For me the best part of July has always been watching the Tour de France and I always feel a particular sorrow when it’s over since the end of the Tour bodes the end of Summer. This is a tour I’ll remember for a long time, thanks to Chris Froome’s two unconventional maneuvers. One thing I won’t remember this tour for is exciting GC racing, no one even came close to challenging Froome and Team Sky, luckily there was more to follow then just the GC.
How do you watch the Tour?
I’ve never had satellite TV, so for years I watched the Tour by paying for the NBC sports online package. Which meant I listened to Phil and Paul, commentate, they did a great job, but honestly they are showing their age. The last few years I’ve been downloading stages to watch later in the day. This year I went with ITV’s nightly 45 minute highlight show. ITV has Ned Boulting and new for this year, David Millar providing color commentary. Millar contribution was great, having only retired last year and being a prolific writer of his cycling exploits, his comments were informative, relevant and insightful. The highlight show is really the perfect format for cycling since sometimes hours can go by where nothing really happens.
Sprinter in Yellow
Often times the Tour starts with a prolouge time trial to sort out the riders, which usually sees a TT specialist or a GC rider getting the yellow jersey. Some years the Tour starts with a classics style stage that finishes with an uphill sprint, but this year it started with a pure sprinters stage meaning a guy like Mark Cavendish could lead the Tour de France, at least until it goes uphill. In the past Cavendish won sprint stages at command, though he hasn’t performed well in the last few Tour’s. This year after training on the track for the Rio Olympics Cav was firing on all cylinders and won 4 stages proving himself in a class of his own. He passed Kittel so fast one stage that the sonic boom almost knocked the German off his bike.
Sagan the Star of the Show
Peter Sagan makes winning the green jersey look easy but the truth is that he’s working hard for it every day. Since he’s not the fastest sprinter he has too. He’s going in breaks nearly every day up the road and gaining points on hilly and mountain stages where the other guys just can’t compete. To put it in perspective you could double Marcel Kittel’s points and he still wouldn’t beat Sagan.
Sagan is easily the strongest overall rider right now, and one of the greatest personalities in cycling both on and off the road. His crazy videos are hilarious and awesome and his finish line wheelies and bike handling skills are the stuff of legend. Besides winning green, he spent time in yellow and he won 3 hilly stages this year.
Sky and Emperor Brailsford
Sky is compared to the Empire in Star Wars, their team bus is called the Deathstar. They may wear black but they’re not evil, just really meticulous and prepared. Did you know that Sky has personnel that go into the rider’s hotels each night to disinfect their rooms and replace the linens and mattress with the riders personal ones. When your team budget is millions more then most, and ten times that of some you can afford things like that.
Sky is criticized fairly for strangling the race, especially in the mountains. The team is so good that they have 4 riders on the front setting such a strong pace that no one can attack. It definitely takes some of the excitement out of mountain stages when the few attacks that happen are reeled in so quickly and easily.
You can’t criticize Froome this year for being boring. Yes he dominated the race, often times sitting behind his team, but he also did the unexpected. His downhill winning attack on stage 8 was epic. Quintanna was caught completely by surprise while Froome blasted down the hill. I’ve seen lots of riders sit on their top tubes but I’ve never seen anyone sit there and pedal.
Of course Froome running through the crowd on Mount Ventoux will ultimately be what this tour is remembered for. It was such a surreal sight to see a rider running along the road where we usually see crazy fans running beside the bikers. I’m surprised a big group of fans didn’t start running with him.
On stage 19 Froome tried another downhill attack in the rain going for the stage win. He crashed when he slipped and went down hard on a wet road bringing down Nibali behind him. The rest of the peleton were several seconds back. He finished the stage on a borrowed bike. This mistake could have lost him the Tour.
OH we can’t forget Froome’s viscious attack of a fan who got a bit too close with his flag. I can’t believe that stuff doesn’t happen more often the way some of the fan’s act.
American TeeJay was just along for the ride until he wasn’t. He was hanging in there for the first 2 weeks but was obviously spent by the last mountain stages and fell off the GC. His teammate Richie Port was happy to jump in as team leader though I think he thought of himself as team leader for the whole race, but he definitely proved himself the stronger rider.
Quintanna was more or less just sitting on the bus, he did great, but his attacks were few and lacked any power. Of course we covered how hard it is to get away from the Sky train.
Contador crashed hard on the first stage and just never really seemed to recover, though his crash was completely his fault. Didn’t look like his heart was in it this year, he threw in the towel early.
The Irishman Dan Martin, who I don’t think I’ve ever really seen race for a GC was there, attacking and riding really well. It seemed like he was surprising himself. The young Adam Yates was definitely impressive, as was Frenchman Roman Bardet who I’m hoping can bring the French their first victory since the 8os. I think the French deserve to win their own race once a decade at least.
I’m fascinated with how years of Tour de France history have been selectively edited. Of course I’m talking about Lance 99-05. It’s funny how everyone around the race seems to pretend that never happened. In one short video segment a reporter was asking Tour organizers and veteran racers if they’d ever seen a team as dominate as Sky. Well obviously US Postal, who just like Sky put everything on the line for GC and was legendary for their preparation. Oddly no one mentioned Postal or Lance, it’s like it never happened.
Christopher Prudhome wants 8 rider teams next year, and though he didn’t say it the idea is to weaken super teams like Sky. I think this is a good idea, though I doubt it will make the race more interesting. I’ll freely admit that I didn’t complain about the race being boring when US Postal was dominating it. The way to make the racing more interesting and competitive are the other teams being on a more level playing field.
British Cycling is now a powerhouse, British riders, won 1/3 of the stages this year and the overall. British cycling and team sky are well connected, Dave Brailsford is the leader of both organizations. It’s safe to say that Team Sky benefits from this relationship. British cycling is funded by UK lottery money. If other teams were as well prepared, supported, and funded as Team Sky then maybe the playing field would be more level.
2016 was a tour to remember and I’m already looking forward to next July! Viva le Tour!