Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Froome, Quintana Star at 100th Tour de France

By Brad Oremland

Every Tour de France is unique, featuring not only different teams and different riders, but new routes, with innovative combinations of climbs and descents. Organizers for the 100th Tour worked to make this year's edition particularly distinct, and they succeeded. The 2013 Tour began in Corsica, featured two climbs of the Alpe d'Huez in a single stage, and ended with a twilight ride into Paris, all firsts.

While the Tour's planners facilitated success, three riders in particular stole the stage in France. Germany's Marcel Kittel, a 25-year-old rider for the Argos-Shimano team, won four stages, including the first and last days of the race. Chris Froome, the 2012 runner-up and pre-race favorite, proved himself the strongest man in the Tour and won the yellow jersey easily. But perhaps the brightest star of the race was 23-year-old Colombian Nairo Quintana, riding his first Tour. Quintana rode brilliantly in the mountains, finishing second to Froome in the General Classification, while winning both the King of the Mountains competition and the white jersey of Best Young Rider. Many cycling fans are already anticipating Quintana as a strong overall contender to win next year's Tour.

Stages 1-7

The early stages of a Grand Tour never go quite as planned, and Stage 1 was marred by a team bus getting stuck at the finish line. With the riders only a few kilometers away, race organizers moved the finish to an earlier point, then freed the bus and reinstated the original finish. The changes created chaos in the peloton, and a major crash derailed the top four sprinters expected to contest the finish: Mark Cavendish, Matthew Goss, Andre Greipel, and Peter Sagan. Many riders were injured, but Kittel capitalized on the small field to win a sprint finish and capture the yellow, green, and white jerseys.

Medium-mountain stages the next two days put Sagan into the green jersey, as the other sprinters were dropped early on the climbs. Jan Bakelants won Stage 2 and a day in yellow, followed by Simon Gerrans on Stage 3 and the Orica-Greenedge Team in the Stage 4 team time trial. Cavendish, Greipel, and Sagan respectively won the next three stages, with Orica choosing to pass the yellow jersey from Gerrans to his teammate Daryl Impey, the first South African ever to wear the maillot jaune.

Stages 8-11

The first day in the Pyrenees featured two brutal climbs: the beyond-category Col de Pailhères and a first-category climb to the Ax 3 Domaines. Team Sky showed incredible strength, with Froome riding away from everyone, and his teammate Richie Porte finishing second. The win put Froome in the yellow jersey, with a 51-second lead on Porte and over a minute on the other GC contenders. With Sky looking unbeatable, all the team except Froome cracked on the following stage, with Porte losing massive time. Garmin's Dan Martin edged Jakob Fuglsang in a breakaway to win the stage.

Kittel won a sprint finish in Stage 10, and Tony Martin took the individual time trial in Stage 11. Froome finished close behind Martin, however. He gained roughly two minutes on his fellow contenders for the yellow jersey, increasing his lead over 2nd-place Alejandro Valverde to 3:25. Bauke Mollema, Alberto Contador, and Roman Kreuziger rounded out the top five, the only riders within four minutes of Froome.

Stages 12-15

Kittel won Stage 12 — his third win of the Tour — to announce himself as a very serious contender in any sprint finish. Stage 13 featured a reasonably flat ride, a presumed easy day and another sprint finish. But powerful crosswinds and the aggressive riding of Omega Pharma-Quick Step combined to fracture the peloton, and a day many viewers anticipated as dull turned out to be perhaps the most tension-filled in the race. Kittel and Greipel were both left behind, but even more importantly, Valverde suffered a flat tire and was never able to catch up. Movistar dispatched nearly its entire team to assist Valverde, but rather than helping him rejoin Froome and the other contenders, the whole squad got left behind. Valverde lost 10 minutes and Movistar surrendered its lead in the Team Competition. A late breakaway led by Belkin Pro Cycling and Team Saxo-Tinkoff dropped Froome and Sky, gaining about a minute in the General Classification, and Cavendish outsprinted Sagan to win the stage.

After the brutal winds, the peloton took a collective rest on Stage 14 and Matteo Trentin won the sprint in a large breakaway. Stage 15 concluded with a climb of the Beast of Provence, Mont Ventoux. Nairo Quintana, who had announced himself with an explosive performance in the Pyrenees, attacked early, but Froome dropped Alberto Contador and the other contenders, stayed with Quintana for a few kilometers, and then passed the young Colombian for a solo win on an iconic climb, effectively cementing himself in the yellow jersey and doing so with incredible panache.

Stages 16-18

Following a rest day, the peloton entered the Alps. A large breakaway succeeded, with Movistar's Rui Costa attacking late and winning the stage. Two second-category climbs highlighted the individual time trial on Stage 17. Froome won the stage, his third of the Tour, but most of the top GC contenders finished within a minute of his time. At this point, Froome led 2nd-place Contador by 4:34. The host nation suffered an unfortunate loss during the time trial, as Jean-Christophe Peraud, 9th in the GC and by far the highest-placed French rider, crashed out of the Tour with a broken collarbone.

Stage 18 was the highlight of the Tour, absolutely the most thrilling stage of the race. Featuring six categorized climbs, including three Cat-2's and two climbs of the fabled Alpe d'Huez, the Stage saw an early breakaway of nine reduced to Moreno Moser, Christophe Riblon, and Tejay van Garderen. While those three fought to stay ahead of the peloton, the GC battle behind them was furious. Saxo-Tinkoff attacked early and often, while Movistar tried to position Quintana for a stage win and a push up the GC.

Van Garderen lost nearly two minutes with a mechanical issue, but battled back. Riblon missed a turn on the first descent of the Alpe d'Huez and nearly crashed, riding off the road into a bog. He caught up, too. Meanwhile, the chase group got smaller and smaller. A joint attack by Contador and Kreuziger backfired, as both were dropped by Froome, Porte, Quintana, and Joaquim Rodriguez. At the front of the race, Moser faltered, and then van Garderen dropped Riblon as well, riding solo and trying to hold off Quintana and the other GC riders.

As van Garderen neared the top of the final climb, though, Riblon found new legs. Through 17 stages, France was without a stage win, and the fans lining the race route roared as he slowly reeled in van Garderen. Riblon seemed to grow stronger as his rival weakened, and with about 1 km to go, he flew past the American to win the stage. After van Garderen and Moser crossed the line, Quintana and Rodriguez finished about a minute ahead of Froome, and nearly two minutes before Contador and Kreuziger. Froome had all but clinched the maillot jaune, but now only 47 seconds separated 2nd-place Contador and 5th-place Rodriguez, with Quintana and Kreuziger joining them as podium contenders.

Stages 19-21

Heavy rain forced a conservative approach to Stage 19, and Costa won a second stage as the GC contenders held pat. In Stage 20, the beyond-category climb of Mont Semnoz cracked the race. Once again, it was Froome, Quintana, and Rodriguez who rode away from the group, dropping Contador and Kreuziger. Quintana sullied his ride a bit by refusing to take any pulls at the front, leaving Froome and especially Purito to do the work, but the young Colombian rode away at the end, winning the stage and securing 2nd place in the General Classification. Rodriguez, meanwhile, gained enough time on the two Saxo-Tinkoff riders to secure his own position on the podium.

The riders reached Paris at dusk the next day, and all the major sprinters contested the finish at the Champs-Élysées. Argos-Shimano provided the best lead-out train, and Kittel barely held off Greipel and Cavendish to win the final sprint.

General Classification

1. Christopher Froome (GBR), Team Sky, 83:56:40
2. Nairo Quintana (COL), Movistar Team, 84:01:00 (+ 4:20)
3. Joaquim Rodríguez (ESP), Team Katyusha, 84:01:44 (+ 5:04)
4. Alberto Contador (ESP), Team Saxo-Tinkoff, 84:03:07 (+ 6:27)
5. Roman Kreuziger (CZE), Team Saxo-Tinkoff, 84:04:07 (+ 7:27)
6. Bauke Mollema (NED), Belkin Pro Cycling, 84:08:22 (+ 11:42)
7. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN), Astana, 84:08:57 (+ 12:17)
8. Alejandro Valverde (ESP), Movistar Team, 84:12:06 (+ 15:26)
9. Daniel Navarro (ESP), Cofidis, 84:12:32 (+ 15:52)
10. Andrew Talansky (USA), Garmin-Sharp, 84:14:19 (+ 17:39)

It was a tough Tour for Contador, considered the most likely rider to unseat Froome, but the biggest disappointment had to be Cadel Evans (39th), the 2011 Tour winner and third place in this year's Giro d'Italia. Evans cracked in the first stage of the Pyrenees and never recovered, losing massive time on nearly every day in the mountains. Ryder Hesjedal (70th) crashed in the first week of the Tour and never looked totally healthy, while Andy Schleck (20th) is still recovering from last year's injury and doesn't seem all the way back yet.

Froome was by far the strongest rider on this year's Tour, but Quintana showed that he'll need to be taken very seriously going forward, and Rodriguez seemed to get stronger as the Tour went on. If the organizers ever add a fourth week of racing, he might be unbeatable.

Points Classification

1. Peter Sagan (SVK), Cannondale, 409 pts
2. Mark Cavendish (GBR), Omega Pharma-Quick Step, 312
3. André Greipel (GER), Lotto-Belisol, 267

Marcel Kittel (222), riding for Argos-Shimano, won as many stages as Sagan, Cavendish, and Greipel combined, but he got left behind a couple of times and he never contested the intermediate sprint points. Sagan, who won the green jersey, pretty clearly was not one of the top three sprinters on this year's Tour, but he got into breakaways, he survived the early mountains, and he contested everything.

King of the Mountains

1. Nairo Quintana (COL), Movistar Team, 147 pts
2. Christopher Froome (GBR), Team Sky, 136
3. Pierre Rolland (FRA), Team Europcar, 119

The hideous polka dot jersey was the most hotly contested leader's jersey on this year's Tour, not decided until the final day in the mountains. With double points on several finishing climbs, contenders like Rolland, Riblon, and Mikel Nieve were unable to gain enough points to hold off the GC contenders. Quintana passed Froome and Rolland as Climbs Leader on the final ascent of Stage 20.

Young Riders

1. Nairo Quintana (COL), Movistar Team, 84:01:00
2. Andrew Talansky (USA), Garmin-Sharp, 84:14:19 (+ 13:19)
3. Michał Kwiatkowski (POL), Omega Pharma-Quick Step, 84:15:39 (+ 14:39)

This was a sensational tour for young riders. Quintana finished on the podium and won King of the Mountains. Talansky placed ahead of strong teammates like Dan Martin and Hesjedal, earning a top-10 GC ranking on his first Tour de France. Kwiatkowski wore the white jersey for 10 days, helped to lead out Cavendish on sprints, and ranked 11th in the GC. Fourth-place Romain Bardet (+22:22) also rode well and could be a top-10 GC contender in the future.

Team Classification

1. Team Saxo-Tinkoff, 251:11:07
2. Ag2r-La Mondiale, 251:19:35 (+ 8:28)
3. RadioShack-Leopard, 251:20:09 (+ 9:02)

Fourth-place Movistar probably would have won the Team Classification if not for Valverde's mechanical issue in Stage 13, but the top three teams fought hard for this title in the Alps, with Saxo-Tinkoff winning on the strength of two top-five GC riders (Contador and Kreuziger) plus 16th-place Michael Rogers.

Most Successful Teams at the 2013 Tour de France

Subjectively, I've divided the 22 teams at the 100th edition of the Tour into three groups: Very Successful, Moderately Successful, and Not Successful. Each team did some good things, but everyone in the last group failed to meet their pre-race goals. The top, "very successful" teams combined to win all four leader jerseys and 18 of the 21 stages.

Very Successful

1. Team Sky — They came to the Tour for Chris Froome, and he won by more than four minutes, holding the yellow jersey for the final two weeks of the race. Richie Porte also looked very strong, and could probably contend for a Grand Tour himself.

2. Movistar Team — With Froome's success taking no one by surprise, Nairo Quintana was the sensation of the tour. He won two of the four leaders' jerseys and placed 2nd overall, in his first Tour de France. Rui Costa won two stages, and Alejandro Valverde also rode exceptionally well, finishing among the top 10 despite his disaster in Stage 13.

3. Omega Pharma-Quick Step — Mark Cavendish is such an accomplished sprinter that "only" winning two stages was a disappointment, but they also got stage wins from Tony Martin and Matteo Trentin, while Michal Kwiatkowski finished 3rd in the Young Riders competition and 11th overall. The entire OPQ team earned Most Aggressive Rider honors for its performance in Stage 13.

4. Argos-Shimano — Marcel Kittel told reporters that the team came into this year's Tour hoping to win a stage. Kittel exceeded all expectations, winning four stages, including a victory on Corsica that gave him a day in the yellow jersey. The team must be thrilled with its results.

5. Team Saxo-Tinkoff — They finished off the podium, a colossal disappointment in a race they thought Contador had a chance to win. But they placed two riders in the top five and they won the Team Classification, with both Alberto Contador and Roman Kreuziger among the GC leaders throughout the three weeks.

6. Cannondale — They rode the Tour to get Peter Sagan the green jersey. He only captured one stage win, but he spent nearly the whole race in green and won the Points Classification by almost 100.

7. Ag2r-La Mondiale — Placed 2nd in the Team Classification. Christophe Riblon won Stage 18 and was named Most Aggressive Rider of the Tour. Jean-Christophe Péraud rode very well for the first two weeks, and Romain Bardet ranked 4th among young riders. Blel Kadri found his way into a number of breakaways, even spending a day in polka dots.

8. Orica-GreenEDGE — Recovered from a disastrous first day (with their team bus trapped under the finish) to win two stages, including the team time trial. Both Simon Gerrans and Daryl Impey wore the yellow jersey, for two days apiece.

Moderately Successful

9. RadioShack-Leopard — Jan Bakelants won Stage 2 and spent a day in the yellow jersey. Five RadioShack-Leopard riders ranked in the top 40 of the GC, and the team finished a close 3rd in the Team Classification. 41-year-old Jens Voigt, the oldest rider in the Tour, seemed to get into every breakaway.

10. Team Katyusha — Can anyone explain to me why everyone spells this Katusha? The Cyrillic character ю is pronounced "you" (not "oo"). Anyway, Joaquim Rodriguez had a great third week and finished on the podium, while Alexander Kristoff placed 5th in the green jersey competition and Daniel Moreno ranked 17th in the GC.

11. Belkin Pro Cycling — A couple months ago, this team had no sponsor, riding as Team Blanco. Belkin finally picked them up just weeks before the Tour, and were rewarded with two prominent GC riders, 6th-place Bauke Mollema and 13th-place Laurens ten Dam. Belkin ranked 5th among 22 teams in the Team Classification. It was a Tour that exceeded expectations, and the new sponsor has got to be pleased.

12. Garmin-Sharp — Dan Martin won Stage 9, and Andrew Talansky rode a sensational first tour, 2nd in the white jersey and 10th overall. Ryder Hesjedal and David Millar featured prominently in breakaways.

13. Lotto-Belisol — Team leader Jurgen Van Den Broeck abandoned in the first week, but Andre Greipel won Stage 6, won numerous intermediate sprints, and finished 3rd in the Points Classification. That's a pretty solid Tour.

14. Team Europcar — A lot of success for a wild card team. Pierre Rolland spent half the Tour as King of the Mountains leader and finished 3rd in that competition. Both he and Cyril Gautier ranked among the top 40 GC riders, and Jérôme Cousin earned the combativity award on two stages.

15. Euskaltel-Euskadi — Mikel Nieve placed 12th in the GC and tied for 5th in King of the Mountains points. Euskaltel riders earned publicity in a number of breakaways, and Jon Izagirre finished 23rd overall. They ranked 7th in the Team Classification.

Not Successful

16. Cofidis — A strong third week saved their Tour. A breakaway on Stage 19 moved Daniel Navarro into the top 10 in the GC, and Cofidis finished 10th in the Team Classification. They were invisible the first two weeks.

17. Astana — They lost four riders, most of any team, including three in the first week. Jakob Fuglsang rode a very strong Tour (7th overall).

18. Lampre-Merida — Damiano Cunego, a GC hopeful, finished outside the top 50. Roberto Ferrari was no match for the top sprinters, never finishing higher than 5th. José Serpa rode a strong third week and grew a fabulous moustache.

19. BMC Racing Team — Their top finisher was 35th-place Steve Morabito. Cadel Evans, expected to compete for the podium, got dropped on every tough climb, and Tejay van Garderen was unable to capitalize on aggressive breakaway attempts. BMC didn't seem to ride as a team very effectively.

20. Vacansoleil-DCM — Opposite of Cofidis, they had a terrible third week. 19-year-old Danny van Poppel finished 3rd in Stage 1, but the team pulled him out of the Tour before the Alps. Kris Boeckmans and Lieuwe Westra also abandoned the tour in the final week. Vacansoleil riders won the combativity prize in two stages, but 28th-place Wout Poels was their only rider in the top 80 of the GC.

21. FDJ.fr — Three of their nine riders didn't finish the Tour. Arnold Jeannesson placed 30th in the GC and they were occasionally visible in breakaways. It was a quiet Tour and the team can't be satisfied with its results.

22. Sojasun — Julien Simon was named Most Aggressive Rider of Stage 14. Apart from that, they were invisible.

Countries

For the nationalists among you, three countries stood out with successful Tours: Germany, Great Britain, and Spain. German sprinters won five stages, and Tony Martin won the first individual time trial. Greipel and Kittel ranked 3rd and 4th in the Points Classification. British sprinter Mark Cavendish won two stages and placed 2nd in the Points Classification. Chris Froome won three stages and the yellow jersey. Four Spanish riders finished in the top 10 of the General Classification, and the Spanish Movistar team rode a brilliant Tour.

* * *

The 100th Tour de France was an unquestioned success, an exciting race with innovative routes and climbs, dramatic stages, and closely contested competitions. On the last day alone, the King of the Mountains and two of the three podium positions changed, while Saxo-Tinkoff solidified its shaky lead in the Team Classification. Intense climbs, especially on Mont Ventoux, the Alpe d'Huez, and Mont Semnoz, brought extra drama to the GC race, as did an individual time trial featuring difficult climbs. The finale's nighttime ride into Paris went off without a hitch, and the dubstep/lights/jersey presentation at the Arc de Triomphe felt special.

Nairo Quintana figured prominently in the awards presentations, appearing on stage three times: King of the Mountains, Best Young Rider, and 2nd place in the General Classification. Still just 23, he was the breakout star of the Tour — Quintana and Kittel. Not too far behind were first-time Tour riders Andrew Talansky and Michal Kwiatkowski, 10th and 11th respectively in the GC.

But the runaway leader of this historic Tour de France was yellow jersey winner Chris Froome. Last year, he finished 2nd, behind teammate Bradley Wiggins, but many race observers saw Froome as the stronger rider. This year, with Wiggins sidelined by illness and injury, Froome justified the hype with a dominant performance. Not only did he win the Tour by a huge margin, he won three stages, including the first day in the mountains, the brutal climb of Mont Ventoux, and the second individual time trial.

Froome spent the last two weeks answering questions about doping, and that's not surprising in today's sports world. But it's unfortunate, too, because Froome has never failed any drug test, and he's never faced any serious accusation, from teammates, competitors, or race officials. Other than his being a great rider, there's no reason to suspect him of using performance-enhancing substances. He just rode over 2,000 miles to win a historic race. Let the man enjoy his success.

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