Cycling’s Co-Leaders: The Good, The Bad, The Downright Ugly

Leadership

  • [ˈliːdəʃɪp/]
    • noun
      • the action of leading a group of people or an organisation, or the ability to do this.

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Who doesn’t love a good rivalry? Messi vs Ronaldo, the Yankees vs the Red Sox, Nancy Kerrigan vs Tonya Harding. We can’t stop watching them, wondering who will come out on top, as they help drive their sports to greater heights.

But what happens when these rivalries occur within the same team? You know what they say, too many cooks spoil the broth. Dual leadership can be a welcomed concept for some. If one rider falters, there is still another, with the team refusing to put all their eggs in one basket – in case this basket breaks.

So without further ado: co-leaders and dual leadership. Good, bad or ugly?

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1985/1986: Le Blaireau vs LeMond

“He’s attacked me from the beginning of the Tour de France. He’s never helped me once. I don’t feel confident at all with him.” – Greg LeMond on his teammate Bernard Hinault after the 1985 Tour de France.

Rewind back to 1984. Bernard Hinault was signed to the La Vie Claire team, and LeMond would join him as co-leader after a strong performance in the Tour de France that same year. This proved to work wonders at the Giro d’Italia in 1985, as Hinault grasped overall victory while teammate LeMond rounded off the podium in third place. Heading in to the Tour de France, LeMond still worked as a lieutenant for Hinault, but the latter would arguably become the stronger of the pair. With under less than kilometre to go and after touching wheels with other riders, Hinault and teammates Bauer, Arnaud and Vallet hit the ground on stage 14. Although he lost no time that day on GC, Le Blaireau lost a lot of blood, combined with a broken nose, inability to breathe properly and two black eyes the next day. During stage 17, rival Roche attacked, and LeMond followed – doing his job. The team orders were simple: you can follow, but you can’t work with him. It’s here that there is some confusion (or more, a case of who you want to believe). LeMond states his directeur sportifs Köchli and Le Guilloux lied about how far back teammate Hinault actually was, resulting in LeMond’s inability to challenge for the overall win.

Hinault would go on to win the Tour, with LeMond sitting right behind him in second place, just over 1’40” behind. For his support, Hinault promised to repay LeMond by helping him win the 1986 Tour de France. Yet during this Tour, Hinault rode a suspiciously aggressive race. Claiming he was trying to tire out LeMond’s rivals, “The Badger” drew out a lead over his teammate after the twelfth stage; even though he just missed the stage win, he would wear the yellow jersey with a lead of over 5 minutes. Yet, reluctant to pass up an opportunity to win, it was LeMond who attacked on stage 13, almost closing the entire gap to his teammate on GC. Stage 18’s Alpe d’Huez finish was the chosen setting in which the duo would appear calmer, eventually riding side-by-side. Were they working in peace? Was Hinault actually content with LeMond winning?

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Credit: cyclinghalloffame.com

“I hope the strongest man wins the Tour. [It’s] not finished. There could be a crash, many things could happen. But if we have a war – it will be fair. The stronger one will win.” – Hinault after the stage.

‘But I don’t want to attack! I could have attacked last year.” – LeMond in response.

Right then. LeMond would have to ride with constant anxiety hanging over his yellow jersey, that his own teammate would keep attacking him. Nevertheless, LeMond would claim the Tour de France by 3’10” over Hinault, with it possibly coming as no surprise that the latter would take the combativity award. Speaking to Rouleur.cc, Hinault claimed that LeMond thought the 1986 Tour de France was war. “It wasn’t war for me. I wasn’t just going to give him the yellow jersey like that. He needed to seek it out a bit.”

Ah, that team spirit.

Good, Bad or Ugly? Good in the 1985 Giro d’Italia. Bad for Hinault’s shady game during the 1986 Tour de France – LeMond won, but at what cost? Well, the splitting of the team. La Vie Claire effectively split after this through nationality lines, the French riding for Hinault, the American and Canadian riders siding with LeMond and the Swiss remaining neutral.

1940 Onwards: Two Too Many for Gino at Giro

“Give it a year and I’ll put things back to how it should be.”– Gino Bartali after his teammate Fausto Coppi won the Giro d’Italia in 1940.

Coppi signed for Legnano in 1940, and would validate his worth by winning the Giro d’Italia for his new team a few months later. He was not initially the favourite, but became Legnano’s leader after teammate Bartali crashed into a dog on the second stage, badly injuring himself and his GC chances. Making it known he would rather be the one wearing the maglia rosa instead, Bartali ordered their team to chase down Coppi, before stating “give it a year and I’ll put things back to how it should be”.

20 years old at the time, Coppi remains the youngest rider ever to win the Giro d’Italia, and would go on to become the first winner of the Giro and the Tour de France in the same year. While the instigation of the Second World War resulted in the Giro being halted between 1941 and 1945, the rivalry between the two Italians was not – with the signing of Coppi to Bianchi possibly resulting in an even stronger discord. Bartali claimed the first edition of the race since the war had ended, Coppi finishing only 47 seconds behind. The tables were turned just a year later, as Coppi won the 30th edition by 1’43” over Bartali. Their stubbornness as joint leaders at the 1948 World Championships resulted in a deadlock, neither rider would help the other win. Thus ensued both Italians climbing off their bikes, retiring rather than facing the prospect of the other in the rainbow stripes, and the Italian cycling federation promptly banned them for two months. You’d be forgiven for thinking they wouldn’t want anything to do with each other again. Their unwillingness to work together would surely spread to other races, right?

Well, take the Tour de France in 1949 – contested by national and regional teams. Bartali worked for Coppi, resulting in his teammate securing his first win in the Grand Tour. Did they turn a corner?

Enter the Tour de France in 1952. This race produced the iconic photo of the riders, taken by Omega’s photographer Martini. Coppi wore the yellow jersey, with Bartali behind him, a bottle of water being passed between them. While Martini would admit this was later staged – his friend had passed them the bottle deliberately so he could take a picture – what should have been a simple act of sportsmanship was later developed into an argument between the pair, of course. Both riders stated they passed the bottle. According to the Italian Cycling Journal, a man named Liverani knew Martini. Liverani also knows the truth. He’ll never say.

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Credit: wildpigs.it

Good, Bad or Ugly? Some good moments, at least for the interest in the sport, despite Bartali’s obvious dislike of playing second fiddle. Definitely ugly for the behaviour at the world championships. Come on, they both climbed off. But the serious question is… who passed the bottle? (After a scientific analysis of me looking at the picture, I think Coppi passed it.)

2009: Armstrong and Alberto at Astana

“My relationship with Lance is zero.” – Contador after the 2009 Tour de France.

“I couldn’t dislike the guy more.” – Armstrong to Bicycling.com.

It feels simultaneously so near and yet so far away, but yes – Lance Armstrong was still riding in 2009. (And here I am writing about him. Who’d have thought? I digress.) Leaving my views aside for a second, his leadership rivalry with Contador wasn’t exactly the subtlest. Both riders were coming into the 2009 Tour with the ambition to win; Lance came out of retirement to do so, as Contador threatened to move if he played anything but a leading role. Astana would announce Contador as their leader, but Armstrong was undoubtedly strong too. (We’d later learn why).

Stage 7. Did Contador deliberately disobey team orders and attack on the Arcalís, or did his earpiece conveniently fall out at the base of the climb, preventing him for hearing his team? Whatever your thoughts, Armstrong was not happy. He told the media that Contador attacking wasn’t the plan, yet he’s not surprised the Spaniard didn’t stick to the plan anyway, before calling out Contador on the team bus. Armstrong claimed there was a lack of respect for team orders, as Contador hit back with: “you don’t have any respect for orders”. What’s a Tour without some drama? There would later be more on stage 17, the final day in the Alps, when Contador attacked despite not needing to. This move was possibly responsible for preventing teammate Kloden from joining both Contador and Armstrong on the final podium in Paris.

After 21 long, long stages, Contador eventually won the Tour, while Armstrong placed third. Well, until 2012 anyway, when his results were declared void and it was actually Wiggins on the podium instead.

Good, Bad or Ugly? Good at least for Contador, who won the Tour but admitted that, at times, it was bad psychologically. Bad for Armstrong, who didn’t succeed in his comeback and quickly moved teams to get away from sharing leadership with Contador. In fact, a lot of his Astana teammates then joined him at Team RadioShack in 2010. Something Contador said guys?

2012: No Love Lost at Team Sky

Speaking of Wiggins, it is no secret that his friendship with his old teammate Froome is… well… non-existent. While they weren’t under dual leadership at Sky, the duo’s divide during the 2012 Tour de France was widely documented after Froome dropped Wiggins on more than one occasion. Accelerating on stage 11, which saw a summit finish on La Toussuire, Froome dropped the yellow jersey-clad Wiggins and carried on solo to Rolland. A mistake, or a deliberate point that he was the stronger of the pair? Froome slowed and the group caught up, but the damage appeared to have been done. The showing of Froome’s strength didn’t end there, as Valverde broke away for the win on stage 17. Froome once again looked stronger than Wiggins, who was riding on his wheel, and could certainly have challenged for the win himself. Yet Wiggins was nothing but supportive to his teammate post-finish, claiming “my incredible teammate Chris Froome… [he] could have caught Valverde”.

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Credit: nationalpost.com

All rosy? Certainly not. Team Sky were forced to intervene when Froome was left without his bonus payments from Wiggins’ Tour win for 14 months. The sideburn-donning Brit didn’t invite key domestique Froome to his ‘Yellow Ball’ either, thrown to celebrate the Tour de France win.

Good, Bad or Ugly? This one was definitely ugly. Leadership-wise, Wiggins was a good choice going in to the 2012 Tour de France after winning the Dauphiné. Yet Froome would undoubtedly become the stronger of the two. With the help of his teammates, Wiggins became the first Brit to win the Tour, but he would never be able to work with Froome again. Having to deal with Froome dropping him numerous times, there was an obvious developing divide between the pair (and their wives) that would only become stronger, and uglier. Truly no love lost here.

2018: All Smiles at Mitchelton-Scott

At last, a relatively happier interaction between two leaders in the same team. Mitchelton-Scott arrived at the Giro d’Italia 2018 with high hopes and both Simon Yates and Esteban Chaves eyeing pink. It looked as if they’d played their cards perfectly – stage 6 marked a dominant display by the team, taking a one-two on the day as Chaves won on Mount Etna. Yates finished just behind him, soaring into the pink jersey after letting his teammate cross the line first. Then it began to go wrong.

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Credit: cycling tips.com

 

“I just didn’t have the strength… it didn’t work out” spoke the usually-smiling Colombian, after a horrific turn of events on stage 10 saw him drop from second place overall to losing 25 minutes on GC. Yates told the media he was “very disappointed for Esteban”, and ‘Chavito’ turned his full attention to helping his teammate in the fight for the maglia rosa. A tremendous ride meant the Brit held the jersey all the way from stage 6, until Chris Froome overpowered him on the bike after another regrettable day for Mitchelton-Scott on stage 19. “I gave everything today” were the words that left Yates’ mouth, after he finished almost 40 minutes down from stage winner/GC leader Chris Froome. This was in addition to his not-so-good previous stage, losing almost 30 seconds to Dumoulin.

Good, Bad or Ugly? Good. I can’t bring myself to say anything bad about this team, they just lacked the strength to win their first Grand Tour. Thanks to Dan Jones and his Backstage Pass videos, the personality of Mitchelton-Scott has been shining through for years. This is certainly a team that gels together and will happily show their team spirit, especially with the Colombian being adopted into the hearts of Australians (and cycling fans alike). So much so, that it never appeared an issue that both Yates and Chaves would share leadership at the Giro. Yates’ display of team comradery as he let Chaves take the stage win on the sixth day was certainly a nice change from previous years of intra-team bickering in this sport.

Ongoing: More’s The Merrier for Movistar

“Everyone’s looking for their own spot. We’re rivals after all.” – Valverde during the 2014 Vuelta a España.

Let’s be honest – it’s definitely not merrier, I just wanted to add more alliteration. Quintana and Valverde surely dislike the concept of sharing leadership with one another, and now Movistar have signed Landa into the mix – throwing their entire kitchen sink at this year’s Tour de France. Landa went from competing for leadership against Froome to having to actively hold off two members of his own team, for reasons I’m still not too sure about.

Quintana and Valverde don’t have the greatest of histories. They’re not Bartali and Coppi levels of I’m-climbing-off-so-I-don’t-have-to-work-with-you, but they’re not exactly Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates we’re-great-friends-and-co-leaders-and-no-one-can-tell-us-differently. Joint leaders for Movistar in the Vuelta a España in 2014, things soon appeared to turn sour for Quintana and Valverde. The honeymoon period that followed the team time trial win on the opening day disintegrated on stage 8, when Valverde dropped Quintana. The latter was distanced in crosswinds, and the then-maillot rojo wearer claimed it’s “impossible to know what’s going on… there’s so much noise… I couldn’t look back”.

Quintana may have stated the arrival of Landa at the beginning of the 2018 season was “a good option”, yet it doesn’t necessarily align with his comments last October. The Colombian couldn’t have made it clearer that he would be leading Movistar at the 2018 Tour de France: “I will be the leader [at the Tour] next year. It’s always been like that”. Now in addition with a strong new signing, who only finished 1 second off the podium last year, expect some tense moments as we wait to see how this one unfolds…

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Good, Bad or Ugly? Some good elements. The Quintana/Valverde dual leadership isn’t exactly the worst we’ve seen, both have helped the other in their pursuits to win Grand Tours. But despite Quintana’s quieter nature and inability to completely talk badly about his teammate in the public eye, does anyone else get the vibe they’re just not happy? That at any moment Valverde could try and drop Quintana because he feels stronger?

Honorary Mentions…

Nibali and Aru at Astana. It was definitely an interesting time. Also, why is it always Astana?

“[Aru] often gets upset. He’s short tempered. He doesn’t consider you. He trusts other people.” – Vincenzo Nibali on then-teammate Fabio Aru. Sounds ugly, but the pair were able to get through their stints at Astana working together, especially during the Tour in 2016. They would also share leadership for Italy at the 2014 World Championships.

Not forgetting Fuglsang and Aru… why is it always Aru?

“No matter the outcome of the Dauphiné, we’ll go to the Tour with two captains.” – While the Dane would win the Dauphiné in 2017, he would abandon the Tour de France on stage 13. Aru finished 5th overall. This leadership battle was a bit tame, all things considered.

Last but not least, the leadership battle between Porte and Van Garderen.

It always happens. An unsuccessful Tour, an off-season to prepare, then up pops the American declaring his wish to fight for GC again, becoming BMC’s leader only to crash out before the race heats up. On the flip side, we have Richie Porte. The Tasmanian Devil, Froome’s loyal lieutenant before heading to BMC in order to pursue his own leadership role. Like Van Garderen, Porte definitely hasn’t had the best time of GC fights, either being taken ill or taken out in crashes beyond his control. Neither Tejay or Porte have won a Grand Tour since their arrival at BMC, despite being scripted at co-leaders for the Tour in 2016. BMC then apparently quietly changed this to Porte being the sole leader, with TVG as their plan B. Porte would suffer an untimely puncture on stage 2, losing time to his rivals, as Tejay cracked on stage 17, ending up over 20 minutes behind leader Froome on GC.

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There have been plenty of occurrences involving dual leadership in the past. While some proved successful with winning Grand Tours, others did nothing for the harmony of the team – proving it’s not always good to put your eggs in different baskets.

So, all eyes turn to the Tour de France as we wait to see how Movistar’s three-pronged attack turns out. My guess? Good for the first week, turns bad after one shows signs of weakness or frustration, and the other two will be internally stressed thinking of if/when the other attacks. Or maybe that’s just what I want to see, some more Tour drama!

 

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Stage 9: Nantua > Chambéry

“I guess the organisers got what they wanted.” – Dan Martin, Quick-Step Floors, after his crash with Richie Porte.

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Where the previous stages had lacked action, stage 9 held nothing back. Crashes, interestingly timed attacks and a day that culminated in yet another photo finish were all part of the action of the world’s greatest bike race.

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Source: BBC.co.uk

What do you get when you pack rain, three unclassified climbs, an intermediate sprint, a category 2, two category 3, and a category 4 climb into one day? Mayhem.

Sky appeared to start the day on the back foot as the only team not represented in the 38-man breakaway. They continued to control the peloton, while Démare was out the back once again, with 2 teammates for company. Once more FDJ ran the risk of losing multiple riders in the aid of Démare, who eventually flagged his teammates to go ahead without him. A crash on the descent of the Col de la Biche left Thomas (Sky) sitting on the road, a suspected broken collarbone putting an end to his Tour de France, and for the second time this year – an injury taking him out of a Grand Tour. The Col de la Biche was a real biche.

With Movistar and Sky both losing riders, AG2R were on the offensive. They knew the roads and had targeted today for a stage win, preferably in the form on young French rider Bardet, but not before Gautier missed a turn and rode off the road. A touch of wheels between Contador and Quintana saw Contador hit the ground for the second time that day, losing even more time as he swung back and forth on his bike in an effort to get back on.

At the front, Barguil (Sunweb) was riding himself into the polka dot jersey, distancing Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) and cresting the Grand Colombier. With the intermediate sprint coming up, Matthews ensured his group bridged to the leaders. This 12-man leading group contained the likes of Geschke, Barguil and Matthews (Sunweb) and AG2R riders Vuillermoz and Bakelants – the latter recently forced to apologise after his comments about podium girls. Matthews won the intermediate sprint with a lack of contest, in the absence of his closest contenders for the green jersey – Kittel and Greipel understandably disliked today’s climbs, and Démare was still slowly cycling backwards.

Back in the peloton there was some controversy – Froome suffered a mechanical and raised his arm, which Aru promptly rode under to launch an attack with Quintana. Then was that Froome shutting the door on Aru later on? It was said later in the stage that Porte had actually neutralised Aru’s attack due to the timing of Froome’s mechanical. Who said they were enemies after the Dauphiné? Contador (Trek) was dropped as the amount of attacks from the front of the group rose, with only Froome (Sky), Porte (BMC), Uran (Cannondale), Bardet (AG2R) and Martin (Quick-Step) able to break away. They were just over 30 seconds down on leader Barguil who scaled the Mont du Chat to further his lead in the King of the Mountains standings. It was on the descent that Porte accidentally rode into the grass on the left hand side, before crashing back onto the road and harshly into the rock wall, taking Martin with him. An unnecessary number of replays followed while the remaining riders continued the descent, with Porte staying on the ground and receiving medical assistance while it appeared Martin got up and carried on until the end. Definitely out of another Grand Tour, I only hope Porte recovers quickly. A tenacious, determined rider, he is one who deserves to win a general classification.

The Frenchmen united up ahead as Bardet caught Barguil in the closing kilometres, while Uran suffered behind. His mechanical meant he could only ride on 2 gears, with his hanger bent and shifting broken. He powered on and by the time the group reached the final kilometre, they were all together. It looked like Fuglsang (Astana) could take the win, but he faded in the final few hundred metres, with Barguil surging forward and seemingly take the win from Uran by millimetres. Or so he thought…

A recurring theme in this year’s Tour de France, yet another deliberation over a photo finish was needed. While the stage was originally awarded to Barguil, who cried tears of joy (and possibly relief) and was shown to the ‘winner’s seat’, it was then retracted and awarded to Uran. Not bad for a team who recently went 2 years without a World Tour win. You know what they say about buses…

Thankfully, for both the viewers and the riders, tomorrow is a rest day. Chris Froome is still defending yellow, with Aru his closest rival at 18 seconds behind.

Talking Points:

  • When will Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte have a successful Grand Tour? With Geraint’s motorbike crash forcing him to abandon the Giro earlier this year, and Porte being unable to compete in the 2014 Giro due to illness, as well as that 2-minute incident in the 2015 Giro that docked him precious time before he crashed out, it’s looking like the pair are quite unlucky. It’s worth noting however, Porte gained a solid 5th place in the Tour de France last year.
  • The “unspoken” rule. Attacking when your fellow riders are in trouble with a mechanical – unsportsmanlike, or part of racing?
  • The losses for FDJ. It was going so well for Démare. Stage winner, green jersey wearer turned OTL on stage 9. It wasn’t just the green jersey FDJ had lost though, with a total of 4 riders (including Guarnieri, Delage and Konovalovas) not reaching the finish line in time. Is this because they spent too long with struggling Démare, or were they feeling the effects too?
  • Who’s getting the green jersey? With Sagan – quite possibly a shoe-in for the maillot vert – disqualified after stage four after that controversial decision, and current holder Démare now out of the race too, the competition is looking fierce for the first time in a few years. With Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) the current wearer, and the race heading through more mountains, this could change. Hot on his heels are Matthews (Sunweb), Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) to name but a few.

General Classification:

  1. Christopher Froome (Team Sky): 38:26:28
  2. Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team): + 0:00:18
  3. Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale): + 0:00:51
  4. Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale) + 0:00:55
  5. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana Pro Team) + 0:01:37
  6. Daniel Martin (Quick-Step Floors) + 0:01:44
  7. Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) + 0:02:02
  8. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) + 0:02:13
  9. Mikel Landa (Team Sky) + 0:03:06
  10. George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) + 0:03:53

Düsseldorf’s Delight as Le Tour Travels Through

“At age 104, after a long illness… the Tour is clinically dead. It is a broken toy, a burst soap bubble popped by careless kids, unaware that they are damaging themselves, their health and their childhood dreams as well…It’s all the more painful as we had almost begun to believe in the Tour again… in these soap-and-water cyclists who we were so ready to love.” – France Soir’s mock death notice for the Tour de France in 2007.

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German cycling can finally categorise itself as entering a new era. While the past will not be forgotten, there is hope for a brighter future. This newfound optimism can be mostly chalked down to the likes of Marcel Kittel, John Degenkolb, Tony Martin and Andre Greipel.

After peaking with Jan Ullrich in 1997, the only German rider to win the Tour de France, cycling took a sharp nosedive after a series of doping scandals darkened the sport. From Festina to Cofidis, EPO to blood transfusions, cycling was rife with tainted teams and individuals. Armstrong was stripped of his 7 Tour wins, Zabel – 6-time winner of the green jersey – confessed to using EPO and Ullrich was banned for 2 years after being found guilty of doping, with his results from 2005-2006 stripped from him. By 2006, TV ratings plummeted by 43% in Germany according to Initiative Futures Worldwide. To name just a few scandals from the 2007 Tour contributing to the continued downfall of its popularity, it was revealed on stage 8 that German T-mobile rider Sinkewitz had tested positive for testosterone the month prior, while Vinokourov tested positive for a blood transfusion before the time trial on stage 13. In addition to the ongoing case of Operation Puerto, these were the final few rusted nails in the coffin. As a result, German broadcasters ARD and ZDF stopped all coverage of the Tour de France from stage 8 onwards. The Deutschland Tour was stopped after 2008 and after more dwindling viewing figures, by 2012 the country had refused to broadcast the Tour de France altogether.

“The 2007 edition [of the Tour de France] died on 24 July on the heights of Loudenvielle…Killed by Alexander Vinokourov, idolised by the media and cycling fans, but revealed to have the blood of another running in his veins on the finishing line. Damn Vinokourov! He sullied the infinite beauty of the Pyrenees, dirtied cycling a little more and further discredited the Tour de France.” – Le Figaro.

So how did cycling in Germany redeem itself, so far to the extent that Germans were willing to welcome the Tour de France starting in their country, only a few years after broadcasting had been pulled?

The answer lies with the next generation. When ARD, ZFD and many of the public gave up with the sport, the younger cyclists did not. National Championships still continued for Germany, with the likes of Knees (now at Team Sky) winning in 2010, and Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) holding off fierce competition from Degenkolb (now Trek) to take 3 wins in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Tony Martin is one of the most successful German cyclists of all time, racking up a total of 7 National Time Trial Championships as well as 4 World Time Trial Championships.

Argos-Shimano (now Team Sunweb), a Netherlands-turned-Germany registered cycling team were followed by a documentary team in 2014. The aim was to document that through the struggles of the past (their directeur sportif Rudi Kemna confessed to using EPO in 2003), they were a team that could still win clean. It can appear almost hypocritical, with Kemna present, yet the documentary goes on to show how drugs in cycling have impacted German cyclists. Marcel Kittel refuses to take legal tablets from the team doctor, despite the doctor showing them all and labelling them to the camera. John Degenkolb reveals his heartbreak that his idols from childhood had taken drugs, and addresses the issue people watching the documentary might be thinking, by telling the audience that “the problem is that I’m saying the same things these guys said ten years ago, so how can I convince people they should believe me?”. Also seen are riders getting “checked”, Degenkolb has his bloods taken before the first stage of the 2013 Tour de France.

“When I was young, there were people that I looked up to and said: [gasps] Jan Ullrich. Erik Zabel. If you’re disappointed by these people many years later… that really hurts. I can say from personal experience.” – John Degenkolb in Clean Spirit.

VeloNews stated that in 2016, Martin, Kittel, Degenkolb and Greipel went “as a delegation” to remind TV executives they had a combined achievement of 24 stage victories in the last 5 years. They succeeded. ARD began to broadcast the Tour de France again that year, and just before the 2016 Tour it was announced that the 2017 edition would start in Düsseldorf.

“It makes me really, really proud to see that this sport is now well accepted again in my home country. There was definitely a time where not so many spectators were standing next to the road. And those who were there were showing signs with EPO syringes.” – Marcel Kittel.

My friends and I landed in Düsseldorf on the 28th of June, just days before the Tour de France was due to begin. In Oberbilk, there was little decoration in comparison to the likes of Yorkshire in 2014, and I was left wondering if people in Germany really cared about the Tour de France making a “grand return”, or if the fans lining the streets would simply be arriving from a different country. However, the closer you got into the centre of Düsseldorf, the more Tour spirit you could see. Le Tour certainly felt more real after the passing by of Quick-Step and Katusha in the street next to us.

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As Matilda, Gina, Kerry and I made our way closer to the Rhine, the bunting became more prominent and the roads became more colourful. Quite literally in fact, with one painted yellow for the arrival of the Tour.

 

The team presentation began on the 29th on June. Situating ourselves opposite the setting sun just above the Rhine, the crowds were heavily focused in front of the stage. As teams were presented to the cheering fans, they rolled down the side ramp and along the riverside past us. To our delight, Mathew Hayman (Orica Scott) stopped to give autographs and have a conversation with us, with Luke Durbridge joining him soon after, asking us if there were any good bars around. The always smiling Esteban Chaves later pulled up alongside us as we wished him good luck for the upcoming 3 weeks, and he gave us his autograph too. Safe to say, Orica Scott really are the friendliest team in the peloton – if you haven’t already gathered from their Backstage Passes. We additionally had the pleasure meeting Bernie Eisel, one of the most experienced riders in the peloton, with the lovely Taylor Phinney stopping for a conversation and a few photographs with us. It was only when we got his autograph and he was in the polka dot jersey after the second stage that we realised the paper he signed was also polka dot themed. A sign?

The decorations were not the only indication that Le Tour was in town. There was a Mythos Tour de France exhibition, with jerseys, cyclist portraits, that famous incident between Eric Walkowiak and Giuseppe Guerini and a wide selection of pictures, artworks and a running documentary. If that wasn’t enough, we were welcomed to the live recording of The Cycling Podcast with Paul Voß at the NRW-Forum in Düsseldorf.

Finally, on the 1st of July, the racing began. The publicity caravan passing through before the stage undoubtedly generated a buzz throughout the city centre as caravans threw out hats, bags and sweets while blaring music and beeping their horns. We eventually moved from under the 1km banner, closer to the end of the circuit, seeing the likes of World Champion Tony Martin, Chris Froome and stage winner (and future yellow jersey wearer) Geraint Thomas pass us by. It might have rained, causing spills that took out Valverde and Gallopin, but it didn’t dampen Team Sky’s spirits, with 4 of their riders finishing in the top 10.

Stage 2 enabled us to see all the jersey wearers roll out slowly in the neutral start, twice, before the racing started for the day. Thomas and Kiryienka (Sky) wore the yellow GC and green sprint jerseys respectively, while Küng wore white for best young rider. As the peloton left Düsseldorf, we paid a visit to the Canyon pop-up store, with the bikes of Gilbert and Quintana present.

A quick visit (well, quick for us anyway) to the new Specialized pop-up store finalized our time in Germany the day after. Greeted with free coffee on arrival, the store was heaven for bike lovers. Cancellera’s Tarmac was on show, as well as Armistead’s Amira, and we dejectedly made our way to Düsseldorf airport for our flights back home.

In my opinion, the Grand Départ signified the line between the old beliefs of German cycling (or cycling in general), and the new. While the symbolism of Tony Martin in the maillot jaune in Germany for the Tour de France would have been symbolic, having the yellow jersey on the (somewhat surprised) shoulders of Geraint Thomas as the first Welshman to wear it was also a sight to see. It was a pleasure to see Le Tour with people who love the sport and appreciate it just as equally as myself, and I was happy to experience the new acceptance of cycling in Germany in person. One thing that will stick with me was the sheer amount of cheering for the German riders during the time trial. One of the greatest moments was hearing the waves of volume signifying that Tony Martin was about to time trial past us. While cycling in Germany has had a dark past, its future is here. Cycling is changing, and with it are people’s opinions.

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Stage 21: Chantilly > Champs-Élysées

“To my teammates and support team this is your yellow jersey. I wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for your commitment. A massive thank you to Dave Brailsford and my coach Tim Kerrison. This is one special team and I’m so proud to be part of it. To Michelle my wife and my son Kellan, your love and support make everything possible. Kellan I dedicate this victory to you.”

“This Tour has taken place against the backdrop of the terrible events in Nice and we pay our respects once again to those who lost their lives. Of course these events put sport into perspective but they also show why the values of sport are so important to free society. We all love the Tour de France because it’s unpredictable but we love the Tour more for what stays the same – the passion of the fans for every nation, the beauty of the French countryside and the bonds of friendship created through sport. These things will never change.” – Chris Froome, Team Sky, after winning his 3rd Tour de France.

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Yes, it’s that unfortunate time of year once more. The time of year when every cycling fan around the world has to accept the Tour de France is yet again, over for another year. Whether you liked it, hated it, or were impartial to it, Chris Froome has just become a legendary 3 time winner of the Tour, placing him in an elite category of men such as Greg LeMond, Philippe Thys and Louison Bobet.  He’s also successfully defended it for the second year in a row, the first man to do this since Miguel Indurain. Andre Greipel crushed fellow sprinters hearts by taking the highly sought-after stage win on the Champs, beating Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Kristoff (Katusha) while Kittel (Etixx) was nowhere to be seen after suffering a triple bike change and then having to draft himself back to the peloton.

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While there have been numerous complaints about a ‘boring Tour’ – (which I disagree with, minus that one transition stage), it was certainly not plain sailing for Chris Froome. Just before the first stage his rivals were fresh, Quintana was yet to falter and Contador was yet to abandon. Who will ever forget the iconic image of Chris Froome running up Mont Ventoux? After close crowds caused a motorbike to stop, Richie Porte hit the back of it and went down, alongside Froome and Mollema. A second motorbike then ran over Froome’s bike and with his team car far behind, he faced no other option but to run. And run he did. Wearing cycling cleats, without a bike and somewhat bruised he took off up Mont Ventoux while de Gendt (yes someone did win that stage, don’t forget) took the win ahead of him.

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Who will forget the heart stopping moment the yellow jersey and Nibali went down on a slippery descent just 2 days from the finish? When the Maillot Jaune was torn and bloodied, and Thomas instinctively gave his teammate his bike (which had a different setup to Froome’s O-symmetric chain ring) – while Wout Poels dug deep to get Froome to the finish as quickly as possible, exhausting himself in the process?

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The 2016 Tour de France was also a joy to watch for British fans. Mark Cavendish took 4 wins, marking his total up to 30 before pulling out on stage 16. Steve Cummings also took a stage win on stage 7 as he did at the 2015 Tour, giving Dimension Data a successful 3 weeks. Dan McLay shot forward in a sprint on stage 6 to claim 3rd position. The most promising British prospect however, was Adam Yates. Orica-BikeExchange have never declared themselves a Team Sky Tour challenging team unlike Tinkoff, yet found themselves in the position of defending Adam’s podium place and his white jersey. His Tour wasn’t always as positive, as a Flamme Rouge banner for 1km to go deflated just as he was passing under it, causing him and his bike to flip. (The stage Cummings won, so you know.) Yet despite needing stitches in his chin, Adam seemed as positive as ever. He took the white jersey all the way to Paris and despite losing his 3rd place to Quintana by just 22 seconds, had an incredibly successful second Tour.

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Before the start of the stage, La Course was underway. The weather conditions were a sharp contrast from last year’s torrential rain, with less crashes and more competitiveness. Chloe Hosking (Wiggle High5) took the win.

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The 21st and ceremonial stage started just like the Tours it followed. Maillot Jaune wearer Chris Froome (Sky) was alongside white jersey/young rider classification winner Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange – also 4th in GC), green jersey/points classification winner Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and polka dot jersey/King of the Mountains Rafal Majka (Tinkoff). Romain Bardet (AG2R – 2nd in GC) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar – 3rd in GC) soon joined him at the front, before Froome dropped back to join his fellow teammates. All 9 made it to the finish this year, which has never happened for Sky before. They were Chris Froome, Wout Poels, Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard, Vasil Kiryienka, Luke Rowe, Mikel Nieve, Sergio Henao and Mikel Landa. They wore customised yellow and black Sky kits with yellow gloves, yellow helmets and yellow handlebars. Instead of the obligatory champagne shot, which came later, ‘Froomey’ travelled back to the team car and shadowed all the water carrying his teammates had done this Tour, and brought them a bottle of beer each. You can probably guess what happened next if you didn’t watch, but a lovely team united scene of spraying the bottles on each other before drinking them followed. Then came the standard ‘Sky win = Sky line photo’ shot and with all riders included, it’s one for the books.

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The stage then officially started and Bernie Eisel was further ahead than anybody else. Looking back frequently to see why no-one else had followed him (Cavendish wasn’t on your wheel this time, Bernie), he rejoined the laughing bunch with a smile on his face. The crowds for the final stage were immensely better than the ones for Mont Ventoux (despite one fan that wanted to be on TV, didn’t look at the incoming riders and got a mouthful from an angry Sagan and Nibali) with cheers, celebrations and a giant confetti cannon showering golden confetti on riders. Then came the champagne shot. It’s lucky with all the mixing drinks that Froome doesn’t pull a Richie Porte like last year – where they lined up for the shot and Richie’s bike wobbled as he let go with both hands, almost causing a crash that would’ve taken down the team (and yellow jersey wearer Froome).

As the stage got to 80km to go, the final climb of the Tour was dawning. However it was only the Category 4 Côte de l’Ermitage which the tired riders took with ease, Roman Kreuziger taking the final point of the year. This didn’t affect the jersey though, as Rafal Majka had already won it. As the peloton are lead onto the Champs, Chris Froome smiles surrounded by his teammates.

Is it a Tour de France without a doomed break on the Champs-Élysées? 8 riders went clear – Alexis Gougeard (AG2R-La Mondiale), Markus Burghardt (BMC), Jan Barta (Bora), Lawson Craddock (Cannondale-Drapac), Daniel Teklehaimanot (DiData), Jérémy Roy (FDJ), Brice Feillu (Fortuneo-VitalConcept) and Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida). Unfortunately at this point Tony Martin (Etixx) retired and walked straight onto the team bus with a knee injury. Just when he was needed the most too, as Marcel Kittel punctured just after teammate Keisse and just before other teammate Dan Martin. Kittel’s second bike also wasn’t ideal for him and he threw the wheel on the ground, before having to drift himself back into to the peloton. He’d wasted a lot of energy however, unable to fully contest for the final sprint.

Marcus Burghardt (BMC) took the final points of the Tour for the last intermediate sprint, with Sagan winning the jersey. Two laps to go on the Champs-Élysées and the break were caught. Lutsenko (Astana) and Van Avermaet (BMC) broke away yet were reeled back in with 1km to go. As always with the final Tour sprint build up, there’s a lot of pressure, heart rates rise, nerves are heightened and that’s only for the spectators. Just after an IAM rider crashed, so did Coquard, ruling him out of this year’s sprint. With 1km to go the sprinters and their lead-out trains had distanced the main bunch. All the main contenders of Greipel, Kittel (who will later not make the top 10), Sagan, Kristoff and Boasson Hagen were there. Kristoff went for it, yet Greipel was close behind and surged past him. Sagan had the stronger finish however, speeding up behind Greipel yet just falling short. Andre Greipel (Lotto) finally took his stage win at the Tour, and the Champs-Élysées win 2 years in a row.

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As he had done for the 2 wins previous, Chris Froome crossed the line alongside his fellow Team Sky riders, holding on to each other. He lost a minute from Bardet (a minute he could afford) and went straight to wife Michelle and son Kellan.

For the last time this year, here are the 2016 Tour de France results for the final stage.

  1. André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal)
  2. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)
  3. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha)
  4. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data)
  5. Michael Matthews (Orica BikeExchange)
  6. Jasper Stuyven (Trek Segafredo)
  7. Ramunas Navardauskas (Cannondale)
  8. Christophe Laporte (Cofidis)
  9. Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon)
  10.  Reinardt Jense van Rensburg (Dimension Data)

Here are the results for the general classification:

  1.  Chris Froome (Team Sky) 89h 6’01”
  2.  Romain Bardet (AG2R LaMondiale) +2’52”
  3.  Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +3’08”
  4.  Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) +3’29”
  5.  Richie Porte (BMC) +4’04”
  6.  Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +5’03”
  7.  Louis Meintjes (Lampre-Merida) +5’45”
  8.  Daniel Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) +5’51”
  9.  Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff) +5’58”
  10.  Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) + 6’16”

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TOUR STANDOUTS

The French are right to be pleased with this year’s Tour.

Romain Bardet: AG2R

“This will take some time to understand, I’m still struggling to imagine what happened.”

When Thibaut Pinot abandoned on stage 13­­ and France still hadn’t gained a stage win 3 days before the end of the Tour, it looked to be a disappointing Tour for them again. However Romain took the stage 19 win and propelled himself up to 2nd on GC, where he stayed.

Julian Alaphilippe: Etixx (and Tony Martin: Etixx)

I suffered a lot after yesterday’s stage, and I suffered a lot in his wheel today. I don’t know how he’s that strong but these kind of days are enriching for me, and chapeau to him.”

Stage 15 was described by many as the hardest stage of the Tour, with Alaphilippe the strongest of Pantano, Majka and Zakarin. He was aiming for the stage win and posed a serious challenge until a mechanical caused a crash just before the final climb of Lacets du Colombier. The day after he was in a 145km, 4 hours, 2 man breakaway with fellow teammate Tony Martin. This resulted in the combativity prize awarded to both riders instead of one.

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“We were without victory but it was an honour to stay with Julian and to have the prize together is a big honour for us. We can be proud of what we did. We didn’t get the victory but we had a good time.” – Tony Martin

Adam Hansen: Lotto-Soudal

The unsung Australian hero. Hansen finished this year’s Tour, making this the 15th consecutive GT he’s completed, continuing his record.   

“I don’t know why the team keeps taking me!” Hansen told Cycling Weekly with a laugh. “Sometimes, I hope I don’t get selected!”   

Speaking of men completing a large number of GT’s, Haimar Zubeldia (Trek) has finished his 15th Tour de France, finishing 24th at the age of 39.

Tom Dumoulin: Giant-Alpecin

“It’s very very special. I’m a time trial specialist but today I showed I can do more, and I showed it last year at the Vuelta. I’m so so happy, it’s incredible.”

Distancing himself from the GC contenders, Dumoulin broke away on stage 9 in horrific weather conditions to take the mountain stage win. He then won the time trial on stage 13 and looked set to win the 2nd time trial on stage 18, before Froome (the last rider off the start ramp, which meant Dumoulin had an hour and a half wait to see if he’d won) took the win by 21 seconds. Dumoulin later crashed out of the Tour on stage 19, his Olympic medal in doubt, yet is positive his clean fractured radius will not stop him.

Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling)

Pantano won stage 15 of the Tour, beating Majka in a sprint finish of the mountain stage. He later finished 2nd on stages 17 and 20, and replaced Quintana in the Columbian Olympics team.

Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal)

Unfortunately de Gendt winning on Mont Ventoux was not the most talked about event of the day, with Froome running heading news reports worldwide. This wasn’t his only shining moment at the Tour, with his breakaway on stage 5 earning him the King of the Mountains jersey and the combative award. Alongside Majka and Pantano, he spent the most kilometres in the breakaway this Tour.

Team Sky

Team Sky may have placed 2nd in the team classification, yet they were the winning team at the Tour. While Chris Froome worked solo for certain moments in the Tour, suddenly breaking away on stage 8 with his unique descending, teaming up with Sagan to take more seconds out of his rivals and winning the time trial on stage 18, his teammates were vital to his success.  Wout Poels has been deemed by many as the ‘teammate of the Tour’ with heroic efforts on numerous stages – most notably stage 19 when Froome crashed – and shut down various attacks on mountain stages – including Aru and Bardet on stage 15. The pictures of Froome with his arm around Poels as they crossed the stage 19 finish say enough. Geraint Thomas, Mikel Nieve, Sergio Henao and Mikel Landa were also constantly with Froome in the mountains, while Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe and Vasil Kiryienka didn’t get the screen time they deserved, putting in workloads before the cameras started rolling, helping Froome maintain a steady (yet high) pace. All 9 riders in Sky finished the Tour for the first time since they were founded in ­­2012 and the line as they crossed the finished will remain an iconic Tour picture.

So congratulations Chris Froome and Team Sky. His 3rd Tour de France.

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(photos are either Getty Images, Team Sky, BBC News, Sky Sports, Ella CyclingTips or LeTour’s Twitter)

Stage 20: Megève > Morzine-Avoriaz

It couldn’t have gone any better.” – Geraint Thomas, Team Sky

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Today couldn’t have gone any better for Chris Froome, who eased up across the line in the pouring rain to all but seal his third Tour de France victory while his GC rivals failed to attack. The Maillot Jaune wearer hadn’t seen a repeat of stage 19, in which he crashed and had to take teammate Geraint’s bike, yet had seen a repeat in consolidating his Tour win and still wearing the yellow jersey. Izagirre (Movistar) took the stage after his descending skills propelled him away from Nibali, Pantano and Alaphilippe on a thunderstorm impacted day in France.

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There were numerous attack attempts from the second Prudhomme signalled the official start, yet the 5 riders that succeeded were Kelderman (Lotto-Jumbo), Vakoc (Etixx), Chavanel (Direct Energie), Edet (Cofidis) and Benedetti (Bora-Argon).

Before the break reached the bottom of the climb for the Cat 2 Col des Aravis, they had been joined by the climbers of De Gendt (Lotto) and Zakarin (Katusa). Any points claimed by De Gendt were only to enforce his second place in the King of the Mountains competition, as Majka (Tinkoff) had officially won bar an abandonment. Those trying to make something of their Tour de France or salvage it also joined; Rolland (Cannondale), Barguil (Giant) and Van Garderen (BMC). Alaphilippe (Etixx) was trying yet again to find his stage win, while Nibali was hoping to be the first Italian winner at the 2016 Tour. They were later joined by Pantano (IAM), Henao (Sky) and Sagan (Tinkoff) to make a breakaway of 37 riders.

When they reached the sprint, Matthews took it ahead of De Gendt and then Sagan, who doesn’t need any more points after he had officially won the points classification provided he finishes tomorrow. At 45.5km in they had hit the start of the 12km Cat 1 Col de la Colombière and dropped Barguil and Teklehaimanot (DDD) who were 38 seconds back. Kreuziger was in virtual second place podium position, taking over from Bardet.

While the peloton approached the climb 5 minutes later they were busy putting on their rain jackets. Today’s stage featured torrential rain and thunderstorms, not ideal for a stage that featured plenty of technical descents at high speeds, just before the final stage. On the descent, Henao suffered a puncture. He waited for the Mavic service car and yet cycled away just when his Team Sky car pulled in behind. They tried to call him back via car horn, yet they couldn’t get his attention. He later rejoined Team Sky at the front of the peloton, while Bauke Mollema had dropped off the back.

The riders that had left Henao behind in the heavy rain were Gougeard, Kreuziger, Izaguirre, Rui Costa, Sagan, Pantano and Alaphilippe, the latter two managed to break away. With 6km to go and a stage win in sight (despite Pantano winning stage 15 he wasn’t going to just let Alaphilippe take today) both cyclists were counterattacking each other. Alaphilipe would distance Pantano, Pantano would catch up to him, then distance Alaphilippe, then Alaphilippe would bring him back. This lack of working together made it easy for Nibali to catch up with them and join the front, while his Astana teammate Aru cracked in the peloton, surrounded by teammates and needing gels. Definitely the biggest disappointment of the day, as he came in 17 minutes down. Barguil saw his suffering in the stage and offered a helpful pat (more of a ‘push’, as assistance would bring a fine…). At the front of the peloton, Mollema resurrected himself and broke away from the front, leaving Sky behind. He had dropped from 2nd and a podium place to 10th after just one bad day, yet still retained his fighting spirit, proving no position is safe in the Tour until they crossed the finish line for stage 21.

“Something is up – this level of performance is not normal for me. The body isn’t responding.”  Quintana’s podium position was also under threat. If Bardet (2nd at the beginning of the stage) attacked alongside Yates (4th) or Porte (5th), they could easily move up to 3rd and knock him down. Yet time was not on their side, as no GC rival attacked. Luck for Quintana, who hadn’t had the greatest Tour.

Team Sky continued to surge up the climbs and caught Mollema, white Yates and Quintana were well positioned behind them. Fireworks were still occurring off the front, with Alaphilippe’s seemingly strong attack neutralised by Pantano once again while Nibali rejoined them. For a man who looked strong a few kilometres ago, Nibali was nervous on the descents and taking his time around corners in the rain. If he was trying to protect himself ahead of the Olympics, he had almost put himself up in the break for nothing except sponsor time. Yet he distanced ahead of Alaphilippe and Pantano. Could anyone break the front trio?

Jon Izaguirre. His quiet presence had suddenly attacked and he launched himself away from Nibali, taking Pantano with him. Alaphilippe was still hanging on out the back, not so much ‘stuck in the void’ yet, but finding it hard to hang on to the hopes of a stage win. He also lost out on the Prix Antargaz to Peter Sagan. Descent drama followed as Pantano almost fell off the side of the road while taking a corner followed by Nibali almost hitting a wall a few moments later. Alaphilippe was then passed by Kelderman for 4th place, as the peloton were closing in – Thomas was leading them up the final climb as they drew in Rodriguez.

Along the last few kilometres, the trio split and Pantano was in the middle of a distanced Nibali and stage winner Izaguirre. However the Columbian couldn’t match his speed and Izaguirre won by 20 seconds. Nibali finished 3rd, Alaphilippe was 4th with a grazed looking Kelderman in 5th. Just over 4 minutes behind the stage winner came Bardet, Quintana and Martin (Dan, not Tony) trying to break for just seconds over Froome, who crossed the line next to his teammates a few moments later. Shaking his head in almost disbelief, he smiled. When Chris Froome crosses the line tomorrow, he’ll have won his 3rd Tour de France. Knighthood, anyone?

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Tomorrow’s stage is more ceremonial than competitive, with riders completing 8 laps of the Champs before the world’s greatest sprinters contest for the final sprint. Kittel has been unusually quiet this year alongside fellow German Greipel, so expect a fierce effort from their sprint trains to fight for position. However, don’t count anybody out. Remember the 2014 finish where Navardauskas (Garmin) beat Greipel to come 3rd, Renshaw (OPQS) came 5th and Bernie Eisel (Sky) came 6th? A surprise win could happen.

Stage 19: Albertville > Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc

“One thing that cycling has taught me is that if you can achieve something without a struggle it’s not going to be satisfying.”      – Greg LeMond

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Stage 19 of the Tour de France was undoubtedly the most hectic stage of the race so far.  Torrential rain, crashes and abandonments wreaked havoc on the 146km route as Romain Bardet (AG2R- who I mentioned was long due a stage win just two days ago) saved French hearts from breaking and avoided spoiling the 17 year run without 0 French stage wins.

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Despite the slight changes in the route, it was essentially the same stage Froome had won in the Critérium du Dauphiné in 2015 yet unfortunately the result was not the same this year. A late crash and another broken bike meant he lost 39 seconds to Bardet yet still retains his 4 minute advantage in GC.

177 riders started today’s stage with 20 riders breaking away from the peloton with a 3m55 gap. They included Pantano (IAM), De Gendt (Lotto), Majka (Tinkoff), Martin (Etixx) and Matthews (OBE) who took the intermediate sprint at 25km. Back in the peloton, Tiralongo, Rosa and Nibali (AST) moved to the front, distancing slightly while Movistar riders tried to shout them back. They were then joined up the road by two more Astana riders, a Cofidis and a Katusha rider. Astana weren’t always so keen to work together during the stage, as around 42km in Grivko and Rosa argued at the front. Rosa motioned for him to slow down, while Grivko put his hand on Rosa’s shoulder telling him patronisingly to pretty much mind his own business and leave him alone. Rosa then moved back while shouting at Grivko, I imagine the mood in the team bus and hotel tonight won’t be too great.

In the breakaway, De Gendt beat Majka over the summit of Forclz De Montmin to claim the most points for the King of the Mountains jersey, yet Majka was ahead by 70 points. He also beat Majka on the Col de la Forclaz de Queige, yet with only a two point gap in 1st and 2nd points for the summit it didn’t impact the standings.

Before the rain started there was a crash in the bunch, as Tom Dumoulin touched a wheel of his teammate and hit the floor, holding his wrist. He was the worst hurt of the pair. Adam Yates also needed a new bike (he wasn’t involved in the crash) and was then forced to use more energy he needed at the end of the stage to get back towards the front. Rodriquez punctured in the neutral zone at the beginning and then suffered another mechanical. Dumoulin was then revealed to have abandoned in tears, unfortunate for a man who was having such a great Tour with 2 stage wins and was aiming for Olympic success in 3 weeks.

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Pierre Rolland and Rui Costa attacked off the front of the breakaway, yet disaster struck as he Rolland crashed on the descent of the Montee de Bisanne in the rain. He slid across the road, into mud and almost hit a stationary motorbike. Road rash on his hip and a torn jersey, he got back onto his bike and carried on. Yet the rain turned torrential as riders struggled to stay upright on their bikes while descending at high speed. Two FDJ riders also crashed on the descent, with Richie Porte stuck behind them and losing time.

The build up to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc didn’t fare riders well for crashes either. Navarro was forced to abandon after he crashed with Bennett (LottoNL) and Sepulveda (EF-VC). Yellow jersey wearer Froome had slipped on a white line in the road, sliding and fortunately only losing some skin while Nibali fell behind him. As Geraint Thomas came round the corner and saw Froome on the ground, he instantly gave him his bike as Wout Poels helped him to the finish. Teammate of the day? Definitely Wout Poels. Bauke Mollema also momentarily went off-road cycling as he missed the corner. The Trek rider couldn’t keep up with the pace and seemed to be going backwards with every pedal stroke, losing time with every kilometre.

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Excitement for the French however, as Romain Bardet closed in on Rui Costa. Since the beginning of today’s stage there had been no French, Spanish or Italian stage winner at this year’s Tour. In fact when he did catch him, he sailed past him, heading for the finish line solo. He asked the nearest motorbike rider for his nearest rival – 29 seconds behind.

Meanwhile back in the yellow jersey group, Adam Yates was hanging on for his podium position and white jersey. Dan Martin attacked from the front and distanced the group while Quintana and Porte tried to attack – yet Wout Poels had it covered. They later attacked with 2km to go, yet Wout reeled them in again. Again, teammate of the day. (Or teammate of the Tour?)

In front of them, Romain Bardet took the stage win and moved up to 2nd in GC in front of a deafening reception from the public, giving France its first victory of the Tour. He saluted them as he crossed over the line and Rodriquez finished 22 seconds later. Froome lost only a matter of seconds to Quintana, Valverde and Aru while the biggest time loss in GC was seen by Bauke Mollema. A day he would most likely be looking forward to forget, he crossed the line 4m25 down. His podium place of 2nd unfortunately taken from him as he fell to 10th place, 7m42 behind Froome. Today’s stage would also have been hard for Dumoulin and Navarro, abandoning after crashes. Yates lost 9 seconds to Quintana yet received a 10 second penalty for a ‘hang sling’, moving him from 3rd to 4th place and off the virtual podium.

Tomorrow’s stage is reflective of todays in terms of mountain categories. Stage 19 saw a Category 2 climb, two Category 1’s and a HC, exactly the same for tomorrow. Expect a last-ditch fierce fight for 2nd and 3rd podium places between Bardet, Quintana, Yates and Porte while Poels and Geraint continue to help Froome towards the end, keeping the yellow jersey safe. Majka will presumably try for mountain points despite not needing them, yet will consolidate his hold on the polka dot jersey further. Aru tried too little to late today for the stage win, and with no Italian win so far, could he try and break for it tomorrow, or did he burn his team today? There has also been no Spanish win, so keep an eye out for Rodriquez or even Valverde, if Valverde is not helping leader Quintana.

Stage 18: Sallanches > Megève

Time trial: (noun) a test of a competitor’s individual speed over a set distance

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Chris Froome powered his way up the Côte de Domancy, dominating the field as he took his second Tour de France stage win and kept his iron grip on the yellow jersey (or skinsuit). The Team Sky rider also took time out of his GC rivals, Mollema and Quintana. Fabian Cancellara was a non-starter for his Olympic focus and Shane Archbold was forced to retire after a crash caused him a broken pelvis from stage 17.

“I really didn’t expect to beat Tom today” – Chris Froome

First rider on the course was lanterne rouge holder Sam Bennett (Bora) for being last in the GC standings, with the yellow skinsuit wearer Froome last to set off from the start ramp. The Team Sky leader paced himself towards the first 6.5km checkpoint, marking himself 23 seconds down from Dumoulin. Even at this early point in the stage it looked as if Froome was conserving energy for the following two mountain stages despite placing virtual second for the stage results. He then proceeded to gain speed with every kilometre, from being 10 seconds behind Dumoulin at the 10km checkpoint to then gaining a 9 second lead ahead at the 13.5km mark. Expertly tackling the twists and turns in the last kilometre, avoiding the barriers unlike Oliver Naesen (IAM) and Jeremy Roy (FDJ), he powered for the line and beat Dumoulin by 21 seconds.

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Throughout the day the lead undoubtedly changed hands numerous times with the men higher up the GC ranking coming in later on in the day. Oliveria (Movistar), Sicard (Direct Energie) and Coppel (IAM) were all fastest before the next overtook them, and unfortunately for Thomas De Gendt he was knocked down from first to second in a matter of 10 minutes when Tom Dumoulin crossed the line, beating his time by 41 seconds.

“I think Froome in top shape will beat my time” Dumoulin says just a few minutes after stepping off his bike, being made to wait patiently for an hour and a half before Froome would cross the line. The stage they were both contesting the win for was sharp from the beginning, the steepest section coming just 3km from the start line and lasting 2.5km. The quickest rider up this will win the one-off Bernard Hinault Prize as this is his last Tour involving podium duties. At the end of the stage, it went to Richie Porte. The course also had 4 checkpoints to compare rider times. The first was the Côte de Domancy at 6.5km, the second was Combloux at 10km, the next was Les Berthekets at 13.5km and the last was the finish line of the Megeve at 17km.

The BMC rider scaled the climb 9 seconds quicker than Dumoulin, earning him a trophy and €5,000. He also had an incredibly fast stage, challenging Dumoulin for the win (before Froome had crossed the line). Initially down on Dumoulin yet creeping up on him at the second checkpoint, Porte had managed to take 9 seconds off him before then losing 18. He battled on to the end, catching Dumoulin’s time yet in the end was 12 seconds behind him.

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Team Sky teammate and world TT champion Kiryienka finished 5 minutes behind stage winner Froome, likely to be conserving his energy for the remaining two mountain stages. Former champion Tony Martin finished 3m32 behind. Podium place contenders Quintana and Yates finished 1m10 and 1m23 down respectively while Mollema finished 1m25 down.

Froome’s win meant this was the 7th British victory in the 2016 race, equaling the UK’s best performance at the Tour de France. Tomorrow’s stage is a 146km mountain stage that sees the riders having to tackle two Category 2 climbs, one Category 1 of a summit finish and a HC climb. Expect to see a lot of Sky, Movistar and Trek trying to look after their team leaders, while Astana will likely send Aru in a breakaway or by himself closer to the finish of the stage for the first Italian win this Tour.

Stage 17: Berne > Finhaut-Emosson

“The other teams have got to make it difficult for us not to win it and they weren’t able to.” – Mikel Nieve

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Stage 17 of the Tour saw 181 riders tackling the hardest sections from the 2014 Dauphiné, which had seen Contador taking the leader’s jersey from Chris Froome. However he could somewhat forget this distant memory to the Tour lacking a large Contador presence as he retired on stage 9.

As always the Tour de France produced drama before reaching the business end of the day, with a crash just 1km into the neutral zone taking down Barguil (TGA), Bozic (COF) and Izagirre (MOV), with the latter two forced to retire. Other retirements included Rohan Dennis (BMC) and Mark Cavendish (DDD) who are looking to claim success at Rio.

Tony Martin lived up to his nickname ‘Panzerwagen’ as he once again took off for a breakaway, this time Alaphilippe decided against joining and Martin was instead joined by riders such as Teklehaimanot (DDD). Potentially a good move, with Martin also wearing the red combativity award (which Alaphilippe also gained for their 4 hour breakaway yesterday) yet with two Category 3 climbs, a Category 1 and a HC climb to go, the break didn’t last long and were quickly reeled back in.

Team Sky were controlling the high pace of the peloton as they reached the first categorised climb of the day, the Côte de Saanenmöser. Movistar were positioned directly behind them on Froome’s wheel, with Astana and Trek also present. As tweeted by @Etixx_QuickStep, the first hour averaged a speed of 51.8 km/h. This also pushed the stage half an hour in front of schedule, handy for long shots of collapsed and tired riders after they scale Finhaut-Emosson or classic panning scenic helicopter shots. Impey (OBE), Barguil (who had been taken down in the earlier crash), Ten Dam (TGA) and Gougeard (AG2R) tried to breakaway, yet channelled the numerous breakaway attempts beforehand and were caught before they could get a great deal of distance on the peloton. As the peloton got closer to the second Category 3 climb, the Col des Mosses, polka dot jersey wearer Rafal Majka tried to distance the peloton in order to secure more points to add to his King of the Mountains total. Yet again, the runaway rider was caught and the peloton were back together with some sprinters such as Dan McLay being dropped due to Team Sky’s intense pace.

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Finally – an established breakaway managed to build a lead of 15 seconds on the peloton. Riders included Majka (again) and Pantano (yes, again), as well as Sagan and Gallopin. No-one challenged Majka for the King of the Mountains points and he increased his lead of 129 points to Thomas De Gendt’s 90 and Navarro’s 69. The 11 riders also increased their lead to almost 3 minutes. They weren’t only being chased down by the peloton, as a counterattack of 9 riders formed a chase. They included Rui Costa, Julian Alaphilippe (who has been pretty active at the Tour these last few stages) and of course, Thomas Voeckler. The highest placed GC contender is Stef Clement (IAM), yet being 37 minutes down on Froome he posed no real threat and the breakaway were left to continue. The peloton trailed by 4 minutes at 100km to go as the break reached the Category 3 Col des Mosses, which will presumably feel like nothing compared to the HC climb at the end of the stage. The counterattack then split when Voeckler (Direct Energie), Van Avermaet (BMC) and Lutsenko (AST) distanced the group while ascending the Col des Mosses.

Another crash saw Tsgabu Grmay (LAM) down on the ascent while the peloton slowed as they passed the feed zone. The distances between the break, chasers and peloton remained the same and Team Sky were still very much in control still with 40km to go. Astana and Movistar were very quiet here, sitting on the wheels of Sky as if waiting for their prime opportunity to attack. However, they didn’t and Movistar riders were fast dropping one by one leaving Quintana with only Valverde.

With 8km to go, a déjà vu moment occurred with Majka and Pantano gaining 25 seconds on the chasers and looking to want to take it all the way to the line, exactly like stage 15, until Zakarin (KAT) bridged the gap and 4k to go, distanced Pantano. He held on all the way to the line to take the stage win, while trying desperately to zip up his jersey while controlling his bike to show the Katusha sponsor.

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Back with the peloton, Froome was sitting comfortably being led by Astana with Mollema on his wheel. Nibali then fell back through the peloton with Valverde attacking. A determined Wout Poels makes sure to track him down and takes Chris Froome with him while Valverde eases up. Are you still with me? This is where it really gets interesting. Will anyone ever distance the peloton this late?…

Dan Martin. The Etixx rider furiously tried to distance Poels, Froome, Quintana and Mollema, and he does. Alas in the true style of stage 17, he gets pulled back in by Poels and Froome. Anyone else?…

Richie Porte. The Tasmanian attacked with Froome close behind. Neither Mollema nor Aru can keep up with the high pace the ex-Sky member set and it looks like the classic Froome/Porte sight crossing the line together, despite being different teams, will be seen again. Now it was time for Froome to attack. Where is Quintana?

Dropped. He hasn’t had the greatest Tour de France as he sees the yellow jersey speed ahead, while he is left with no teammates or wheels to follow as Adam Yates passes him by. The third placed rider in GC who also holds the white jersey distances the Movistar rider as well as second placed Mollema. A sad sight for Columbian fans who see their GC favourite passed by Aru, Bardet and numerous others.

Froome and Porte crossed the line together, with Yates only 7 seconds behind. What a Tour the Orica rider is having. Bardet was only 10 seconds behind, with Aru 17 seconds and Quintana 27 seconds behind. Mollama finished with a 39 second deficit while Valverde was over 2 minutes behind.

Stage 19 was fast, hectic and saw Froome gain more time on his closest rivals. Tomorrow sees an uphill 17km time trial favouring the GC favourites more than the time trial specialists. Expect to see Froome take some more time out of his rivals while Dumoulin aims for his second time trial win and third stage win of the Tour. However he will be tested – the course is entirely different to the flat stage he won almost a week ago. France are also still looking for their stage win and hoping it comes sometime soon. It’s been 17 years since they last went a full Tour without a stage win and they’ll be hoping they can at least grab a mountain stage win before the Champs-Élysées. Can Alaphilippe finally get the stage win that’s eluded him this Tour? Fifth placed in GC Bardet?

 

Stage 16: Moirans-en-Montagne > Berne

“I thought I had it. I was sprinting at maximum and I didn’t really see the line until it was too late.” – Alexander Kristoff.

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A welcome stage as far as Chris Froome is concerned, the 209 kilometre route essentially another transition stage before the final rest day and the final, gruelling mountain stages.
Yet it wasn’t easy for the sprinters, having to face two climbs in the last kilometres that could’ve easily distanced the likes of Kittel and Cavendish.

You see, the stage wasn’t designed for another Cavendish win, nor a Kristoff or Greipel win. Instead it was suited for Fabian Cancellara, a worthy yellow jersey wearer that was sadly in his final Tour. (‘Spartacus’ has worn the yellow jersey more than any other rider who has not won the overall GC. Unfortunate, really.) Thus, stage 16 featured a cobbled ending for the Classics specialist from Trek, with a sharp cobbled climb that could have seen the crowd favourite take the win.

LeTourData handily tweeted the ‘fact of the day’: Froome has now worn the Maillot Jaune for the 38th day, today. This places him tied 5th with Magne for days in yellow during the Tour. He wasn’t attacking on today’s mountain lacking stage however, as within the first 15 kilometres Tony Martin and teammate Julian Alaphilippe had distanced themselves from the peloton and showed no signs of relenting. Alaphilippe was trying his hardest to win a Tour stage for the second day in a row after a mechanical then a crash saw him lose the greatest opportunity for a stage 15 win. Bert-Jan Lindeman (LottoNL) and Pierre-Luc Périchon (Fortuneo – Vital Concept) were only two of the failed attempts to join Etixx today as the pair continued to elude the chasing mound of cyclists behind them. Yet if they were to go all the way, who would take the win? Experienced TT World Champion Tony Martin took the cobbled stage win at the 2014 Tour de France, yet Julian Alaphilippe is also a man on a mission after his failed (yet determined) attempt yesterday. By the time 50KM had passed they were maintaining their 1m15 lead with various counterattacks either shut down or falling too short.

However with only 25KM and at the beginning of the short climbs to complete, Alaphilippe cracked leaving Martin to go on his own. This didn’t last too long and he was caught 3KM later. Rui Costa (Lampre) attacked with 20KM left yet lasted just under 5KM, reeled back in. (He was still slightly in front of the peloton for another 5KM.) You have to admire his pained face and determination, especially how with 10KM to go he had extended his slight gap to 10 seconds. Could we see Rui take the stage?….

…Not if Trek have anything to say about it, working hard to give Fabian his final chance at a Tour stage win. They let BMC take over the work and Costa was caught just 2KM from the line. With 1KM to go, the high pace uphill saw plenty of potential winners dropped. Sagan, Kittel and Degenkolb weren’t. The pace was then set even higher, sprint trains dwindling and Kristoff went for the line. Could he finally have gained his stage win at the Tour after sadly ruling himself out to the likes of Sagan, Degenkolb and Kittel?

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Heartbreak for the man from Katusha, who makes the mistake of not lunging for the line like Sagan. The green jersey had taken it in a photo finish.

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“At the beginning we were really happy and celebrating because we thought we had the win. Then, it started to filter through that we hadn’t. It was disappointing. The organisers were saying Sagan had won and Kristoff was second. We lost by a tiny little margin.” – Jose Acevedo (Katusha director)

Therefore the biggest disappointment was felt by Kristoff, who came so close yet so far. Alaphilippe and Martin came close too after a fierce four hour breakaway, yet Cancellara also features here. Losing the finish to a stage designed for him must sting. However he mustn’t be too disheartened. Winning 7 stages of the Tour de France is a mighty feat indeed.

Tomorrow is another well deserved rest day as the peloton prepare to face the Alps prior to the final stage on the Champs-Élysées.

Stage 15: Bourg-en-Bresse > Culoz

Hors catégorie: (French) A climb that is “beyond categorization”.

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Quite possibly the hardest stage of the Tour as stated by Froome, Mollema and the majority of the peloton before the stage had begun, stage 15 saw an explosive start matched with an explosive finish that saw Pantano take on Majka to win a cat and mouse sprint finish.

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From the end of the neutralised start a large group of riders finally settled amidst all the attacks in the break with De Gendt leading the way. The pace almost immediately distanced the sprinters, with Greipel and Cavendish seen off the back while Stannard and Rowe were momentarily distanced before the latter two worked their way back up to reconnect with their Sky teammates in the peloton. Stannard then continued to lead them in climbing the Col du Berthiand before Team Sky later made sure to eat earlier than anyone else in the group. This raised a few eyebrows as attacking during a feed zone is rarely seen, yet Sky were making sure they were not exposed to any later attacks that they couldn’t follow from BMC, Movistar or Trek.

A few kilometres later saw Gallopin rejoin the peloton while Majka upped the pace and distanced further on the first climb. Zakarin then joined him ahead of the 15 chasers including Dumoulin and Nibali. Majka then scaled the top of the Berthiand, giving him 10 King of the Mountains points that placed him within 3 points of taking the polka dot jersey from De Gendt. They were soon reeled in to form a front group of 30 riders including Bennett (Lotto), Pantano (IAM), Rolland (Cannondale), Dumoulin (Giant), Voeckler (Direct Energie), Alaphilippe (Etixx) and Plaza (Orica). The one rider most threatening to Froome was Sébastien Reichenbach (FDJ), just over 11 minutes behind him in GC. The breakaway stood at over 4 minutes ahead at this point, yet they could slowly see that increasing if they worked together and the peloton were slow to react.

Voeckler attacked just before the summit of the category two climb Col du Sappel, taking the maximum 5 KoM points available from Majka who was then tied for the polka dot jersey with 90 points. Four breakaway riders formed from this group, with Alaphilippe leading ahead of Pantano, Zakarin and Majka. However when Alaphilippe looked strong enough to distance them, he crashed due to a mechanical. Leaving him and Zakarin behind, Majka and Pantano broke ahead onto the final climb of Lacets du Colombier. Meanwhile at the front of the peloton, Astana were trying hard to tire Froome and his teammates who were quick to shut down any moves. Aru and Valverde then attacked only to be brought back a few minutes later.

Back towards those challenging the stage win. Majka distanced Pantano while Vuillermoz (AG2R) and Reichenbach (FDJ) closed in behind. However they couldn’t stop Majka claiming the King of the Mountains points, giving him to polka dot jersey to wear for tomorrow, his lead now 127 points over De Gendt’s 90. Yet he almost crashed on the decent, (the same place Mikel Nieve then crashed a few minutes later) meaning Pantano was then on his wheel for the final few kilometres. With the flame rouge suddenly passed under, Majka and Pantano then proceeded to play a lengthy game of cat and mouse, almost unaware of the gaining Vuillermoz and Reichenbach. Majka attacked first, yet Pantano latched onto his wheel before powering himself forward to take the stage win.

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“It’s an incredible day for me, a dream come true. I didn’t think about a stage victory at all really, I just kept on going. Luckily I had the opportunity to be up at the front today. I’d like to thank my team-mates for all the great work they’ve done this week.”

Today’s relatively quiet stage as far as the GC was concerned showed no changes for the yellow jersey race. The main contenders of Froome, Quintana, Mollema and white jersey wearer Yates came in together, the only change to the top 10 being Van Garderen (BMC) losing a minute and a half, pushing him down to 8th.

Today’s biggest disappointment was probably felt by Alaphilippe, who could have challenged for the stage win if he had not crashed. Majka lost the stage win after attacking so well by himself, yet claimed the King of the Mountains jersey for tomorrow’s sprint stage. So, not all bad.