Le Tour de France 2016 – Stage 21; Chantilly – Paris Champs-Élysées. Greipel Wins, We Reflect
I braved the tourists and human statues up on Edinburgh’s High Street to see if I could get Monday’s L’Équipe in the International Newsagents – it’s the one for all the good Tour stats.
But alas, no dice – I had to settle for Sunday’s Observer and Monday’s Guardian where it’s wall to wall Christopher and Sky.
‘Froome Deserves Respect and his Rightful Place Among Greats’ – I’m lectured; the very fact that we have to be told he’s a ‘Great’ means he’s not.
I don’t think there are ‘Greats’ anymore; it’s too compartmentalized, the Cobbles, Ardennes, Giro, Tour, Vuelta now all have their specialists – the days of Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck, Felice Gimondi and the rest riding – and winning – from February to October are long gone.
Chris Froome rode well, no doubt, and showed panache when he won that stage off the descent and when he joined up with World Champion Peter Sagan – surely the ‘Man Of The Tour’? - and ‘Bison’ Bodnar to ambush the sprinters, his time trialling was top drawer and no one could out climb him.
So we can’t criticise the man – but style, soul, personality, colour are all missing.
Black is an appropriate colour for his team; anyways...
I thought I’d go back to my pre-Tour predictions and see how I fared as my final words on The Big Loop.
I had Movistar’s Nairo Quintana down as winner – but being honest that was more in hope than anything else.
VeloVeritas soothsayer and mentor, Viktor asks a good question; ‘how can a man who did nothing for the entire race end up on the podium?’
Good question - 'he's just difficult to drop,' is the answer.
But maybe it’s no bad thing for him to experience setback?
The mark of a big champion is how high they bounce after the fall.
But I did read somewhere on a Spanish website that he was on antibiotics during the race – he was certainly a shadow of the man who ripped up l’Alpe d’Huez, last year.
‘Froome to finish second,’ I said but that was wishful thinking.
One of the best descent artists, one of the very best chronomen, able to go with a Sagan ambush and undroppable in the mountains – best not forget the automatons who backed him, either.
I reckoned Thibaut Pinot (F des J) would be third; he cracked, went for the mountains jersey, cracked again and quit – it’s that difference between being a ‘plucky outsider’ and a favourite carrying the weight of expectation.
He can’t bear that weight.
I didn’t have Adam Yates (Orica) down as a favourite, he rode very well to take fourth; but when I say ‘very well’ it just means he’s tough to drop – he contributed nothing to the action.
But top 10 for him was one of the team’s goals so with Michael Matthews stage win they went home happy and he’s a big hope for the future.
Then there was Ritchie Porte (BMC) in fifth, I have to say he rode better that I expected but fifth is fifth and the podium is the podium...
One thing I did get right was that his US team mate Tejay Van Garderen would do zilch – I get a tick for that on.
In sixth spot was Quintana’s Movistar amigo, Alejandro Valverde who I didn’t have him down as a fave quite simply because he’d ridden the Giro and was on the podium in Italy – but the man is extraordinarily consistent and no spring chicken, remember.
Lampre’s Louis Meintjes in seventh, I didn’t see that one coming - I think I only actually saw him in the time trial, seventh in the Tour looks good on your palmares but he’s just another of the ‘difficult to drop brigade.’
I got Dan Martin right, eighth spot and he did ‘go up the road’ now and again – but I guess when Sky are setting that ‘high 300 watts’ mountain tempo it’s hard to break the elastic.
Tinkoff may have lost ‘Bert’ – of whom more in a moment – but Peter Sagan took green and three stages, Rafa Majka took the mountains and Roman Kreuziger was top ten, not a bad Tour for the Russian outfit.
Kreuziger looks the biz on a bicycle but his days as a potential Grand Tour winner are behind him – I didn’t have him down because I figured it was ‘all for Bert.’
Now, Alberto Contador – you cannot say he’d have beaten Froome but one has to think he wouldn’t have been happy to be part of the procession behind the Sky man in which all were content with their GC position.
At no time – half marathons excluded – was Froome put under any pressure, it’s hard to believe ‘Bert’ would have signed up for that.
A top ten for Joaquim Rodriguez – missed by me - in the twilight of his career – respect, and another man along with Valverde and Kreuziger who I thought would finish behind the ‘young boys.’
And on that subject – my tip, Fabio Aru.
Vino must be shaking his head in despair, the Sardinian crumbled on Stage 20, dropped out of the the top 10 and once again we were reminded that the Giro is the Giro, the Vuelta is the Vuelta BUT "the Tour is the Tour".
It was unfair to expect anything from Vincenzo Nibali; he still had the Giro in his legs – a stage win would have been a nice consolation for him but it was not to be.
And that’s it over for another year – Froome still has age, and reputation, on his side; most of his competitors next year will be racing for second or third before the race even starts.
But none of us expected Riis to end the Indurain era in the spectacular fashion he did – maybe the same will happen next year?
Is Romain Bardet (AG2R) the man to do it?
I tipped him, but not for the podium – and he did ride extremely well.
He has youth on his side, huge support, he can climb, isn’t bad at all against the watch, he’s gallus on the descents and an attacking rider – we can but hope...
And let's not forget Andre Greipel, he gets our respect for still having the speed and the motivation after three hard weeks to win in Paris.
That's it. Time for the Tour credentials to go in the cupboard and the previews, roadbook and l’Equipes to get filed away – soon be Vuelta time though!