After the pre-race polemica which saw Team Sunweb leave their most accomplished rider, Michael Matthews, at home for the Tour de France, many will have wondered what their roster could achieve at the race in his absence.
However, over the course of three weeks, the squad, led by coach Matthew Winston, defied expectations to take three stage victories as well as a spot on the final podiums in Paris. Søren Kragh Andersen took two stages while Marc Hirschi, on the podium on stage 2 and 9, took a memorable stage 12 win into Sarran.
The Swiss rider's attacking riding saw him crowned as the most combative rider on stage 9, where an 85km solo foray was ended by the GC favourites two kilometres out, on stage 12, and on stage 18, where he crashed out of a four-man break which eventually reached the end of the stage in La Roche-sur-Foron.
Come Paris, however, the 22-year-old had established himself as a real force in the peloton and was duly crowned the most combative rider of the race, taking to the podium on the Champs-Élysées to receive his 'red number' trophy.
"I expected that I could go in the breakaways – that was my goal – and then I was second on the second stage and I was disappointed," Hirschi said after the finish of stage 21.
"I was then in a long breakaway [on stage 9] and I never thought I would be so strong in the long mountains. Then I finally go for the win and it was a big relief.
"I enjoyed the last week and I'm super happy to cross the finish line here to finish my first my first Grand Tour. It's a nice feeling. I will remember my victory the most. It was really nice."
Hirschi said that, while it was his and his team's goal to be aggressive throughout the Tour, he wasn't even thinking about winning a stage before it became a reality. Even after two podium places, he still said: "I never believed that I could make it" after his win.
"It wasn’t even a goal," Hirschi said in Paris. "It was a dream to win a Tour de France stage, and to get the red number at the end it was a dream.
"It was really nice to be up there on the podium. It was emotional; it was like a dream coming true. It's been a more than successful Tour de France. I didn't expect it to go so well."
Hirschi hailed his team, too. As well as Kragh Andersen's two wins, Nicolas Roche and Tiesj Benoot made multiple breakaways, while sprinter Cees Bol and his lead-out men Nikias Arndt, Casper Pedersen and Joris Nieuwenhuis came close to delivering a win, too, taking podium spots on stages 1 and 5.
"Our goal was to be in the breakaways and now I've achieved much, much more than that," Hirschi said. "I think as a team we achieved a lot here too; it's been a really successful Tour for us."
Team coach Winston added to the plaudits for the team, noting that the performance throughout the three weeks signalled an opportunity to build on the success.
"Overall when we reflect on the Tour de France I think we can be really happy," he said. "We took three stage wins, won the most combative rider overall, alongside the daily combativity prize four times and spent a few days in the white jersey as well. It's been a really nice Tour de France for us and something that we can build on going forward."
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.