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  • Tour de France 2018 – the Rouleur review

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    Who was the best team of this year’s Tour de France? What about the most unlucky? What was the biggest surprise? Rouleur contributors look back on the last three weeks and make their picks

    Words:
    Photographs: Paolo Penni Martelli / ASO / Pauline Ballet / Alex Broadway / Bruno Bade / L'Equipe / Pressesports
    Geraint Thomas

    Best stage

     

    Andy McGrath: Stage 9 to Roubaix. At one point, as leaders punctured and riders flew off onto roadside verges, I wondered if it would end up being far more decisive than any of the mountain stages. It was a minor miracle that few contenders lost serious time. Crucially, it really was a balancing act between excess (15 sectors!), spectacle, entertainment and not crocking all the stick insects who had been preparing for the race for six months. Degenkolb’s win was the perfect finale after all he has endured too.

     

    Ian Cleverly: Stage 17 (Bagnères-de-Luchon – Saint-Lary Soulon). Once the farcical grid system start was out of the way, we got a full-on, explosively short and sweet stage that had a bit of everything: Sagan hitting the deck and showing he is human after all, that beautiful final climb of the Col du Portet, and a popular winner in Nairo Quintana.

     

    Top Banana: Stage 9 – Oliver Naesen

     

    Hannah Troop: The Roubaix stage (Stage 9), it was absolute chaos from start to finish and seeing how much the win meant to Degenkolb will be one of those moments in cycling we don’t forget.

    Tour de France Stage 9

    Nick Christian: Another vote for Stage 9. After a fairly forgettable opening week, the extended cobbled experiment made up for it and then some. One to watch from start to finish, with no more worthy a winner than John Degenkolb. Given how few riders actually crashed on the cobbles, the risk seemed to be mitigated and it ended up being an exercise in mechanical management and teamwork than anything else.

     

    Hugo Gladstone: Stage 19, the final day in the mountains. Landa and Bardet go long in a last-ditch attempt to reshape the GC, Roglič and Dumoulin put Froome on the ropes, Thomas proves unflappable and we’re treated to a thrilling descent through the mist. I had only intended to keep checking-in on the stage, but it commandeered my afternoon.

     

     

    Worst Stage

     

    AM: Stage 18 into Pau won’t live long in the memory. Even the breakaway was half-hearted, caught 20 kilometres from the finish. It was a bunch sprint of B-listers, with Sagan crocked from the previous day’s crash. At least the only team who looked up for it, Groupama-FDJ, ended up winning.

     

    Top Banana: Stage 18 – Groupama-FDJ

     

    IC: I’m going with Stage 9 and its 21.7km of cobbles. It may have made gripping TV, but too many riders’ chances were ruined with the race barely started. By all means throw in a few pave sectors, but seeing Grand Tour contenders flailing around on a surface usually visited by Spring Classics strongmen made the stage uncomfortable viewing.

    Tour de France 2018 Stage 16

    HT: Stage 16 – also known as pepper spray day. It was one of those days where for a moment you’re acutely aware how susceptible this great race is to the threat of attacks. Seeing gendarmes spraying pepper spray into people’s faces because they’re taught to not take any chances, was not a welcome sight.

     

    NC: Stage 7. The longest day of the Tour also felt like the one of the longest of my life. I wouldn’t deny riders the right to the occasional relaxing roll through Brittany but if ASO expect people to tune in, they have to do something to spice up a stage like that (and I’m not talking about more pepper spray).

     

    Top Banana: Stage 2 – Lawson Craddock

     

    HG: I was fortunate enough to have other plans on several of the long and lazy flat stages early in the race. Still, I got enough of a taster on Stage 2 to be transported back to the dreary first weeks of yesteryear.

     

     

    Best Team

     

    AM: Team Sky were strong, well-drilled and had a fully-functioning trident in Thomas, Froome and Bernal, but that was all to be expected. Punching above their financial weight and prior reputation, LottoNL-Jumbo shone this July – Roglic and Kruijswijk got better and better as the race went on. The highlight was the Slovenian’s enterprising win into Laruns, set up by Robert Gesink’s fierce chase on the Borderes. With Dylan Groenewegen’s back-to-back stage wins too, it’s clear that no other squad balanced GC ambitions and sprint goals so effectively.

    Team LottoNL-Jumbo

    IC: Must admit to having a soft spot for Wanty-Groupe Gobert. They may not deliver much in the way of success, but by God, they give it a damn good crack, practically every day. I’d love to see them land a stage win one day.

     

    HT: Can it be any other than the Wolfpack (Quickstep Floors)? The classics team that absolutely crushed a Grand Tour.

     

    Top Banana: Stage 14 – Philippe Gilbert

     

    NC: LottoNL-Jumbo. A team that has, in recent years, struggled to find a place for themselves in the WorldTour now has a clearly defined mission. Without their contribution not only would individual stages have been far less colourful, but the overall race would have been even more of a Team Sky-dominated procession than it was.

     

    HG: The obvious answer is Sky. Their incredible strength, know-how and efficiency secured them the biggest spoils of the race. But I want to say Astana for their little purple patch of victories that showed initiative on what were perhaps the two least predictable stages of the race.

    Katusha-AlpecinWorst Team

     

    AM: Though EF Education and Dimension Data flattered to deceive, Katusha-Alpecin just about shade it. They failed on two fronts: Kittel has seemingly gone from bunch sprint prince to pauper, not helped by derogatory comments in the press from his own directeur sportif. Meanwhile, Ilnur Zakarin ghosted to an underwhelming ninth place, a shadow of his 2017 Vuelta self.

     

    IC: Cofidis. Need I say more?

     

    Top Banana: Stage 13 – Tom Scully

     

    HT: Katusha-Alpecin. Surely it’s been their Tour de Disappointment?

     

    NC: “Worst” is a strong word but of those who ought to have done better – and there was more than one – Katusha-Alpecin were the most invisible. Ian Boswell was their only rider to reach Paris with his brand enhanced, though Nils Politt at least put the sponsors on display on Sunday. Would a different line-up, perhaps including the punchy Nathan Haas, have fared better? I guess we’ll never know.

    Dimension Data

    HG: With Mark Cavendish off form in the sprints and being eliminated in the mountains, Dimension Data made very little impact on the race. Last year after Cav crashed out, Edvald Boasson Hagen stepped up to save the race for them. It didn’t happen this time

     

     

    Most Unlucky

     

    AM: Perhaps it was an omen when Tomasz Marczynski’s luggage was lost by an airline before the Grand Départ. Lotto-Soudal endured three weeks of misfortune and missteps: Benoot and Keukeliere departed due to crashes in the first week and Andre Greipel abandoned off the back in the Alps. Even the irrepressible Thomas De Gendt couldn’t pick the right breakaway. To top it off, they finished with three men after Jelle Vanenert’s abandon 48 hours before Paris with stomach trouble.

     

    Top Banana: Stage 10 – Luke Rowe

     

    IC: Or lucky, in some respects? Has to be Philippe Gilbert. Plenty of others have suffered horrendous-looking crashes this Tour and soldiered on, relatively unscathed. Once he’d been hauled out of the precipice he’d fallen down, Gilbert seemed okay, only to be diagnosed with a broken patella at the stage’s end. So lucky not to be injured further, unlucky not to remain in the race.

    Philippe Gilbert

    HT: It has to be Richie Porte quite unbelievably being taken out before the cobbles, and when he was showing this year that his form was looking good. What a massive blow for him once again.

     

    NC: Romain Bardet. There was the Sunday of all the punctures, the collision with Dumoulin at the base of the Mur de Bretagne, and he lost all three of his most valuable team-mates by the middle of the second week. It was also unfortunate that his sole surviving super was something of a loose cannon. Pierre Latour may be best young rider, but at what cost?

     

    Top Banana: Stage 12 – Steven Kruijswijk

     

    HG: There’s not much Vincenzo Nibali could have done to avoid tangling with a fan’s camera strap in a cloud of flare smoke on Alpe d’Huez. There was still much disruption he might have caused to the GC. His departure was a big loss to the race.

     

     

    Biggest Surprise

     

    AM: Geraint Thomas. Week-long stage race star but come on, Tour winner? Pre-race, I couldn’t see how he’d do it. Yet he rode so assuredly that it was easy to forget that he’d never finished in the top ten of a Grand Tour before. Thomas has confounded naysayers suggesting that he’d have Geraint’s Bad Day™, that he’d crash at any moment, that Froome was stronger or craftier. You’ll be hard-pushed to find a more likeable, level-headed Tour winner, with a history of anti-doping statements, too.

    Geraint Thomas

    IC: The sub-head for my feature on Geraint Thomas two years back read: “Calmness personified, king of the amusing soundbite and now winning race too. A Grand Tour leader in waiting?” Much as I wanted to, I didn’t actually believe it…

     

    HT: The reaction of fans, TV commentators and journalists to what an incredible race La Course was. Please let this be the start of ASO progressing women’s cycling and showing how far it can go.

     

    NC: The Giro-Tour double remains undone for another year, but Tom Dumoulin arguably came just as close as Chris Froome to doing it. He, unlike Froome, was not expected to ride the Tour, only announced that he would be a month before the Grand Départ, and didn’t really have the team to support his GC challenge. They say there’s nothing worse in sport than finishing second, but that was an astonishing way to do it.

     

    Top Banana: La Course – Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig

     

    HG: I was heartened to see Arnaud Démare survive the race after so many of his sprint rivals fell by the wayside. I remember watching him struggle past on the Col d’Izoard a few years ago and thinking here was a rider who just didn’t belong in the mountains. His stage win was well earned.

    Stage 17 Tour de France 2018

    Biggest Disappointment

     

    AM: Given the bombastic build-up, the 65-kilometre stage up the Col de Portet. A nice idea – well, not that ham-fisted grid start – but it just played out like the last 65 kilometres of a normal mountain stage. It was a reminder that the riders make the race. Would probably have been thrilling if Team Sky had been on the back foot and going all out for victory, mind.

     

    IC: A tie between Warren Barguil and Marcel Kittel. Hard to see how two such talented riders can get it so right one year, and hopelessly wrong the next.

     

    Top Banana: Stage 16 – Adam Yates

     

    HT: Seeing Vincenzo Nibali having to leave the Tour the way he did. No one’s race should end through the fault of flares and a camera strap.

     

    NC: That, despite my best social media efforts “Alpe d’Huez Man” has yet to be widely adopted as Geraint Thomas’ nickname among the general public and especially journalists. A part of me dies every time I hear a non-team-mate or friend calling him “G”.

    Warren Barguil

    HG: Given his past Tour performances, his brother’s ride in the Giro and his own form at this year’s Dauphiné, big things were expected of Adam Yates. But he flopped in the Alps and then crashed when lined-up for a compensation stage win in the Pyrenees. Nothing really went his way.

     

     

    Lessons for the Future

     

    AM: Top sprinters, don’t sacrifice your climbing legs for sprint speed because getting to Paris matters. ASO, keep innovating: more gravel roads and re-do the grid start, why not see the gruppetto starting two minutes ahead of the contenders? Fans, look but don’t touch riders because nobody wants barriers up big climbs. Movistar, go back to the blacksmith’s and get a refund for that broken trident.

     

    Top Banana: Stage 6 – Antwan Tolhoek

     

    IC: Pepper spray and pelotons do not mix. And if Chris Froome needs a bodyguard, hire Sean Yates. He wouldn’t take any gendarme nonsense.

     

    HT: If you’re out front and Julian Alaphilippe is chasing you on a mountain descent, give up, it’s futile, he will catch you.

    Julian Alaphilippe

    NC: Nice guys finish first. 

     

    HG: We already knew of Julian Alaphilippe’s talent and aggression. But he seemed to be operating on a bigger scale than ever before. Over larger climbs. At longer range. Day after day. Who knows what he’s capable of in years to come.