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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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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