Monday, July 24, 2017

Chris Froome Wins Fourth Tour De France

By Brad Oremland

The 104th Tour de France began in Dusseldorf, Germany, with pre-race favorites Christopher Froome, Nairo Quintana, and Richie Porte joined by a select group of podium contenders, including Fabio Aru, Romain Bardet, Alberto Contador, and Alejandro Valverde.

Stages 1-4: The Crash of Mark Cavendish and the Fall of Peter Sagan

The Tour began with an individual time trial, won by Team Sky's Geraint Thomas. It was a rare moment of glory for one of pro cycling's most unselfish riders. Wet roads and tight corners led to several falls, including Valverde, who crashed out of the Tour with a broken kneecap. Stage Two saw a 202-kilometer breakaway in a 203-kilometer stage, by Yoann Offredo (who was named Most Combative) and Taylor Phinney (who took the polka-dot climbs jersey). Marcel Kittel won a sprint finish that included all the big names, including Arnaud Demare, Andre Greipel, Mark Cavendish, and Peter Sagan.

Sagan won an uphill finish in Stage 3, edging Michael Matthews and Dan Martin. A flat, uneventful Stage 4 turned dramatic with two crashes in the final 2 km. In the final sprint, won by Demare, Cavendish crashed trying to pass Sagan on the inside. In the exchange, Sagan threw an elbow at Cavendish. The questions afterward were [1] did Sagan move into Cav's line, or vice versa, and [2] did the elbow cause the crash? Cavendish is an aggressive rider; in 2014 his own lack of caution led to a Tour-ending crash.

But Sagan, more than any other rider, treats cycling as a contact sport. The previous day he elbowed Greipel at the intermediate sprint point. Race officials chose to disqualify Sagan, not only from the stage but from this year's Tour. It was a bold decision, which I'll discuss a little further down. Five years ago, I thought Roberto Ferrari should have been disqualified from the Giro d'Italia for recklessly moving off his line and crashing over two dozen riders. What Sagan did probably wasn't as bad, but sprints are so dangerous, race organizers need to send a message that safety is their top priority, or eventually someone is going to get killed.

A 45-mph crash is dangerous if you're in a car and wearing a seatbelt. A 45-mph crash without seatbelts — or, you know, doors — is even more so. Cav hit the barrier hard, hit the pavement harder, and then got run over by John Degenkolb, who also crashed. Cavendish exited the Tour with a broken shoulder blade.

Heading into day five and the first GC stage, Geraint Thomas carried the maillot jaune, with Froome and Matthews tied for second (+ :12) and all the main GC contenders within a minute of Froome. Demare led the points competition, Phinney's teammate Nathan Brown led the climbs classification, and AG2R's Pierre-Roger LaTour wore the white jersey of Best Young Rider.

Stages 5-9: The GC Race Heats Up

The General Classification battle began in earnest at the end of Stage 5, with a Category 1 climb of La Planche des Belles Filles. Team BMC, riding for Richie Porte, drove the peloton to the base of the climb, but Team Sky controlled the climb itself until Astana's Fabio Aru attacked with 2.4 km remaining. Aru soloed to the top and won by :16, leading an elite group of 12 riders, including: Dan Martin (+ :16), Chris Froome and Porte (+ :20), Romain Bardet (+ :24), Simon Yates, Rigoberto Uran, and Alberto Contador (+ :26), Nairo Quintana (+ :34), and Geraint Thomas, Louis Meintjes, and Rafal Majka (+ :40). Froome took the maillot jaune from his teammate Thomas, who remained in second place, followed by Aru and Martin.

The Stage 6 sprint took place without Cavendish and Sagan. Kittel won his second stage of the Tour, clearly showing himself as the strongest sprinter in the field, while Demare — who had swerved into Nacer Bouhani's lane in Stage 4, a mistake overshadowed by the almost-simultaneous crash involving Cavendish — once again took a line that appeared to impede other riders. Demare was not penalized, finishing second on the stage and retaining the green jersey.

Kittel won again in Stage 7, outtouching Edvald Boasson Hagen by the thinnest margin possible. NBC's Bob Roll marveled, "I've never seen a closer finish," and the difference was timed at 0.0003 of a second. But flat stages are the appetizer for the Tour's main course: the mountains. Stage 8 featured three categorized climbs, including a Cat. 1 summit just 12 km from the finish, but as a preview for the following day's queen stage, most of the main contenders hoped not to overextend themselves, and a large breakaway swelled to about 50 riders. The leading ranks gradually thinned to Lilian Calmejane and Robert Gesink. Calmejane, a young talent living up to the hype, rode solo for the final 17 km, claiming Most Aggressive Rider honors, the polka dot jersey, and the stage win. Gesink finished :37 back, followed by the 38-man yellow jersey group at + :50.

Stage 9 was the most eventful day of the Tour, featuring seven categorized climbs, including three "HC" Beyond Category monsters. In addition to the grueling climbs, riders faced long, technical descents and roads that were not always dry. Robert Gesink, the previous day's runner-up, crashed out of the Tour with a fractured vertebra, and Geraint Thomas crashed out with a broken collarbone (and a thoroughly shredded jersey). Two-time King of the Mountains and top-10 GC contender Rafal Majka got up after a crash but didn't start Stage 10.

The most dramatic and impactful crash occurred on the final descent of Mont du Chat. A leading group of elite climbers gradually pulled back another large breakaway, until only Warren Barguil remained on the road ahead of the seven leaders: Froome, Aru, Martin, Porte, Bardet, Uran, and Criterium du Dauphine winner Jakob Fuglsang. During the tortuous descent, Porte missed a curve, crashed, and skidded into Martin. Porte was put in a neck brace, loaded on a stretcher, and taken to the hospital, though his most serious injury was "only" a broken collarbone.

Bardet attacked on the descent, catching and passing Barguil on the flat 15 km ride to the finish. The remaining quartet of Froome, Aru, Fuglsang, and Uran worked together to bring back first Barguil and then Bardet. Uran battled through a mechanical problem to edge Barguil in the final sprint, another photo finish. Martin recovered from Porte's crash to lose only 1:15 on the leaders, but the mishap probably robbed him of a stage win, since he's the strongest sprinter in the GC field. Altogether, 13 riders left the Tour after Sunday, including three top-10 GC riders and second place in the Points Classification, as Arnaud Demare missed the time cut. It was a devastating day for Demare's FDJ team, since they left three riders back to assist Demare, and all four finished outside the time limit.

The peloton limped into its first rest day with Froome leading the GC, followed by Aru (+ :18), Bardet (+ :51), and Uran (+ :55). Kittel wore the green jersey, Barguil took a massive lead in the KOM competition, and Simon Yates maintained a narrow lead over Louis Meintjes (+2:58), Pierre LaTour (+3:28), and Emanuel Buchmann (+6:44) in the white jersey competition.

Stages 10-13: Astana Takes Yellow

If there was any doubt about Kittel's dominance in the sprints, Stage 10 erased that doubt, as Kittel easily rode away from the rest of the field to win his fourth stage. Like the US announcers, I was surprised to see other sprint teams, like Lotto-Soudal and Katusha, put riders at the front to assist Kittel's teammate Julien Vermote in pulling back the breakaways. I would have loved to see those teams put someone in the breakaway and force Quickstep to use its horsepower chasing the break. Despite teamwork at the front of the peloton, a breakaway nearly succeeded in Stage 11, the final flat stage before the Pyrenees. With about 30 km remaining, Maciej Bodnar left the three-man breakaway and rode solo, pressuring the peloton and not getting caught until the final 250 meters, where Kittel won his fifth stage.

Stage 12 brought the 2017 Tour de France into the Pyrenees, with six categorized climbs, five of them Cat-2 or higher. Several contenders lost significant time, including Nairo Quintana (+2:04), Alberto Contador (+2:15), and Jakob Fuglsang (+27:42), who sustained two fractures in a fall during Stage 11. Fuglsang withdrew from the Tour the following day, a huge blow to Team Astana.

Time losses among the other race leaders were narrow but significant. Romain Bardet sprinted up the final climb to Peyragudes, winning a stage for the third consecutive Tour, followed closely by Uran and Aru (both + :02). Mikel Landa, Meintjes, Martin, Froome, George Bennett, and Yates all finished within 30 seconds of Bardet, but Froome's 22-second time loss was enough for Aru to overtake the race lead and capture the maillot jaune.

Stage 13 was thrilling, the reason cycling fans love the sport. A short stage (101 km) with three Category-1 mountains, it devastated the field and revealed the strongest riders in this year's Tour. It featured a successful breakaway with four top-20 GC riders, and constant attacks in the yellow jersey group two minutes behind. Two-time TDF winner Alberto Contador, seven minutes off the race lead and outside the top 10, won Most Combative Rider honors for leading a breakaway with Team Sky's Mikel Landa. It was a brilliant move by Sky; Landa ranked 7th in the overall classification, just 2:55 behind Aru. so pressure to chase the break shifted from Team Sky to Astana and AG2R. Contador and Landa rode as a pair for much of the stage, but they were joined on the final climb by 8th-place Nairo Quintana and King of the Mountains leader Warren Barguil, who won a sprint among the foursome, giving France a victory on Bastille Day.

Second on the road, the elite seven-rider yellow jersey group featured Aru, Froome, Bardet, Uran, Martin, Yates, and Meintjes. All of them attacked at various points, most of them more than once, and several of them appeared to drop off the back before fighting their way back to the group. Martin and Yates gained nine seconds in a late breakaway, but the day's big winners were Landa and Quintana, both of whom who moved into position to compete for a podium in Paris. Bennett lost over 4:00 and dropped out of the top 10, behind Contador.

Heading into Stage 14, Aru wore the yellow jersey, tracked closely by Froome (+ :06), Bardet (+ :25), and Uran (+ :35). Kittel and Barguil maintained imposing leads for the green and polka dot jerseys, respectively, while Yates continued to lead Meintjes by just under three minutes for the white jersey. Team Sky had three riders in the top 12 of the general classification: Froome, Landa, and Mikel Nieve.

Stages 14-15: The Leaders Consolidate

An uncategorized but uphill finish in Stage 14 created numerous small time gaps. Michael Matthews cleanly outsprinted Greg Van Avermaet to win the stage, Team Sunweb's second stage win in a row, pulling within 100 points of Kittel in the green jersey competition. The long-term story, though, was the GC battle, where yellow jersey wearer Fabio Aru lost :25, returning Froome to the maillot jaune. Chris Froome, Dan Martin, and Rigoberto Uran all finished near the front (+ :01), but Bardet and Yates (+ :05), Landa (+ :15), Quintana (+ :22), and Aru (+ :25) all lost valuable seconds in an unusually tight GC race. The top three (Froome, Aru, and Bardet) were all within :23, a record this late in the Tour, and all of the top eight remained within 2:30.

As a point of comparison, at this time last year, only one rider was within 2:30 of Froome. The year before, no one was. Following Stage 14 in 2014, Vincenzo Nibali led the race by more than 4:30. This year's fantastic battle for the podium made up for Barguil's drama-free dominance in the KOM standings, and the green jersey competition was about to get a shake-up.

I'm often disappointed by stages in which the breakaway gets a free pass, but Stage 15 was dramatic and rewarding. Longtime GC contender Bauke Mollema attacked the breakaway with 25 km to go and stayed away to win the stage by :19, his first TDF stage win. Warren Barguil finished in the second group on the road, solidifying his climbing bona fides and continuing his sensationally impressive Tour. In the main group of overall contenders, AG2R drove the peloton, and Chris Froome suffered a flat tire at the foot of a Category-1 climb, temporarily dropping more than :30, but Team Sky brought him back. Despite a number of attacks, only Dan Martin was able to gain any time, and only Nairo Quintana lost any, dropping out of the top 10.

The Tour entered its second rest day appropriately exhausted, with Froome in the yellow jersey. Aru, Bardet, and Uran remained within :30 of the race lead, with Martin, Landa, and Yates also in the mix. Kittel maintained a 79-point advantage over Michael Matthews in the points classification, and Barguil continued to dominate the KOM. Despite Meintjes staying with the leaders of the Tour, he was unable to make any progress against Yates' advantage in white.

Stages 16-21: Final Stages

Stage 16 was classified as a flat stage, but an early Cat-3 climb combined with strong winds to create a tense day of racing, with time gaps that affected Dan Martin, Louis Meintjes, and Alberto Contador. With Kittel dropped on the first climb and Greipel caught in the crosswinds, Michael Matthews sprinted to his second stage win, beating Edvald Boasson Hagen at the line. Matthews drew to within 29 points of Kittel's green jersey lead, which had seemed insurmountable a few days earlier.

The Tour entered the Alps in Stage 17, an exciting but devastating day of racing. A crash near the foot of the first climb caught about a dozen riders, including Warren Barguil, who was unable to contest the early KOM points, and Marcel Kittel, who withdrew from the Tour de France a couple hours down the road. Matthews, by then, had won the intermediate sprint point, pulling within 9 points of Kittel's lead and setting up the most exciting green jersey battle in many years. Kittel's abandon gave Matthews a 364-204 lead over second-place Andre Greipel.

Primoz Roglic won out of the breakaway, the first Slovenian to win a stage of the Tour de France, and got all the late climbs points, moving to second in the mountains classification. The GC group 1:13 behind included Uran, Froome, Bardet, Barguil, and Landa, with most of the other contenders about :30 behind. Simon Yates lost 2:00, and Nairo Quintana lost massive time, dropping to 12th in the GC. 23-year-old Pierre LaTour, previously third in the young riders competition, had his first bad day and lost half an hour.

Strong efforts by AG2R, UAE Team Emirates, and (eventually) Sky brought back a 54-man breakaway in Stage 18. Warren Barguil attacked from the peloton on the finishing climb of the Col d'Izoard, passing Darwin Atapuma, the final leader from the breakaway, at the 1-km-to-go banner. Barguil won his second stage, expanded his insurmountable lead in the mountains classification, and passed Contador for 9th in the GC. Froome, Bardet, and Uran confirmed themselves as the strongest riders — apart from perhaps Barguil — on this year's Tour, followed by Landa and the other contenders. The big loser was Fabio Aru, who lost over a minute and dropped to 5th overall.

Sky and the decimated sprint teams declined to chase down a 20-man breakaway in Stage 19; Boasson Hagen attacked with 2 km to go and finally got his stage win. Maciej Bodnar won the next day's individual time trial, edging his countryman Michal Kwiatkowski by less than a second. Romain Bardet ranked 52nd and dropped behind Uran in the General Classification; actually, he stayed ahead of Landa for the podium by only one second. On the final sprint in Paris, Andre Greipel followed the wrong wheel and broke too late, finishing second to Dylan Groenewegen.

General Classification

1. Chris Froome (GBR), Team Sky, 86:20:55
2. Rigoberto Urán (COL), Cannondale-Drapac, 86:21:49 (+ :54)
3. Romain Bardet (FRA), Ag2r La Mondiale, 86:23:15 (+ 2:20)
4. Mikel Landa (ESP), Team Sky, 86:23:16 (+ 2:21)
5. Fabio Aru (ITA), Astana, 86:24:00 (+ 3:05)
6. Daniel Martin (IRL), Quick-Step Floors, 86:25:37 (+ 4:42)
7. Simon Yates (GBR), Orica-Scott, 86:27:09 (+ 6:14)
8. Louis Meintjes (RSA), UAE Team Emirates, 86:29:15 (+ 8:20)
9. Alberto Contador (ESP), Trek-Segafredo, 86:29:44 (+ 8:49)
10. Warren Barguil (FRA), Team Sunweb, 86:30:20 (+ 9:25)

The top 10 finished far ahead of the rest of the field, with Damiano Caruso (+ 14:48) ranking 11th. This was a sensational GC, the closest and most exciting in many years. Dan Martin might have placed higher if Richie Porte hadn't crashed into him on Stage 9, costing Martin 1:15 on the stage and leading to back injuries that left Martin struggling to walk. On the other hand, Martin finished 1:37 back from Aru and almost 2½ minutes off the final podium, so perhaps not. Certainly he lent some energy and excitement to the field, with frequent attacks of his GC rivals.

Points Classification

1. Michael Matthews (AUS), Team Sunweb, 370 pts
2. Andre Greipel (GER), Lotto-Soudal, 234
3. Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR), Team Dimension Data, 220

Okay, let's talk about Peter Sagan. He had won the green jersey five years in a row, and last year he scored more points than second and third place (Marcel Kittel and Matthews) combined. He was kicked off this year's Tour following the fourth stage, when relegation — last on the stage, with no points awarded — might have been a more appropriate penalty. There are two topics here:

1] Was Sagan's punishment justified?
2] Would Sagan have won the points competition if he'd stayed in the race?

If I had sole discretion, I probably would have hit Sagan with the heaviest possible penalty short of tossing him off the race. I place a high priority on rider safety, and I think I'm more willing than many cycling fans to enforce harsh penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct and safety violations. Sagan is an aggressive and physical rider, and I understand why Tour organizers felt like they had to send him a message. He's also the highest-profile, most popular rider in cycling, and I suspect that officials felt they could make an example of him to encourage other sprinters to stay on their lines and keep their elbows to themselves. I don't think I would have disqualified Sagan, but I don't have a problem with the decision.

That said, it's a shame this year's top sprinters didn't get to test themselves against Sagan, because I suspect they might have beaten him. Kittel looked so, so dominant — he had 373 points, more than Matthews' final score, before his withdrawal — I don't think Sagan would have beaten him. With more flat stages than usual, Sagan's ability to score on hilly stages would have been muted, and with Matthews in top form, Sagan wouldn't have been able to win as many points as usual in those spots.

We finished this year's Tour without many of the top sprinters, including Kittel, Sagan, Arnaud Demare, and Mark Cavendish. Matthews won the green jersey, and he won by a lot, but many fans will feel that Kittel was the strongest sprinter on this year's Tour and Sagan has yet to be dethroned.

Mountains Classification

1. Warren Barguil (FRA), Team Sunweb, 169 points
2. Primož Roglič (SLO), LottoNL-Jumbo, 80
3. Thomas De Gendt (BEL), Lotto-Soudal, 64

Barguil dominated this competition, scoring more than twice as many climbs points as his nearest rival. I agree with the American announcers who proclaimed Barguil legitimately the King of the Mountains, the best climber on this year's Tour. Barguil also won the Super-Combativity Award as the most aggressive rider of the Tour. That's certainly a reasonable choice, but race organizers just as easily could have gone with Thomas De Gendt, who spent over 1,000 km in breakaways. Barguil won two stages, the mountains jersey, and a top-10 GC position; Most Aggressive Rider would have been a nice consolation prize for De Gendt, who did none of those things. Alberto Contador and Michael Matthews also rode very aggressively.

Young Rider Classification

1. Simon Yates (GBR), Orica-Scott, 86:27:09
2. Louis Meintjes (RSA), UAE Team Emirates, 86:29:15 (+ 2:06)
3. Emanuel Buchmann (GER), Bora-Argon 18, 86:54:16 (+ 27:07)

This is almost the same top three as last year; the only change is the first name of the Yates on top, as Simon's twin brother Adam won in 2016. Meintjes and Buchmann ranked 2nd and 3rd last year as well.

Team Classification

1. Team Sky, 259:21:06
2. AG2R La Mondiale, 259:28:20 (+ 7:14)
3. Trek-Segafredo, 261:05:52 (+ 1:44:46)

Sky was clearly the strongest team on this year's Tour. They had two of the top four GC riders, and three of the top 14, but they also led the peloton almost every day. Mikel Landa, Mikel Nieve, Michał Kwiatkowski, and Geraint Thomas all look like potential top-10 GC riders if they were leading their own teams rather than working for Chris Froome.

Trek barely edged BMC, Orica, and Movistar, all of whom finished less than 2 hours behind Sky.

Most Successful Teams at the 2017 Tour de France

Subjectively, I've divided the 22 teams at the 104th 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 13 of the 21 stages, while everyone in the last group failed to meet their pre-race goals.

Very Successful

1. Team Sky — Won the yellow jersey for the fifth time in six years. They held the yellow jersey for all but two days, and led the Team Classification wire-to-wire. Chris Froome won his fourth Tour, Geraint Thomas won a stage, and Mikel Landa — the reigning King of the Mountains from this year's Giro d'Italia — placed 4th in the overall 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.

1b. Team Sunweb — Sky won both the yellow jersey and the Team Classification, so you can't say anyone had a better Tour than them. But no team leaves France more pleased than Sunweb. Sky expected to win the maillot jaune; anything less would have been a disappointment. Sunweb's expectations were far more modest, but they won four stages, the green jersey, the polka dot jersey, the Most Combative Rider, and a position in the top 10 of the General Classification. Warren Barguil and Michael Matthews rode brilliantly, while Simon Geschke did as much work as anyone outside of Team Sky.

3. Ag2R La Mondiale — All nine of their riders ranked among the top 70 in the GC, including five in the top 30. Romain Bardet won Stage 12 and made the podium for the second year in a row, finishing third overall. Bardet also placed 6th in the Mountains Classification, and Pierre Latour came 6th among young riders, wearing the white jersey for two days early in the Tour. AG2R ranked 2nd in the team competition.

4. Cannondale-Drapac — Incredibly successful Tour for one of the smaller UCI World Teams. They put two different cyclists — Americans Taylor Phinney and Nate Brown — in the mountains jersey, and Dylan van Baarle won a combativity prize. More importantly, Rigo Uran won Stage 9 and made the final podium, finishing second overall.

5. Orica-Scott — Simon Yates won the white jersey and ranked 7th in the GC; that's a very good result. But they brought a strong team to France, including Esteban Chaves and Roman Kreuziger, and they were mostly invisible other than Yates. Jens Keukeleire won the final combativity award, on Stage 19, and Orica ranked 5th in the Team Classification.

6. Quick-Step Floors — Marcel Kittel won five stages and wore the green jersey for most of this year's Tour, but he withdrew in Stage 17. Healthy, he probably would have won six stages and the Points Classification. Dan Martin ranked 6th in the GC, Julien Vermote was a champion pacing the peloton, and several riders drew attention in breakaways. It was a very successful Tour, but I'm sure Kittel and Martin's crashes left them feeling unsatisfied.

7. Trek-Segafredo — Alberto Contador isn't the rider he was five or 10 years ago, but he still ranked 9th in the GC and won two combativity awards. Bauke Mollema won one of this year's most dramatic stages and placed 17th in the GC, also winning combativity honors. Both Mollema and Contador were among the top 10 in the Mountains Classification, and Trek-Segafredo finished third in the team competition.

Moderately Successful

8. Astana Pro Team — Lost two key riders in the second week, and Fabio Aru's 5th-place finish was disappointing after the form he showed in Stage 5. But he won a stage, wore yellow for two days and polka dots for three more, and 5th really isn't so bad. There are some what-ifs, certainly, but it was a good result. I thought Aru's decision to attack Froome during a mechanical problem was unsportsmanlike.

9. LottoNL-Jumbo — Won two of the last five stages, with Primoz Roglic and Dylan Groenewegen. Robert Gesink and George Bennett also rode well before withdrawing from the Tour, and Roglic was runner-up for the polka dot jersey.

10. Bora-Hansgrohe — They came to the Tour expecting to win the green jersey with Peter Sagan, and positioning Rafał Majka as a GC or mountains contender. But Sagan got thrown out of the race without spending a moment in green, and Majka crashed out before most of the serious mountain stages. The team rebounded as well as realistically possible, with two stage wins (Sagan and Maciej Bodnar) and a respectable showing from Emanuel Buchmann (15th GC, 3rd among young riders).

11. UAE Team Emirates — For the second year in a row, Louis Meintjes ranked 8th overall and 2nd among Young Riders. Darwin Atapuma and Vegard Stake Laengen were both named most aggressive rider of a stage, and Atapuma placed 4th in the final Mountains Classification.

12. Team Dimension Data — Team leader Mark Cavendish crashed out in Stage 4, leadout man Mark Renshaw missed the time cut in Stage 9, and for the first time since 2014, Steve Cummings failed to win a stage. But Cummings won a combativity prize, Serge Pauwels got into a number of breakaways, finishing among the top 10 in the King of the Mountains, and Edvald Boasson Hagen saved their Tour, with a stage win and several very close calls. He ranked 3rd in the Points Classification.

13. Direct Energie — Lilian Calmejane's Stage 8 made their Tour. Calmejane won Most Aggressive Rider for the second time, won the stage, and wore the polka dot jersey in Stage 9. Sylvain Chavanel, riding his 17th Tour, also won a Most Aggressive Rider award, and led the team in the General Classification, 25th.

14. FDJ — Lost six of their nine riders and finished last in the Team Classification, by almost an hour. But Arnaud Démare won Stage 4 and spent three days in green before missing the time cut on Stage 9. They were invisible afterwards, but they had a great first week.

15. BMC Racing Team — Richie Porte was a GC front-runner when he crashed out of the Tour, but the other eight BMC riders all ranked in the top 100, and BMC placed 4th in the Team Classification. Greg Van Avermaet had a surprisingly quiet three weeks, but Damiano Caruso ranked 11th overall, higher than Nairo Quintana, and Stefan Küng spent two days in the white jersey.

Not Successful

16. Movistar Team — The Giro-Tour double is so hard, it's time — definitively, it's time — for teams to stop riding someone in the Giro d'Italia and then making him a team leader in the Tour de France. Quintana had finished on the podium in all three of his previous Tours, and this year he ranked 12th. But Movistar's backup plan didn't work out.

Cannondale captain Pierre Rolland rode the Giro and wasn't a major factor in the Tour, but the team had Rigoberto Uran. Thibaut Pinot got 4th in the Giro and he was useless in France, but FDJ's Tour was built around Arnaud Demare. That was an okay idea — better than Movistar's — but when Demare missed the time cut, there was no one to pick up the pieces, and the team disappeared.

Two riders were successful in both the Giro and the Tour, but neither was his team leader in France. Trek's Bauke Mollema finished less than 4:00 off the maglia rosa and won Stage 15 of the Tour, but the pressure was off to ride hard every day, because he was there to assist Alberto Contador. Mikel Landa was King of the Mountains at the Giro and 4th overall in the Tour, but that was gravy for a team with Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas.

Alejandro Valverde is a perpetual top-10 GC rider, and perhaps he could have saved Movistar's Tour, but he crashed out of the race in Stage 1, and Quintana wasn't full strength, leaving a GC team without any GC riders. Movistar was 6th in the team competition, but with no stage wins, no leader's jerseys at any point, and no one in the top 10 of the General Classification.

17. Lotto-Soudal — Thomas De Gendt was the star of their Tour. He ranked 3rd in the mountains competition, 6th in the points competition, he won a combativity award, and he spent more time in breakaways than any other rider, attacking often and getting publicity for his team. Teammate Tony Gallopin rode well in the mountains, and Tiesj Benoot placed 4th among young riders. Andre Greipel placed 2nd in the green jersey competition, but with no stage wins, Greipel's Tour was a disappointment.

18. Wanty-Groupe Gobert — Made 24-year-old Grand Tour rookie Guillaume Martin their leader. Martin showed potential and ranked 23rd in the GC, 5th among young riders, but you typically hope for more from a team leader. Wanty had great success in first-week breakaways, winning combativity honors with both Yoann Offredo and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, the latter of whom took a one-man breakaway into the closing kilometers.

19. Team Fortuneo-Oscaro — Ranked 8th in the Team Classification, but I watched this race for three weeks and barely noticed them. Brice Feillu ranked 16th in the GC, but he never stayed with the top contenders on the toughest climbs. Elie Gesbert was named most aggressive rider of a stage without any standouts.

20. Cofidis — Daniel Navarro got into a few breakaways, and Nacer Bouhanni drew some attention in the sprints, but they were pretty quiet throughout the Tour.

21. Team Katusha-Alpecin — Didn't bring an especially strong team. Tony Martin is a threat in every time trial, but he didn't win either of this year's, and he didn't make an impact on other stages. Sprinter Alexander Kristoff ranked 4th in the Points Classification, but very quietly. Katusha wasn't really any worse than the three teams directly above them, but Katusha is a UCI WorldTeam, not a wild card. Likewise my last-ranked team...

22. Bahrain-Merida — Team leader Ion Izagirre crashed out on Stage 1. They re-organized around Sonny Colbrelli, who got 5th in the Points Classification, but he didn't win any stages, and he didn't come close.

Countries

For the nationalists among you, three countries had remarkable success in the 2017 Tour De France: Germany, Great Britain, and the host country. Marcel Kittel gave Germany five stage wins, while British riders won the yellow and white jerseys. But no nation was more successful than France. Arnaud Demare, Lilian Calmejane, Romain Bardet, and Warren Barguil combined for five stage wins, a podium position in the GC, and the King of the Mountains title. French cycling is coming off an excellent Tour, and looks to have a promising future.

* * *

From a fan's perspective, this was an excellent Tour De France, most notable for a General Classification that remained close throughout the race. Even the climbs competition, dominated by Barguil, was exciting simply for Barguil's excellence.

But the Tour was marred by withdrawals, mostly injury-related, of significant riders. Eight of the 22 teams lost their leader: Richie Porte, Marcel Kittel, Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish, Arnaud Demare, Robert Gesink, Daniel McLay, and Ion Izagirre all left the Tour before Paris. That list doesn't include other important riders like Alejandro Valverde and Jakob Fuglsang (expected GC contenders), Rafal Majka and George Bennett (who spent time in the top 10), or Geraint Thomas (who wore yellow for most of the first week). This Tour wasn't plagued by a lot of injuries, but it was stricken by injuries to important riders; that's a loss for everyone.

Fortunately, this Tour avoided serious fan interference like the ones that marred last year's race. There were some problems, and I wish organizers did more about them, but they were relatively minor. This year's race was excellent, highlighted by the riveting GC battle. The Vuelta a España begins August 19.

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