The best Tour de France for years

Laucets de Montevernier

The best Tour de France for years

CTC's armchair Tour de France pundits Matt Mallinder and Jon Sharpe have been watching the action closely and after a thrilling stage they think this year's Tour is the best they've seen in years.

I’m sure that Jon won’t be disappointed that his predictions for the leaders jerseys is his earlier blog didn’t materialise, but I know that he’ll be ecstatic that his order for an exciting race was delivered in spades 

Jon requested “I want to see the teams and riders rip up the current rule book and start to write a new one…Let’s see some of the main contenders throw down some big moves and mix it up.” Monsieurs Froome, Quintana, Nibali, Valverde et Contador - Chapeau! They delivered just that.

Time for the Tour

With a young family  I can rarely dedicate hours to watching cycling, usually I catch up online or via ITV4’s 7pm round-up. This year’s tour has been so engrossing that I was allowed to dedicate two afternoons to celebrating the Tour.

The first was ‘in person’ at the stage finish in Le Harve a fortnight ago when Tony Martin hit the deck a few hundred metres form where we were roadside and the today on the TV for the stage to Alpe d’Huez.

Roadside: Stage 6 – Abbeville to Le Harve

After a half an hour waiting by the roadside the moment that I’d been waiting for was almost upon me. A lifetime objective of watching the Tour de France on French soil was about to come true.

I could feel the nervousness of the crowd, the expectancy and then it happened what the crowd had been waiting for… the publicity caravan appeared at first a trickle. A large plastic 30ft cyclist on the back of a truck, the wail of sirens, the screech of the crowd, then the convoy of pantomime vehicles advertising everything from banks to telephones, to jam. Chou Chou sausage truck throwing out hats, keyrings, pens, stickers, flags – hysteria for everything and nothing of any use.

That is when it happened the crowd turning from patriotic tricolour flag waving cyclists fans to 1st day of the sales elbow jousters. I was elbowed out of the way by a 50 year old who evidently wanted the Persil soap powder sachet freebie far more than I did, a mother and father tag team created a diversion whilst their son quickly grabbed haribos and fridge magnets.

This was war. I felt poorly prepared and quickly devised a strategy with my brother and his family - space out and make our target larger. The spoils were 4 caps, haribos, a flag, 2 t-shirts - wonderful plastic treasure. Now I was living the dream. Without shame or question I quickly donned the cap and t-shirts, waived the flag and became a walking advertising billboard for the Seine Maritime tourist board. Just as fever pitch hit with the French television van blaring out euro reggae, calm was restored by the Vittel lorry firing a water cannon to refresh us or fight back the baying crowd.

Then the real magic happened – the helicopter overhead heralded that the riders were close, squeezed against the barriers 1km from the finish allowed me a 30 second close up of the riders as the parade of 200 riders sweep past my eyes. Whoosh, I could just about make out the yellow jersey, whoosh and then they were gone. And then the yellow Jersey fell off. As my son’s regularly say - It wasn’t me.

Priceless. I’d just seen the tour.

The last three weeks have seen every stage energised by a succession of daily battles by the major teams no longer willing or capable of strangling the race into submission."

Matt Mallinder, CTC's Tour de France armchair pundit and Membership Director

Tellyside: Stage 20 – Modane to Alpe d’Huez

Allowing a moment to reflect. The last three weeks have seen every stage energised by a succession of daily battles by the major teams no longer willing or capable of strangling the race into submission. Torrential rain, crosswinds, baking sun and a series of first week spectacular crashes, which took chunks out of the individual’s riders and the peloton as riders were forced to quit.

Lady Luck has never been too far from Chris Froome 's side, with a sizable gap growing seemingly with ease every day as rivals including Pinot, Nibali and Contador went backwards. His team Sky were making it look easy – it was far from it. Porte, Cummings, Poels and Roche were doing selfless turns in protecting their leader. Geraint Thomas, the revelation of the race taking one for the team being bounced into a telegraph pole and ravine on the descent of the Col de Manse.

After three weeks of marking every single move thrown at him by all the main rivals Chris Froome had a lead of over two minutes on his last remaining rival Quintana. Nibali and Contador’s tour battle plans having fallen by the wayside.

Today, Quintana woke up knowing that he had to attack and after having clawed back 30 seconds yesterday he could smell blood.

Midway through the stage Froome’s team looked cooked on the Col de la Croix de Fer and Quintana’s team Movistar used their strength in numbers with team mate Valverde assisting Quintana to escape up the road. Froome had to go alone and catch the duo on the descent – first major attack duly nullified.

Following the long descent the Sky team regrouped and delivered Froome to the base of the final climb with Quintana. 21 hairpins, less that 13km to ride almost 1km vertically was all that separated Froome from history and Tour de France victory number 2.

Quintana had it all do. Simple - distance Froome and finish 2 minutes ten seconds ahead. The attack was always going to happen but when? Straight away- Valverde jumped ahead and quickly followed by Quintana.

The next half an hour or so was a mesmerising game of cat and mouse as Quintana disappeared up the road and away from Sky’s clutches. Froome valiantly assisted by Richie Porte ground out a terminable ascent in Quintana’s wheel tracks, who now alone took second by second away.

The world’s collection of fans were crammed all over the climb parting only at the last minute. Quintana the pocket sizing climber danced up the climb and with gap racing up to 30seconds, 59 seconds and then over 1’15 it looked as if the mouse was going to have his day. Froome now alone, looked dogged and gangly (more than usual) and managed to dig deep and pegged the time gap. 2 km from the finish it appeared that Quintana’s plucky escape hadn’t done enough and as Froome ground over the line a 58 seconds later a deserved victory was his.

Meanwhile and almost an afterthought, French pride had been rewarded for giving us a great tour with Thibault Pinot finishing 18 seconds ahead of Quintana to win the stage.

What a stage!

Until next year

Matt’s favourite rider: Romain Bardet for his descending skills
Matt’s favourite climb: Lacets de Montevernier – a twisty shoe string of a road.
No of stage winners predicted correctly: only 1 of 20 - Joaquim Rodriguez (Stage 3 Anvers to Huy).

 

 

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