Peter Sagan on top while Mark Cavendish is declining in our Tour de France winners and losers

Matt Jones 30/07/2018
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Cycling’s greatest and most gruelling race is over for another year, with the 2018 Tour de France proving to yet again be a tour de force for the sport.

Britain has yet another winner – Geraint Thomas’s triumph making it six wins for the UK in the last seven editions, having waited 109 years for their first.

Here are our winners and losers from an epic 2018 edition.

WINNERS

PETER SAGAN

Peter Sagan, wearing the best sprinter's green jersey,

Enigmatic and excellent, the slick Slovak blitzed the competition in the points classification. The battle for green wasn’t even close, with Sagan decimating the field and finishing streets ahead of runner-up Alexander Kristoff – and that was with the UAE Team Emirates man enjoying an excellent Tour of his own.

Sagan finished 231 points ahead of the Norwegian. To put that into perspective it was the third biggest margin of victory in the green jersey category ever – the points classification title was introduced for the first time during the 1953 edition.

Sean Kelly’s margin of victory over Bernard Hinault in 1982 was 270 points. Sagan’s triumph over Marcel Kittel in 2016, winning by 242 points, was the second biggest margin.

The 28-year-old claimed his sixth green jersey at this year’s Tour – seeing him go level with the great German rider Erik Zabel as the two most successful points riders in Tour history – and also went past 100 days in green.

Sagan is the unequivocal king of points, having won all but one of the Tour’s green jerseys in the last seven years – Michael Matthews wore it in 2017, and that was only after Sagan was disqualified for elbowing Mark Cavendish on Stage 4.

TOM DUMOULIN

Tom Dumoulin won the Giro d'Italia in 2017.

Tom Dumoulin won the Giro d’Italia in 2017.

All the talk beforehand was dominated by Chris Froome – whether it be positive and about his bid for a fourth straight yellow jersey and Grand Tour title, or negative following his acquittal of any wrongdoing in the much-publicised Salbutamol case.

The midst and the aftermath of the race was and will continue to be dominated – and rightly so – by Thomas’ epic triumph.

But that shouldn’t take anything away from the deadly Dumoulin, who like Thomas, has truly come into his own in the last 12 months.

Also like Thomas, he is one of few riders who can class themselves as a genuine and elite all-rounder – he can hurt opponents equally with his sprinting or climbing legs.

The Team Sunweb rider added the time trial victory on Stage 20 to his two stage wins from 2016 as he was sandwiched between the two Team Sky riders on the podium.

The 27-year-old claimed his first Grand Tour title in 2017 and although he relinquished the Maglia Rosa to Froome this year, he has now finished runner-up twice in 2018 at cycling’s two biggest races. His time will surely come again.

JULIAN ALAPHILIPPE

Julian Alaphilippe

The first Frenchman to earn a stage victory for the home nation at this year’s tour – the 26-year-old talent ended up with two overall, as well as the polka dot jersey. As the French would say, magnifique.

The victories were his maiden wins at the Tour as he cemented his reputation as a potential future winner of the yellow jersey.

“Coming into the Tour de France, my only goal was to get a stage victory, which was something I was dreaming of for some years now,” Alaphilippe said upon sealing the deal for the King of the Mountains jersey following Stage 19.

“The KOM jersey wasn’t a priority at that time, but after landing it on my shoulders following the success in Le Grand-Bornand, I began thinking of taking it home.”

Alaphilippe took hold of the jersey following victory on Stage 10 and never let go. The wait goes on for a home winner of the Tour de France, with the brilliant Bernard Hinault the last home winner, 33 years ago in 1985. But with the Quick-Step rider coming into his own, the wait may soon be over.

LOSERS

MARK CAVENDISH

Le Tour de France 2017 - Team Presentation

Coming into the race we wondered when the Manx Missile would rocket past the record of the great Eddy Merckx for most Tour de France stage wins in history. Now we’re left wondering if it is possible for him to do it at all.

Froome will feel disappointment that the Tour didn’t quite go to plan for him, but he will come again. After all, trying to win an unprecedented fourth Grand Tour race in a row and claim a rare feat of a Giro and Tour double in the same year is ambitious. And perhaps futile.

But there is no talk of Froome’s dominance ending. He just needs a break.

But for Cavendish, the question looms large, is this the beginning of the end? That might appear to be far-fetched, but the 33-year-old has only one win in 2018 – his Stage 3 triumph on February 8 at the Dubai Tour. He pulled out of the Abu Dhabi Tour a few weeks later following a crash on the opening stage.

He has now not won a stage at the Tour – where he has 30 total stage victories during a decorated career – since 2016, the biggest gap since he won his first in 2008.

He was eliminated this year on Stage 11 after failing to make the time cut – finishing more than an hour adrift of stage winner Thomas, while an ugly incident with Sagan last year forced him to abandon and saw the Slovak disqualified.

Hopefully he is far from finished. But with more important things going on in his life – son Casper was born this year – perhaps he just needs to write off 2018 and start afresh next year.

NAIRO QUINTANA

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage Ten

He is one of the best climbers in the business and one of the biggest names in cycling, but should that still be the case?

Sure, the combative Colombian claimed 10th place in the GC, yet he was way off the pace of other mountain men Thomas, Dumoulin and UAE Team Emirates’ Dan Martin – who impressed by taking home the Combativity award following some truly gritty cycling.

Quintana is continuously put forward as a man to watch when it comes to Grand Tour races, yet he hasn’t truly taken one by storm for two years.

He’s won two races of cycling’s Triple Crown – the 2014 Giro d’Italia and 2016 Vuelta a Espana. He was named best young rider at the 2014 Giro and claimed the white jersey at the Tour either side of that (2013 and 2015). He also won the Tour’s mountains title in 2013.

The victories have still come – a stage win at last year’s Giro, a stage win here, the Tirreno–Adriatico title in 2017 – but they have trickled in rather than teemed down.

Thanks to a puncture on Stage 1, Quintana was already in a hole, sitting 112th and 1’ 15” down on the leaders.

He stormed back to win Stage 17, his second Tour stage triumph.

Movistar came into the Tour promoting three of their riders as potential winners – Quintana, Mikel Landa and veteran Alejandro Valverde.

Quintana finished three places behind and seven minutes off Landa, while Spaniard Valverde – 10 years his senior at 38 – was 13 minutes and four places adrift.

Like Froome, he still has plenty to offer, but he must dig deep to climb back into the top echelon.

ROMAIN BARDET

Bardet

“This Tour de France never quite smiled on me,” said Romain Bardet after finishing third on Stage 19.

A man usually cast among the leading protagonists at Grand Tour races in recent years, the Frenchman has long been touted as a future winner, but it is yet to come to fruition.

Stage wins on home soil were claimed in 2015, 2016 and 2017, with ninth, second and third places in the overall GC following in each of those years, but in 2018 he has fallen a little flat as he fell to sixth overall this year.

It means that the wait for a home winner goes on at Le Tour, and stretches to a 34th year. The last time a Frenchman won the yellow jersey was in 1985, when Hinault secured the last of the five wins that left him equal with Jacques Anquetil and Merckx before him, and Miguel Indurain afterward.

“I do my best possible with what I’m being given to do the job,” Bardet, in what appeared to be a thinly-veiled dig at his AG2R team’s inability to match the peloton’s prime contenders, said following Stage 18.

It’s long been said that his time will come. It seems Bardet is sick of biding his time.

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Dan Martin and Alexander Kristoff's Tour de France triumphs prove UAE Team Emirates belong at elite level

Matt Jones 30/07/2018
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UAE Team Emirates continue to make giant strides on the cycling landscape following a mightily impressive 2018 Tour de France.

The sport’s grandest stage was resplendently lit up by the team, who ascended to the top of the charts in the mountains while also leaving a gargantuan impression on the sprinting stakes too.

Dan Martin claimed eighth place overall in the General Classification and a stage win, while Alexander Kristoff proved why he’s the European road race champion, having the final say on the Champs Elysees as he won the final Stage 21.

It was the perfect ending in Paris for a team established less than two years ago.

And after a making a dent in their inaugural UCI WorldTour campaign – South African rider Louis Meintjes’ eighth place at Le Tour a year ago and Rui Costa claiming the 2017 Abu Dhabi Tour title in the race’s debut as a WorldTour spectacle notable highlights – the team have put more miles on the pedals again in 2018.

The additions of Martin and Kristoff were made with an eye on further improvements. And both men are already beginning to pay back the trust shown in them handsomely.

Alexander Kristoff - UAE Team Emirates

Martin finished off the podium but clambered onto it nonetheless in Paris after he won the Combativity award, given for aggressive riding.

Martin seemed shocked, but was happy to be on the podium – something he had been secretly aiming for all along, even though he wanted to be there in a GC capacity.

“I didn’t really say much about it in the media,” said the 31-year-old Irishman. “With the misfortune and the crashes, it didn’t happen but that’s huge. It really means a lot.”

Miracle man Martin made history for the team with his Stage 6 victory their first one at the Tour. Two stages later though he was involved in a nasty crash that almost took him out of the race altogether.

He finished 27 minutes behind the winner, which bumped him down to 24th overall, with Martin downplaying the seriousness of a back injury he sustained, although he described his back as “looking like a pizza” afterwards.

He soldiered on and somehow climbed back into contention and the top 10 just two days later thanks to finishes of seventh and sixth on the next two stages.

It was certainly a sweet ending for Kristoff, who earned his third Tour stage win and first for four years.

The Norwegian must have been cursing his luck following a host of near misses this month. He notched two second place finishes and a third as well as being involved in the climax of six more, but finally got his dream win at the death.

Kristoff was hard on himself after the race when he said ‘to win a stage of the Tour more or less saves my season’, as his team will feel he’s been a revelation since his arrival.

But the 31-year-old has high expectations. “I’ve only had four victories up until now and this was my fifth. It’s less than I usually have at this time of the year but to win at the Tour de France makes my season more or less a success now so I’m very glad to win.” That inner drive bodes well for both rider and team.

All this, and we haven’t even mentioned Fabio Aru – the 2015 Vuelta a Espana champion and Giro d’Italia runner-up.

He is undoubtedly the team’s star turn, or should be. But he has endured a difficult start to life in his new jersey.

His talent, however, is unquestionable, and team management will be dreaming of what new ground can be broken if he returns to his very best, alongside the fully firing Martin and Kristoff.

For now, team manager Carlo Saronni and project puppeteer Mauro Gianetti should be elated that the work, effort and time being injected into the new venture is bearing fruit.

But knowing the two men – for whom cycling courses through their veins – they are dreaming of taking UAE Team Emirates to even greater heights.

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Chris Froome pays the price for over ambitious fourth Grand Tour and Giro-Tour double title tilt

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Chris Froome has every reason to want to get home after the Tour de France. His wife Michelle is due to give birth any day now, a second child for the Team Sky rider.

But when he told reporters in Laruns that he was ready for this race to be over, it was easy to think of other reasons the four-time Tour winner might have had enough.

“I have a little baby girl on the way in the next few days,” Froome said after a day of struggles in the Pyrenees. “Hopefully I make it home in time for that.

“This is now the fourth Grand Tour that I’ve raced consecutively and I’m looking forward to a bit of rest.”

A second-place finish in Saturday’s time-trial saw him claim third place overall as team-mate Geraint Thomas succeeded him as the Tour champion.

Froome has seemed genuinely happy for Thomas, but merely a place on the podium is not what he came to France for.

He was looking to win a record-equalling fifth Tour title, to complete a rare Giro-Tour double, and to win a fourth straight Grand Tour.

He arrived in France having just been cleared of wrongdoing in the Salbutamol case which had hung over him since the end of the Vuelta a Espana in September last year.

Whether it was the physical exhaustion in his legs or the emotional energy spent on a nine-month fight to clear his name – or a bit of both – Froome never looked able to impose himself on this Tour.

A late excursion into a field on the opening stage cost him 51 seconds, and he never got off the back foot for the rest of the three weeks.

Though that crash caused him the biggest single loss of time, the first real sign all was not well came five days later on the stage to Mur-de-Bretagne.

It only cost him five seconds, but Froome could not hold the wheel of Thomas on the short, steep climb to the finish.

Sky continued to insist it was just a small mistake and not a warning sign regarding his form.

Things did not improve in the Alps. Froome tried to attack late on the Alpe d’Huez, but was almost immediately shut down by Tom Dumoulin and Romain Bardet.

Such things did not used to happen to Froome but Sky stuck to their script. Wait until the third week, they said. That is when he will come good.

That good patch never came, and as they climbed the final mountain of this Tour, Froome span away on the pedals with his tongue hanging out, dropping 30 seconds behind Thomas and his rivals.

It was one of the images of the Tour to see this four-time winner on the brink of cracking completely, needing to be paced back on by the outstanding 21-year-old Egan Bernal.

None of this is to say the Froome era is over. Over the past 12 months, the 33-year-old has won three consecutive Grand Tours – a phenomenal achievement – and on his day remains the strongest General Classification rider in the world.

He has perhaps paid for over-ambition in this Tour, even if he refused to blame his Giro-Tour double attempt for his inability to keep up.

“The Giro-Tour double is still possible, maybe not this year, but this is my fourth Grand Tour in a row so to be in this position is incredible,” he said in the final days of the Tour.

Froome seems certain to skip La Vuelta now, and turn his attention to 2019.

That record-equalling fifth Tour title will surely be his focus – but he will have to prise team leadership back from Thomas to pursue it.

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