Comment: Peter Sagan and Chris Froome prove themselves as this generation’s finest riders
Tour de France 2016: stage 11 success proves value of making the race, rather than waiting
Peter Sagan and Chris Froome extended their leads atop the points and general classifications respectively, with a stinging late attack on stage 11 of the 2016 Tour de France – confirming their places as two of the finest cyclists of this generation.
Sagan’s victory, his second of this year’s race, moves him 90 points clear in the points classification and surely – as if there was ever any doubt – on his way to a fifth green jersey.
Froome, meanwhile, proved once again there is more to Team Sky than metronome riding on the front of the bunch – fans love exciting racing cyclists, and Froome is proving he can be just that.
World champion Sagan is one of the most fitting riders to have the rainbow jersey, given his attacking intent, all-round ability and his character.
Victory in Montpellier was not just his second of this year’s race, but his seventh top-ten finish of the 2016 Tour de France in just 11 stages.
Mark Cavendish, who Sagan overtook in the green jersey the previous day after finishing second from the day’s break, had already conceded the maillot vert – “this isn’t any old cyclist,” he said, “this is Peter Sagan.”
Sagan may lack the sprinting prowess of Cavendish, Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel and co, but the Slovakian can win on terrain where the bigger sprinters are struggling in the grupetto.
He is also full of attacking intent and never shies away from putting his face in the wind – even when it has ultimately cost him his chance of stage wins.
Sagan won the green jersey at last year’s Tour de France thanks to getting in the breakaway in the mountains to rack up the points when his rivals, primarily Greipel, were out the back of the bunch.
People joke about his almost comical run of near misses, which led to nearly three years without a Tour de France stage win, but Sagan responded in the best manner with some great performances in the rainbow jersey.
He now has eight wins this season, including his first Monument at the Tour of Flanders; curse of the rainbow jersey? What curse?
Froome, meanwhile, has answered his own critics so far at this Tour de France – and those who claim Team Sky’s tactics are boring and killing the sport.
Far from the metronome-like turning of gears at the front of the bunch, Froome has been on the attack – looking to build up an advantage away from the mountains.
He won last year’s Tour de France in the first week, when his rivals lost time in the crosswinds and on the cobbles.
Clearly alive to that, Froome won stage eight with an incredible descent of the Col de Peyresourde – stunning his rivals by bursting clear over the top and carrying his advantage down the descent.
This time out, he was alive to Sagan and team-mate Maciej Bodnar going clear and followed the move and – with team-mate Geraint Thomas for company – proceeded to help press home the advantage.
It would have been easy, in the circumstances, to expect Bodnar and Thomas to do all the work, but Sagan and Froome realised their opportunity and the quartet resembled a short team time trial with their efforts.
Though undoubtedly helped by the presence of two-time Olympic team pursuit champion Thomas and three-time Polish time trial champion Bodnar, it was the work of all four which won the stage.
Sagan described it as crazy, clearly not believing his luck that two such willing breakaway companions had joined the two Tinkoff men.
Fans love exciting races, they love the unexpected – the days when the break succeeds, or a stinging solo attack wins the stage.
It is why Steve Cummings has become so popular with his stage wins this season, four times winning from the break including at the Tour de France.
It is also why Sagan and Froome have to be revered as two of the finest cyclists of their generation – both very different riders, but both unpredictable riders well worth watching when they’re at their best.
Sir Dave Brailsford, speaking after the stage, said Team Sky’s success comes from seeking out themselves, rather than waiting for something to happen – Nairo Quintana would do well to heed that advice.
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