Monday, July 27, 2015

Froome and Greipel Win at Tour de France

By Brad Oremland

The 102nd Tour de France began with fans anticipating a fierce General Classification battle among the "Big Four" of Alberto Contador, Christopher Froome, Vincenzo Nibali, and Nairo Quintana. Contador was a two-time Tour de France champion and the winner of the last two Grand Tours. Froome won the 2013 Tour de France and this year's Criterium du Dauphine. Nibali has won all three Grand Tours, including last year's Tour de France. Quintana was 2nd in the 2013 Tour de France and won the 2014 Giro d'Italia.

The contenders would be pushed by an unusually mountainous route and a strong field of secondary contenders, including Jean-Christophe Peraud, Thibaut Pinot, Joaquim Rodriguez, Alejandro Valverde, and Tejay van Garderen.

Stages 1-4: The Fall and Rise of Tony Martin

The 102nd Tour de France opened in the Netherlands, with an individual time trial. 25-year-old Australian Rohan Dennis won the stage and the yellow leader's jersey, followed by celebrated time trialists Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara. The second stage was flat, an apparent sprint finish, but bad weather split the peloton. A lead group of about 25 included General Classification contenders Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, and Tejay van Garderen, who gained about 1:30 on their rivals. Martin and Cancellara were also among the leaders, but Dennis got left behind, so Martin (in second place) stood to take the maillot jaune as long as Cancellara didn't earn a time bonus by finishing among the top three of the stage. On the final straightaway, Martin's Etixx-Quick Step teammate Mark Cavendish broke too early and was passed by Andre Greipel (who won the stage) and Peter Sagan. Cavendish pulled up, and was passed at the line by Cancellara. The :04 time bonus moved Cancellara past Martin for the race lead and the yellow jersey. Martin was disconsolate after the stage.

Announcing for NBC Sports, Bob Roll blamed Cavendish: "Tony did what he had to do, and Cavendish did not ... He sees Greipel is clearly going to beat him, and he stops pedaling, with 20, 30 meters to go. Just a little bit tiny more effort, throw the bike, and your teammate has the yellow jersey." Etixx-Quick Step's Patrick Lefevere was even more blunt: "I am not happy at all. Probably this was our last chance to take the yellow jersey. Cavendish stopped sprinting and this costs Tony the jersey."

A series of categorized climbs at the end of Stage 3 turned it into a GC battle, but the stage will be most remembered for two serious crashes. Organizers neutralized the race for 18 minutes, about half of the time simply stopped. Three injured riders abandoned the Tour immediately, and four more retired before the start of Stage 4. The casualties included the yellow jersey (Cancellara), the white jersey (Tom Dumoulin), and Orica-GreenEdge captain Simon Gerrans. Multiple attacks on the final ascent of the Mur de Huy fizzled, before Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez pulled away for the stage win. Froome finished second, and the time bonus gave him a tiny GC lead — less than a second — over Martin. For the third day in a row, Martin was in second place and out of the yellow jersey, each day behind a different rider.

Perhaps the most dreaded day of this year's Tour, Stage 4 included seven cobblestone sections. The peloton fractured, and 2014 podium finisher Thibaut Pinot, with a poorly timed flat tire, lost 6:30. Unable to catch a break, Martin also got a flat tire near the end of the stage, though he swapped bikes with teammate Matteo Trentin and rejoined the peloton. With about 4 km to go, as the remaining riders prepared for a sprint finish, Martin broke away from the group. The champion time trialist rode solo the rest of the way, held his lead, and finally earned the first yellow jersey of his career.

Froome (+ :12) continued to lead the expected GC contenders, followed by van Garderen (+ :25) and Contador (+ :48), though Pinot was the only top contender to lose more than three minutes.

Stages 5-9

Bad weather turned a flat Stage 5 into an even more stressful ride than the previous day's cobbles, though the GC was largely unchanged, and Greipel won a second stage, outsprinting the other green jersey hopefuls. Stage 6, another for the sprinters, was largely uneventful until the conclusion. Eritrea's Daniel Teklehaimanot was the first to summit all three categorized climbs, earning the King of the Mountains title and becoming the first African to wear a leader's jersey. But the real drama came from a crash involving Martin, as well as Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana, and Tejay van Garderen. Only Martin suffered serious injury: a broken collarbone which forced him to withdraw from the Tour. It was a bittersweet finale for Etixx-Quick Step, as Martin's teammate Zdenek Stybar won Stage 6 in a late breakaway. No one wore the maillot jaune in Stage 7.

The next day was comparably low-drama, with Mark Cavendish winning the final sprint ahead of Greipel and Sagan. A relatively calm eighth day broke apart on the final climb, a steep Category 3 ascent of Mur-de-Bretagne. AG2R's Alexis Vuillermoz won the stage with a well-timed attack at 800 m, and most of the main contenders finished :10 behind him, though Vincenzo Nibali struggled on the final climb and lost an additional :10 to his GC rivals.

Stage 9's team time trial was won by van Garderen's BMC Racing Team, followed closely by Froome's Team Sky (+ :01) and the Movistar Team (+ :04) of Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde. More significant time gaps, however, affected Jean-Christophe Peraud's AG2R La Mondiale and Bauke Mollema's Trek Factory Racing, which lost over a minute, and Joaquim Rodriguez's Team Katusha, which lost nearly two minutes. The Tour entered its first rest day with Froome in the yellow jersey, tracked by van Garderen (+ :12), Contador (+ 1:03), Valverde (+1:50), and Quintana (+1:59).

Stages 10-14: Breakaways Succeed in the Pyrenees

In hindsight, Tour organizers made a mistake with Stage 10. The final climb of Col de Soudet created huge time gaps and took some drama out of the later stages of the race. Froome won the stage and finished a minute ahead of Quintana, and more than two minutes ahead of his other primary rivals, with Contador losing three minutes and Nibali almost four and a half. After the first day in the Pyrenees, Nibali was already out of realistic contention for the yellow jersey, with a 6:57 deficit on Froome. Van Garderen, second in the GC (+ 2:52), replaced Nibali as serious competition for the maillot jaune.

2014 King of the Mountains Rafal Majka won Stage 11 in a breakaway, and Nibali continued to fade, losing another :50 to his GC rivals. The following day also went to the breakaway, with Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez winning on the Plateau de Beille, near the Spanish border. The next day's breakaway nearly succeeded as well, getting caught within sight of the finish line. Greg Van Avermaet held off Peter Sagan for the stage win, ahead of a fractured peloton with numerous small time gaps.

With Froome comfortably leading the General Classification, Team Sky again allowed the breakaway to win in Stage 14, this time by over four minutes. A shifting lead group dwindled to French rivals Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot, who were caught with about 1 km to go by Steve Cummings of the South African MTN-Qhubeka Team. On Nelson Mandela's birthday, Cummings rode away to victory, giving MTN-Qhubeka, a wild card entry in this year's Tour, a stage victory on the perfect day.

The Tour left the Pyrenees with Froome in the yellow jersey, followed by Quintana (+ 3:10), van Garderen (+ 3:32), Valverde (+ 4:02), and Contador (+4:23). Froome's teammate Geraint Thomas (+ 4:54) was the only other rider within five minutes of the maillot jaune.

Stages 15-18

Stage 15 featured four categorized climbs, but most of the top sprinters survived, and Andre Greipel won his third stage, beating John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff at the line. The following day, in the foothills of the Alps, Ruben Plaza rode away from a large break group and held off Peter Sagan's daring descent of the Col de Manse. The GC group finished 18 minutes back, led by Vincenzo Nibali, who regained about :30 but remained in 8th place (+ 7:49). A select pack of nine riders finished in the next group, featuring all the biggest names on this year's Tour: Contador, Bauke Mollema, Romain Bardet, Froome, Valverde, van Garderen, Robert Gesink, Quintana, and Warren Barguil.

It was a thrilling day of racing, with a riveting battle for the stage win followed by a dramatic GC contest, including Nibali's attack and a crash involving sixth-place Geraint Thomas. During the descent of the Col de Manse, Barguil took an impossible angle on a tight curve, and smashed into Thomas. Although the crash looked very dangerous — Thomas ran head-first into a pole and literally flew off the road — Thomas was not seriously injured, and lost only :38 to the GC group.

Following a rest day, Stage 17 saw another victorious breakaway, this time led by Simon Geschke. The big news behind him saw an ill Tejay van Garderen abandon the race halfway through the stage, and Alberto Contador lost over two minutes following a mechanical issue and a minor crash. Van Garderen's withdrawal and Contador's time loss left Froome's teammate Geraint Thomas in fourth place, with Contador in fifth and Nibali up to seventh.

Froome's large GC lead continued to facilitate breakaways, including strong climbers whose early time losses had dropped them out of the top 10. Viewers were repeatedly treated to breakaways that featured competitive GC riders like Romain Bardet, Thibaut Pinot, Pierre Rolland, and Andrew Talansky. In Stage 18, nine riders survived a breakaway over the brutal Col du Glandon, but Bardet used an attack late on the climb, combined with superb descending skills, to stay away and win the stage, ahead of a furious chase by his countryman Rolland.

Froome continued to hold a commanding lead of 3:10 over Quintana, followed by Valverde (4:09), Thomas (6:34), and Contador (6:40). The top four riders came from only two teams: Sky (Froome and Thomas) and Movistar (Quintana and Valverde), easily the dominant teams in this year's Tour.

Stages 19-21

The difference between a domestique and a team leader is consistency. Geraint Thomas lost over 20 minutes on Stage 19, leaving Froome supported instead by teammate Wouter Poels. With the Tour entering its final days, the competitors for the yellow jersey attacked early in Stage 19, pressuring the peloton from the opening climb of the Col du Chaussy. Almost from the beginning of the race, a small, elite group formed at the front. Attacks eased until midway through the stage, when Froome had a mechanical issue and Nibali attacked. This is not considered sportsmanlike, though there is some dispute as to whether Nibali knew that Froome had a bike issue, or just saw him slowing down and seized an opportunity to go. In any case, Nibali rode the last 60 km solo and won the stage, finishing :44 ahead of Quintana, 1:14 ahead of Froome, and 2:26 in front of the other GC contenders. It was a huge validation for Nibali, the winner of last year's Tour, as he got the stage win and rose to fourth place in the General Classification.

Stage 20 featured two beyond-category climbs, the Col de la Croix de Fer, and the fabled Alpe d'Huez. FDJ's Alexandre Geniez attacked early and rode solo for most of the stage, while attacks on the first climb decimated Team Sky and saw Froome, Quintana, Valverde, and Nibali summit the Croix de Fer alone, though a peloton of about 30 re-formed prior to Alpe d'Huez. A strong break behind Geniez featured 2014 podium finisher Thibaut Pinot, 2012 Giro d'Italia champ Ryder Hesjedal, Europcar captain Pierre Rolland, and Team Movistar's Winner Anacona. Both FDJ and Movistar used the breakaway tactically, to great effect.

On the final climb, Pinot and Hesjedal attacked from the lead group, and Geniez assisted his teammate Pinot, who eventually rode away from both Hesjedal and the chasing GC group, to win the stage and salvage a disappointing Tour. Meanwhile, Valverde attacked, and when Team Sky declined to answer, Quintana bridged across to his teammate. When Valverde tired and dropped back to Froome's group, Quintana met up with his fellow Colombian Anacona, who performed admirably on the legendary climb. Quintana finished 1:20 ahead of Froome and Valverde, and more than three minutes ahead of a group containing Bardet, Contador, Robert Gesink, Bauke Mollema, and Nibali, the latter of whom suffered a poorly-time flat tire at the foot of Alpe d'Huez.

Early rain in Paris dried up for an exciting finish at the Champs-Élysées in Stage 21. A dramatic final sprint saw Andre Greipel confirm his dominance as the fastest man on this year's Tour, edging Bryan Coquard and Alexander Kristoff for the stage win.

General Classification

1. Chris Froome (GBR), Team Sky, 84:46:14
2. Nairo Quintana (COL), Movistar Team, 84:47:26 (+ 1:12)
3. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (ESP), Movistar Team, 84:51:39 (+ 5:25)
4. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA), Astana, 84:54:50 (+ 8:36)
5. Alberto Contador (ESP), Tinkoff-Saxo, 84:56:02 (+ 9:48)
6. Robert Gesink (NED), LottoNL-Jumbo, 84:57:01 (+ 10:47)
7. Bauke Mollema (NED), Trek Factory Racing, 85:01:28 (+ 15:14)
8. Mathias Frank (SUI), IAM Cycling, 85:01:53 (+ 15:39)
9. Romain Bardet (FRA), Ag2r-La Mondiale, 85:02:14 (+ 16:00)
10. Pierre Rolland (FRA), Team Europcar, 85:03:44 (+ 17:30)

Quintana's late surge in the Alps made it the closest Tour in years; I don't think Froome would have held the yellow jersey through an extra day of racing in the mountains. This was a fun Tour de France in part because so many of the pre-race favorites performed to expectations. The top five — easily the five strongest riders in this year's Tour, following the departure of van Garderen — were all previous Grand Tour winners. Mollema finished in the top 10 for the third year in a row, joining Valverde as the only riders to do so, while Bardet came 6th in last year's Tour and Rolland is a perennial top 10 contender.

Points Classification

1. Peter Sagan (SVK), Tinkoff-Saxo, 432 pts
2. André Greipel (GER), Lotto-Soudal, 366
3. John Degenkolb (GER), Giant-Alpecin, 298

We often call the green jersey the sprinters' jersey, but — for the second year in a row — two of the top three in the points competition failed to win a stage. Sagan won the green jersey for the fourth year in a row, but did so with a collection of top-five finishes; he hasn't won a stage since 2013. Race organizers changed the rules in a way that was expected to hurt Sagan's pursuit of the green jersey, but this year's climb-heavy Tour gave him an advantage over pure sprinters like Greipel and fourth-place Mark Cavendish (206).

Sagan's dominance takes some of the fun out of the points competition, though Greipel spent seven days in green, and wore the jersey as late as Stage 10. The biggest disappointment was probably Alexander Kristoff, who finished second in this competition last year and had won more races than any other rider in 2015. He was largely invisible, though, and finished in a tie for ninth (90).

Mountains Classification

1. Chris Froome (GBR), Team Sky, 119 pts
2. Nairo Quintana (COL), Movistar Team, 108
3. Romain Bardet (FRA), Ag2r-La Mondiale, 90

Double points on finishing climbs make this the most difficult classification to pursue, and there was little long-term effort to secure climb points until the final two or three days in the mountains. Bardet and Joaquim Rodríguez (78) were the most serious contenders, but the GC men, Froome and Quintana, ultimately won the competition.

I'm torn, because Froome and Quintana were clearly the best climbers on this year's Tour, and they deserve the King of the Mountains title. But it's also sort of sad to see the polka dot jersey treated as meaningless; Froome seemed unenthused about his lead, and Rodriguez wore the jersey for about half the Tour while Froome's yellow took precedence. It's nice to see the best climbers win this competition, but this jersey is sort of pointless when it mirrors the GC.

Young Rider Classification

1. Nairo Quintana (COL), Movistar Team, 84:47:26
2. Romain Bardet (FRA), Ag2r-La Mondiale, 85:02:14 (+ 14:48)
3. Warren Barguil (FRA), Giant-Alpecin 85:17:29 (+ 30:03)

Quintana won the white jersey for the second time in three years. Bardet finished second for the second year in a row, his third straight year in the top four. Thibaut Pinot, who placed 2nd in 2012 and won the white jersey last year, came in fourth (+ 37:40).

Barguil, the lone new entry among the leaders, is an exciting young rider, but he has got to improve his bike control and make better decisions. He was involved in several major crashes, including the Stage 3 pile-up that neutralized the race and the mountain descent that knocked Thomas off the road. I thought the race organizers might penalize Barguil for the latter, and I think it would have been justified. He's a talented cyclist, but he needs to do a better job of finding that fine line between aggressive and reckless.

Team Classification

1. Movistar Team, 255:24:24
2. Team Sky, 256:21:47 (+ 57:23)
3. Tinkoff-Saxo, 256:24:36 (+ 1:00:12)

Movistar had two of the top three in the General Classification, plus 24th-place Jonathan Castroviejo and frequent breakaway riders like Winner Anacona and Jose Herrada. The Team Classification, with Astana fourth, accurately reflects the strongest teams on this year's Tour. Team BMC, which won the team trial and led this competition prior to the mountains, dropped rapidly following the retirement of Tejay van Garderen.

Most Successful Teams at the 2014 Tour de France

Subjectively, I've divided the 22 teams at the 102nd edition of the Tour into three groups: Very Successful, Moderately Successful, and Not Successful. The top, "very successful" teams combined to win all four leader jerseys, while everyone in the last group failed to meet their pre-race goals.

Very Successful

1. Team Sky — Won the yellow jersey for the third time in four years. They ended the Tour with two top-15 GC riders, the yellow jersey, the polka dot jersey, a stage win, and second place in the Team Classification. Froome is the first rider to win the yellow and polka dot jerseys in the same Tour since Eddy Merckx in 1970, but Geraint Thomas also looked very strong; if not for one bad day, he might have ranked among the top five in the GC. Team Sky is profoundly unselfish, with the best domestiques in pro cycling, including Nicolas Roche, Richie Porte, Wout Poels, and Thomas.

2. Movistar Team — Movistar won the white jersey, first place in the team competition, and two men on the final podium. Alejandro Valverde is a longtime GC contender, but this was his first time finishing on the podium.

3. Tinkoff-Saxo — An extremely successful race that could actually be considered disappointing, because they brought an all-star team to France, including Alberto Contador, Ivan Basso, Daniele Bennati, Roman Kreuziger, RafaƂ Majka, Michael Rogers, and Peter Sagan. Contador placed 5th in the GC and was among the leaders throughout the Tour. Majka won Stage 11, Sagan won the green jersey, and they placed third in the Team Classification. A top-five GC rider, a stage win, and the green jersey: most teams would kill for that kind of Tour.

4. Lotto-Soudal — Three of the top 12 in the Points Classification. Andre Greipel won four stages and finished 2nd in the green jersey competition. Thomas De Gendt made it into a lot of breakaways and ranked 9th for the green jersey. Tony Gallopin stayed in the top 10 of the GC for half the Tour; he placed 12th in the points competition. Lotto-Soudal got the most stage wins (4) in the 2015 Tour de France.

5. Ag2R La Mondiale — Last year, Jean-Christophe Peraud finished on the podium in second place. This year, he lost time the first week and crashed hard in the second week, barely remaining in the race. Peraud's courage and perseverance were so remarkable that French president François Hollande complimented him on behalf of the French people. With Peraud struggling, his teammates Alexis Vuillermoz and Romain Bardet both won stages. Bardet finished 9th in the GC, 2nd in the white jersey competition, and 3rd in the Mountains Classification. Ag2R had three riders in the top 20 of the GC (Bardet, Mikael Cherel, Jan Bakelants) and placed 6th in the Team Classification. Bardet was named Most Aggressive Rider of the Tour.

Moderately Successful

6. Etixx-Quick Step — Lost three key riders prior to Paris, and ranked 21st out of 22 in the Team Classification. But they won three stages with three different riders (Tony Martin, Zdeněk Štybar, Mark Cavendish), and Martin spent three days in yellow. Michal Kwiatkowski was named Most Aggressive Rider twice, before withdrawing in Stage 17. Rigoberto Uran, who looked like a top-10 GC contender, was their highest-placed rider, 42nd.

7. BMC Racing Team — Tejay van Garderen's withdrawal, when he ranked third in the General Classification, ruined a sensational Tour. Samuel Sanchez continued to ride effectively, and finished 12th in the GC, but the air went out of the team when van Garderen abandoned. Before that, however, BMC won three stages, including the first stage (earning Rohan Dennis a day in the maillot jaune) and the team time trial.

8. Astana Pro Team — Vincenzo Nibali hoped to repeat as champion, and a rough first two weeks ended that hope. But the team never gave up. Nibali won Stage 19 and rose to 4th in the yellow jersey competition. Tanel Kangert and Jakob Fuglsang joined him in the top 25 of the GC, and Astana ranked 4th in the Team Classification. Michele Scarponi and Andriy Grivko were effective domestiques. Astana brought a really strong team to the Tour, and although a few things didn't work out according to plan, the team showed well.

9. MTN-Qhubeka — Relative to expectations, maybe the most successful Tour of any team. They won a stage with Steve Cummings — on Mandela Day, no less — and they placed 5th in the Team Classification. Daniel Teklehaimanot wore the polka dot jersey for four days, and Serge Pauwels placed 13th in the GC.

10. Team Katusha — Let's begin with my yearly reminder that we should pronounce this Katyusha; the Cyrillic character ю is pronounced "you" (not "oo"). This was about as disappointing as a Tour can be with two stage wins. I thought Joaquim Rodriguez would be a serious contender for the yellow jersey, but he ranked 29th. He wore the polka dot jersey for nine days, but six were on loan from Chris Froome, and he didn't make a serious push to keep the King of the Mountains title. Alexander Kristoff had a hugely disappointing Tour, with no stage wins and 9th place in the Points Classification. Other than Rodriguez and Alberto Losada, the team was invisible in breakaways, and it ranked 18th in the Team Classification.

11. Team Giant-Alpecin — Simon Geschke won Stage 17, John Degenkolb ranked 3rd in the points competition, and 23-year-old Warren Barguil finished 14th in the GC, 3rd in the white jersey competition. They got publicity in almost every stage, since Degenkolb contested sprints, Barguil rode with the leaders in the mountains, and Geschke got into breakaways.

12. FDJ — Thibaut Pinot had a terrible first week, but he won on Alpe d'Huez. He was in almost every breakaway in the Alps, and he finished 16th in the General Classification. FDJ did a good job of placing riders in breakaways.

13. Team LottoNL-Jumbo — Robert Gesink rode a great Tour, ranking 6th in the GC. Even in the mountains, he and Steven Kruijswijk (21st GC) often stayed with the leaders of the Tour. Lotto-Jumbo was one of only two teams (Europcar) to have all nine riders complete the Tour.

14. Trek Factory Racing — Bauke Mollema did his job, hanging with the leaders of the Tour in the Pyrenees and the Alps. He rode well and placed 7th in the General Classification. Fabian Cancellara wore yellow before a crash knocked him out of the race, and 22-year-old Bob Jungels had a nice third week, getting into breakaways and spending some time with the leaders in the mountains. He ranked 27th in the GC and 5th in the white jersey competition.

15. Team Europcar — Seventh in the team competition. Pierre Rolland spent a lot of time at the front of the race, and earned his third top-10 GC finish, as well as 6th in King of the Mountains. Bryan Coquard ranked 5th for the green jersey again, and Europcar did a good job of getting riders into breakaways. In addition to Rolland, Cyril Gautier, Romain Sicard, and Thomas Voeckler all drew attention.

16. Lampre-Merida — For the second straight year, team leader Rui Costa withdrew from the Tour. Rubén Plaza rode a strong third week and won Stage 16. José Serpa's success in the Tour's final days makes you wonder where he was beforehand.

Not Successful

17. IAM Cycling — Mathias Frank salvaged their Tour, riding 8th in the General Classification. Jarlinson Pantano got into some breakaways and finished 19th. The rest of the team was invisible.

18. Team Cannondale-Garmin — Three riders in the top 40 of the GC, but they seemed disorganized until Stage 20, when Ramunas Navardauskas helped Ryder Hesjedal pursue a stage win. It would have been nice to see that kind of teamwork and organization throughout the race. American rider Andrew Talansky finished 11th in the General Classification.

t19. Bretagne-Séché Environnement — The bottom four teams in this listing were all very ineffective on this year's Tour de France. They won no stages, they weren't in the top five for any of the leaders jerseys, they had no GC riders in the top 20, and they were among the bottom six in the Team Classification. Bretagne was visible in some breakaways, particularly with Pierre-Luc Perichon and Pierrick Fedrigo. Fedrigo was their highest-placed GC rider, 52nd in this year's Tour.

t19. Cofidis, Solutions Credits — Lost their team captain, sprinter Nacer Bouhanni, in Stage 5, and didn't seem to have a Plan B. Luis Ángel Maté was their best GC rider, 43rd, but Kenneth Van Bilsen — their lowest-placed rider, 158th, and barely avoiding the lanterne rouge — was their most visible and memorable rider, on account of a few breakaways and a combativity award.

t19. Orica-GreenEDGE — Lost three riders in the first week of the Tour, and that doesn't include Michael Matthews, who was injured in Stage 3 and barely stayed in the race. The Yates twins, Adam and Simon, rode well at times, but Orica didn't win any stages — or even come particularly close — and didn't compete for any of the leaders jerseys. They finished last in the team time trial and the Team Classification, the latter by over an hour.

t19. Bora-Argon 18 — I hate to be so hard on a wild card, but this team was invisible during the Tour de France. Jan Barta and Emanuel Buchmann got into a couple of breakaways, and the team got a couple Most Aggressive Rider awards. Barta finished 25th in the General Classification, but he never stayed among the leaders in the Alps and Pyrenees. Only five of their nine riders finished the Tour.

Countries

For the nationalists among you, four countries stood out with successful Tours: Germany, France, Great Britain, and Spain. German riders won six stages: four by Greipel, one by Martin, and one by Geschke. John Degenkolb didn't win any stages, but he placed third in the Points Classification. French cyclists won three stages, including the Alpe d'Huez, and they took three of the top four in the white jersey competition. British riders accounted for three stage wins and two leaders jerseys, with Chris Froome earning stage 10, plus the yellow and polka dot jerseys. Spanish cyclists also accounted for three stage wins, with two by Joaquim Rodriguez and one from Ruben Plaza. The Spanish Movistar team took two of the three podium spots, the white jersey, and the team competition.

* * *

Race organizers worked hard to make this an exciting Tour de France. For a viewer, time trials and flat stages tend to be pretty unrewarding. This year's Tour kept the time trials short, included lots of mountain racing, and even the flat stages were shaken up by exposed roads and bad weather. Most of the riders hate cobblestones, but they add drama to the race.

A terrific bunch of GC riders added to the appeal. In addition to the big four of Froome, Quintana, Nibali, and Contador, cycling fans also knew to keep an eye on Valverde, Mollema, Bardet, Rolland, Talansky, Pinot, Majka, Rodriguez, and van Garderen. All of them came through to some extent. We saw a green jersey battle that was competitive until the final days of the Tour, and a King of the Mountains competition settled on the final climb. We got the closest yellow jersey battle in years, just 1:12 separating first and second, and a thrilling final sprint in Paris.

Maybe I'm naive in even suggesting this, but my least favorite thing about professional cycling is the behavior of fans. Idiots who block the road for racers, hooligans who taunt or assault the participants, even the motorbike riders who interfere with the race. I have suggested, mostly joking, that the riders should be permitted to carry switch-blades. The purity of the competition should be paramount, and fan interference of any kind is revolting. This is particularly true, of course, with regard to the reprehensible behavior toward members of Team Sky, and Chris Froome in particular. I don't know what can be done about this without major alterations to the fan's live experience, but frankly, I'm more concerned about the riders than the fans.

Despite some unfortunate incidents during this year's Tour, both of a cycling nature (such as crashes) and otherwise (such as spitting at Froome), it was an exciting three weeks with a number of rewarding moments, many more positives than negatives. The Vuelta a España begins August 22.

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