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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After a 109-year wait for a British Tour de France winner, we've now had six in the last seven years

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You wait 109 years for a British winner of the Tour de France, then three come along at once.

But though Geraint Thomas now joins Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome in standing on the top step of the podium in Paris, between them winners of six of the last seven Tours, this is a different story.

Wiggins and Froome were the undisputed leaders of Sky in each of their wins – with the brief moment that Froome dropped Wiggins in 2012 before sitting up a talking point that lingers to this day.

The first British-born winner of the Tour represents a victory, if not for the underdog, then for the worker bee finally allowed a moment in the sun.

Thomas rode in support of Froome in each of his four Tour victories, and arrived in France this summer with most expecting he would end up doing the same again.

As Froome and Sir Dave Brailsford fielded the questions of the world’s media at their press conference on the eve of the race, Thomas spent much of the time staring into space. He was not even asked to speak until the event broke into smaller huddles.

Sir Bradley Wiggins was the first British winner of the Tour de France in 2012.

Sir Bradley Wiggins was the first British winner of the Tour de France in 2012.

But Thomas had other ideas. He had prepared himself to race as Team Sky’s leader – a possibility that could well have arisen as Froome’s Salbutamol case lingered over the first half of the season.

When Froome was finally cleared, just days before the Tour began, Thomas was not ready simply to drop back into a supporting role.

He was here to race, adamant that the leadership picture would be settled in the Alps.

We were all guilty of not truly listening to him as he outlined his vision of contending for victory. Sure, they might both start as protected riders, but such is Froome’s calibre in this race, it seemed that if leadership questions were to be settled on the road, they would only go one way.

Thomas knew better. By the time the race reached the mountains, he was the man in front, and his back-to-back victories in La Rosiere and Alpe d’Huez had stamped his authority on the race.

Sky continued at that point to insist that nothing had changed, that Froome would come good in the third week.

Either they were bluffing or they got it wrong regarding the four-time Tour winner, who simply could not match the strength being shown by Thomas.

By the second rest day, the picture seemed set, and Froome began to discuss the possibility of riding for the man who for so long had served as his domestique.

Chris Froome continued Sky's dominance of the race, winning in 2013 and three times in a row from 2015-17.

Chris Froome continued Sky’s dominance of the race, winning in 2013 and three times in a row from 2015-17.

Thomas raced smartly. The first week of the Tour was designed to throw up obstacles for those chasing yellow and duly did, but Thomas emerged unscathed, dodging the crashes and even scooping up bonus seconds to elevate himself above the other contenders.

It was the start of a pattern. In all Thomas scooped up 33 bonus seconds in this Tour. Take away those and give back Dumoulin the 20 seconds he was penalised for drafting off a team car, and things would have been much more nervous going into Saturday’s time trial.

There was one brief wobble on Saturday, when Thomas’ wheel threatened to slip from under him with 19km of the General Classification fight remaining.

It was the kind of moment where you might have expected Thomas, who has a perhaps unfair reputation for being crash-prone, to let it all slip away and add the most significant entry yet to his lengthy list of mishaps.

Not this time. Thomas has paid his dues many times over. Now he gets his reward.

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