What will this Tour de France be best remembered for? Let's try a few word association-style taglines for recent Tours.
- 2014: Cobbles Kill. Just not Vincenzo Nibali
- 2013: Froome takes the baton from Wiggo; Sky still dominant
- 2012: Wiggo and Sky Master Plan Achieve World Domination
- 2011: Cuddles = perseverance pays
- 2010: Chaingate (p.s. steakgate)
- 2009: Lance is still a jerk, Contador is still his teammate
- 2008: The Tour is Won On the Alpe
- 2007: Who's this new kid?
- 2006: You're still awesome Floyd!
And so on. That last one may be debatable. Maybe even despicable. But there's no denying what the lasting mental image of that race is, and it's not Oscar Pereiro sitting behind Andreas Kloden or George Hincapie for six hours.
Anyway, what's the takeaway from this one? I think confirmation of the new world order, which has Froome at the top of the summit, and Quintana the confirmed Next Big Thing. We can't yet say how many Tour wins Don Nairo has in his legs, but as he says, he's just getting started.
Still, what's next? We've just seen Froome win on the Anti-Froome course. That puts a lot of pressure on ASO... do they revert back to something more balanced, at the risk of Froome dominating? I think they do, but in the process there are ways they can subtly tip the balance back to Don Nairo (in the name of a competitive race, not a Colombian win). Take out some of the early nonsense -- and next year's Grand Départ in Normandy means something like typical French stages in week 1, not the squirrelly Dutch/Belgian thingies where Quintana came a-cropper. Add back in some ITT distance, but with climbing a part of it. Oh and if you're going to do a 50k ITT, make it after the Alps. Perhaps by then Quintana has the lead, so Froome can use the time trial to strike back, rather than put the Tour out of reach. No matter who you root for, a back-and-forth battle has to be better than this year's nearly wire-to-wire triumph.
Oh, and make those Alps stages doozies. Maybe Mont Ventoux. Alpe d'Huez isn't the hardest climb, and it only had a minute or so for Nairo to gain. There are more decisive climbing stages available. Lastly, send the race into Spain during the Pyrénées. That should get interesting. I will add, Spanish fans -- particularly the Basque ones -- are wildly excited by the Tour, but can't possibly be as objectionable as the ones we endured this past week. Ever heard of Basque fans spitting on the Maillot Jaune? I don't recall such things.
Anyway, I don't want to sound like I think the Tour should throw Nairo a bone. But I do suspect they won't go back to the no-ITT format again, and I'm just saying they can do so without handing the title to Froome and ensuring a dull race.
Froome should ride the Tour for MTN Qhubeka when his Sky contract is up. No more Skybots, no more Murdoch money, no more luxurious support, no more questions about his Britishness. Just a full-on African born- and bred-rider on an African team, kicking ass and maybe even having a LeMond Effect on his real home country. I can only imagine the effect that would have on people in Kenya and South Africa. And by "imagine" I don't really know; these identity things can get complicated. But I might root for him. I bet my kids would want a rhino sticker for their top tube. That would feel great to watch. I'm guessing MTN won't be able to afford him but one can hope.
Don't get me wrong, I have nothing at all against Sky. I love Thomas as a rider, for one, and think that they've built something very strong. I don't doubt for a second they've had a significant impact on the UK, which I'm told could use a bit more biker influence, particularly given how many top athletes they're cranking out. I'm sure British athletes like Wiggins, Thomas, Cavendish (briefly), Stannard and even Froome have done well to sell the sport there in Sky colors. Given the basically international state of most teams, even Sky, that's pretty good.
I just think Froome's story doesn't fit well with Sky. I mean, it does in terms of winning; he's the best, they're the best. But as far as my interests go, cheering for Froome and Sky is like rooting for some soccer factory (Chelsea? Real Madrid? Juventus?) where it feels like you're rooting for money. Money always wins, it doesn't need my support. Froome is entitled to go where he wants, and no matter what I will respect him as a cyclist, full stop. He's worked his way up to being the very best, an ace time trialler and guy who can usually climb with everyone, even Quintana, even beating the best uphill. But if he wants me to take a real rooting interest, he should do something we haven't seen before, something apparently rooted enough in him for his mechanics to decorate his bike with African symbols.
Nibali looks more and more like a one-time Tour champion at this point. He's 30 years old now, and Quintana is just approaching his prime. Not to mention the fact that Froome has a ways to go in his. How many more Tours can Vinny show up in top form, with a course that suits him, and not run into one of those guys? It happened last year, and he won. It may not happen again, not in the next 2-3 seasons when his athletic prowess might still be elite.
Interestingly, he had a "bad Tour" insofar as he dropped three minutes to Alejandro Valverde. the only rider from the 2014 edition to outperform Nibali. That's a twelve minute reversal from last year, which I think says more about the Murcian than the Sicilian. This was a great course for Valverde with the classics-like stages early on and the mix of descents and smaller MTFs sprinkled among the mega-stages. [Also Valverde conceded 3' in the last ITT to Nibali, so yeah, no time trials.]
Still, Nibali lost time in places where he should not have, and certainly where he could not afford to. But even if he rode a perfect race, does he overcome Quintana? Not likely. If Nibali were in yellow, Quintana would have trained his attacks on him, not ignored him when he burst away during Froome's tragic encounter with a pebble. I don't see how Nibali wins on anything less than a "Moser Course," reminiscent of the 1984 Giro d'Italia shamelessly designed for one rider -- the Sheriff -- to win. If the Tour de France were to shamelessly design a course for the benefit of one rider, it one-thousand-million-percent would not be an Italian. [A Pinot Course? Only uphills with rider descending by bus?
Finally there is Quintana. Only 25 years old, only one man has ever beaten him in the Tour. The only rider to win the KOM and white jerseys at the same time. It's tempting to criticize his reliance on MTF stages, but consider this: entering the Alps he was second overall, ahead of Nibali, Valverde, Contador and whoever else you want to name because you think they might be better descenders and bike handlers. Sure, in a time trial he might concede time to these guys, but the numbers say it's not as much as you might expect from a guy who resides in the "pure climber" category. In fact he's a pretty good all-rounder, and he only lost two minutes in this Tour on stage 2, when a crash left him in the wrong echelon. He's closer to winning on any course than you might think. He just needs a plan to get rid of Froome.
Lastly I want to thank a few of youse for a great three weeks. First to Jens and Conor. In case you haven't figured it out, Conor is now a member of our Editors' Team, replacing Douglas. It's a real pleasure to have him, for a lot of reasons, and I hope you have enjoyed the new regime in its first frenzied month. Granted we had been moving in this direction already, but still it was nice to take the car out for a real drive. Thanks to both for their always-ready support and of course their regular input. [I had the lead on the Tour this year, that's what I mean by "support." We do things equally on the whole but assign single leads for each race.]
And thanks to all of you for your continued support of the Cafe. It was another month of great, civil conversation, and it's still the world's best cycling bar to hang out in, even lacking in bricks and mortar. Welcome to the many newcomers who stopped by, please feel free to linger or return at your leisure. Oh and we have really great tee shirts nd caps for sale. Some limits on t-shirt size; caps come in small or large. Email me chris[at]podiumcafe(dot)com.