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2017 Tour de France post race analysis: the questions edition

The top-10 and the winning/losing teams

The 104th edition of the Tour de France is in the books. The race was crash-marred and had moments of controversy. By the final week, transfer rumours were swirling and both fans and pundits were anticipating the Vuelta a España. Chris Froome won. It all seemed quite familiar except for the lack of Canadians.

Canadian Cycling Magazine looks back at the 2017 Tour by asking a few questions, including one for each rider in the top-10.

1) Chris Froome (Great Britain/Sky) 85:55:16
How many more Tour titles can he win? His was not a dominating win this season, but a very controlled one, as he became the seventh rider to win the Tour de France without having taken a stage. It’s apparent that the strength of his team is one of the main factors to his success, so as long as Sky has deep pockets, he’s gold.

No one has won four Tours without winning a fifth. Photo credit: Stefano Sirotti

2) Rigoberto Uran (Colombia/Cannondale) +0:54
Where has he been hiding the last two seasons? Uran was the biggest surprise of the Tour de France, giving a great, cool performance that might have been even better if he hadn’t just followed wheels in the Alps.

I listed him not as one of the big favourites, but as one of the Others in my contenders preview in late June, because you can’t count out a fellow who was Giro d’Italia runner-up in both 2013 and 2014. But over the past two years a third in the 2015 Tirreno-Adriatico was his best stage race result and seventh in last year’s Giro his best Grand Tour accomplishment. Surely this Mick Jagger impersonator can win a WorldTour stage race after his highest achievement.

3) Romain Bardet (France/AG2R) +2:20
Can he actually win a Tour de France? Bardet, along with Thibaut Pinot who is now resigned to stage win aspirations, has been the Big French Hope over the past three years. The French are dying for someone to emerge who can break this horrific 32-year streak of Gallic futility in their home tour.

His race—until the appalling final time trial—was sterling, full of attacking panache. But he could not crack Froome. The image of him clutching his head in what looked almost like existential anguish atop Izoard after only taking a few bonus seconds from his rival was poignant, as telling as his shellshocked visage after the shambolic chrono.

Although Bardet has many years of his prime to go, one might suspect that his career is going to be marked by frustration at never winning the Tour no matter how much his time trialing improves. Quelle dommage.

4) Mikel Landa (Spain/Sky) +2:21
What if? Finally Landa showed the kind of strength that earned him a Giro podium in 2015. Except for a win in last year’s Giro Trentino, he seemed a little lost in his first year at Sky. However, after a decent Giro in May (note to Nairo Quintana and Pinot—doing well at both is possible) where he took the climber’s jersey, Landa was one of the best ascenders in France.

Although there were questions about his loyalty after the Peyragudes stage, Landa was on the trolley as far as Sky’s Froome-centric objectives. How high would he have flown if let out of the cage? If he transfers next season we may get to find out.

5) Fabio Aru (Italy/Astana) +3:05
Will he consider this a success? Aru ran rampant through the Grand Tours in 2014 and 2015 with a 3rd in the Giro and 5th in the Vuelta followed the next year with a runner-up spot in Italy and the Vuelta title. His debut at the Tour last season was a mediocre one, with 13th his final position. Aru missed the Giro with a knee injury.

Aru had three things working against him after he took a famous win on Stage 5 and then pulled on the yellow jersey after Peyragudes. First, his bloodless capitulation at Rodez showed a shocking lack of savvy. Certainly bronchitis in the latter half of the race hampered him, even though he fought bravely. But what really handicapped him was how weak Astana was.

Without Critérium du Dauphiné winner Jakob Fuglsang, one of many crash victims, Aru was exposed. This lack of depth derives for the most part from injuries: Angel Lopez is still getting into shape after missing racing until June, Tanel Kangert crashed out of the Giro, and one of the best riders of this unfortunate squad, Michele Scarponi, was killed in April.

I think Aru will take heart from this Tour and come back stronger next time.

Fabio Aru pulled on the yellow for the first time in his career. Photo credit: Stefano Sirotti

6) Dan Martin (Ireland/Quick Step) +4:42
Was there anyone gutsier in the top-10 besides Bardet? Sixth is Martin’s best Grand Tour result. And it could have been even better. Having been dealt a big blow on Stage 9 after getting run over by Richie Porte, Martin fought boldly to make the podium over the next two weeks, seemingly always on the attack to take back time. Ultimately, he couldn’t stop Mikel Landa from stealing his fifth spot and then disappearing into the distance, and not just because of Stage 16’s crosswinds.

Like Bardet complaining about Uran’s lack of initiative in the Alps, Martin seemed irked by the others’ lack of attacking. He is due another WorldTour stage race win and will add one to his 2013 Volta Ciclista a Catalunya title if he keeps up his fearless style.

7) Simon Yates (Great Britain/Orica-Scott) 6:14
Can we have another Yates twins Tour de France. please? After Adam won the best young rider competition last season while coming fourth, it was almost preordained that Simon would follow suit this year, and Yates had main competitior Louis Meintjes’ number from Day 1. Yates was on the attack more often than Meintjes and crumbled in the mountains a little later as well.

In 2015 the Yates brothers were both on Orica’s Tour squad and neither of them did particularly well, but since then the have rolled up 4th, 6th, 7th and 9th spots in Grand Tours between them. If Orica would take a chance and include the Yates twins and Esteban Chaves in a Tour squad, there would be fireworks.

8) Louis Meintjes (South Africa/UAE-Emirates) 8:20
Can this Grand Tour top-10 fixture get on a podium? Meintjes first emerged on cycling’s radar in the 2015 Vuelta when he placed 10th as a member of MTN-Qhubeka. Since then he’s earned two 8th places in the Tour. But can he become more than just a default top-10 rider, a Roman Kreuziger or Robert Gesink?

He wasn’t particularly lively in this race, and could only follow wheels. His UAE-Emirates teammates took up the peloton pace-making when Alberto Contador was up the road threatening Meintjes’ position. Meintjes is adequate in the time trials, tying his white jersey rival Yates in the final chrono, both of them a little faster than Nairo Quintana and Martin.

So we might expect the South African to be another Haimar Zubeldia of the Grand Tours: always there with consistent performances but never in the thick of the action.

9) Alberto Contador (Spain/Trek-Segafredo) 8:49
Is this goodbye? Ninth place is the worst Tour de France showing of Contador’s career. Last year he was set for retirement until a series of good results, including a Pais Vasco win, encouraged him to continue.

Plagued by crashes, he displayed flashes of the old derring-do this July–the move he made with Quintana on Stage 13 to Foix almost seemed nostalgic–but he’s clearly on the downside of his powers. He has said if he can’t vie for Grand Tour wins he’ll retire. Most likely we have seen the last of El Pistolero in the Tour de France.

Is this adios for Contador? Photo credit: Stefano Sirotti

10) Warren Barguil (France/Sunweb) 9:25
Was the most combative award necessary with all his other prizes? What a year Sunweb is having. First the German-registered team earned the Giro win and then claimed two of the four jerseys: Barguil’s polka dots and Michael Matthews’ green points jersey, the battle for which was wildly engrossing until Marcel Kittel crashed out.

Barguil ran a very close second to Bardet in the race for the French public’s heart, winning two stages, running away with the polka dots and finishing 10th. Wow.

But surely the most combative prize should have gone to Belgian Thomas De Gendt of awardless Lotto-Soudal. The man spent 1,280 kilometers in escapes, placed third in the KOM and sixth in the points competition. With so many teams getting bupkus (see below) out of this Tour, the judges could have spread around the accolades a little.

Who were the winning/losing teams?
Clearly the Sky machine was the strongest in the Tour, dominating the pace and winning the team prize. Mikel Landa was outstanding, and one hopes that he finds a team where he can be the main man. Michal Kwiatkowski was also magnificent, reminding us of the 11th place he earned in the 2013 edition while with Quick Step. It’s a team so strong that it’s stifling.

AG2R, with a third of Sky’s budget, was able to challenge Sky’s authority on a few occasions, notably Stages 9 and 15. AG2R’s influence translated into a second place in the team competition, only 7:14 in arrears of Sky. The two squads were miles ahead of third place Trek.

Sunweb‘s accomplishments have already been listed above. The team bossed the peloton when Matthews was chasing Kittel. Both the men’s and women’s sides are gunning it this year.

BMC has one of the biggest budgets in the WorldTour and got nothing but a quiet 11th place from Damiano Caruso out of this race. Porte’s crash and abandonment seemed to take all the wind out of the squad’s sails and Greg van Avermaet couldn’t send them billowing again.

Movistar‘s Plan A was sluggish, while Alejandro Valverde, Plan B, crashed out on the first day. Quintana’s second place on Stage 13 was the closest Movistar came to a win. The team wasn’t its sharpest–it’s hard to believe Andrey Amador once took a 4th in the Giro. Perhaps a bright spot was Carlos Betancur, whose 18th is his second best Grand Tour result.

Katusha also has a big budget and had nothing to show at the end. Tony Martin and Alexander Kristoff simply couldn’t deliver. This squad needs more than Ilnur Zakarin for Grand Tours.