The Sagan Show’s Saving Cycling… At Just The Right Time

“I don’t care if he wins the green jersey another five times. He’s definitely the best guy out there, he can win on every parcours. He’s good for our sport because he attracts people from outside cycling. You like it or you don’t. I think he’s just cool. Other riders say they don’t have time for such fun, but he just does it.” – Bernie Eisel of Dimension Data, teammate of one of Sagan’s biggest competitors in the Tour de France, Mark Cavendish.

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Unsurprisingly, the Sagan we’ve come to know and love (Cavendish maybe excluded) was always some form of character in cycling. Starting at age 9, he would frequently race in tennis shoes and t-shirts. At the Slovak Cup as a junior, after selling his bike and not getting another from his sponsor in time, he had to borrow his sister’s to race on. He won. After winning the Mountain Bike Junior World Championship in 2008, he joined Quick-Step for road testing in 2009 but failed to gain a contract. Temporarily quitting road cycling until his parents convinced him to start again, he would go on to become one of the greatest cyclists of the modern era. Here’s why we should be thankful he did, and how he’s helping save a sport almost ruined by its past…

Blunder Turned Thunder at the Tour Down Under

His first Pro Tour race could’ve started better, as the young rider was involved in a crash on the second stage in Australia. However, showing true determination at just 19-years-old, he carried on with 17 stitches in his arm and thigh – to attack on the Willunga queen stage just 3 days later. Alongside Cadel Evans, Luis León Sánchez and Alejandro Valverde, they broke away to contest the win, with Sagan finishing just 6 seconds behind winner Sánchez.

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Photo: Kei Tsuji

His… Unique Celebrations

It only took 2 days at the 2012 Tour de France for Sagan to claim his first stage win, and in true Sagan fashion, he celebrated rather interestingly. Beating prologue winner and yellow jersey wearer Cancellara to the line, he pulled some form of chicken dance after the finish. He topped this just two days later, after winning stage 3 and demonstrating his Forrest Gump inspired celebration.

The other evening my teammates and I decided that if I won again, I’d do it like Forrest Gump: when they told him to run, he ran; when they tell me to win, I win. I like doing something that makes people smile. When I watch sport on the TV, I’ve always liked it when someone adds a touch of fun to their victories, like Valentino Rossi does. Now that I’m winning, I try to do the same thing.

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Source: cyclingweekly.com

Not a stage win celebration, but it was at the fourth stage of the Tour de France in 2015 that after an intermediate sprint, Sagan joked to Greipel, Degenkolb, Rolland and Cavendish to form a breakaway. Degenkolb laughed as Greipel eventually caught on, with Rolland behind missing the joke completely and Cavendish not looking at Sagan while the peloton caught up with them.

Peter’s partial to a wheelie, too. Pulling one while grabbing some cookies at the Tour of California, or no handed in the world champion jersey while training. Most impressively, no handed while climbing up Alpe d’Huez in 2013. What can he not do?

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Gunning for Green

It seems like only a (right or wrong?) jury decision to take Sagan out of the Tour de France will stop him from obtaining yet another points classification jersey. He started strong back in 2012, winning a bet with the Liquigas management that he’d win two stages and the green jersey. He won the jersey, 3 stages and a Porsche. His 2013 victory in the points classification at the 100th Tour was certainly one of the most memorable – turning up next to an unsuspecting yellow jersey-donned Froome on stage 21 with a green beard and afro was a sight to behold.

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Source: dailymail.co.uk

If that wasn’t enough, here’s Sagan getting hands-on with a teammate.

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Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Despite being keen for green, the world champion Sagan’s stage 2 win of the 2016 Tour saw him put on the yellow jersey for the first time in his career. Instead of showing off some new celebration, Sagan used his time in the yellow jersey spotlight to tell fellow riders his displeasure at their risk-taking and called for respect in the peloton.

Everyone rides as if they don’t care about life… in this moment I’m not an important rider in peloton [to change things]. Nobody cares. It’s as if they lost their brains. I don’t know what has happened.

With his prominence in the points classification, the 4-time winner was surely a shoe-in to win in 2017? This year, the Tour de France took a different turn. Initially it was a close shave for a stage win; Sagan at first thought he attacked too early on stage 3, and went on to unclip as he started to sprint. But that’s right – he unclipped and still won a sprint.

“I decided to go, I guess it was too early – it was 400m to go. It was far away, in the moment, I said ‘f–k, again too early’. Then I started my sprint, and as I pushed – I pulled my feet out from the cleat. It was another mistake, I was like, ‘what is happening today?’”

Unfortunately for Sagan, that’s where his Tour success ended. Stage 4 ended in a sprint finish, but a messy one at that. Originally with the helicopter shot, it was thought Sagan elbowed Cavendish into the barrier, causing him to crash. Yet the head-on angle conveyed the fact that Sagan’s elbow came out after Cavendish was already falling and unclipping. Surely a penalty of relegation on the stage and points taken off would be enough?

Not for Dimension Data. Despite messy sprinting and crashes being part and parcel of cycling… (Cavendish and Gerrans, 2012? Cavendish and Veelers 2013? Cavendish and Viviani 2016?) the jury decided Sagan was to be thrown out of the Tour de France. So, right or wrong decision? It seems cycling fans are split.

“Take your time and watch the replay in slow-motion. Then forget about Peter and Cav. Focus on Demarre. [sic] He is the first to change trajectory. So when we start punish people- maybe consider him first. His move almost crashed Bouhanni, he is trying to save himself and moves Sagan. 

“Then Sagan moves over to the right and there is no space for nobody left. Its either be safe and break and lose, or maybe win or crash.

“So in my private opinion-the disqualification is too much. I am ok with -80 points in green jersey, last place [for the stage] and a time-penalty for Sagan.” – Jens Voigt.

Fighting Alongside Froome

To many people after the prominent figure of Bradley Wiggins as Team Sky’s once-leading cyclist, Froome appeared more reserved, more calm – seemingly the opposite of the extremely outgoing Slovakian? Yet Sagan is a personality in cycling that appears to appeal to the masses, and the two have shared a lot together in cycling. Podiums at the Tour de France, fun interview moments and breakaways on sprint stages.

In 2015, the pair were on the podium together in Paris, alongside white jersey winner Nairo Quintana. Sagan had some fun on the stage, pretending his trophy was a machine gun and bowing to the pair. Froome laughed, poor Quintana wasn’t exactly too sure what was going on.

It took many by surprise when, on a windy sprint stage 11 of the Tour de France in 2016, the unlikely pair suddenly attacked and worked together with 10km to go alongside teammates Thomas (Sky) and Bodnar (Tinkoff). By the time sprint trains had tried to organise themselves better and catch the quartet, Sagan had already won the stage while Froome placed 2nd, gaining valuable bonus seconds over his GC rivals.

He also likes to ‘video-bomb’ interviews. Whether it’s appearing over Nibali’s shoulder and nodding to everything he says, finishing an interview with Laura Meseguer then abruptly resting his chin on Greipel’s shoulder, walking over to Froome mid-interview just to put his arm around his shoulder, or interrupting another Froome interview just to say “Froomey! How are you?”, he does it all. When Froome replied “what happened, you didn’t win today man?”, the pair laughed as Sagan would channel Kellan Froome 2 years later, and try to steal Froome’s hat. (Chris’s son would succeed, however.)

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At Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, he bluntly told a reporter that it’s just “normal for people to go to the toilet”, before an interesting interview alongside Sep Vanmarcke. Beginning in typical Sagan show stealing fashion, he lowered his chair to the absolute minimum, then went on to ask Sep straight out “why didn’t you attack?”

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Tackling Tinkoff’s Threats

A poor start and lack of major results at the beginning of 2015 caused Oleg Tinkov to threaten to cut Sagan’s salary, while the team chef left at the Giro next year due to “threats and other inexcusable behaviour”. With this kind of environment, some could have struggled, under the pressure of a loss of income and management from a xenophobic sexist. It’s true that his season started on the back foot; he was in the lead group at E3 with 4.4km to go before being unable to follow Thomas’s attack and slipped from podium hopeful to 30th position. Yet despite this, Sagan soon appeared to perform better than ever. A surprise stage win ahead of van Emden in the time trial at the Tour of California awaited him, while he would go on to win the overall by millimetres – a bike throw gave him necessary bonus seconds over Alaphilippe of Quick-Step by 3 seconds. Amends for his lack of a contract in 2009, perhaps?

When Tinkoff folded at the end of 2016, as Sagan attacked solo and won the World Championships in Richmond, he joined teammates Bodnar, Kolar and brother Juraj at Bora-Hansgrohe.

Peter the Performer 

While one Sunroot advert shows him demonstrating his impressive bike talents, (wheelies, descending, bunny hopping up some stairs), it is perhaps the other one that generates the most interest. In the style of Gladiator, with his long hair flouncing and holding a sword, he eventually kicks down his competitor. The mise en scène then switches to Pulp Fiction style, with Sagan and his wife interpreting the dance scene. It’s… interesting to say the least. His latest advert with Bora is less extravagant. Turns out even someone like Peter Sagan can’t dress up and interpret many films to sell Bora.

Love him, hate him, or just impartial to him, it’s hard to admit that this man hasn’t had some form of an impact on cycling. After a while it only seemed the news was full of negative press about the sport, and while cyclists like Kittel and Martin are doing well for the sport in Germany, and Froome improving the sport in Britain, Sagan is definitely a figure that appeals worldwide. It’s easy to see why. While I haven’t agreed with all of Sagan’s actions (like that time Sagan pinched a podium girl’s behind and she was “frozen to the spot” trying hard to keep calm…), it looks like cycling is becoming Sagan’s show, and we’re lucky to witness it. Cycling needs a personality like him. I’ll end this post with one of my favourite Sagan quotes, away from the cycling circus. Feel free to add your own.

“The problems in the world we have to change… I think that in the next years it can all be different. I think this competition and all the sport is very nice for the people. And we are motivation for the people. The situation is very difficult. I want to say to all the people: change this world.”

 

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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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Rider Reviews: [1] Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors)

Name: Julian Alaphilippe

Age: 24 years’ old

Nationality: French

Most Recent Result: 3rd, Milan-San Remo (March, 2017)

Most Recent Win: Points & Young Rider classifications, Paris-Nice (March, 2017)

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“Well, what he’s done is pretty good, isn’t it?… He probably needs to develop a little bit more. He probably will, then he could be a big one.” – Brian Holm, Etixx director.

Starting in Etixx’s development team of Etixx-IHNed in 2013 (now Klein Constantia), Alaphilippe progressed from the Continental to World Tour level a year later with Omega-Pharma Quick Step (now Quick-Step Floors). He quickly became a home favourite as one the next generation of French cyclists alongside the likes of Bardet and Pinot, after the success of Rolland and the nationalism derived by the Tour de France giving the French more of a craving for representation at World Tour level.

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Alaphilippe at the Tour de l’Avenir, 2013. Photo: Getty Images Sport.

His performance in the 2013 Tour de l’Avenir truly marked him as one for the future, with his securing of the points classification and win on stage 7. Attacking with fellow Frenchman Gougeard (now at AG2R) at the base of the final climb, they caught the leading trio, and Alaphilippe set the pace so high he distanced them all, crossing the line for his most important stage win of the year. He also impressed at the Tour de Bretagne, finishing 5th overall and winning stage 4, a sprint for the line with riders such as Renault (Sojasun) and Alafaci (Leopard-Trek Continental Team), punching the air as he crossed the line. Catching the attention of Quick-Step, he deservedly progressed to World Tour level where he gained his first podium at the 2014 Volta a Catalunya, on the first stage. He obtained his first win from the Tour de l’Ain, winning an uphill finish against Dan Martin (Slipstream-Chipotle, now Cannondale), while teammate Verona finished 3rd.

“It’s a kind of dream to win in France as a French rider. It gives me an explosion of joy, this victory. At 3 kilometers to go, at the top of the small climb, I attacked and I went full gas. In the end, I won. Also, with this victory I took the jersey as best young rider and the points jersey from the shoulders of Gianni Meersman. So, I kept the points jersey in the team and that gives me satisfaction.” Alaphilippe after winning stage 4 of the Tour de l’Ain.

2015 saw Alaphilippe’s development reach new heights, with his breakthrough year being his second year at World Tour level with Quick-Step. He did not disappoint, and the 22-year-old impressed at the Amstel Gold race. When Samuel Sánchez attacked at the base of the Cauberg in 2014, his teammate Gilbert produced a secondary attack that took the race win. Channeling this the year later in 2015, Hermans (BMC) launched his scathing charge on the Cauberg, and blew the race apart for Gilbert (BMC) to then launch his attack which only a select few could follow. While in the moment, only Matthews (Orica) could stick to his wheel, the duo could not distance and with 1km to go, a select bunch were in contention. Alongside Alpahilippe was his then-teammate, World Champion Kwiatkowski, Valverde (Movistar), Van Avermaet (BMC) and Rui Costa (Lampre). Alaphilippe finished 7th while his teammate Kwiatkowski won.

Alaphilippe truly proved he was a force to be reckoned with at La Flèche Wallonne only 3 days later. When Wellens (BMC) was devastatingly caught with 1km to go on the Muur, Kwiatkowski was not to be seen, struggling on the Côte de Saint-Nicolas. Yet when Quick-Step’s directeur sportif commanded “Go! Go!” through the radio, Alaphilippe launched his sprint on Valverde’s wheel, with Albasini (Orica) also in the mix. The win was not to be, but a more than impressive 2nd place to add to his palmarès was welcomed by both Julian, and the team. Déjà vu occurred just 4 days later at Liège–Bastogne–Liège, with April providing Alaphilippe with one of the most career defining months of his life so far. Valverde again took the win, and this time Alaphilippe was 2nd behind him once more, his form showing. He was originally in the group including Visconti (Movistar) and Costa (Lampre) who were chasing down Kreuziger (Tinkoff), Fuglsang (Astana) and Caruso (Katusha). In the final kilometers, Moreno (Katusha) attempted to break away yet could not, and as Valverde won, Rodríguez slowed and Alaphillipe rode past him to take second once again, the best position for a French rider since Jalabert in 1998. His hunger showed, as he was clearly angry at only finishing 2nd on the finish line, waving his arm in frustration.

“I really felt I could have done something more” – Alaphilippe after finishing 2nd at Liège–Bastogne–Liège.

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Alaphilippe expressing his anger at finishing 2nd. Photo: JB/PN/Cor Vos.

May brought another 2nd place for Alaphilippe, this time in the Tour of California. He went one step higher on stage 7, winning the queen stage, tackling two Category 2 mountains and a Hors Category. Following Sergio Henao’s (Sky) attack which Sagan (Tinkoff) could not keep up with, he dropped Henao to win on Mount Baldy in dramatic conditions involving bad road surfaces and snow covering the sides of the road. Despite holding the general classification after this stage, he lost to Sagan by 3 seconds, as a perfectly timed bike throw from the Tinkoff rider gave him 3rd place on the last stage by inches, with the closest winning margin in the Tour’s history, yet Alaphilippe won the white jersey after holding it from stage 3 to the finish on stage 8. In June he finished 5th at the National Road Race Championships behind winner Tronet, Gallopin, Chavanel and Barguil.

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Photo: Greg K Hull. Chasing Light Media.

Towards the end of the season, he finished 8th in the clásica de San Sebastián, and 10th at the Eneco Tour, yet following a DNF in the Road World Championships, it was revealed Alaphilippe had been diagnosed with mononucleosis, ending his 2015 season.

2016 saw the return of Alaphilippe’s form, and the return of his 2nd place behind Valverde at La Flèche Wallonne in April. The month after saw one of his most impressive wins to date, finishing 21 seconds in front of Rohan Dennis (BMC) to take the overall win at the Tour of California and his stage 3 win saw him finish first on a mountain stage ahead of the likes of Ten Dam (Giant), Dennis, Sanchez (BMC) and Talansky (Cannondale). Just like in 2015 at Mount Baldy, this win cast him into the lead, yet in the 2016 edition he pulled off a large acceleration to catch, then pass Stetina (Trek). Stetina was seemingly edging closer to his first win after comeback from injury, he had crashed into a metal pole at the Tour of the Basque Country in April 2015, breaking numerous ribs and his knee cap. Yet this would not come today, as the Frenchman accelerated again to cross the line ahead of him.

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Photo: AFP.

“When we came here, on the first day, I said [Alaphilippe] is going to win California. He has had good results in other races, and everybody knew he was strong for this race.” – Peter Sagan on Julian Alaphilippe.

After successfully gaining another youth classification win to add to his ever growing list, this time at the Critérium du Dauphiné, Alaphilippe crossed the line in 5th at the National Road Race Championships. His success for France didn’t stop there, as Julian was also just beaten to the line by Sagan at the European Road Championships. He was looking incredibly likely to medal in the crash-filled Olympic Road Race at Rio, yet an unlucky timed crash on his descent of the Vista Chinesa prevented him from joining the attack from Van Avermaet and Fuglsang to bridge to then-leader Majka, and Alaphilippe crossed the line in 4th, just 22 seconds down on Avermaet. It’s interesting to think of his positioning possibilities, as Majka was surely weakened by leading on his own, and the hard work put in to chase by Avermaet and Fuglsang would’ve been divided by 3 if equal turns were taken, conserving energy. Yet we must look to the 2020 Games in Tokyo to see Alaphilippe’s Olympic medaling chances.

“It had to be a tactical win especially against Alaphilippe who is impossible to follow on a short uphill” – Vichot on Alaphilippe’s uphill advantages at the National Championships.

 “I wasn’t going to chase my team-mate and I couldn’t take the risk of bringing Alaphilippe to the line. I wasn’t 100% sure of beating him.” – Dumoulin on the risk of sprinting against Alaphilippe at the National Championships.

One of Alaphilippe’s many stand out performances in 2016 derived from his attacking in the Tour de France. Most prominently, his 4-hour breakaway. But first, his stage 13 time-trial – one of the most memorable moments for Tour de France viewers. An unexpected gust of wind blew the Quick-Step rider completely off course and into a jagged mountainside on the left of the road after going over 32 miles per hour. Surprisingly, he was left relatively unscathed and carried on regardless.

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Alaphilippe crashing at the Tour de France. Source: Twitter.com, HistoryOnSepia.

Stage 15 was described by many as the hardest stage of the Tour, and it was Alaphilippe’s to lose, being the apparent strongest out of the quartet involving Pantano (IAM), Majka (Tinkoff) and Zakarin (Katusha). Just before the final climb of Lacets du Colombier, a mechanical he suffered caused a crash, and lose the stage he did. This didn’t dampen his fighting spirit however, as the next day he was more prepared for a challenge than ever. Who better to spend 4 long hours in the saddle, off the front with, then the Panzerwagen himself: Tony Martin? Teammates at the time (now Martin has found himself at Katusha), the stage after Alaphilippe saw his Tour de France stage win hopes disappear, the duo attacked in the first 15km and weren’t caught until 145km later. Both riders gained the combativity award that day, and Julian had nothing but praise for his Etixx teammate. This wasn’t the younger of the pair’s first taste of success at the Tour either, he had been leading the youth classification and wearing the maillot blanc from stages 2 to 6. Alaphilippe’s successful season ended with a 10th place at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal in September.

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.” – Julian Alaphilippe on teammate Tony Martin.

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Picture: Mantey Stephane/L’Equipe.

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Source: Twitter.com

His 2017 season has begun in fine form, gaining another young rider classification win at the Abu Dhabi Tour, as well as a top 5 placing. A hotly contested Paris-Nice (which saw Sky’s Sergio Henao win by 2 seconds from Contador, Trek) saw Alaphilippe lead for 3 days before unfortunately cracking on the penultimate stage, yet ultimately finishing 5th. He held four top-5 finishes, helped Quick-Step win the team classification and won yet another young rider classification with the points classification his also. He impressed with his stage 4 win, a 14.5km time trial – his first win in this discipline. 2017’s Paris-Nice was definitely one of the highlights of Alaphilippe’s cycling career so far.

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Photos: Christophe Ena/AP, Getty Images Sport.

After Sagan’s attack on the Poggio at Milan-San Remo shook the race up, dropped favourites and left teams improvising, Alaphilippe and Kwiatkowski (now Sky) were the only ones to follow. A fierce sprint could not have brought the riders closer, and Kwiatkowski took the win, with Alaphilippe just in 3rd.

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Photo: Cor Vos, LaPresse – D’Alberto/Ferrari.

It’s no secret Julian Alaphilippe truly is a remarkable rider, yet what makes him an even more exciting prospect is the fact he is only 24. His palmarès are indeed something to brag about, but this Quick-Step rider shows no doing of that. This cyclist is only going to get better, and this will be exciting to watch – not only for the French, but cycling fans alike.

2016 Season: Recap

“Cycling isn’t a game, it’s a sport. Tough, hard and unpitying, and it requires great sacrifices. One plays football, or tennis, or hockey. One doesn’t play at cycling.” –Jean de Gribaldy

As always, road cycling season kicked off Down Under, with Caleb Ewan retaining his title at the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic and winning the People’s Choice Classic, with fellow Orica-Greenedge teammate Simon Gerrans reclaiming his place at the top of the Tour Down Under standings. This was to be a precursor for their 2016/17 season, seeing them challenge for Grand Tour podiums and gaining more wins in the process.

Cycling report

Photo: Sarah Reed.

Froome’s once-again dominating season began in February at the Jay Herald Sun Tour, with his attack on the final lap taking the final stage win and the jersey from teammate Kennaugh. Not only did Froome claim the mountains classification, but helped Team Sky win the team classification. One team lacking immediate wins were Giant-Alpecin, with six of their riders injured after a horrific head-on collision with a car on the wrong side of the road in Alicante. With Degenkolb almost losing his finger, he couldn’t defend his Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix double, yet came back to take stage 4 at the Artic Race of Norway and the overall at Münsterland Giro. He announced his decision to leave Giant for Trek in August, joining Contador in their new lineup next year. Haga, the most seriously injured, was determined to not let his fractured eye socket and 96 stitches get him down, updating fans through humorous messages on Instagram and Twitter.

“That was a shit season this year. But I am still alive, life goes on.” – John Degenkolb.

March marked the start of the classics season, with Geraint Thomas taking the Paris-Nice jersey from Matthews (OGE) at the end of stage six. He was close to losing it to Contador (Tinkoff) after the next and final stage, yet support from teammate Henao ensured it remained on his shoulders for the overall win. Tirreno–Adriatico was won by Greg Van Avermaet, with Cummings (DDD) winning the longest mountain stage and Cancellara taking the final stage, a 10km time trial to San Benedetto del Tronto. The first monument of Milan-San Remo was well and truly open, with the previous winner Degenkolb out through injury, contenders Dumoulin and Greipel out with flu and broken ribs respectively, and a landslide the morning of the race changing the route. After almost 230km, a last minute crash and a mass sprint, Arnaud Démare came out on top just ahead of Ben Swift (Sky), providing FDJ with their most important win of the season. After a crash-filled 200km in the second monument of the Tour of Flanders, rainbow jersey-wearing Sagan (Tinkoff) was able to see off Cancellara (Trek) and Vanmarcke (LottoNL)

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Photo: Graham Watson.

Sometimes in cycling, there are times when a rider defies all odds, from weather, injury or opponents, giving us unexpected moments that for many end up being a highlight of the season. When Mathew Hayman (OGE) was on the team bus before Paris-Roubaix in April, his exact words were “It’ll be my 15th attempt at winning”, and when speaking on the unpredictability of Paris-Roubaix, “You can come back a lot in this race. Keep believing, keep riding, it’s not over until you get to the velodrome.” Strong words from the 37-year-old who had broken his arm 5 weeks previously, and hadn’t been racing until this day. After numerous crashes, most notably his teammate Mitch Bower and a motorbike hitting Team Sky’s Viviani, Hayman tried to break away but was reeled back in while Sagan and Cancellara, two of the main favourites, were caught out from a previous crash. Team Sky were left disjointed after a crash while setting a high pace saw Rowe, Puccio and Moscon hit the ground. While Cancellara crashed again, a group of 10 riders including Boonen (Etixx), Hayman (OGE), Rowe and Stannard (Sky), Vanmarcke (LottoNL) and Boasson Hagen (DDD) broke clear and stayed clear. In the closing kilometers, 10 was brought down to 4 as Hayman, Boonen, Stannard and Vanmarcke battled for the win.

“Hayman has won 2 professional races; Boonen has won 109. The odds are stacked against the Australian”.

Yet he was relentless and refused to give up the perfect position on Boonen’s wheel. On the final lap of the velodrome, he moved up the ramps and took advantage of the dive to build momentum. Hitting the front while Stannard edged ever closer around the top, Hayman surged towards the line, beating the sure-favourite to take his first ever Paris-Roubaix win. His look of disbelief and shock was a picture to remember, and when teammate Durbridge ran to him post-race to say congratulations, we saw just how much it meant to not only Hayman, but the team. With their frequent Backstage Passes, Orica Greenedge-turned-BikeExchange-yet-soon-to-be-Scott have given viewers a new look on cycling, with their strong team emphasis and frequent adopting of their foreign teammates into the Australian culture. (Looking at you, Esteban Chaves.)

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Source: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images Europe.

The Classics season finished with a triumph for Team Sky, with Wout Poels battling through snow and rain to win Liège–Bastogne–Liège towards the end of April, with previous champion Valverde having “his worst performance in the race since 2012”.

Grand Tour season arrived with the 99th edition of the Giro d’Italia. While winner Nibali (AST) and 3rd placed Valverde (MOV) were pre-race favourites, it was 2nd placed Esteban Chaves and his Orica teammates who deserve the biggest mention.

Whether it’s Boonen against Hayman or Froome and Sagan against sprinters on a sprint stage, everyone loves an underdog. Going into stage 19, Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL) was one of the strongest riders in the entire Giro. He held the pink jersey and had a comfortable 3-minute advantage over his nearest rival of Chaves (OGE), with Nibali trailing by almost 5 minutes. Yet Grand Tours are often unpredictable, as we saw from the 2014 Tour de France which saw Nibali take the win after both his rivals Froome and Contador crashed out. The sunny start to stage 19 was simply false hope, with snow later flanking dangerous roads as riders battled through fog. Chaves kept the jersey fight alive, attacking when he could while Kruijswijk stayed calm and followed, the pair leaving Valverde behind. Yet with just under 50KM to go, he crashed into a snow bank on the Colle dell’Agnello. This led to the jersey passing shoulders onto Esteban Chaves, and Orica thrown into even more of a fierce GC battle, only 40 seconds in front of Nibali. Stage 20 was to prove just as heartbreaking as the day previous, with Nibali attacking on the penultimate climb and Chaves desperately trying to stay with him, to no avail. Help from fellow countryman Uran (Cannondale) was sporting, channeling Richie Porte and Simon Clarke from the Giro the year before, yet proved fruitless. Though his team had tried their hardest to keep the jersey, they had all but lost it on the final day – yet this simply made them determined for more.

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Source: Sky Sports.

The Tour de France. Deemed by many as the greatest bike race on the planet, the 2016 edition proved Team Sky’s dominance once again, as Chris Froome took his 3rd Tour de France win ahead of Bardet (AG2R) and Quintana (Movistar) in July. For those who believe the Sky domination is making the race boring – there was plenty of drama this year. Through Contador’s early crashes on stage 1, 2 and his withdrawal on stage 9, to the sudden deflation of the 1KM to go banner on Adam Yates, causing him to flip over the top at speed in the white jersey, the Tour de France was as dangerous as it was unpredictable.

Who could forget this moment?

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Source: Sky Sports.

The crowd bottleneck, the stopped motorbike, the rider pileup which included the prized Maillot Jaune. Viewers could hardly believe their eyes when the camera cut back to them moments later, with Froome having to run up the mountain in order to keep his jersey hopes alive. How about when Froome also shook things up on a sprint stage, coming second behind Peter Sagan, who he had cleverly worked with to gain a slight physical, yet large physiological advantage over his nearest rivals? Or how about the moment he debuted a new, interesting descending technique, winning the stage and gaining more time over his nearest rivals?

It wasn’t just Froome that provided the Tour with some memorable moments. Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx) had already found himself in the spotlight after crashing into a mountain during the stage 13 TT at over 32mph, yet he was unscathed.

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Source: Reddit.

Alaphilippe looked ready to take the stage 15 win before a mechanical saw him crash just before the final climb, and the day after he attacked with teammate Tony Martin for 4 hours over 145km, earning them both the combativity prize. Pantano (IAM) was also a Tour-standout, who alongside Majka, was left to battle for the win on stage 15 themselves after Alaphilippe was out of contention. He finished 2nd on the later stages of 17 and 20, before being called up to replace Quintana in the Columbian cycling team for the Olympics.

While the Olympics were wild, dangerous and crash-filled (see full reports of both the men’s and women’s road races here), one man saw opportunity. Fabian Cancellara, the 35-year-old Swiss, nicknamed ‘Spartacus’, hadn’t had the greatest year despite TT success in the Volta ao Algarve and Tirreno – Adriatico. He just missed a stage win tailored for him in his hometown during his final Tour de France, before pulling out to prepare for Rio. Earlier in the season, a crash saw him lose all hope of winning another Paris-Roubaix, and to add insult to injury, while holding the Swiss flag he later crashed on his velodrome lap of honour, landing in a puddle at the bottom of the track. But the gold medal at Rio was the perfect end to his final season, when he proved himself head and shoulders above the rest, beating the likes of Chris Froome, Tom Dumoulin and Tony Martin.

“It’s pretty special, I still don’t really have the words. After the disappointment in 2012, and many other up and downs that I’ve had, and this is my last season, it’s my Olympic Games and my last chance to do something. I knew that it was going to be a tough day, a challenging one with Chris Froome, Tom Dumoulin and all the others. It was an open course for all different characteristics. I have no words. Finishing, after 16 years, with the gold, it’s not bad.”

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Photo: Urs Jaudas.

The Vuelta a España proved Orica were a team to beat once again, with Esteban Chaves not only taking 3rd place overall, but Magnus Cort winning the final stage sprint. He also won stage 18, with teammates Simon Yates and Jens Keukeleire taking stages 6 and 12, respectively. Nairo Quintana took the win by 1’23 over nearest rival Chris Froome, with a fierce fight between Chaves and Contador for the final podium spot. Where Orica prospered, others floundered, and as the race pulled up in Las Rozas for the final stage, Lotto-Soudal, Giant Alpecin, Astana, and most surprisingly, Tinkoff – in their Grand Tour swan song – had yet to win a stage.

From the Vuelta a España 2016: Recap:

[Many teams left out sprinters for extra climbers, meaning the likes of Degenkolb for Giant Alpecin and Bouhanni for Cofidis weren’t to be seen. Gianni Meersman (Etixx) profited from this to take two stages as well as having the chance to wear the Green Jersey (Points Classification) for 6 stages. Valverde fought hard to gain the jersey by Madrid, yet by stage 21 it was on the shoulders on Felline (Trek) – as the only jersey which could change holders by the end of the race. Yet Valverde didn’t contest the final sprint and Felline retained it, Quintana still held the red and white jerseys, Fraile won the polka dot jersey for the 2nd time in 2 years and BMC won the team classification. At La Vuelta, road books that didn’t quite match the profile were an issue, and the Vuelta was dubbed “insanely hard” by many riders, including Tyler Farrar (Dimension Data).]

So there we are. 2016 in a nutshell. Keep an eye out for Caleb Ewan towards the start of the season Down Under, Peter Sagan, Philippe Gilbert, Greg Van Avermaet and Stannard/Rowe for the Classics, and another Froome/Quintana battle in the Grand Tours.

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.