Monday, July 25, 2016

Chris Froome Wins Third Tour De France

By Brad Oremland

The 103rd Tour de France began in Mont Saint-Michel, with pre-race favorites Christopher Froome, Nairo Quintana, and Alberto Contador joined by a strong group of podium contenders, including: Fabio Aru, Romain Bardet, Bauke Mollema, Vincenzo Nibali, Thibaut Pinot, Richie Porte, Joaquim Rodriguez, Pierre Rolland, Alejandro Valverde, and Tejay van Garderen.

Entering the race, the strongest teams appeared to be Froome's Team Sky, Quintana's Team Movistar, Contador's Tinkoff, and Teams Astana (with both Aru and Nibali) and BMC (featuring both Porte and van Garderen).

Stages 1-4: The Renaissance of Mark Cavendish

The first stage of a Tour always features some nerves, and usually a nasty crash or two. This year's race was no exception, with Team Tinkoff's Alberto Contador falling on a curve and requiring medical attention. Contador finished the stage without losing any time to his main rivals, but the injuries would affect him going forward. The stage finish featured British sprinter Mark Cavendish outclassing his rival Marcel Kittel. It was a surprising win for Cavendish, who crashed out of the 2014 Tour de France (where Kittel won four stages) and won only once in the 2015 Tour (compared to four wins by Germany's Andre Greipel). It was Cav's 27th career TDF stage win, but the first one to put him in the yellow leader's jersey.

An uphill finish in Stage 2 saw Tinkoff's Peter Sagan win the stage and the maillot jaune, but also saw his teammate Contador crash again, this time injuring his opposite shoulder. Cavendish outsprinted Greipel to win a photo finish in Stage 3, and Kittel held off Bryan Coquard to win an even closer finish — reported as 28 millimeters — in Stage 4.

At the conclusion of Stage 4, Sagan retained the yellow jersey, followed by Tour of California winner Julian Alaphilippe (+ :12) and Movistar's Alejandro Valverde (+ :14), the third-place finisher in last year's Tour. The main contenders were all within 30 seconds of Sagan, save Contador (+ 1:06), who struggled with injuries and lost time in Stage 2, and Team BMC's Richie Porte (+ 2:03), who lost 1:44 due to a poorly-timed flat tire. With his BMC teammate Tejay van Garderen (+ :18) also an excellent climber, race observers questioned how the team might handle its "co-leaders" in the wake of Porte's time loss. But no one anticipated BMC's next play.

Stages 5-9: The Glory of Van Avermaet and Three Stages in the Pyrenees

Stage 5 was a great day of racing. A nine-man breakaway eventually saw an attack by Thomas De Gendt, Andriy Grivko, and Greg Van Avermaet, and since none of the trio were top riders for the General Classification, strong GC teams like Sky and Movistar allowed a lead of over 15:00. With team leader Alberto Contador nursing injuries, Tinkoff also preferred not to press the pace, and with six categorized climbs, the team had little hope of keeping Sagan in the yellow jersey.

Grivko eventually faded, and although De Gendt is considered a stronger climber, it was BMC's Van Avermaet who attacked with 17 km to go, riding solo for the stage win and an unexpected yellow jersey. De Gendt finished second (+ 2:34), followed by an elite group of 21 GC contenders at + 5:07, including all the biggest names except for Contador (+ 5:40) and Vincenzo Nibali (+ 13:45), who won the Giro d'Italia in May and came to the Tour to support teammate Fabio Aru.

Cavendish won Stage 6, his third of this year's Tour, and the 29th of his career, surpassing Bernard Hinault for second-most all-time, behind only the legendary Eddy Merckx. The breakaway had trouble getting free in Stage 7, and when it finally developed, the group included both Van Avermaet — already five minutes ahead of second-place Alaphilippe — and Nibali, who has won all three Grand Tours. It was a brilliant move by both riders, taking pressure off their teams to chase the break, and transferring that pressure to Sky and Movistar.

The breakaway succeeded, with Steve Cummings winning and Van Avermaet gaining an additional :40 on the main field of GC contenders. Nibali gained 1:39 on the contenders, not nearly enough to re-enter their ranks after his time loss in Stage 5, though he was named Most Aggressive Rider of the stage. Perhaps most remarkably, a fan accidentally unplugged a generator at the 1 KM To Go banner, causing it to deflate directly atop Orica-BikeExchange rider Adam Yates. Yates, who had broken away from the field, was awarded a 1-second lead over Alaphilippe, putting him in the white jersey of Best Young Rider. All 198 riders finished Stage 7, and the following morning saw a full field begin Stage 8 for the first time in Tour De France history.

A mountain stage on day 8 saw little separation among most of the GC contenders, though defending champion Chris Froome attacked on the descent of the Col de Peyresourde, gaining 13 seconds on his rivals, plus a 10-second time bonus on all but Dan Martin and Joaquim Rodriguez, who received 6-second and 4-second bonuses, respectively. NBC's Bob Roll raved, "It was bold, it was daring, it was courageous, it was breakneck, it was really impressive." As expected, Van Avermaet lost massive time in the mountains, putting Froome into the maillot jaune. The consensus was that Team Movistar, and Nairo Quintana in particular, needed to attack Team Sky in Stage 9, putting Froome under pressure.

Time trial specialist Tom Dumoulin won Stage 9 out of the breakaway, and for the first time on this year's Tour we saw cracks — albeit small ones — among the GC contenders. Contador, battling injuries and a fever, abandoned the race, one of four riders on the day to drop out. Froome, Quintana, Yates, Martin, and Porte crossed the line 6:35 behind Dumoulin, followed by Romain Bardet, Louis Meintjes, Bauke Mollema, Rodriguez, and Team Sky's Sergio Henao (+ 6:56), then Tejay van Garderen (+ 7:13), Alejandro Valverde and Roman Kreuziger (+ 7:17), and a trio featuring Nibali, his teammate Aru, and Dumoulin's teammate Warren Barguil (+ 7:35). Bardet, Martin, Mollema, and Porte all attacked Froome, but he answered each time, and Quintana rode conservatively, staying on Froome's wheel but not attacking.

The Tour entered its first rest day with Froome in the yellow jersey, tracked by Yates (+ :16), Martin (+ :19), and Quintana (+ :23). The time gaps were quite small, with 12 riders less than 1:30 back from Froome, and two more (Porte and Barguil) less than three minutes behind. It was a pleasant contrast to recent Tours, in which Froome (2015) and Nibali (2014) established large early leads that removed some drama from the race.

Stages 10-16: Wind Stresses the Peloton

All week, powerful winds buffeted the race, occasionally causing breaks in the peloton, and once altering the finish line. In Stage 10, a 15-man breakaway populated by prestigious names dwindled to seven, including three from Orica-BikeExchange. At the finish line, Orica's Michael Matthews timed his sprint perfectly, finishing ahead of Peter Sagan to win his first TDF Stage. However, Sagan was vindicated the following day. With 12 km remaining in a flat stage, Sagan and teammate Maciej Bodnar attacked, taking advantage of powerful wind to open a small gap on the peloton. The only successful answer came from Froome and teammate Geraint Thomas. The powerful quartet worked together to hold off a chasing peloton, and Sagan outsprinted Froome at the line, but the wearer of the maillot jaune gained six seconds, plus a six-second time bonus, on his rivals for the General Classification.

Stage 12, concluding with a climb of Mont Ventoux, was a thrilling day of racing capped by a mountainous debacle. The stage deserves its own article, but here's the short version: Thomas De Gendt won the stage in a breakaway, also earning the Mountains jersey, while a bizarre crash toppled Froome, Porte, and Bauke Mollema in the final kilometer. The race jury wisely awarded a 19-second stage lead to the trio, compared to the GC rivals they had dropped prior to the mishap.

Tom Dumoulin authoritatively won the Stage 13 time trial, finishing over a minute ahead of second-place Froome, who predictably increased his GC lead. The big winner on the day was probably Mollema, who rode the best T.T. of his life, the only GC contender within a minute of Froome. Mollema rose to second in the yellow jersey competition (+ 1:47), ahead of Yates (+ 2:45) and Quintana (+ 2:59). Martin, Meintjes, Aru, and Rodriguez all lost more than three minutes to Froome.

The next day saw Cavendish win his fourth stage of this year's Tour, and the breakaway succeeded in Stage 15, with IAM Cycling earning its first TDF stage win. Jarlinson Pantano caught Rafal Majka on a descent and outsprinted him at the finish line. The two played chicken so long they were nearly caught by Alexis Vuillermoz and Sebastien Reichenbach, only six seconds behind. In the peloton, we again saw clear separation in the strongest riders on this year's Tour: Froome, Mollema, Yates, Quintana, Valverde, Bardet, Porte, van Garderen, Martin, Aru, Kreuziger, Meintjes, and Rodriguez. On all the biggest climbs, most or all of those riders kept pace, and other than the Sky domestiques (and occasionally Warren Barguil or Pierre Rolland), no one else did. Rodriguez, the lowest-placed of the group at 13th, finished the day three minutes ahead of 14th-ranked Reichenbach — who made up three minutes in the breakaway — and 6:30 in front of Henao and Rolland, tied for 15th. Van Garderen, dropped on the final climb, lost 1:30 to the dominant group and dropped behind his teammate Porte in the GC.

Stage 16 saw virtually every team inspired to pursue a stage win. A two-man breakaway featuring Etixx teammates Tony Martin and Julian Alaphilippe was finally caught with about 20 km to go, and Lampre's Rui Costa saw his subsequent attack brought back in the final kilometers. The final sprint officially saw Sagan edge out Alexander Kristoff, but I watched the finish a dozen times, and it looked to me like Kristoff won. Race announcers Liggett and Sherwen thought Kristoff had won. Kristoff, who pumped his fist in victory, thought he had won. Even Sagan was sure Kristoff had won: "I was not waiting for the results, I thought I was second until they came and told me I had won. It's unbelievable."

Entering the second rest day, and the Alps, the top of the GC remained unchanged, with Froome leading Mollema (+ 1:47), Yates (+ 2:45), and Quintana (+ 2:59). Although Froome appeared unbeatable, a fierce battle for the podium raged behind him, featuring 12 riders within six minutes of the race lead. Team Sky had four riders in the top 20; no other team had more than two.

Stages 17-21: Reshuffling the Top 10

The problem with a powerful team like Sky and a strong leader like Froome is that it sucks a lot of the drama out of breakaways. As long as no one among the 13 elite riders tried to join a breakaway, Sky would let it go. There's no tension about whether the breakaway can succeed, because it's obviously going to. Riders from the breakaway won in Stages 5, 7, 9, 10, 12, 15, 17, and 20: almost all of the mountain stages. Although a furious first hour of racing, during which the riders covered 52 km, delayed the break in Stage 17, it eventually contained 11 riders and built a substantial lead. Three of those 11 competed for the stage win, with Katusha's Ilnur Zakarin topping Pantano — seeking his second win in the last three stages — and Majka, who consolidated his lead in the Climbs competition.

Eight minutes behind the breakaway, the final kilometers — including a Category 1 ascent of the Col de la Forclaz and an HC climb to a finish line at the Émosson Dam — stressed even the greatest riders on this year's Tour. Van Garderen cracked on the Forclaz, losing more than 18 minutes, and dropping to 17th in the GC. Smaller gaps appeared among the 12 remaining contenders, with Froome and Porte leading the pack. The big loser on the day, other than van Garderen, was Movistar's Alejandro Valverde, who pressed the pace for Quintana at his own expense. Valverde finished more than two minutes behind Froome and Porte, dropping to 7th in the General Classification.

Froome won an uphill time trial in Stage 18, finishing :21 ahead of Dumoulin and :33 in front of Porte and Aru, who tied for third. Most of the main contenders finished about a minute behind Froome, expanding his lead for the yellow jersey but with little effect on the standings. The Tour entered Stage 19 understanding that Froome was secure in yellow, but with a furious battle for the remaining podium spots. Only 1:08 separated 2nd-place Mollema (+ 3:52) and 6th-place Porte (+ 5:00), with Aru (+ 6:08) not ready to give up and Meintjes (+ 7:15) still hoping to unseat Adam Yates (+ 4:16) for the white jersey of Best Young Rider.

Stage 19 would have been a difficult day with good weather, but heavy rain on tricky descents led to multiple crashes involving big names on this year's Tour. In the leading two-man breakaway, Cannondale's Pierre Rolland suffered one of the more cringe-inducing crashes of the Tour, though he remounted and finished 32nd on the day. Dumoulin, who had won two stages, crashed out of the Tour. Richie Porte crashed. Bauke Mollema crashed twice. Chris Froome crashed. Froome finished the stage on the bike of teammate Geraint Thomas, losing :36 to stage winner Romain Bardet and :23 to second-place Joaquim Rodriguez. Porte lost :53 to Bardet, but the big loser was Mollema, who had no teammates to pace him back after crashing. Mollema finished 4:26 behind Bardet and dropped from 2nd in the GC to 10th. Bardet, who earned the first TDF stage win of the year for both his team (AG2R) and his country (France), also rose to 2nd in the General Classification. Team Astana drove the peloton, reeling in the breakaway and putting the weaker climbers under pressure.

Rain hit again in Stage 20. Movistar's Jon Izagirre won out of the breakaway, riding away from Pantano and Nibali on the final descent. Kreuziger, also in the breakaway, moved up to 10th in the GC, while Joaquim Rodriguez used a late break to gain about :50, and Mollema and Aru didn't have the legs, both sliding out of the top 10. On the ride into Paris, Marcel Kittel and Bryan Coquard had bike problems, and the Gorilla got the monkey off his back, as Andre Greipel finally won a stage, outsprinting Sagan and Kristoff on the Champs-Élysées. It was Greipel's sixth consecutive year winning a stage in the Tour de France.

General Classification

1. Chris Froome (GBR), Team Sky, 89:04:48
2. Romain Bardet (FRA), Ag2r-La Mondiale, 89:08:53 (+ 4:05)
3. Nairo Quintana (COL), Movistar Team, 89:09:09 (+ 4:21)
4. Adam Yates (GBR), Orica-BikeExchange, 89:09:30 (+ 4:42)
5. Richie Porte (AUS), BMC Racing Team, 89:10:05 (+ 5:17)
6. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (ESP), Movistar Team, 89:11:04 (+ 6:16)
7. Joaquim Rodríguez (ESP), Team Katusha, 89:11:46 (+ 6:58)
8. Louis Meintjes (RSA), Lampre-Merida, 89:11:46 (+ 6:58)
9. Daniel Martin (IRL), Etixx-Quick-Step, 89:11:52 (+ 7:04)
10. Roman Kreuziger (CZE), Tinkoff, 89:11:59 (+ 7:11)

The top 10 finished far ahead of the rest of the field, with Bauke Mollema (+ 13:13) ranking 11th and Sergio Henao (+ 18:51) ranked 12th. This was an exciting GC, with Froome not consolidating his lead until the final days of the Tour, and a competitive podium battle behind him, including major shifts in the last two days of climbing. Valverde placed in the top 10 for the fourth consecutive year. Richie Porte probably would have made the final podium if not for a mechanical issue in Stage 2 that cost him 1:44.

Points Classification

1. Peter Sagan (SVK), Tinkoff-Saxo, 470 pts
2. Marcel Kittel (GER), Etixx-Quick-Step, 228
3. Michael Matthews (AUS), Orica-BikeExchange, 199

Sagan won the green jersey for the fifth year in a row, and his dominance takes some of the fun out of the points competition. But Mark Cavendish, who wore the jersey for six stages, amassed 291 points before abandoning the Tour to focus on the upcoming Olympics. Sagan, who won the green jersey without any stage victories in 2014 and 2015, broke that streak this year, and his 470 points broke his own record.

Mountains Classification

1. Rafał Majka (POL), Tinkoff, 209 pts
2. Thomas De Gendt (BEL), Lotto-Soudal, 130
3. Jarlinson Pantano (COL), IAM Cycling, 121

Unlike last year, when Froome and Quintana earned the most points in the Climbs competition, GC riders had minimal impact on this year's Mountains classification, with no overlap between the top 10 of the GC and KOM. Majka spent 24:15:15 in breakaways on this year's Tour, the most of any rider. De Gendt was second (20:40:47) and Pantano fourth (15:01:39), with Rui Costa in between.

Any of those four might have been a good choice for Most Aggressive Rider, an honor which instead went to Peter Sagan. He's certainly an aggressive rider, but it was an unconventional choice; I might have gone with Costa. De Gendt and Pantano were named Most Combative Rider twice each in this year's Tour.

Young Rider Classification

1. Adam Yates (GBR), Orica-BikeExchange, 89:09:30
2. Louis Meintjes (RSA), Lampre-Merida, 89:11:46 (+ 2:16)
3. Emanuel Buchmann (GER), Bora-Argon 18, 89:52:28 (+ 42:58)

Yates, only 23, rode an excellent Tour, as did Meintjes. The biggest disappointment here had to be Warren Barguil, 3rd in the white jersey standings on last year's Tour and considered one of the favorites in this year's race. Instead, he finished fourth. While Yates and Meintjes stayed with the heads of state on the tough climbs, neither did much attacking, and the most visible and exciting young rider was probably Julian Alaphilippe, who wore the white jersey for five days, won a combativity award, and probably would have won Stage 15 if not for a crash on a daring descent.

Team Classification

1. Movistar Team, 267:20:45
2. Team Sky, 267:28:59 (+ 8:14)
3. BMC Racing Team, 268:08:56 (+ 48:11)

Movistar was the only team with two top-10 General Classification riders, but no team was stronger on this year's Tour than Sky. Astana, which also looked very strong, especially in the Alps, placed fifth. Movistar lost two domestiques during the race, and used a shifting cast in breakaways, so that no one rider outside of Quintana and Valverde earned much attention, until Jon Izagirre's stage win on the penultimate day.

Most Successful Teams at the 2016 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 and 14 of the 21 stages.

Very Successful

1. Team Sky — Won the yellow jersey for the fourth time in five years. They ended the Tour with four top-20 GC riders, and six of the top 40. Chris Froome won two stages and the yellow jersey, and they earned second place in the Team Classification. Team Sky has money and talent, but they're also the best-managed team in the sport, and profoundly unselfish, with the best domestiques in pro cycling, including Sergio Henao, Mikel Nieve, Wout Poels, and Geraint Thomas.

2. Tinkoff — Lost team leader Alberto Contador, but recovered for arguably an even better race than Sky. Tinkoff won three stages, had a top-10 GC rider (Roman Kreuziger), won the Points Classification (Peter Sagan), won the Mountains Classification (Rafal Majka), and won Most Combative Rider of the Tour. Sky did better in the GC and the Team Classification, but had no one in the top 10 of the other competitions, and won no combativity awards.

3. Team Dimension Data — Finished last in the Team Classification, but won five stages, as many as any two other teams combined. Mark Cavendish dominated the sprint finishes before withdrawing prior to the Alps, and Steve Cummings won Stage 7. It was the most stage wins by a single team since 2012.

4. Movistar Team — Nairo Quintana rode an uninspiring Tour, but he made the final podium for the third time in three Tours. Alejandro Valverde also finished in the top 10, Jon Izagirre won a stage, and Movistar won first place in the team competition.

5. Orica-Bike Exchange — Came to France hoping to win a stage. They did, with Michael Matthews, but they also won the white jersey, which Adam Yates wore for the last two weeks. Yates finished 4th in the GC and Matthews placed 3rd in the Points Classification. It was a massive improvement on last year's disappointing result.

6. Ag2R La Mondiale — They ranked 4th in the team competition, but their Tour was all about Romain Bardet, who won Stage 19 and made the final podium, finishing second overall.

7. BMC Racing Team — Tejay van Garderen regressed this year. He seems selfish, and uninterested in team goals. Fortunately, Richie Porte, Greg Van Avermaet, and Damiano Caruso gave BMC plenty to celebrate. Porte looked great in the mountains and finished 5th in the GC. Van Avermaet won a stage and wore the maillot jaune for three days. Caruso placed higher in the GC (22nd) than van Garderen (29th), despite working as a domestique rather than pursuing his own ranking. BMC placed 3rd in the team competition.

Moderately Successful

8. Etixx-Quick Step — Tony Martin withdrew during the final day of racing, the only rider they lost. Dan Martin ranked 9th in the GC, Marcel Kittel won a stage and finished 2nd in the green jersey competition, and Julian Alaphilippe drew a lot of attention in breakaways.

9. Team Katusha — Let's begin with my yearly reminder that we should pronounce this Katyusha; the Cyrillic character ю is pronounced "you" (not "oo"). Jurgen Van den Broeck abandoned the Tour after Stage 11, but Joaquim Rodriguez — who is retiring at the end of the year — ranked 7th in the GC. Ilnur Zakarin won Stage 17 and finished 4th in the mountains competition. Alexander Kristoff ranked 5th in the Points Classification.

10. Lotto-Soudal — Thomas De Gendt was the star of their Tour, with a stage win, two combativity prizes, and 2nd place in the polka dot jersey competition. But they never lost faith in Andre Greipel, who assisted De Gendt in the breakaway on his stage victory, and delivered a stage win of his own in Paris.

11. Lampre-Merida — Louis Meintjes ranked 8th overall and 2nd among Young Riders. Rui Costa spent 18 hours in breakaways, won a combativity award, and nearly won several stages. Lampre ranked 10th in the Team Classification and had all nine cyclists complete the race.

12. Giant-Alpecin — Warren Barguil had a disappointing Tour, Tom Dumoulin broke his wrist and withdrew, and no one else even made it on camera. Laurens Ten Dam, who was in the top 10 a few years ago, ranked 73rd. John Degenkolb, who finished near the top of the points competition last year, is still recovering from an injury and didn't factor into the sprints this year. But Dumoulin won two stages, which is nothing to sneeze at.

13. IAM Cycling — Mathias Frank, who ranked 8th overall in 2015, struggled early on and abandoned the race, but Jarlinson Pantano looks like a bright young talent. He won a stage, won two combativity prizes, and ranked 19th in the GC. Teammate Stef Clement also finished in the top 20 (18th), and IAM placed 8th in the team competition.

14. Trek-Segafredo — Bauke Mollema was among the highest riders in the General Classification until the final three days, and he won new fans with his gritty 11th-place performance. Trek had four riders in the top 50 of the GC, and ranked 7th in the Team Classification. Mollema's drop was disappointing, but they had a great Tour for 18 days.

15. Astana — Is the glass half-full or half-empty? Astana has a very strong team, and they drove the peloton through the Alps. Fabio Aru ranked among the top 10 for most of the Tour, and all nine of their riders finished in the top 100 overall. They placed 5th in the team competition, so 15th is a conservative ranking. But for such a powerful team to leave France with no stage wins, no top-10 GC riders, and no one in the top 5 of the other competitions rates as a massive disappointment and underachievement.

Not Successful

16. FDJ — Lost three riders, most of any team. Thibaut Pinot wore the polka dot jersey for three days, and ranked a close second in the Climbs Competition when he withdrew from the Tour with bronchitis. FDJ had the Most Aggressive Rider three times, and Sébastien Reichenbach ranked 14th in the GC.

17. LottoNL-Jumbo — I had six rules for the bottom, "Not Successful" teams: [1] no stage wins; [2] no top-10 GC riders; [3] not top-10 in the team classification; [4] no one top-5 in the points classification; [5] no one top-5 in the mountains classification; [6] didn't win the white jersey. Wilco Kelderman was by far their most successful rider, 32nd in the GC and 5th in the white jersey competition.

18. Cannondale-Drapac — Pierre Rolland suffered two major crashes. The first limited him in a way that prevented him from pursuing a top-10 GC finish, and the second might have cost him a stage win in the Alps. There seemed to be no Plan B.

19. Bora-Argon 18 — It's not entirely fair to rank the four wild card teams as the least successful teams on the 2016 Tour. They have fewer resources and lower expectations. Bora was thrilled when Paul Voss secured the polka dot jersey for a day. Emanuel Buchmann ranked 21st in the GC and 3rd among young riders. They finished 15th in the Team Classification. Really, it wasn't a bad Tour.

20. Cofidis — Daniel Navarro did a good job of getting into breakaways, and he factored into the KOM competition until a crash and withdrawal in Stage 19. The rest of the team was invisible.

21. Direct Énergie — Bryan Coquard factored into a few of the sprints, ranking 6th in the green jersey competition. Sylvain Chavanel and Thomas Voeckler drew some attention in breakaways, and Voeckler was named Most Aggressive Rider of Stage 3, granted that it was a strange selection.

22. Fortuneo-Vital Concept — I watched this race for three weeks and barely noticed them. Anthony Delaplace was Most Aggressive Rider in Stage 1, Vegard Breen made it into a couple of breakaways, and Daniel McLay finished 3rd on one stage. Even for a wild card team, I can't imagine they're satisfied.

Countries

For the nationalists among you, Great Britain was the clear most successful country in the 2016 Tour De France. British riders combined to win seven stages and the yellow and white jerseys. Three nations that typically excel in the Tour struggled somewhat this year: France, Italy, and Spain, none of whom won a stage until the final three days. Romain Bardet gave France a stage win and a spot on the podium, while Spanish rider Jon Izagirre won Stage 20 and the Spanish Movistar Team won the team competition. For this year, Italy will have to content itself with the Giro d'Italia, won by Italian Vincenzo Nibali.

* * *

From a fan's perspective, this was an excellent Tour De France. Great riders mostly met expectations, young riders showed promise, and the General Classification was exciting throughout. There were thrilling stages and relatively few injuries, with a record 174 riders completing the Tour.

But there were also mishaps: small ones related to weather, and serious ones related to fan interference. In Stage 5, Adam Yates was attacked by a 1 KM To Go banner after a fan unplugged the generator that powered it. Yates needed stitches, and if his injuries had been any more serious, we might have been deprived of the best young rider on this year's Tour. The absurd theater of Stage 12 drew widespread media coverage after Chris Froome simply ran up Mont Ventoux. Fans blocked the narrow road, forcing a motorbike to stop in the road, and the race leaders all crashed into the moto.

In Stage 8, Froome punched a fan who was interfering with the race. Flags flew into the bikes. A fan jumped into the road on the final stage and nearly caused a crash. Several times, fans policed themselves, grabbing hooligans who were hindering the riders. The purity of the competition should be paramount, and fan interference of any kind is revolting. 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.

Every Tour is different, and the last three weeks rewarded viewers with dramatic stages and tense competition for the various classifications. The Tour ended with pure joy for a redeemed Andre Greipel, and a third Tour victory for Froome, only the eighth rider so credited (excluding wins vacated due to doping). The Vuelta a España begins August 20.

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