2015 Tour de France Conclusions
Chris Froome did a textbook race and although he didn’t look as strong as two year ago, when he scored his maiden Tour de France victory, his second victory is much more impressive, as the Brit overcame all the obstacles of the first week and gave proof of solid and flawless tactics, something which he looked to be lacking until this season. No one can argue that Froome – who also took the polka dot jersey – was the strongest cyclist out there, a man on a mission who took time out of his opponents on every type of terrain: flat, time trial and mountain. Once he did that, the 30-year-old Sky rider made his life much easier and could afford to lose a big chunk of his advantage on the last two mountain stages, before arriving in Paris with a second Tour de France trophy in the bag, which makes him one of the most successful riders in the race’s history since the end of World War ll.
This triumph was not just one of Froome’s, but of the whole Sky team, who made its homework before the race and played it perfectly during July, helping its leader gain time in a tough first week and in the end delivering a win expected since 2013. Sky came at the start with arguably its best and most powerful Tour de France line-up since the inception of the team and every single cyclist had a contribution to Froome’s overall victory, with the likes of Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas – who was one of the race’s revelations – and Wout Poels deserving an extra mention for their job on the mountains and for how they closed almost all the attacks. Precisely for this reason, it will be interesting to see what the three of them will do next year, when Porte and Thomas are poised to be Grand Tour leaders, while Poels will have to fill in the shoes of the Tasmanian, who’s leaving Sky on a high note at the end of this season.
Nairo Quintana – one of the most gifted climbers the world has ever seen – was sad at the end of the race, as he arrived at the conclusion that he has lost the overall victory in the first week, when he missed the split caused by the crosswinds in the Zelande stage and finished 1:28 behind Chris Froome. At a closer look, he’s half-right, because after that moment he had many opportunities to turn the tables on his favourite terrain, the mountains, but failed to deliver until the last two Alpine stages, which was too little, too late. Besides that, the Colombian paid dearly for having Alejandro Valverde in the team, the Spanish champion being more interested in securing his place on the podium, than helping his leader. If he’s to win the race in 2016, Quintana needs to be sure that he’ll be the sole captain of Movistar next year, although it will be difficult, considering the long and special relationship between Valverde and Eusebio Unzue, the general manager of the team.
Peter Sagan was the nearly-man of the race, finishing five times in second place and missing a stage win for the second season in a row. It was a major disappointment for the Slovak champion, who partially made up for it by taking the green jersey for the fourth time since 2012. Not even the change of regulation in the points standings made by the organizers could stop Sagan from winning the maillot verte with an incredible ease, a nice reward for one of the most consistent and talented riders in the Tour de France. More than sure, July left the 25-year-old Slovak hungry for more, so look out for him in this second half of the season, as he’ll try to add some important victories to his already impressive palmares.
Only the sixth rider in history to win all three Grand Tours, Vincenzo Nibali hoped to repeat his 2014 feat and take another overall victory in Le Tour, but it looked to be an almost impossible mission since the beginning of the race, as the Italian champion wasn’t on the top of his form and struggled in the first half of the competition, all these adding to the time he has lost in the second stage and to the failed attempt of clawing back some precious seconds on the northern cobbles. Despite falling short in his attempt of defending last year’s trophy, Nibali can still find reasons to be happy for his ride, as he put on the same aggressive spirit for which he’s known and appreciated, and surged away to take an epic win on La Toussuire, that eventually propelled him to fourth overall.
Alberto Contador was hoping at the start of the race to deliver that Giro-Tour double that is obsessing him for a couple of years now, but the Tinkoff-Saxo leader failed once again, the main reason being that he left too much energy on Italy’s roads in May, when he took his second Trofeo Senza Fine. Winning the Grande Boucle after a hard ride in the Corsa Rosa was a daring attempt from the 32-year-old Spaniard, who fought more with his heart than his legs, which couldn’t respond when Froome or Quintana attacked. To his credit, Contador tried to lit up the race and put pressure on his rivals, but it was obvious he can’t be a major protagonist. Still, people shouldn’t rush in writing him off, despite his below par performance, as 2016 we’ll see “El Pistolero” returning for one final shot at glory in the race that made him a star, almost a decade ago.
With Marcel Kittel out of the race, many were expecting a Mark Cavendish show in the sprints, but it wasn’t to be for the Manxman, who took only one stage, for the most part of the race staying in André Greipel’s shadow. A rider who made his Tour de France debut late in his career, when he was 29-years-old, the German cyclist of Lotto-Soudal proved to be the most powerful sprinter in the peloton, and helped by an excellent form, a perfect timing and a great team, he catapulted himself to four stage wins, making the 2015 edition of the race his best ever, which is even more impressive considering he’s now 33. It was an outstanding run for a rider of whom people began to think that his best sprint years were behind him, at least in Grand Tours.
MTN-Qhubeka made its debut in the Tour de France and had three excellent weeks, during which the team got itself noticed on the big scene every single time it had the opportunity. Best climber of the Criterium du Dauphiné, Daniel Teklehaimanot fought hard in the first days of the event and got to wear the polka dot jersey, a beautiful reward for a rider who loves cycling and is commited to working hard in order to succeed in this sport. Norwegian champion Edvald Boasson Hagen got himself involved in breakaways and some sprints, Serge Pauwels finished in 13th place, while the cherry on the cake was brought by Stephen Cumming, with a cunning and extraordinry win in stage 14, at Mende, on Mandela Day. On top of all these, the main news is that MTN-Qhubeka is here to stay and this means we can expect many great exploits from the South African team in the years to come, regardless of the structure going World Tour or not.
The home nation had two riders on the podium of the previous edition, but not even the most optimistic French supporters thought this scenario will repeat in 2015. Despite not finishing with a cyclist in the top three, France can be satisfied with the Tour its riders have had this year: Alexis Vuillermoz (Mur-de-Bretagne), Romain Bardet (Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne) and Thibaut Pinot each took a stage win, the latter of the three conquering the mythical Alpe d’Huez after a brave action, which showed that persistence does pay off. Besides these wins, Bardet and Pierre Rolland finished in the top 10 overall, while Warren Barguil – a debutant – made waves until the races hit the Alps and came home 14th, proving he has what it takes (grith, determination, tactics and enough room for improvement) in order to be a contender in the years to come.
Besides Geraint Thomas and Warren Barguil, there were also other cyclists to make a name for themselves in July. One of these was Bob Jungels, the Luxembourg champion who worked hard for Bauke Mollema, went into escapes and still managed to finish in 27th place, a great result for a cyclist who hasn’t raced the Tour de France until this year, and even more important, a result which gives him the confidence he can be back one day to make a bigger impact on the race. Two other young cyclists, Adam and Simon Yates, kept the flag high for Orica-GreenEdge, performing at a level well beyond their years, going in breakaways and scoring a couple of impressive top 10 finishes. Finally, a special mention deserves also Emanuel Buchmann, the German champion from Bora-Argon 18, who was third in Cauterets, after a long escape, and thus confirmed the potential he already highlighted last year, in the U23 ranks.