Stage 10 and Vincenzo Nibali wins atop the Planche des Belles Filles. It was one of only two days when he wasn’t wearing the yellow jersey but he reclaimed the race lead with a performance so strong that doubts about his form in the mountains were crushed.
The opening weekend will be remembered for the giant crowds, the royal reception, Marcel Kittel’s wins and Mark Cavendish’s crash. So many people turned out to see the race that the crowds were as much a topic of conversation as the race itself, whether the sheer wonder at the numbers as well as concerns over safety and selfies.
Nibali took the lead on the second day thanks to a late attack. Did he really want the yellow jersey so early? Yes but it was clever move for the stage win rather than a bid to win the Tour outright.
The Planche des Belles Filles was a decisive point because Nibali was able to drop his rivals à la pédale. He stood up and rode away, one man alone and in command. But if it was the most instructive stage, it wasn’t the most important for Nibali’s winning margin.
Where the race was won
The chart above shows where Nibali took time on the other podium pretenders throughout the race. He never lost a second to them, instead he regularly took time on all off his rivals throughout the race. The chart shows the most selective moment of the race was Stage 5 and the cobbles, Péraud’s big loss came from puncture. You can see Valverde’s slide in the last week depicted by the long bars.
But this wasn’t a race that needed too much analysis. Compared to the last two years and Team Sky’s methodology, Vincenzo Nibali seems more a romantic. Such is the image but but behind it lies a lot of work. He might have mocked Chris Froome’s use of a power meter with a quick quip last year but he’s as much of an SRM slave in training as his rivals, with windtunnel sessions, track training and more. The difference, if there is one, is stylistic in the way he’s seen to race. Often mocked for his premature attacks – this blog asked if he was more basking shark than fierce predator – this time he wasn’t taking off with two cols to go. Instead his attacks were incisive and reserved for the end of the race. This was the same Nibali vintage as the 2013 Giro and the race highlights should be screened to juniors and beginners. Take the way he attacks, regularly crossing the road and accelerating from behind to catch his rivals by surprise. It was a win for the team but Astana weren’t dominant, come the last climb and Nibali was often down to just one rider. It left the Sicilian to operate by himself and that worked out just fine for him. And also for the race as it gave space to others to attack, there was no “mountain train” to asphyxiate rivals.
All that remains is to wonder what’s next for Nibali. He’s one of the few riders to win all three grand tours but he’s also able to win one day races. What about a revised Milan-Sanremo next year and the World Championships one year?
What of Jean-Christophe Péraud? It’s easy to think he’d booked a second class ticket for his journey around France and found himself upgraded to first class after the no show of Chris Froome and Alberto Contador. But he was the only rider who could at times match Vincenzo Nibali’s accelerations in the mountains: if the Italian is the Shark of Messina, Péraud was the “Remora of Lyon”. Wheelsucking on a flat road is one thing, doing on a summit finish quite another and Péraud had an outstanding tour. He also finished seventh in the final time trial. The Ag2r team was excellent with Romain Bardet finishing sixth overall and he’s still got a good margin for improvement.
With the final stage win for Marcel Kittel, his fourth this July it marks one of the greatest ever editions of the Tour for Germany with seven stage wins… but it was a better race for the French.
The success started with Blel Kadri’s win in Gérardmer. Or did it? There’s generational element with many crediting former national U-23 selector Bernard Bourreau and his policy of bringing on young riders, taking them to races abroad and giving a technical and tactical toolbox to start winning early and with this the confidence to continue. Borreau’s only problem was seeing his riders taken away by the pro teams, when Thibaut Pinot turned pro in 2010 he won the mountains jersey in the Tour de Romandie aged just 19. There was plenty more joy for the home crowd, think Tony Gallopin’s day in yellow plus his yellow jersey
Thibaut Pinot is in a curious situation. You always want to win the race but thanks to his riding he’s now going to find himself loaded with even more pressure. Up to him to cope with it but his team are proving increasingly adept. Perhaps the solution is to “do a Rolland”, not to attack too early but to ride the Giro? Pinot loves cycling in Italy (his biggest amateur win was in Aosta, his first pro stage race win was in Lombardia and he’s even got an Italian tattoo on his arm, “solo la vittoria e bella“. Not that he needs to escape from the media, he’s a relaxed character and often enjoyable.
La Route du Tour
Looking back at the whole race it’s been packed with action. Even the stages where you glanced at the profile, thought “sprinters’ stage” and imagined a formulaic afternoon with events and action or if not the impressive crowds of Yorkshire and the landmarks of London. But the Tour cleverly exploited the terrain, notably with the cobbles but elsewhere too. Take Stage 7 to Nancy where the race rode into town… and then back out to use a climb to split the field before Matteo Trentin pipped Peter Sagan.
Christian Prudhomme, Thierry Gouvenou (pictured), Jean-Michel Monin and other ASO staff did a great job with the route. Also if Jean-François Pescheux has retired he’ll have helped with the work too. Traditionally the Tour would take the most obvious roads between the start and finish, the kind of route a logistics manager in a trucking company would pick. Nowadays the Tour likes to include a twist or two. Take Saturday’s time trial which detoured via a tiny road for the final climb rather than taking the main road into town. Or the day Tony Gallopin won in the Jura, a win aided by the uncategorised climb late in the race.
- Rafał Majka for two stage wins and the mountains jersey, he rode himself into form and presumably a bonus from Oleg Tinkov
- Tony Martin for his two stage wins. The second was inevitable but the first was very special for the way he rode the whole race of his wheel
- Alessandro de Marchi wins the Combativity Prize, the jury picked him ahead of Cyril Gautier and Martin Elmiger
- Peter Sagan wins green
- Bretagne-Séché for animating the race. A modest team with a budget that’s less than Vincenzo Nibali’s income, merely starting the race was a triumph for them. They finish with nine riders
- Team NetApp-Endura were exciting for Leopold König but delivered with more riders. They’ve got a sponsor for next year and whether König stays or goes we’re likely to see them invited back next year
Doping was never on the radar for real. All that happened (so far) was reduced to meta analysis as the media wondered if the media should be asking more questions. There were no rest day raids, no positive tests. Instead Nibali was asked several times about his ethics and to account for his team, notably the presence of Alexander Vinokourov and Guiseppe Martinelli. But it was all handled with his relaxed Sicilian (Sishilian?) accent and the context was different too, he was fortunate not to ride up a mountain faster than Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France has been a gap on a palmarès that already includes the Giro and Vuelta. Even Eugenio Capodacqua, a sort of Italian Paul Kimmage, isn’t asking too many questions.
Astana’s genesis emerged from the wreckage of the Liberty Seguros team and Operation Puerto and it’s right to question the management. But why start asking questions in July when the situation’s been known for years? The answer is because the Tour is a bigger event with a coverage that means both sections of the media and the audience alike are discovering Astana for the first time. But to those who say the sport needs to clear out team managers who doped or oversaw doping, do you want to get rid of Marc Madiot and Jonathan Vaughters? The former started FDJ as a team recruiting foreign stars where vials of EPO rattled in the back of the fridge in the team camper van while the latter admitted to personal use of EPO but both have done plenty to regenerate the sport since with the backing of supporting sponsors. The question for Astana is commercial, if the team is promoting Kazakhstan how does it communicate a story of reform and transparency? What’s good for a cycling team is helpful for the nation’s image.
Abandon – DNF
What of the fallen riders? The race will be remembered for the loss of the two top contenders. The race lost Chris Froome, the first time since 1980 that the “defending champion” had to quit the race. Days later Alberto Contador crashed out. And in their absence the race for the podium opened up only for more to fall away. Andrew Talansky showed in the Dauphiné he could have been a contender. Team Sky went from Porte Plan B to System D as they battled illness and injury and leave the race with only Mikel Nieve’s perspex Combativité prize to show, had Froome stayed in the race he might not have had much support. Katusha’s Joaquím Rodríguez must be kicking himself, the one year he uses a grand tour for training is the one year he could have shone, the route suited him too. But how much would you like to speculate? To those who say Froome or Contador would have won perhaps but there’s no certainty. What if Froome had crashed later or Contador punctured on Hautacam? Once you start fantasising about scenarios you leave behind the reality of the last three weeks.
Revelation: Leopold König, previously a climber capable of winning stages races, now competent in a grand tour. Kévin Reza too.
Best team mate: Arnold Jeannesson, FDJ
Best team: Ag2r La Mondiale
Invisibility cloak: Lampre-Merida, Cofidis
Missing in Action: Haimar Zubeldia, eighth overall but did you see him?
A fine edition with action from start to finish. Some of it was the wrong kind with crashes providing instant drama at the expense of more complex plotlines in the sprints and mountains although how the orphaned teams responded is a story in itself.
After La Planche des Belles Filles many were already asking if Vincenzo Nibali would win the Tour de France. Every new stage only brought more certainty and increase in his overall lead. But behind there was no such certainty and the story turned to who might accompany Nibali on the podium and this was uncertain until the very end. It was the daily stories that made the three weeks compelling, it passes the “DVD test” where you’d gladly sit down over the winter to watch the race highlights again, to see the battles replayed and remember the action.