Brian Canty analyses the Tour de France’s biggest talking points...
Was Sagan’s dismissal from the Tour justified?
The biggest personality in cycling right now is Peter Sagan. If not winning races on the bike with his extraordinary talent, he’s winning followers for the sport off it with his quick wit — and incredibly humble nature.
Well, the organisers of the Tour de France clearly don’t value his offerings because the manner in which they kicked him out of the race on stage four for apparently causing the crash that took down a host of other big names was all too hasty.
A select group of sprinters, including Mark Cavendish, were 120 metres from the line in Vittel when the Manxman and Sagan ‘came together’, with Cavendish clattering the barriers in a horrific high-speed crash.
Instant replays made Sagan and his right elbow look guilty, but more angles and more time showed Cav being rather reckless.
Instead of waiting until the following day — or even take just a few more hours to review the evidence, the organisers kicked Sagan off the race instead of just relegating him to last.
It wasn’t the same race without him and the Tour lost a massive opportunity.
Was Aru right to do what he did?
Cycling is governed by a number of so-called unwritten rules, like not attacking the yellow jersey when he suffers ill-fortune like a crash or mechanical. Or not attacking on the final day of the race into Paris.
But to make the race less predictable and more exciting for the fans, it’s time some of these were forgotten about.
This year we saw two major incidents highlighting this. The first was when Chris Froome, wearing the maillot jaune, had a mechanical on stage nine while climbing the horrendously steep Mont du Chat close to the finish at Chambery.
His rival Fabio Aru appeared to see Froome in difficulty as he radioed his team car for help and without a pause for thought, he deliberately attacked and tore off up the road.
It ignited the race and had social media go into meltdown. But many, including Dan Martin, took a dim view of it and admonished Aru for his conduct.
Moments later we saw Froome ‘shove’ Aru, apparently in retaliation, though he subsequently denied this.
On stage 15, Froome broke a spoke at the foot of another climb and his closest challenger Romain Bardet’s AG2R team saw their moment, They were at the front of the main group at the time and turned up the heat, only to be reeled in shortly after.
It’s very easy for the yellow jersey to signal a mechanical and call a halt to proceedings, albeit temporarily.
But it is playing right into the leader’s hands when he has such authority and such moments decide races?
Dan Martin crashed on stage nine and had a mechanical and there was no such charity afforded to him?
Was it the best Tour de France in decades?
The final General Classification will show Chris Froome won for the third year in a row and the fourth of his career but unlike his crushing wins of the past, this one was arguably his hardest won.
Up until Saturday’s penultimate stage time trial he had margins of 23 and 29 seconds over his closest challengers and less than two minutes separated the top five.
Contrast that to 2013 when he was over four minutes clear of his nearest challenger and riders in the top 10 were almost 20 minutes behind him.
This year’s Tour has been marked by Froome’s vulnerability and that only heightened the drama.
Dan Martin showed he can win the race one day
Dan Martin was one of the real stars at the Tour and is now more adamant than ever that he can win it outright one day.
He got as high as fourth overall, just 25 seconds down on Froome after stage three, but would go no higher.
Luck definitely was not on his side because if it was, he wouldn’t have been the man on Richie Porte’s wheel when he crashed on stage nine.
That cost Martin 1’15” and more than a chunk of his seemingly bottomless energy resources.
“Coming into the race, nobody even mentioned my name. They didn’t see me as a contender for the yellow jersey, or even for the podium,” he said bullishly over the weekend.
“I’m now leaving the race with a much bigger status. More importantly, I have a lot more respect from the rest of the peloton.
“And I feel that one day, I can actually take the yellow jersey all the way to Paris.
“I am still learning, I think. Maybe it was a little lapse in concentration again. But the outcome was frustrating,” he said of that time loss in the crosswinds.
“My legs were better than the general classification result suggests, but that’s the way it goes.”
Nicolas Roche is an unsung Irish sporting hero
Roche went into the Tour as a key domestique for one of the pre-race favourites Richie Porte. But when the Tasmanian star crashed out on stage nine, the team’s objectives changed, and they chased stage wins.
Roche is still looking for the first of his career — and he will have to wait until next year for that, but the manner in which he rode deserves huge credit.
He was very much in the shadow of his cousin Dan Martin who lit up the mountain stages but he still managed to get up the road and animate a few days himself.
He sprinted in for sixth place on stage 15, paying the price for ‘allowing’ five riders sneak away from the group he was in to contest the win.
He was fourth on stage eight and 13th on stage five, the latter stage despite riding for Porte for the entire afternoon.
Based on the form he’s in — and the boucne he will get from the Tour — we can look forward to a very good second half of the season from him.
Crashes definitely took from the race
They’re part and parcel of cycling but when so many of the biggest names are forced to leave the race because of injuries sustained in falls, it’s really unfortunate.
The opening day saw Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) suffer a sickening leg break in the prologue while just some of those to follow were Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Jon Izagirre (Bahrain Merida), Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), the aforementioned Richie Porte (BMC Racing Team), Criterium du Dauphine winner (Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Robert Gesink (Lotto-Jumbo NL). And away from the race for the yellow jersey, five-time stage winner Marcel Kittel (QuickStep) was also forced to retire early.
Contador’s last act?
The Spaniard won’t be around for too many more years and cycling will lose a big personality when he eventually decides to rack his wheels, possibly at the end of the season.
He showed flashes of genius this last three weeks, as well as moments where his age is certainly showing but one thing is for sure is it’ll be a less exciting peloton without him.
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