It has been a little more than a week since the 100th Tour de France dissolved on the Champs Élysées. Guys are racing in Poland, and a young Frenchman just notched the greatest result of his budding career in Spain. And yet, is any of this really happening?
The Tour is still very much on our minds. Its performances and characters, the tapestry of France and the peloton’s impression upon it, and upon us. It may have ended, but it’s not over.
With that in mind, here are a few observations that have stuck with us from a 2013 Tour that, while suffocated by Sky’s Chris Froome by more than five minutes, was never boring.
Bertie’s back — sort of
Spain’s Alberto Contador was exactly what was missing from Bradley Wiggins’ 2012 victory lap around France. The Saxo-Tinkoff rider finished more than six minutes down on Froome, but he was the only rider constantly fighting with the Sky empire. He attacked in the crosswinds on stage 13, marshaling his Saxo troops and team time trialing away from the peloton, taking back a minute.
He risked his flesh on descents, at one point crashing in front of the yellow-jerseyed Froome on the infamous Col de Manse (think Armstrong-Beloki crash). He even tried in vain to slither free into Alpe d’Huez with a dicey move on the descent of the Col du Sarenne, a much-maligned thread of road off the back of Alpe d’Huez.
But every time he found himself in a fight on a mountain with Froome, he went backward. He isn’t the rider he was before his doping suspension, there’s no denying that. But there’s still no one else like him, and there’s no denying that, either.
Speaking of Froome, something we keep coming back to is the image of his blurry legs when attacking. His cadence was breathtaking, and his clear measure above his rivals obvious. Will any modern fan that saw it forget the attack on the sacred Ventoux that absolutely demolished Contador? Likely not.
Quintana’s grand debut was a smashing success
Or, let’s say, no TV commentators will ever again wonder where the Colombian climber came from. When the road tilted upward, Movistar’s Nairo Quintana was the only general classification rider with any prayer of keeping Froome in sight, and he even beat him once up Semnoz, as heir Froome drifted off into the enormity of his Tour win in the closing kilometers of the race.
With that win in stage 20, Quintana cemented the white jersey by 13 minutes over Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), the mountains classification over Froome, and second place on the podium in Paris. When he came into the press conference that day, he was in tears.
Quintana had arrived on the grandest of stages, and the 23-year-old is here to stay. Had he not been sent out with a spear in the Pyrenees on the first hard mountain day in teammate Alejandro Valverde’s hunting party, there’s no telling how much closer to Froome he could have been.
Marcel Kittel is fast — real fast
After the Paris finale, Mark Cavendish said he churned out the power numbers he usually does when he usually wins. Those 1,500 watts, however, were not enough to overcome Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) or Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol). Kittel won four stages at the Tour to Cavendish’s two, and even came around him in the final 25 meters to win stage 12.
No one at the race could recall that happening to Cavendish in a long, long time. Cav himself even knows it, taking to Twitter to proclaim Kittel the next big thing.
Could there have been a better thank you to a new sponsor than what the Belkin boys provided to their new title sponsor, which took over for the Rabobank-funded, no-named Blanco squad?
The team was one of the pleasant surprises of a Tour that stuck mostly to the script. Bauke Mollema finished in sixth place, and Laurens Ten Dam in 13th, fading in the Alps. The team gave its home fans lining Dutch Corner on Alpe d’Huez plenty to cheer for, although they never really seem to need a reason other than a bike race.
There isn’t any other way to say this: BMC Racing was a July disappointment. The team came in with a former champion in Cadel Evans (2011) and Tejay van Garderen, who finished fifth last year. Van Garderen came into the Tour off the heels of his first ever major stage race win at the Amgen Tour of California, while Evans finished third at the Giro d’Italia.
But the Tour is the Tour, and we know now the measure of BMC this July: the well-heeled team didn’t win a stage or place a rider in the top 10 overall, though van Garderen went down swinging hard on Alpe d’Huez and was only caught by former break companion Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale) with two kilometers left.
As the Tour entered the Alps, Evans, at that point out of contention, was realistic: “I don’t expect any miracles, and really, I’ve come into this third week exhausted. At this point, I just hope I can finish and get to Paris.” BMC will have to get it sorted, and sport director John Lelangue announced his departure shortly after the Tour ended.
We’re nearly on to the Vuelta a España now, along with races in Colorado, Utah, and Canada. And before you know it, it’s going to be time for the UCI world championships in Florence, Italy.
But we’ll still be thinking of July and what it means for the next Tour. Will the Sky fall? We’ll just have to wait and see.