The crashes that littered this year's Tour de France are one of Sean Kelly's overriding memories of this year's race; however, the former rider believes that Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) is a well-deserving winner after the Italian dominated the race.
Nibali saw his two main pre-race rivals crash out with Chris Froome (Team Sky) throwing in the towel on stage 5 and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo) following suit just days later.
"Nibali was exceptional but unfortunately we lost Froome and Contador. It would have been a great battle but the question is whether Nibali would have caused them problems. It looks like he could but it's difficult to compare if they're not there. There's always that what if," Kelly told Cyclingnews at the finish of stage 20.
"People will say Contador wasn't there and Froome wasn't there but as a rider if you win the Tour de France, you don't care."
Kelly won four green jerseys in the Tour de France spanning a time frame between 1982 and 1989. At the time he faced questions over his accomplishments whenever his main sprint rivals were absent.
"Some of the green jerseys I won you could possibly say that there wasn't that many great sprinters in the race, but for me I won four green jerseys and that's it. You beat who is in front of you and that's it because it's in your palmares."
"If you look at Nibali, I think he's a rider who was getting places in the Tour, the Vuelta and the Giro and he's won all three. He's a rider who has made progress over many years and you can't take away from that."
While Nibali wrapped up the overall with relative comfort the battle for the final podium places went down to the wire with Peraud and Thibaut Pinot rounding out the top three in the time trial on stage 20. For Kelly the battle for second and third, in which Alejandro Valverde and Romain Bardet all played a role, kept the excitement in the race.
"Nibali won comfortably but the battle for the podium made the race exciting. Without that it would have been disappointing from an overall perspective."
"Nibali's rivals at AG2R and FDJ did what they could. They took the race up but there was nothing they could do in the end. Nibali's team was good enough to control the situation and when it came down to a mountain situation he was there to produce the goods in an almost comfortable way."
France's resurgence in the fight for the podium was for many a defining feature in this year's race. There were stage wins for Blel Kardri and Tony Gallopin, with the latter also wearing yellow and Kelly believes that with homegrown riders fighting for top honours the race will receive a welcome boost.
"I think it's good for the Tour de France. The French haven't had anyone for a long, long time and you could see that the buzz was there. I think that's good for the race and you need that. You need to get the French guys battling for podiums."
Asked a French rider would win the Tour in the near future Kelly answered, "I think it's possible. The ride they've done this year will give them confidence and they'll concentrate totally on the Tour now. I think it's a bit early so I'd give them another year though."
Despite the French assault on GC and Nibali's dominance Kelly feels that this Tour will be remembered for one defining feature.
"The Tour will be remembered for the crashes," he told Cyclingnews.
"Unfortunately we lost Cavendish at the beginning which was a big disappointment because we were looking for a battle with Kittel. That had been brewing since last year's Champs Elysees. They had been staying away from each other a bit but we lost the opportunity on the first day. Then we lost two big contenders for the classification."
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