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Post Race Analysis

Seven things we learned at the 2017 Tour de France

All-round Chris Froome just too good and the future's bright in the Yates household

Another Tour de France over and, after three weeks of racing, we have Chris Froome on the top step of the podium for the fourth time in five years, a Brit in the white jersey again and plenty of action besides to reflect on.

While the final result went the way the bookmakers predicted, with Froome ensuring Team Sky – and a British rider – have won five of the last six Tours after Sir Bradley Wiggins set the ball rolling in 2012, there was no shortage talking points on the way from Dusseldorf to Paris.

Froome was only the rider to feature in Sunday’s podium presentations to have also been crowned on the Champs-Elysees a year ago, with Simon Yates, Michael Matthews and Warren Barguil claiming their first major prizes at the Tour in the young rider, points and mountains classification respectively.

Chris Froome proved just too good for his rivals at the 2017 Tour de France (Pic: Sirotti)

Rigoberto Uran, meanwhile, finished second overall to remind everybody why he was revered as a Grand Tour contender just a couple of years ago before slipping under the radar.

The Tour was a huge success for some teams – Team Sky scooping more than €700,000 in prize money, and Matthews and Barguil’s efforts helping Team Sunweb clean up too. For others, however, the end of this year’s Tour could not have come soon enough after disasters all the way from Germany’s Grand Depart to the finale – Movistar, we’re looking at you.

So what did this year’s race teach us? Read on for our post-Tour analysis and observations.

All-round Chris Froome just too good

Chris Froome enjoyed a relatively comfortable 54-second winning margin in the general classification in the end, but he readily admitted in his podium interviews that his fourth Tour de France victory was the toughest yet.

Ahead of the stage 20 time trial, less than 30 seconds separated the top three riders, while Froome became the first rider since Oscar Pereiro in 2006 to take the Tour title without winning a single stage.

The French press, of course, took great delight in pointing out that their boy Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) had out-shone Froome in the mountains, albeit by only a handful of seconds, but it is all inconsequential really.

The fact is, Froome’s all-round ability puts him ahead of his GC rivals. The Team Sky man finished in the top ten on ten separate occasions, claiming four third-place finishes, compared to Bardet’s five top-ten finishes (including one stage win).

Froome’s all-round ability and consistency helped him to a fourth Tour title (Pic: Sirotti)

Froome was the only GC man to successfully attack the soaking wet Dusseldorf time trial course, putting time into all his rivals on the opening stage; indeed, Froome was 51 seconds faster than Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) that day, only three seconds less than his overall winning margin. Froome also picked up a handful of seconds on the uphill finish into Rodez.

On top of that, Froome’s descending has improved tenfold since his Tour debut – it is no longer a weakness but a means of attack. While Froome may not have launched a downhill assault in the manner of his stage eight victory in the 2016 Tour, the 32-year-old matched the best of them on the treacherous descent of Mont du Chat.

Team Sky also got their tactics spot on, with the exception of one blip on Peyragudes (Pic: Sirotti)

 

Froome and Sky also, mostly, got their tactics right with Mikel Landa a superb foil for his team leader in the mountains – their slight misfiring on Peyragudes aside.

It takes an all-round rider to win the Tour de France, and once again Froome proved he is better than his rivals in that regard. That he nearly caught Romain Bardet over just 22.5km in the stage 20 time trial, having set off two minutes behind him, only reiterated that point.

Giro-Tour double just not possible

When Nairo Quintana announced his plans to attempt the Giro-Tour double in 2017, the Colombian deserved applause for his ambition, albeit that it always seemed a fruitless endeavour.

And after finishing second at the Giro behind Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), his 12th-place finish at the Tour only served to reiterate the belief that it’s just not possible to win both Grand Tours in the same year. Alberto Contador was the last man to try, in 2015, and finished fifth at the Tour after winning the Giro.

Nairo Quintana could not overcome the fatigue of his Giro d’Italia efforts (Pic: Sirotti)

Quintana was, in truth, hamstrung from the start by Alejandro Valverde crashing out of the race in the stage one time trial but he was too frequently dropped from the GC group long before the serious climbing started on the mountain stages.

And Quintana was not the only one to struggle, with Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) abandoning on stage 17 and vowing never to ride both races in the same year again.

Thibaut Pinot also vowed never to ride the Giro and Tour in the same year again (pic – Sirotti)

Pinot was fourth at the Giro d’Italia, knocked off the podium in the final stage time trial, and had arrived at the Tour to hunt stage wins and mountains points. He never got close to either, however, and it is unlikely we will see anybody else attempting a double in the near future.

Indeed, had Quintana targeted the Tour de France specifically this year, then we may have had a very different final result. After all, it was Quintana who came closest to toppling Froome in any of his four Tour wins back on Alpe d’Huez  in 2015.

Enthralling finale saves ‘boring’ route

We have already discussed the largely uninspiring first two weeks of this year’s race, which resulted in six bunch sprints and very little breakaway action thanks to a route full of long, flat and tedious stages.

Fortunately, from that point, it all picked up – the final ten days finally enticed the breakaway riders out, saw the battle for the green jersey really heat up, and most importantly gave us plenty to enjoy from the GC riders too.

The breakaway was finally given some leeway in the latter part of the race (Pic: Sirotti)

The summit finish on Peyragudes where Froome was finally dropped was brutal, while the short, climb-laden stage 13 was a great addition to the race with action all over the road.

We enjoyed an uphill finish into Rodez on stage 14, a day for the break on stage 15, and a super-fast stage 16, where the pace was rapid from the start and ensured a diminished bunch sprint, before two days in the Alps.

The 101km stage 13 served up plenty of action (Pic: Alex Whitehead-SWpix.com)

That was more like what we have to come expect from the Tour so we can only hope organisers ASO have learned their lessons.

Hopefully next year will bring more early excitement, as we have enjoyed in recent editions of cycling’s biggest race.

Battle royale for the green jersey

Going back to the end of stage 11, when Marcel Kittel had won in the bunch sprint for the fifth time out of five he had contested, the points classification was seemingly sewn up.

With defending champion Peter Sagan out of the race, disqualified after stage four, and sprint rivals Mark Cavendish, injured in the crash on stage four, and Arnaud Demare, over the time limit on stage nine, also out, Kittel was cruising with a 133-point lead.

Michael Matthews won the green jersey after a superb fight with Marcel Kittel (Pic: Sirotti)

But Michael Matthews responded superbly, winning stages, getting in the breakaways to win intermediate sprints and using his team to set a phenomenal pace on stage 16 to drop Kittel and deny him what, on paper, looked like being another bunch sprint.

Matthews won the intermediate sprint again on stage 17 to cut Kittel’s lead to nine points, but the German crashed out on the same stage to end what was shaping up to be an epic battle all the way to the Paris finish line.

That should not diminish Matthews’ success, however. We will never know if Matthews would have been able to overhaul Kittel’s lead in the end, but with the momentum behind him you would not have ruled it out.

Peter Sagan has proved the master in recent years of snaffling points on difficult stages, getting in the right breakaways and winning intermediate sprints.

The Slovakian world champion might well find he has met his match in Matthews when he returns to the Tour next year.

Never put all your eggs in one basket

This year’s Tour de France claimed some high-profile victims, with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) crashing out on stage one and setting the tone for much of the three weeks that followed.

Movistar, without Valverde to support Nairo Quintana in the mountains and provide a second option overall, and Bahrain-Merida, missing their team leader, had disappointing Tours and finished well down the money table as a result.

Arnaud Demare and his team-mates rode themselves out of the Tour de France on stage nine (Pic: Sirotti)

But perhaps the biggest disaster of the Tour was FDJ, who made a flying start with Arnaud Demare winning stage four and briefly claiming the points jersey, but reached the first rest day with just five of their nine riders left in the race.

It was down to three when Thibaut Pinot climbed off in the Alps, after Arthur Vichot had already abandoned in between, and yet it was totally avoidable.

Demare, struggling with illness, was surrounded by lieutenants in the mountains on stages eight and nine, with the aim of helping him to make the time cut.

That itself is fair enough, but by stage nine – having just got in the previous day – it was clear Demare would not make it on the brutal, climb-laden stage.

Edvald Boasson Hagen and Dimension Data showed the merits of a solid back-up plan (Pic: Sirotti)

And yet Demare had three team-mates miss the time cut with him, and FDJ were barely spotted in the race thereafter.

Compare that to Dimension Data, who lost Mark Cavendish to the crash that marred the end of stage four. With their lead sprinter absent, Africa’s Team promptly switched to plan B, with Edvald Boasson Hagen taking over.

He promptly finished second by the smallest of fractions on stage seven – a photo finish determining he had been beaten by Marcel Kittel by mere millimetres – was second again on stage 16 and finally got his deserved stage win on stage 19.

Added to Boasson Hagen’s three third-place finishes, it meant a relative decent return for Dimension Data, albeit down on their five stage wins in 2016.

The future’s bright for Simon and Adam Yates

By finishing seventh overall and top of the youth classification, Simon Yates became only the second British rider to win the Tour de France’s white jersey.

The first, of course, was not only from the same country but from the same household, born in the same place on the same day no less.

Simon’s success mirrors that of twin brother Adam last year, with the two of them now having finished inside the top ten of each of the last four Grand Tours.

Simon Yates’ success means he and his twin brother Adam have finished in the top ten of each of the last four Grand Tours between them (Pic: Sirotti)

Adam’s Tour success last year was followed by Simon’s stage win and sixth place at the Vuelta a Espana, while Adam was ninth at the Giro d’Italia in May.

The best decision the two of them have ever made was to join Orica-Scott, where they have been able to flourish, afforded freedom and can now target major GC results.

It is worth remembering that Simon was not even supposed to be at the Giro d’Italia, until injury hit Johan Esteban Chaves’ preparations and forced a re-think.

Yates is the second Brit, after twin brother Adam, to win the white jersey (Pic: Sirotti)

The two twins are now due to team up at the Vuelta a Espana to write the latest chapter in the burgeoning careers.

There is a long way to go yet – the last rider to win the white jersey before going on to win yellow was Andy Schleck in 2010 – but the future is certainly very bright indeed for two of Britain’s most prodigious talents.

Bring on the Vuelta a Espana!

While the Giro-Tour double seems to be very much impossible, Chris Froome insisted after his second place at last year’s Vuelta a Espana that a Tour-Vuelta double is very much a possibility.

But the Team Sky man – who confirmed his participation at this year’s Vuelta after sealing the yellow jersey at the Tour – will face some stiff competition in Spain.

Defending champion Nairo Quintana’s absence does not diminish the start list, which provisionally includes Froome’s fellow Tour podium finishers Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) too.

Chris Froome, Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran are set to resume hostilities at the Vuelta a Espana (Pic: Sirotti)

Add to them, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Adam and Simon Yates and Johan Esteban Chaves (all Orica-Scott), and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) and we could be set for an enthralling GC battle on a mountainous parcours.

The race features nine summit finishes, including atop the Alto Hoya de la Mora and fearsome Alto de l’Angliru, dubbed the toughest climb in pro cycling, while the only individual time trial is 42.5km long.

That seems to be play into the hands of riders like Uran – who can no longer be overlooked as a Grand Tour contender – providing he recovers well from the Tour.

Bardet proved himself in the mountains at the Tour too, while Contador animated the race in the Alps and looks to have more to offer when he returns to his home country.

It will be a very different challenge to the Tour, but with all the usual suspects sans Quintana set for the start line, it could end up being the best Grand Tour of the season.

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