The Tinkoff team will have a lot to celebrate when the Tour de France rolls into Paris on Sunday evening, with three stage wins, two classification jerseys and a top 10 finish in the overall standings. Such success felt almost a world away just two weeks ago.
At the end of the opening week, it seemed that the odds were stacked against the Tinkoff team. Peter Sagan's lone stage win and stint in yellow seemed like a long way off. The team's bus had broken down, as had their general classification hopes, and there was discord in the ranks as Roman Kreuziger appeared to disobey orders and leave his team leader to struggle through the Pyrenees. Alberto Contador's abandon on stage 9 to Andorra put a rotten cherry on the cake that nobody wanted to eat.
Without their team leader, the riders and staff had to switch their focus from winning yellow to making the best out of a bad situation and it was Sagan who led the charge. As well as some star turns in his re-makes of blockbusters, Sagan enjoyed his best performance on the Tour's roads for many a year. The rider who had become almost as famous for his second places as his victories was now striking gold with an ease that was once commonplace for him.
"With these wins it feels like 2012 when I won three stages and the green jersey," he said with his trademark giggle in the mixed zone in Morzine, after stepping up on stage to claim yet another green jersey. "I'm very happy for myself and the team, and to have finished this very hard week. For sure, we are among the top teams in the world and we have to make sure that we get some results."
The final stage in Paris provides Sagan with an opportunity to add another stage win to his 2016 palmarès but there is no pressure on him to do so. Provided he stays upright in Paris, Sagan will lay claim to his fifth green jersey, just one less than the record holder Erik Zabel, and few would bet against him equalling that in 2017.
Having secured the green jersey well clear of the final stage, Sagan was freed up to play a team role in the last few days. The Slovakian worked hard for his teammate Kreuziger, who had been given the green light by Contador to go for the overall classification just before the Spaniard's departure. Kreuziger had ground to make up but he clawed his way back and managed to slip away in a break on the final mountain stage. Helped by the collapse of Fabio Aru (Astana), he jumped into the top 10 at the last moment.
After losing plenty of time in the opening week, Rafal Majka didn't have the option going for the GC. Instead, he put pooled his focus into the mountains classification – a jersey that he had won previously in 2014. At first, he found a rival in Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), who was also looking to save the Tour for himself and his team. However, when the Frenchman abandoned in the second week, Majka found little competition. Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) put up some resistance but he could not stick with the Polish rider on the biggest climbs.
"We had had some bad luck with Alberto, but congratulations to Froome and his victory," said Makja. "We have another two jerseys, polka-dot and green and we won three stages and for us it's a very great Tour de France."