Think of this year’s best team of the Tour de France and there’s really only one answer. Making the case for a team other than Team Sky would really be a reach, even if Movistar won the team competition for the third time in four years.
The British squad, often seen massed at the front of the peloton clad in their orca-emblazoned ‘Sky Ocean Rescue’ jerseys, came away from the three-week marathon with another overall victory. It’s their sixth Tour victory in seven years, matching Renault-Gitane’s run between 1978 and 1984 with Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon.
Welshman Geraint Thomas took his first yellow jersey, as well as two stage victories, while four-time winner Chris Froome finished third overall. Elsewhere, 21-year-old prodigy Egan Bernal finished 15th after spending his first ever three-week race as a domestique de luxe.
In fact, Gianni Moscon’s spot of pugilism that saw him thrown out of the race on stage 15 was perhaps the team’s sole dark spot in the entire race – the narrow loss in the stage 3 team time trial aside. But we’re not here to talk about the literal best team, instead it’s a compilatory best team, bringing together the top performers during Le Grand Boucle.
Well, this is certainly an easy place to start. From the very beginning of the Tour the Welshman never put a foot wrong, staying out of trouble during the nervy early stages before asserting himself on the race with two stage victories in the Alps.
Onlookers kept throwing questions at Thomas as soon as he donned yellow. When would the inevitable collapse come? When would Froome assert himself as team leader? But as the race went on it became clear that neither would happen.
Thomas looked as at ease in the Pyrenees as he did in the Alps, able to cope with attacks from the likes of Dumoulin and Roglič like a seasoned Grand Tour contender. A newcomer to the sport would have had no idea that it was new territory for ‘G’.
The race’s final time-trial only confirmed his dominance – he looked on for another win there before taking it easy on the run to the line. For an all-round performance that belied his experience at this level of racing, Thomas is our undisputed leader.
It’s a stretch to call the Slovenian a revelation, given that he’s already a multiple Grand Tour stage winner – including last July’s superb descent of the Col du Galibier to take his first career Tour stage. Then there’s his amazing spring run this year, winning the Vuelta al País Vasco, Tour de Romandie and Tour of Slovenia in a six-week span.
This July, though, the ex-ski jumper announced himself as a legitimate GT contender for the first time. Hitting the top five as the race reached the Alps, another daring descent on stage 19 – coming after relentless attacking on the Col d’Aubisque – saw him move up to third overall.
He would lose the place to Chris Froome in the race’s final time-trial the next day, but with his display over the previous three weeks Roglič has certainly marked himself down as a future Grand Tour winner.
Another man to wear that title is Team Sky’s Egan Bernal. The 21-year-old Colombian had already followed a barely-believable trajectory since first racing on the road as a junior in 2015. This season, his first at the British team, has seen him win at Colombia Oro Y Paz and the Tour of California, as well as finish runner-up at the Tour de Romandie.
And at the Tour de France – his first ever Grand Tour – Bernal was one of the strongest climbers in the race. Last man in the train before leaders Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas took over, his ride on Alpe d’Huez was a standout, shutting down attacks from the likes of Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana.
Then came stage 19 to Laruns and the final mountain of the Tour – the Aubisque. There, he shepherded four-time winner Froome after the Brit was dropped from the GC group, looking perfectly at ease 180km into a 200km Pyrenean stage towards the end of his first three-week race. Another amazing performance on the way to 15th overall in Paris.
Making it into the day’s main breakaway seven times in 21 stages would be impressive enough – it was the most anybody managed this July. But add in two stage victories plus the polka dot jersey and the Quick Step Floors puncheur was one of the most aggressive – and most accomplished – men of the race.
Wins at the Flèche Wallonne, two stages at the Vuelta al País Vasco and a summit finish of the Criteríum du Dauphiné already made 2018 the best season of Alaphilippe’s career. Add in a victory apiece in the Alps (at Le Grand-Bornand) and Bagnères-de-Luchon (Pyrenees) and it has been one of the best seasons by any rider this year.
The 26-year-old could consider himself unlucky not to win the combativity prize too. Then there’s a third stage win in Mende, which could’ve been his had he attacked a touch earlier on the ‘Montée Laurent Jalabert’, but we think he can be more than happy with his haul.
In a race that wasn’t exactly jam-packed with offensive displays from the GC contenders, the Irishman stood out for his willingness to take risks. Before the Tour, the UAE Team Emirates man said he’d treat the race like 21 one-day races, making good on his word just five days in.
At the Ardennes-esque finish of Mûr-de-Bretagne he attacked earlier than expected – a kilometre out – but held off a charging peloton to take his first Tour stage win since 2013. Three days later disaster struck as a late crash saw him lose 1:16 on the road to Amiens, before suffering through the cobbles of Roubaix the very next day.
Mende – another steep, short Dan Martin special – saw him puncture before the climb, shedding more GC time. Never a man to give up though, he was the only GC man to attempt an attack on the road to Carcassonne the next day. Strong performances in the Pyrenees saw Martin end 8th overall. “It’s only a race – you might as well have fun,” he said during the Tour. That he did.
What else can you say about three stage wins and a record-equalling sixth green jersey? Sagan and Erik Zabel now look down upon the Tour de France sprinters of history, while Sagan’s 477 points is a new green jersey record – by stage five he already had more points than runner-up Alexander Kristoff amassed during the entire Tour.
And there was more to Sagan’s Tour than the sprints. Four times he featured in the break of the day, including twice in the Alps – the best way to beat the time cut according to his coach. A crash on stage 17’s Col de Val Louron-Azet saw him battle to the end of the race, rather than go out in a blaze of glory, but his teeth-gritting display to get through stage 19 only added to his remarkable three weeks.
Sagan is also the owner of one of the more remarkable statistics of the Tour – the back-to-back-to-back World Champion finished in the top ten on every stage that didn’t include a first category climb. That’s 13 stages.
With a sprinter already on board, our team needs a lead-out man, and who better than Richeze? He’s maybe not the first name to spring to mind for many when compiling a team of the Tour, but the Argentinian’s work was something to savour.
Already among the best lead-out men in the world, Richeze led Tour debutant Fernando Gaviria to two victories in the first four days – it certainly would’ve been more had the young Colombian made it through the Alps.
His ability to find spaces, keep the speed high and find the right wheel if needed, is second to none. Just re-watch the finale of stage four, where he jumped from John Degenkolb’s wheel to a small gap up against the barriers, before hitting the wind for 350 metres and then depositing Gaviria to start his sprint several wheel-lengths ahead of almost every other rider. Perfect.
In Julian Alaphilippe (seven) and Peter Sagan (four), we’ve already selected a couple of breakaway demons, but why not throw in a true wildcard as well? Lilian Calmejane, who won a stage to Station des Rousses from the break last year, got away six times during the Tour (as did Nicolas Edet of Cofidis).
He showcased his versatility during the Tour, breaking away on the road to Quimper, Roubaix, Le Grand-Bornand, Mende, Carcassonne and Saint-Lary-Soulan. From the flatlands of Brittany to the hell of the north and then the climbs of the Alps, Massif Central and Pyrenees, the Direct Énergie man never stopped trying to get a result.
With just three top ten stage finishes to show for his efforts, he’s certainly not the most accomplished rider of the 2018 Tour to make the team, but perseverance pays off, and we do like a good breakaway.
Sub bench (honourable mentions)
John Degenkolb – tamed the cobbles with an emotional stage win for his first WorldTour win in three years.
Lawson Craddock – his gutsy perseverance in riding 20 and a half stages with a fractured shoulder blade, all while raising money for his childhood velodrome.
Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin – the pair made the best attempts at the Giro-Tour double since Marco Pantani.
Fernando Gaviria – he confirmed his status as one of the fastest men in the world during his first visit to the biggest race of them all.
Greg Van Avermaet – the Belgian liked the yellow jersey so much that he went way out of his comfort zone in the Alps to retain it.