The hundredth Tour de France surpassed even the inflated expectations of a centennial edition.
Three weeks of racing with barely a quiet moment unfolded; a race in which even the so-called transitional stages were thrilling, and in which La Grande Boucle reclaimed its crown as the pre-eminent Grand Tour.
Chris Froome delivered Britain’s second consecutive victory, the young guns of the peloton fired a salvo against the disgraces of the past, and Paris dazzled, placing Yorkshire on its mettle. And what of last year’s champion?
Here are five observations from the final week of the 2013 Tour de France.
Nice guys finish first
Chris Froome rode a hugely impressive Tour de France to claim his first victory, taking ownership of the yellow jersey after the first of three emphatic stage wins and never relinquishing it. The gruelling parcours, and the constant efforts of his rivals meant Froome’s was a battle fought on a daily basis. His victory on Mont Ventoux will be talked about for years to come.
More importantly, however, Froome has won with exceptional grace, turning away slurs with a smile; the antithesis of Bradley Wiggins’ rock star swagger. His relationship with Richie Porte – pivotal to his success – looks like one that will stand the tests of time and of grueling encounters to come. Froome’s victory speech spoke volumes about the man: gracious, measured, and in his pledge that his yellow jersey would stand the test of time, defiant. Chapeau to the nice guy.
Chapeau to the ASO
Last year’s Tour de France was thrilling only to British fans, and the 99th edition of La Grande Boucle is likely to be remembered for no other reason than Bradley Wiggins’ coronation. The Vuelta a Espana, held just three weeks later, was infinitely more enjoyable, and this year’s Giro d’Italia, begun in the sunshine of Naples and Ischia, and concluded with heroics in the snow-bound Dolomites, raised the bar still higher.
Chapeau, then, to the ASO for delivering a hundredth Tour de France more than equal to the billing. The Corsican sunshine set the tone perfectly after an extended winter in which most of Europe shivered, and produced some thrilling racing. Froome’s likely-to-become legendary victory on the iconic slopes of Mont Ventoux will add to the centennial Tour’s legend, as will Christophe Riblon’s heroics on the day of “double d’Huez”. Yorkshire has been placed on its mettle. Which bring us to…
The Grand Départ of the 101st Tour de France will start in Yorkshire, and if its return to Blighty is case of “Le Tour expects…”, don’t expect the British fans to let anybody down. Cycling’s popularity on these shores remains at an unprecedented high, and with a British defending champion set to roll out of Leeds, this happy situation is unlikely to change.
Its likely that the ASO (and the RCS, with its Grand Partenza next year in Dublin) will have been inspired by last year’s Olympic Games and Tour of Britain, which, in the case of the latter, drew an estimated two million fans to the roadside for its seven-day odyssey and comments from the likes of Ivan Basso and Samuel Sanchez that they had never seen crowds on the same scale.
Should stage one conclude with Chris Froome handing the yellow jersey to Mark Cavendish in the home town of the Manx Missile’s mother, expect an outbreak of Tour fever to be officially declared on UK soil.
The 1999 Tour was disastrously billed as the Tour of Renewal, following the Festina disgrace of the previous year, but despite the off-season lancing of its ‘winner’, the boil Armstrong, the centennial Tour began with no other agenda than racing. And those distanced by a generation from the disgrace of the Texan and his contemporaries excelled.
Columbia’s Nairo Quintana (Movistar), second overall and winner of the white and polka dot jerseys at just 23, burned brightest of all the young stars, proving himself a worthy heir to the finest climbing tradition in cycling. But he was far from alone in laying the foundations for magnificent Tours to come. Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), and Team Sky’s Peter Kennaugh will prove worthy foes. The future of the Tour is in young, but seemingly safe hands.
O Wiggo! My Captain!
The absence of the defending champion threatened to hang over the centennial Tour like Banquo’s ghost. Instead, Bradley Wiggins is yesterday’s man, seemingly forgotten entirely. Perhaps if Wiggins had been cast in the more flattering role of ‘road captain’, another in which he excels, the ‘succession’ might have been better handled, by the Londoner and by Team Sky.
Events on the Champs-Élysées of just 12 months ago proved that, when minded to do so, Wiggins can be a team player almost without equal. He is also vastly experienced and blessed with the biggest engine in the peloton.
With Wiggins driving the train, would Froome have been isolated on stage nine because his team were still frantically chasing back on? Unlikely. Would Froome have lost out to Contador in the cross winds of stage 13 with the defending champion at the helm, keenly aware of the need for unstinting vigilance? Hardly.
It’s an unlikely prospect, but should there ever be a rapprochement between Wiggins, his employers, and their new Tour champion, Team Sky would be still more formidable.