960) – 3
Barry Hoban (1964) – 3
Malcolm Elliott (1987) – 3
Adam Yates (2015) – 3
Dan McLay (2016) – 3*
The chaos of a bunch sprint is a different beast altogether and, for comparison, Mark Cavendish rode the first eight stages of the 2007 Tour de France, aged 22, and finished in the top-ten twice, with a best finish of ninth in Compiegne.
When you consider McLay’s Fortuneo-Vital Concept team lack the resources of the WorldTour heavyweights, who pay top dollar for the best lead-out men in the business, it makes his debut even more impressive.
McLay gave an indication of his sprinting ability - and cool head - with his incredible win at the GP Denain, maneuvering through the bunch to claim his first pro victory. Check out the video here.
Now he is already proving he deserves recognition as a top sprinter with his string of top-ten finishes - comparable to French rider Bryan Coquard’s debut in 2014, when he made a nuisance of himself on all the sprint finishes. Coquard, of course, was within the width of a tyre of taking his first Tour stage victory on stage four of this year’s race.
McLay has chosen a very different path to the top compared to some of his British contemporaries and with the backing of the Dave Rayner Fund, opted to head to Belgium and ride with the Lotto-Soudal Under-23 team before turning pro in 2014.
McLay's drive and ambition has been rewarded as a result, with a Tour de France debut and the opportunity to put himself in the mix for stage wins rather than just turning up for experience.
Both McLay and his team were measured in announcing their expectations ahead of the race – it was all about taking it stage by stage and seeing what they could achieve. On the evidence of the first four stages, what McLay can achieve is very promising indeed and bodes well for the future of British cycle sport.
At 24, there is no reason to pile overly ambitious expectations on McLay – though having spoken to him after his Tour de France selection it appears little will faze him.
But, Cavendish aside, there has been lack of British sprinters in the pro peloton, with Ben Swift and British champion Adam Blythe falling outside of the mould of a pure sprinter and enjoying only occassional success.
Time will tell whether McLay can convert his early promise into glory but the Tour de France is the sport's biggest shop window for riders looking to make the step up to the very top level and McLay doesn't look out of place sprinting with the WorldTour’s best.
It’s a work in progress, but the signs are good. The future’s bright.