This went pretty well last time, when I wrote one about the Giro, so let's dive in once again.One thing I should make clear that I don't believe I did last time is that this is all simply my assessment, and that includes of the team's prerace goals. I try not to pull it out of thin air whenever possible, and in several cases it's blindingly obvious, but sometimes it's just my analysis of the squad they brought.
All right here goes.
Goals entering Tour: Outside shot at GC (Péraud, Roche), plucky French breakaway presence
Execution: It's funny - Péraud's principal strength is his time trialing ability. He's certainly no worse than decent at climbing, and his past mountain bike prowess (to the point of Olympic silver in Beijing) would suggest the same ought to be true of his descending. It's a bit curious that he got his first top-level road contract two years ago at age 33, after winning the French national time trial championships while riding without representing a trade team. This Tour was all about time trialing and descending, yet Péraud never came close to threatening anything, finishing a distant 44th in Paris. Roche, a more prototypical climber, actually did far better, narrowly missing cracking the top ten. The team made plenty of doomed breakaways, and one that stuck (Péraud in stage 12, won by David Millar), but on the whole they were awfully anonymous.
Final Grade: D-plus. You could do worse than coming away from the Tour with 12th overall to hang your hat on...but not much.
Goals entering Tour: Sprints, sprints, and more sprints (Kittel)
Execution: Pretty meager. Kittel talked big coming into the race, but did nothing to back it up. He withdrew from the race during stage 5 citing illness and a knee injury as what drove him out. Veelers, the rider who should have been Kittel's leadout man, did a serviceable job to save what face could be saved (though perhaps Tyler Farrar would disagree), coming fourth in stage 2, third in stage 4, and sixth in stage 5, but three meager placings is not the expectations that this team had coming into the race.
Final Grade: D. This was the only card they planned to play - their best man at the end of the race was Koen De Kort in 103rd position overall. So sprints. We expected glitz and fireworks and Cav vs. Kittel...but no. And they weren't particularly active in breakaways either. Veelers saves them from failing, but only just.
Goals entering Tour: Fringe GC (Brajkovič), fringe sprints (Bozič), stage hunting (basically the entire rest of the squad)
Execution: On the whole, respectable but unremarkable. Brajkovič's 9th overall is easily his best career Grand Tour placement, improving upon 18th at the '09 Giro. He probably had his best day on stage 11 at La Touissure, and it was after that first day when he first entered the top 10 overall. He ceded time to Pierre Rolland on Peyregudes in stage 17 and lost a position in the overall standings, but on the whole he proved consistent throughout three weeks. Bozič did not feature, none of the stage hunters actually took one, and poor Robert Kišerlovski was the one actual casualty of tack-gate, but for the second time in as many Grand Tours Fredrik Kessiakoff proved a nice little revelation. The well-spoken Swede had a nice run at the polkadot jersey, ultimately falling short of Thomas Voeckler but providing a little animation for the race along the way.
Final Grade: C-plus. They didn't actually win anything, but I dare say they should leave France satisfied. Not jumping for joy or anything, but finding their efforts and performance to be satisfactory., After his late plunge at last year's Vuelta and his difficulties chasing Voeckler in the third week of this Tour, one wonders if Kessiakoff has the fitness for three weeks at his best. Here's to hoping he finds it as soon as next season.
Goals entering Tour: Defending last year's yellow jersey (you know who)
Execution: A passing of the torch....perhaps. Evans had a perfectly acceptable prologue and stayed out of trouble through the crash-marred flat stages that followed. He even finished with Wiggins at La Planche des Belles Filles to preserve his 10-second time gap. He was a tad flat in the stage 9 time trial, slipping to two minutes back with his sixth place ride, but we were willing to say that even that wasn't so far from the plan. After all, Wiggins is almost certainly the better time trialist (being that he used to be the sort of man you figure would dog it in the days leading up to the chrono, saving his legs for it). The first bad day was La Touissure - the defending champion coughed up a minute and a half and the bid for repeat yellow was pretty much over at that point. Further time losses in Bagnères-de-Luchon, Peyragudes, and rather shockingly in the second long time trial just sealed the deal. And while it didn't cost him any time, that image of Evans with the puncture after riding over the tacks was just powerfully sad. But meanwhile, Evans' young teammate van Garderen was quietly (at first) advancing his way up the classification. He was 37 seconds the better of his leader in the first time trial, to enter the top 10 overall. He rode with Evans on La Touissure and lost time, but was later released to ride his own race (or was he?). He improved continually, coming within a minute of fourth place, taking home the white jersey (which he will still be eligible for next year).
Final Grade: C. Basically it's an F for Evans and an A for van Garderen. They left the Tour without a stage win, something which proved to be a hot commodity at this edition of La Grande Boucle, and some have suggested that the white jersey is a meager prize for a team with this budget and caliber riders on board, but they have got to be at least somewhat pleased with what Tejay can portend for the future.
Goals entering Tour: Outsider chances at pretty much everything - GC (Taaramäe), mountains (Moncoutié), sprints (Dumoulin). And, to be sure, spunky French breakaway presence.
Execution: What execution? All right, they made plenty of breakaways, sure, but that's just about where the good news ends. Taaramäe had one day where he looked good, the rest was downright horrible (how does he miss the white jersey by less than a minute last year and by an hour and sixteen this year?). Moncoutié regrettably had to retire with injuries (hope we see him at the Vuelta). Dumoulin was always a longshot (though he had some good breakaway rides). That's it.
Final Grade: D. A stage win really would have helped, though as I said, hot commodity. I expected more from Taaramäe, but apparently he just didn't have it this month. A shame, and a disappointment.
Goals entering Tour: A run at GC (Sánchez), possible defense of polkadots (Sánchez again). Ehhh....spunky Basque breakaway presence?
Execution: Dismal...but it's kinda hard to blame them for it. They were one of the hardest-hit teams by the first week crashgasm, with Txurruka, Verdugo, Astarloza, and Sánchez all having to retire by stage 8. If Sánchez was going to do anything, you figure Astarloza would have been his right-hand man, so that's two big bullets lost from the gun. We all know what type of riders this team (seemingly exclusively) hires, and they're not the type of riders you can expect to kick and punch and claw their way to the front of the peloton to "stay out of trouble" on those tricky flat stages. It just doesn't work that way, fundamentally. Izagirre had a decent third week, making two winning breakaways in three days (stages 14 and 16) and Martinez finished a surprisingly high 17th basically without ever being seen.
Final Grade: C-minus. That might be a little too generous, but while their execution in this Tour was indeed dismal, I can't get past thinking of it as sheer bad luck. There are always crashes, and as such Euskaltel isn't necessarily a team you expect to bring everyone home (Liquigas has brought all nine men to the finish in 11 straight Grand Tours; over Euskaltel's last 11, they've brought nine to the end only three times). But it's usually not this bad.
Goals entering Tour: The inevitable winning breaks that they have the noses to sniff out (basically everyone, but especially Casar and Fédrigo)
Execution: Or I don't know, did they expect anything of Pinot entering this Tour? Because they sure got it out of him. His win to Porrentuy in stage 8, with his team manager going absolutely bonkers in the car behind and beside him, is gonna go down in history, if not legend. Another fine ride four days later, second place on La Touissure, installed the young Pinot in the top ten for the first time. The time trial, where he noticeably needs to improve if he has any real designs on riding for GC in the future, was a close call, but he held tenth place overall every day after he first took it and finished in that position in Paris. Not bad for your first Tour de France. Fédrigo meanwhile got his stage win on a day that looked pretty conducive to a field sprint, but no one in the peloton was game to chase. With only the leadfooted Christian Vandevelde in his slipstream, Fédrigo scored an easy win at the line. Casar found a winning breakaway as well, with frequent escape buddy Luis León Sánchez of Rabobank, but was distanced from the Spaniard at day's end.
Final Grade: B. They did quite well, and if success in this Tour weren't so heavily concentrated on just a few teams, they might have even merited an A. They came in without a real GC man (so far as I'm aware) and came away with a very good GC result, two terrific stage wins, and lots of face-time throughout the race.
Goals entering Tour: GC (Hesjedal, possibly Danielson), stage hunting (Martin, Millar), time trials (Zabriskie, Millar), sprints? (Farrar)
Execution: After a brilliant Giro d'Italia, Hesjedal attempted the double. He was doing pretty well for a little while, too - he said in a comfortable 9th overall after stage 5. But alas, stage 6 was anything but comfortable. Just like Euskaltel, Garmin was hit quite hard by the carnage of this stage, with Danielson, Hunter, and indeed Hesjedal all leaving the race either during stage 6 or before stage 7. Farrar was also banged up in the crash, but to his credit he remained in the race and completed the Tour. But even those who survived unscathed really weren't, as the team was stone cold dead as far as GC went, with their best man at the start of stage 7 being Zabriskie in 114th place. And that was almost it for the team. Millar rescued the team's Tour, somewhat, with his breakaway win in stage 12 to Annonay. Vandevelde likewise made a breakaway that stuck to the finish, but he had no answer for Pierrick Fédrigo's sprint to the line and had to settle for second on the day. Martin also occasionally featured in breakaways, but that's just not what we normally have to say about this team. And as far as the sprints, the biggest headline Farrar made was for trying to make his way onto another team's bus.
Final Grade: C-minus. What was really a disaster Tour got mitigated by Millar's stage win. This was the first Tour in the admittedly brief history Vaughters' team has with the race where they did not have a rider place in the final top ten overall - though I'm sure they'll be back next year to shake off these demons.
Goals entering Tour: GC or perhaps stages (Scarponi), sprints (Petacchi), other stage huntng
Execution: Scarponi was actually doing okay on GC before stage 6 turned the race on its head. Reports are that it was the actions of his own teammate Viganò whose actions caused it. He turned his attention to breakaways for later in the race, finding a good group that stayed to the line in stage 10, but was ultimately unable to upset the faster finisher Thomas Voeckler. Petacchi, after occasionally featuring but not really threatening in the first-week sprints, was a victim of the time cut the next day, ending his Tour at the halfway mark.
Final Grade: D-plus. Scarponi was never really a legitimate GC threat, after doing the Giro and on this parcours, but it's tough to argue how the team so rarely featured. Perhaps they could use an Evans-esque passing of the torch, and come back next year with younger riders and a new plan of action. And while it's perhaps childish to assign blame for crashes, it was this team's rider whose actions caused about half the peloton to go down.
Goals entering Tour: GC (Nibali), stages (Sagan), green jersey (Sagan)
Execution: Marvelous. The first half of Nibali's Tour was pretty much like Evans' - acceptable prologue, staying with the Sky boys during each road stage (okay, so he lost 5 seconds at La Planche des Belles Filles, fine), losing a chunk of time in the first long time trial but still remaining well-placed overall. If anything, Nibali's time trial was a pleasant surprise, as he is not usually the sort of rider you would expect to see challenging for a win in time trial stages. He turned in another good ride on La Touissure when Evans faded, and Bagnères-de-Luchon all but sealed his final podium position. While he is a former Grand Tour winner, you have to think Nibali should be quite pleased with this ride - the myriad chrono kilometers really didn't play in his favor. Meanwhile, Sagan was nothing short of brilliant. By taking three of the Tour's first six road stages, he quickly built a lead in the green jersey standings. He proved himself versatile as well, as the first two were "lumpy" flat stages (indeed, the first kicked uphill briefly at the finish) while the third of them was a straightforward flat finish. Sagan's points lead became unassailable for perhaps an ignoble reason, as Matt Goss was assessed a 30-point penalty for an irregular sprint in stage 12, but anyone who may have felt the slightest bit recriminated by that had to say chapeau two days later when Sagan went on the attack on a legit mountain stage, finishing 47 seconds back of Luis León Sánchez but no doubt putting his seal of authority on that green jersey.
Final Grade: A. Sagan is truly a once and future king of the sport. This may be the last time we see Nibali in a Liquigas jersey for a three-week race, and if it is, he did himself proud. While he was never able to put time into the Sky duo that ruled the race, and he predictably suffered against them in the time trial, it's not as if he never tried. It's interesting to think that for as solidly good as Nibali is at just about everything (on a day-to-day basis), I'm not sure he's truly excellent at anything. Except staying consistent and not having a bad day, which is probably the most underrated skill for a GT rider.
Goals entering Tour: GC (Van Den Broeck), sprints (Greipel)
Execution: Successful, if opportunistic. Greipel was terrific in the sprints, winning back-to-back stages in the first week and narrowly missing a third straight after a sustaining a dislocated freaking shoulder. But like the old wrestler says, to be the man you gotta beat the man. While Cavendish was present for one of these sprints, he did not have any team support and was in essence riding as a freelancer. Greipel also lost out entirely to his nemesis in stage 2, and the one time when the world champion did have full team support, well - we saw the result was more of the same dominance we've always seen. So I have to wonder if Greipel truly has "arrived" as the dominant sprinter, so to speak, as his first week of the Tour might have suggested. Thankfully, we'll likely get another look at the Olympics road race in a few short days. As for Van Den Broeck's GC, he took a slightly different path than Nibali, not cracking the top ten overall until the day Pinot won. Fourth at La Touissure moved him up to fifth overall, and Evans' flubs later in the week brought him to fourth, where he finished the race.
Final Grade: A-minus. You can't argue with three stages and fourth overall. That's a terrific Tour de France. But I still want to see Cavendish vs. Greipel with both at their best and riding as leaders with dedicated trains behind them. Like I say, could happen at the Olympics.
Goals entering Tour: Possible GC (Valverde, Cobo), sprints (Rojas)
Execution: I had forgotten Rojas was even in this race, having gone home during stage 3 after sustaining crash injuries. So that was out the window pretty early, sorry to say after Rojas' very good Tour last year. The team featured in numerous breakaways, but it wasn't until stage 17 to Peyragudes that one stuck. The embattled Valverde took the win just ahead of the fast-charging Sky duo that ruled the race. The team's best rider on GC at the end of the race was actually Rui Costa in 18th (Valverde 20th), as Cobo sensibly seems to be saving it for his Vuelta defense.
Final Grade: C-plus. A great stage win for Valverde, and the team has to be happy to come away with something when so many teams came away with nothing. Rojas' early exit was a shame, but it probably was unavoidable.
Goals entering Tour: Fringe GC (Leipheimer, Velitses), time trials (Martin), stage hunting/breakaway presence (Chavanel, Pineau)
Execution: Ugh. 'Meager' seems too kind. Chavanel had a good prologue, and occupied a high GC position for the race's first week as a result, but unlike two years ago he wasn't able to parlay that into any time in yellow. He did not complete the race, going home during stage 15. Martin was battered by crashes and rode on to show the rainbow jersey in the first time trial, but a combination of those injuries and riding with a flat kept him from posting any sort of respectable time. Chavanel and Peter Velits were both top-ten in this stage, though. The team made a few breakaways in the second half of the race, and a couple that stuck, but they never threatened for any kind of victory.
Final Grade: F. I'm a little harder on them than on the other largely anonymous teams at this Tour just because they were so brilliant earlier this season (and not just in single-day races, either). Argos can escape flunking with a third-place stage placing to their name, but not OmegaStep. Just a dreadful Tour for these boys.
Goals entering Tour: Sprints (Goss), breakaway/stage hunting (Gerrans, Albasini)
Execution: Pretty poor. Despite having the most single-minded team tied to a clear goal in the race, Goss still is looking for his first Tour stage win. He did have enough high placings (third on stage 2, fourth on stage 4, second on stage 5, third on stage 6) that he briefly looked like a possible contender for the green jersey without ever crossing the line first (which is rare, but does happen occasionally - the last was Thor Hushovd in 2006). But that too went out the window after Goss' irregular sprint for placings in stage 12. Losing out to Cavendish in stages 18 and 20 was just more of the same.
Final Grade: F. Just a lack of execution. Even when Cavendish missed out, Goss still failed to get to the line first. They were single-minded in their squad (although given their team roster as a whole, it's not like they had much choice) and failed to deliver every time. Maybe next year.
Goals entering Tour: GC (Gesink), possible white jersey (Kruijswijk), stage hunting (Sánchez, others)
Execution: A mixed bag..but damn if that isn't way better than how it looked after two weeks. Despite the chrono-copia at this year's Tour, his limited prowess there, and the lack of especially difficult mountain stages to make the difference, Rabobank went pretty much all-in with Gesink. He and most of his mountain pain squad hit the deck in the race's first week, and by the beginning of stage 12 only four orange-and-blue clad riders remained in the race. But Sánchez's great third week was redemption in spades for this team. I said David Millar's stage win saved Garmin's Tour, well, Sánchez's stage win in Foix and likewise impressive rides on stages 18 (fourth behind Cavendish!) and 19 (third in the chrono, and first in the "human beings" division) really redeemed Rabo's otherwise utterly lackluster Tour.
Final Grade: C. In anticipating writing this article, I was all set after two weeks to award them an F and snarkily ask if even that was too good, but Sánchez truly turned the tide. It's disappointing that Kruijswijk was more than an hour off white, but at least he finished.
Goals entering Tour: GC (uh...Schleck? Horner? Zubeldia? Klöden?), time trials (Cancellara)
Execution: The Tour's best team! Uh huh.... Really, for as maligned as this team has (deservedly) been, their performance in this Tour was perfectly acceptable. Cancellara got his prologue win and the requisite week in yellow that followed installed him as the rider with the most career yellow jerseys never to win the Tour overall, a record which, for both reasons, probably won't be broken in our lifetimes (the previous record had stood since 1947). Spartacus was a bit off his game in the first long time trial and it's too bad he had to leave the race before the second, but family always comes first.
Final Grade: B-minus. Schleck's positive test was a low moment, as was the team riding away from their lead
ering rider on Peyragudes, but as far as on-road results go, a stage win, a week in yellow, sixth overall, and the teams classification is the envy of three-quarters of the peloton.
Goals entering Tour: Fringe GC (Coppel), spunky French breakaway presence and stage hunting
Execution: Talk about invisible. Coppel never featured at any time in the race (I can't remember when he even appeared on screen, though I didn't see every moment of every stage) and finished a dull, forgettable 21st. Aaaaand...that's pretty much the entire story. Simon took sixth behind Greipel at Cap d'Agde, and lanterne rouge Engoulvent was tenth on the Champs, but even the breakaway presence trailed off as the race went on.
FInal Grade: F. I would have liked to at least see Coppel a few times. When the best you come away with is "winning" the lanterne rouge and your presence in a handful of doomed breakaways...it seems like the waste of a wildcard. Hopefully their French passports won't be all that's needed to get them in next year's Tour.
Goals entering Tour: Outside shot at GC (Rolland), stage hunting (Voeckler, others)
Execution: A year ago at this time, Voeckler was talking up his possibilities as a GC rider after coming in 4th overall basically by accident, as he found a great breakaway group and benefited from a fairly conservatively raced week and a half that followed. We all sorta smiled, nodded, and said "Suuuuuure Thomas, suuuuure." A month ago at this time, though, Voeckler wasn't sure he'd even start this Tour as he was hampered with a knee injury. So he was back to his classic stage hunting role. He delivered in a huge way, taking his third and fourth career Tour stage wins (doesn't it seem like it should be way more than that?). With maximum points at Bagnères-de-Luchon, easily the Tour's most difficult stage, and enough left in the tank the next day to solidly outride Fredrik Kessiakoff, Voeckler claimed the climber's prize as his - and had a great deal of fun with the polkadot jersey in the Tour's final days. That climbing ability could easily have manifested itself in a GC run, if a few things went differently. Rolland, best young rider at last year's Tour, avoided any talk of letdown or of the pressure of being France's next great hope getting to him with a great win at La Touissure en route to 8th overall, actually improving his overall placement on a course much less conducive to his riding strengths than last year's. Rolland made a bit of a faux pas attacking on the descent of the Mur de Péguère after tack-gate, but he realized his false step and pulled back on the throttle, with no harm done. A bad day from Janez Brajkovič on Peyragudes moved Rolland up a slot, and he narrowly held off the Slovenian in the time trial for 8th overall.
Final Grade: A. A terrific Tour for a team that very nearly ceased to exist 18 short months ago. They're making a strong case to get more of a budget from their sponsors and/or bring on new sponsors and are really making a brand for themselves. They may not be the most warm-and-fuzzy team in the peloton, but this is two excellent Tours in a row for them, and I for one would like to see them in more first-division races.
Goals entering Tour: GC (Menchov), sprints (Freire)
Execution: Not that good. Menchov had a fine prologue and a solid first long time trial, and lay 5th overall after stage 10. But he plummeted down the classification on La Touissure, losing 14 minutes and any shot at the race overall. While that ostensibly might have freed him up to stage hunt, in practice it didn't - aside from one failed attempt, he did not feature at any time over the remainder of the race. Freire was one of the many victims of stage 6, not taking the start the next day due to crash injuries.
Final Grade: D-minus. Oh, Denny Denny Denny, I expected so much more of you. More than 15th in Paris, definitely. Being three years removed from winning the Giro, two removed from the Tour podium, and just one removed from two Grand Tour top-tens in the same season, a concentrated Menchov on a no-worse-than-okay course for him should have at least come top ten. Or so I would have thought. It's tough not to conclude now that he's pretty much done as a top-level rider.
Goals entering Tour: Sprints (Haedo), stage-hunting (Sørensens, others)
Execution: Surprisingly strong. Haedo wasn't able to break through in the sprints, but Chris Sørensen showed strongly in repeated breakaways throughout the Tour (and Nicki Sørensen had a good day, too). Chris didn't win any daily combativity awards, but he does come away with the overall combativity prize, the first rider since Alexander Vinokourov in 2003 to do that. He enlivened several otherwise dull stages, finishing third in the mountains classification, and snuck in there to a perfectly respectable 14th overall.
Final Grade: C-plus, borderline B-minus. They did much more than I was expecting they would (which, frankly, was nothing, but still). Chris Sørensen could prove a quite valuable helper for Contador when he comes back - unless he continues riding for himself (albeit with less ambitious goals).
Goals entering Tour: Yellow or bust (Wiggins), a free agent in the sprints (Cavendish)
Execution: Just staggering. It's been years since we've seen a team dominate a race like this. And while that doesn't really make for the most compelling viewing, I doubt they care if any of us were entertained as they steamrolled to every last one of their goals. For the second Grand Tour in a row, Froome appeared to be the stronger climber than Wiggins, but since this is France and not Spain (where they're all but allergic to time trials), there was no need to even think about changing courses in midstream. La Planche des Belles Filles was the day Sky put the peloton on notice, with Froome winning the day and Wiggins taking the lead he would never relinquish. With Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara off their games and then gone, Wiggins faced little resistance to winning both long time trials and rode to Paris with some rather jaw-dropping time gaps over the rest of the top 10 overall. Cavendish didn't have the armchair ride he had with the vaunted HTC train in the last four Tours, but he kicked, scratched, and clawed his way to two sprint wins before Sky put the exclamation mark on the sundae, the cherry at the end of the sentence, the last show of undeniable superiority by delivering him with ease to a fourth straight Champs-Élysées win.
Final Grade: A-plus. Is even that enough? They came to the Tour with lofty expectations and if anything only exceeded them. Everyone thought Wiggins was the favorite for the overall, but I'm not sure who had them winning six stages with three different riders. Savor it boys, because it will probably not be this good ever again.
Goals entering Tour: Possible GC (Westra), possible white jersey (Poels), time trials (Larsson), stage hunting (Hoogerland)
Execution: The walking wounded. Thankfully walking. Poels was perhaps the rider most badly injured by the stage 6 crash-fest, sustaining a ruptured spleen and kidney, lung contusion, and three broken ribs. He has been in hospitals, in France and his native Netherlands, for more than two weeks now since the crash and is not expected to return to racing this season. It's still unclear if the damaged kidney will ever regain full function. Wow. Just...wow. Westra and Larsson were two of the three team riders to leave the race in the midst of stage 11 (Ruijgh was the other). Hoogerland never featured and the team's breakaway presence was spotty at best. Van Hummel and Boeckmans took a few sprint placings.
Final Grade: D. On a performance basis, they didn't deliver one bit. But you've gotta have a great deal of sympathy for Poels' terrible injuries...and pull for him to come back next season at full strength.