It seems Chris Froome's second Tour de France victory has sparked a lot more feelings and opinions than his previous visit to the top of the podium and it seems that it's all very simple to figure out. You are either applauding or you are appalled. Anglophiles love it and the rest of the world are troubled. If only other things in life were so easily categorised.
Team Sky's control over most of the racing hasn't gone down well with those people who were expecting a contest everyday. The gist of the upset for the angry squad is that a proper guts and glory drama has been denied to them by a dastardly plan. One that, after last year's disappointments, was put together by Dave Brailsford & Co. and was then perfectly executed by a carefully selected team.
Nevermind that the other members of the pre-race Fab Four; Contador, Quintana and Nibali all failed in some way to properly challenge Chris Froome and nevermind that the French hopes of Pinot and Bardet fell apart when they had the chance to step up a level. It's always easier to blame the other guys when you make mistakes.
I sat through the critical moments of this Tour de France and was all too often reminded of Peter Post's instructions to me when I was riding for Panasonic at the Tour de Suisse one year.
We were being dragged up a long Alpine pass when he leaned out the car window and said, “take it easy, sit in and go flat out in the time trial.” That was his tactics for the win. Wait until it was our moment. It was if he hadn't noticed that the man doing the pace making was Bernard Hinault and none of us in the lead group were talking. When Hinault swung over there were three riders left. Two guys from for his team La Vie Claire, Andy Hampsten and Greg Lemond, and me. Presumably happy with this, Post re-appeared and said in voice loud enough so everyone heard that I was to sit on them and wait for the time trial. Of course Andy and Greg set about jumping me until Greg got away and Andy sat behind me to the stage finish. To rub salt in Post's wounds Hampsten won the time trial a few days later.
His plan had messed up because of forces beyond his control and that's what happened to Contador, Quintana and Nibali. They came across superior firepower in the shape of a Sky team that managed its resources almost perfectly and a Chris Froome who was in better shape than his challengers throughout the three weeks.
That he won his second Tour by apparently only attacking on stages two, three and ten isn't any kind of fault. His win on la Pierre- St Martin might have been part of the original plan but the other days where he took time on his rivals were unexpected opportunities that the Sky leader exploited. Tactically Movistar never took the few chances they had to properly isolate the race leader so when Qunitana had the terrain to make an attack count it turned out to be too little, too late.
The irony is the Spaniards probably had the riders to control the racing in the same way as Sky are being criticised for but the British based squad never gave them the chance. That's how racing is; sometimes the others are collectively or individually stronger.
Contador and Nibali never really troubled the lead because individually they weren't good enough. They can be, of that there is no question, but this time around they got it wrong.
The challenge now for the teams with GC pretensions isn't just to have their respective leaders in the best shape possible by racing less and training better but by also having every member at their maximum and then using them intelligently. We saw from the way Chris Froome rode that he had done his homework, so he could handle the side-winds, the cobbles and his bike handling was way better than expected. I doubt Sky had missed anything in their preparations for this Tour. They knew what was coming and planned for it.
The question, and this is very Brailsford, isn't why were Sky so good it's why were the others not good enough?
King of the mountains
I have to agree with Lucien Van Impe when he says the mountain competition in its present format isn't working. Introduced in 2011, the double points for mountain top finishes is, in my opinion, over-emphasising that particular type of hill. Whereas Lucien is quite happy with the Polka-dot jersey being decided amongst the GC contenders I think the jersey ought to be available to anyone who wants to try for it.
The green jersey is a constant battle with significant points awarded throughout the stages and isn't just decided by who has the most wins. The climbers prize ought to be the same and not just won by someone who takes points as a consequence of being near the front on one type of climb. It ought to be a possibility for a rider who is willing to sprint on every hill as well. I don't have a problem with guys going out on long breaks in the Alps or Pyrenees and collecting masses of points and then not being in the front with the GC guys when the crunch comes. They've made a conscious effort to ride their race for their objectives but if you look at how Chris Froome was awarded this year's climbers competition you'll notice he only passed one Col in first place. This is in no way a criticism of the Sky leader but when Chris Froome did sprint on any of the other hills it wasn't to mark points rather it was to position himself for the descent that followed.
The GC was his aim but he ended up with the climber’s prize too. Contrast that with the likes of Daniel Teklehaimanot and Romain Bardet who gave their all just to wear the jersey and you see that the system needs tweaking. More points to more places on all categorised climbs would open up the competition and mean that riders who aren't involved in the GC battles have a chance too.
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Robert Millar was one of the last pure climbers of the Tour de France, winning several stages in the mountain stages and finishing fourth overall in 1984. He is also the only English speaker to have ever won the prestigious polka-dot jersey climber's competition jersey.
Millar retired in 1995 but has continued to follow the sport closely. He was often critical of the media and quickly cuts through the excuses and spin to understand why and how riders win and lose.
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