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David L. Stanley

2015 Tour de France: July 27
21 Takeaways from the 2015 Tour de France

Back to Commentary index page | 2015 Tour de France

David Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). He blogs regularly for Dads Roundtable. Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes.

21 Takeaways from the 2015 Tour de France

1) To win the Tour, you need a supremely gifted rider and a group of men 100% dedicated to his success. There is no substitute for talent. In each iteration of the Tour, there are very few men who are capable of a Tour de France win.

a) He must have the genetic potential. No amount of training and marginal gains can compensate for pure genetic gifts. He must have the innate O2 abilities, the power to weight ratio, the metabolism, the recovery, and the willingness to embrace the pain before he can even think of a win in the Tour.

b) He must have the mental abilities to withstand the media scrutiny and the leadership abilities to inspire his team.

c) If you manage a team, and want to win the Tour, you must find that man. You do whatever it takes to get him, and support him, and keep him on your team.

2) It doesn’t hurt to spend your youth at altitude. Chris Froome’s Nairobi is 5,900 feet above sea level. Nairo Quintana’s Combita, Colombia is at 8525 feet. Alejandro Valverde’s Las Lumbreras is at 1,500 feet. Yes, Vincenzo Nibali comes from the ocean’s edge in Messina at 1 foot above sea level, but you gotta take the odds. Altitude matters.

Nairo Quintana

Nairo Quintana on the attack in stage 19

3) Go to Africa. Now. Eritrea’s capital city of Asmara sits at 7,628 feet above sea level. The young men in Africa who now race bikes are ready to be coached. They are keen for sporting success. Bernard Hinault, who knows a bit about bike racing, visits Africa frequently. He says to anyone who will listen that Africa is the next big thing in bike racing, and the next great champion is as likely to come from Africa as anywhere else in the world.

4) Know your core competency and leverage the bejeebers out of it. If you want a successful Tour, you need to identify your core strength and do everything possible to build around it. When I hear a director say, “Well, we have Bueno and Hora for the climbs, Mitten can time trial and get in breaks, and we have Schmidt for the sprints,” I know this is team that will have little success. Not every team can have a true GC contender. However, you can identify an area where success is possible, and work towards that goal. Jonathon Vaughters successfully built his Slipstream-Chipotle squads for the team time trial. Lotto-Soudal rode the entire Tour 2015 based on the skills of Andre Greipel and was rewarded with four stage victories, the most by any team.

5) Crashes happen. But not as much as you think. The Tour has tracked crashes only since 1999. In the past fifteen years, the average tour rider crashed 1.9 times. With Week III data still to be collated, the average for Tour 2015 was 1.7 crashes/rider. What has happened is that on-bike cameras and an increased number of helicopter cameras have taken us deeper inside the race. Since we see more crash footage, we think there are more crashes. But we’d be wrong.

6) Disaster mitigation is a key. Tour riders get sick. Paradoxically, moderate amounts of exercise increase our immunity, but the stress of racing the Tour significantly depresses immune function. There is a clear and tenable link between extreme endurance activity and immune suppression. Just like with NASA, teams need redundancy protection. When Richie Porte was ailing, SKY had Geraint Thomas and Luke Rowe to support Chris Froome. When Thomas went down, Porte and Wouter Poels were ready to step in. Without those men at the ready, Froome would have been on the second step in Paris.

7) Geraint Thomas was the Tour’s MVP. He withstood everything the competition threw at him to be at his captain’s side. He survived a crash, caused by Warren “Argy” Barguil, at speed into a telephone pole. He rode to the limit for Froome, and with his fourth place in the G.C. throughout Weeks 1 and 2, he nearly rode himself onto the podium. How tough is Thomas? Don’t forget he supported Froome’s first victory in 2013 with a fractured pelvis. He could not get on or off his bike without help, but he was at Froome’s side. I’d like to see Sir Geraint ride the Vuelta or Giro, with SKY’s full support, as captain.

8) If your team has a GC contender, you can lose the race in Week 1. Think back to stage 2 between Utrecht and Zélande. It was wet and windy. The Movistars, in their only tactical blunder of the race, failed to get into the front echelons. Nairo Quintana lost 1:28 in the rain on stage 2. What was the final gap between Froome and Quintana in Paris?

One minute and twelve seconds.

9) Get an early lead and defend it at all costs.  The Tour was won on Stage 10. We all saw what happened. Team Sky had the strongest team in the race. Three of the eight men left in the break at crunch-time were SKYs. At the post-race presser, Geraint Thomas said, “Froomey told us he felt strong. He said, ‘Hey, let’s crush it and see what happens.’” Movistar was never able to catch up.

10) On-bike cameras and rider telemetry are the greatest things to hit the Tour since motorcycle coverage was added in 1952. With the cameras, the casual fan got a glimpse into the power of the riders, their extraordinary bike-handling skills, and yes, the pain of a 55 kph crash onto the tarmac. With the data, we knew:

11) It is time to add names and permanent numbers to riders’ kit. If I say “Chicago Bulls, 23” you say, “Michael Jordan.” If you’re a NASCAR fan, you may have a #88 in the back window to tell the world you’re a Dale, Jr. guy. Cycling needs the same thing. Our sport depends 100% on the advertisers, and by extension, the people who purchase the products. Heading up the Alpe-d’Huez, you should have seen thousands of fans wearing T-shirts and hats and waving banners and foam fingers, all with a gigantic MOVISTAR 51 on them for Nairo.
You go anywhere in the world, step into an English-themed pub, and I’ll buy you a half and half if you don’t see at least one person in a Rooney #10 Man U. shirt. Come on JV, Brailsford, Oleg, Ochowicz, let’s get with the program!

12) Nairo will win the Tour by 2017. You need to first lose the Tour, before you can win it. Nairo’s 2013 second place was well-earned, but that year, he was never a contender to Froome. But this year was a loss for Nairo. He had Froome scared. Froome said the 110 km to the top of Alpe-d’Huez felt like 300 km. Froome also said “I died 1000 times on the climb.” He wasn’t kidding. Never before has Froome been so on the rivet and in such deep difficulty. But for stage 2, Nairo (see #8) may well have won it all this year. Nairo - Él es de verdad. (He’s for real.)

13) I fear for the safety of the riders and the public. Many years ago, it was Eddy Merckx getting gut punched. Several years ago, it was tacks on the road. This year, it was beer and urine and punches being tossed at the Team SKY riders. It was a drunken teen and his buddies crashing through a barricade on the Champs-Elysees. I am certain that the French have massive security in place of which the general public is not aware. But I’m still frightened that a tragedy awaits us in the Tour de France: The Atlanta Olympics Centennial Park bombing, the Boston Marathon bombing. Please, let’s not add the Tour to the list.

14) It bothers the heck out of me that in the US, coverage of the women’s one day race did not exist. Women’s racing is exciting. These women, like the men, exist at the extreme upper echelon of the sport. They train as hard as the guys. They crash as hard as the guys. They remount their bikes and keep racing like the guys. They race to their limits like the guys. They sell product for their sponsors like the guys. Let’s celebrate their talents like the guys. NBCSports, you intercoursed the penguin with this one.

Anna Van der Bruggen

Anna Van der Bruggen wins La Course by La Tour de France

15) The Tour is always tough. This year’s was especially so. 198 men started the race. Only 16 men finished the race within one hour of Froome’s 84 hours 45 minutes elapsed time. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) claimed 16th place whilst trailing by 38:52. Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff) was in 17th place, a full one hour and three minutes behind the winner.

16) Attrition is a fact of Tour life. 22 teams of nine men each, a total of 198 racers, started in Utrecht. By the last stage, only 160 men signed on for the race around the Arc d’Triomphe. Tour2015 claimed a 20% loss rate in 23 days. Only 2 teams finished the race at full strength: Europcar and Lotto-Jumbo. Bora-Argon 18 suffered the most. They were down to five racers by Paris. SKY, on the other hand, lost only one. Movistar lost three. Might that have been a difference maker for SKY?

17) There is a myth that when it comes to climbing, sprinters are lazy. Unless you want to claim that when it comes to sprinting, climbers are lazy, it is time to put this one to bed. In order to climb successfully, one must be lungs and legs. Mostly lungs, because the muscle mass on a great climber is pared down to essentials. In order to sprint successfully, one needs the muscle mass required to spin a huge 53x11 gear at 115 rpm and hit 43 mph. That’s not just leg muscle-it’s a highly coordinated short term explosion between ripped arms, flaring back muscles, and massive legs. The very strength that creates blitzkrieg speed is 180 degrees opposed to the needs of climbing. Sprinters are going darn hard on the climbs; they’re just not going as fast as the pure climbers. Just like you wouldn’t compare Usain Bolt with Haile Gebrselassie, it’s time to stop comparing Nairo Quintana with Mark Cavendish.

18) Speaking of blitzkrieg, German racers claimed 6 of the 21 stages. That’s 29%. Andre Greipel took four stages. Tony Martin grabbed one, and Simon Geschke took a glorious victory in Pra-Loup. Ausgezeichnet, indeed.

André Greipel wins stage 21 of the 2015 Tour de France

19) It’s the course.  There were great riders, on their best form, in this year’s race, but the ASO did a stellar job with the route. Wind, cobbles, long climbs, puncheur climbs; the race was thrilling from day one. Once into the Alps, we were treated to two intense races in every stage as the day’s leaders, out of the GC hunt, battled for stage wins. Meanwhile, the GC men battled amongst themselves ten minutes behind. I’ve been a Tour watcher since 1985, and I cannot recall a Tour that was so engrossing from start to finish. Well, there was that 1989 race…

20) We will continue to talk about doping. It is a sad fact of sporting life. We will not distance the sport from this conversation for many years. The reeking legacy of HWSNBN® will continue to be a malodorous miasma. We all remember the “I’ve never failed a drug test.” The truth of that statement hovers over cycling like the morning breath of a dog that eats its own excrement. SKY and Froome handled themselves as well as possible. I am an optimist, but I am also a realist. I wrote about this in August, 2102.

21) Twenty-one stages, twenty-one takeaways. In closing, a word of praise for the Lanterne Rouge. Last placed this year was FDJ’s Sébastien Chavanel. He finished just under five hours behind Chris Froome, 4:56:59 in arrears. That puts him days ahead of the thirty men who were unable to reach Paris. It puts him a lifetime ahead of the other fine cyclists not chosen to be amongst their teams’ nine rider squads. When you struggle every day to make the time limit, when there are so many chances to quit, when there are 18 more kilometers of climbing to go, and you are desperate to make one more kilometer, you’ve accomplished something. For men fighting at the very top of the GC, or the other classifications, it is a touch easier to dig as deep as possible. When there is nothing tangible for which to fight, yet you fight on, that’s when the valor of the Tour de France glows brightest.

Chapeau, Sebastien. Chapeau!

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