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2016 Tour de France:

Final 2016 Tour Wrap-Up

By David L. Stanley

Back to Commentary index page | 2016 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.

His latest book is Melanoma: It Started With a FreckleIf you have spent time outdoors, you should read it. Really!

In 1983, as a 22 year old Laurent Fignon rolled to his first Grand Tour victory, here in the States we lived on Samuel Abt’s New York Times dispatches from France. In 1986, we watched tape delayed video on CBS as Greg Lemond came “charging down the Champs-Elysees like a Grand Prix motorcar.” Thirty years later, we watched live in a Tour every bit as exciting as any race in the interim.
What made this Tour?

Laurent Fignon

Young Laurent Fignon racing in the 1983 Tour de France

My top 19 Tour takeaways:

Feel free to leave your thoughts on the BikeRaceInfo.com Facebook page.

1) GoPro video. As a bike racer, I’ve always struggled to explain to friends and fans what exactly is going on in the peloton. The speed, the constant risks, the battle for balance and position, the ebb and flow of riders forward and back in the group. As the Tour organizers (ASO) and the official body (UCI) have finally allowed GoPro video from the race, the sport becomes clear to the casual fan. This is not a bike ride through the neighborhood. The Tour is a battle Royale amongst 180 men, 40 motorcycles, and thousands of beer-sotted fans. It is “mayhem on the macadam.”

2) Motorcycles. The Tour needs motorbikes. No argument. But they need a different type of moto. They need 3 wheelers like the Can-Am Spyder as lead vehicles. The main failing of a moto as a lead vehicle is inherent instability. That, and people are too dumb to get out of the way. Put two Spyders out front and they’ll clear a path. According to reviews I’ve read, under a skilled driver, they handle well enough to manage alpine descents at speed. Cycling must solve the rider safety moto problem. Fans need the TV and photography. The riders need safety. Three wheelers are worth a try.

3) Behind the scenes video. Most of the teams now post daily video updates to their social media sites. If you weren’t watching Orica-Bike Exchange, you were missing some of the best stuff. But all of them are good. We like sneak peeks. Check out the stuff on YouTube. You’ll not be disappointed.

Per Pederson, Denmark, was a fine rider. He raced from 1986 to 1993, finished four Tours de France, and also rode strongly in the 1984 LA Games road race. He was once asked how the Tour went:

“First week, you feel good. Second week, you lose strength. Third week? You’re F&#@ed.”

With that in mind, let’s talk about the men and the race proper.

4) Chapeau to Irishman Sam (not George) Bennett. A fine sprinter for Bora-Argon 18, he crashed horribly on Stage 1 into Utah Beach. He never fully recovered yet managed to make every time cut in the mountains. He may have finished DFL, but that’s kilometers ahead of every fine cyclist who didn’t make his team’s cut for the 9 spots on the Tour team. Ditto for the 23 other men who didn’t get to Paris. Mazel Tov, Sam. Comhghairdeas!

Sam Bennett

Sam Bennett wins a stage in this year's Crieterium International

5) A record number of men made it Paris. 198 started. 174 finished. That’s a lot of guys who chose to suffer instead of inventing an intestinal ailment or a fever or a more pressing engagement.

6) Five USA riders started. All five got to Paris.

We raise ’em tough here in the US.

7) Mark Cavendish. He’s back. Riding for a Dimension Data team bereft of a sprint train, the Missile took four stage wins. He now has 30 career victories, second on the all-time list, and just 4 wins behind Eddy Merckx. At age 31, he still has a few more years as an elite sprinter. He left the Tour before the Alps’ stages to fine-tune his preparation for the Olympic velodrome races. The smart money is on Cav to podium in Rio. Looking further ahead, with a flat parcours in Doha, Qatar for the 2016 World Championships, Mr. Cavendish could snag a Triple Crown of stage wins, Rio gold, and the rainbow jersey in the desert.

8) Adam Yates. Who saw this coming? The 23 year old Brit from Bury was the first UK rider to claim the white jersey and missed the podium by only 21 seconds. He can climb and his time trial (18th in the flat time trial, 3:01 behind Froome), whilst decent, will improve as he gets older and stronger. Yes, he won the Clasica San Sebastian last year, but it is a long way from a victory in a hilly classic to near-podium status in only one’s second Grand Tour. A member of the British Olympic team, the punchy climbs of the Rio course may suit him down to the ground. A man for the future? No, he’s already here.

Adam Yates

Adam Yates

9) Romain Bardet. 1985. Most of the riders in this year’s Tour had not yet been born when a Frenchman last wore the maillot jaune in Paris. It was Bernard Hinault thirty-one years ago who won the race when Greg Lemond was ordered to wait on a climb for a staggered Hinault. This led to a famous Greg moment. As Lemond was arguing post-race with team director Paul Koechli about those “wait for Bernie” orders, a nosy fan wandered by to lend Greg support. This led to Greg saying to said fan, “Do you want to get punched in the face?” But I digress.
Bardet is the real deal. He can climb with the very best. He is audacious. He will attack, and attack again, and is one of the very few not intimidated by the forces of SKYnet. His mountain time trial saw him 5th, just 42 seconds behind Froome. His flat time trial saw him in 3:52, 30th place. If he is to challenge for the top step, his team will have him in the wind tunnel in search of his own marginal gains. In the meantime, he rides with panache, is much loved by the French, and at age 25, as he races for the French team AG2R La Mondiale, he probably can drink for free in any bistro. Romain Bardet - A New Hope. Next year, we shall see if The Force Awakens.

10) Team Tinkoff. Oleg is polarizing in a way that no team owner in pro cycling has ever been. He calls out his riders. He’s not afraid of spending money. His assessment of cycling’s economic model as a failure is spot on. Like many billionaire owners in a variety of sports, he is smarter than the people who run the sport. And most likely, far harder working. He is also an infuriation, and not afraid to spit in the soup. I’m sad to see him go.

11) Alberto Contador. I’m always sad to see AC leave a race. He takes chances. He’s got the smarts and the motor to make attacks that matter. He is one tough sumbitch. He crashed hard. And then he crashed again. And he soldiered on until he truly couldn’t. I’d love to see him win the Vuelta, and add one more Grand Tour to his palmares. This year’s race missed his cojones.

Alberto Contador

Alberto Contador abandons during stage 9

12) Rafal Majka. The 27 year old Pole was as dominant in winning the polka dot jersey as Sagan was in his winning the green jersey. Majka took 209 points. In second, Lotto-Soudal’s Thomas de Gendt could grab only 130, and the rising star Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling) was just behind at 121. A crushing performance.

13) Peter Sagan. He’s dashing. He’s funny (check him on twitter @petosagan) or watch his videos. He’s far too handsome. None of this would mean anything on the bike without his once in a generation skill set. What matters is that he is the best all-round rider of this century. He can climb with all but a few men. He is as fast in a sprint as any man on a bike. He reads races well. He is not afraid to take a dare. My favorite moment? He hooks up with yellow jersey Chris Froome in stage 11 with 10 km to go. Oh, he won the stage, too. One of three stage wins to go along with his green jersey. Did you know he spent three days in yellow? You knew that he won the maillot vert. Did you know he had twice the points (470 points) of second place Marcel Kittel (228 points)?

He is an extraordinary bike handler. Nose wheelie over a crash? No problem? Back wheelie in victory? Roger that. You did know that he’s racing mountain bikes in the Olympics? Unibet makes him at 5-1 for gold in the men’s MTB race. That’s third favorite.

You did see him in the closing sprint? Nearing 40 mph, his back wheel, then his front wheel, skipped perhaps 12-18 inches sideways on a Champs-Elysees paint stripe as he closed on stage winner Andre Greipel. Here, see for yourself.

14) Oleg Tinkov is leaving the sport for a while at season’s end. He says he’ll be back with a “big, new project” when Froome retires. His parting quote, “I’m very pleased with our Tour. We had three days in yellow, three stage wins, the polka dot jersey and the green jersey. I could not expect more from my last Tour.”
Hurry back, Olly. The sport needs you. 

15) Team SKY. During the 1970s, the Pittsburgh Steelers of American football had a defense so crushing they were called “The Steel Curtain.” While the team did have a fine offense, it was their ability to snuff out their opponents that gave them NFL Super Bowl titles in 1974, 1975, 1978, and 1979.

So it was with The SKY Curtain. They crushed everyone. With many of the world’s top riders on the team to assist the world’s finest rider, it was nearly impossible to attack Froome’s fortress. The climb would start. Forty men would be in the group; SKY would set a devastating tempo. 8 km later, the group would be down to 15. 4 km later, down to 6… two SKY men, Poels and Geraint, perhaps, maybe Henao and Nieve, plus Froome, plus Majka and whoever else could hang on. It was an awesome sight to see those jerseys hammering away at the front. What was even more inspiring was that Froome was always right there. Whilst his guys made the tempo, Froome was clearly strong enough to keep the tempo going. The SKY Curtain. You’re welcome.

Team Sky

Froome and the Steel Curtain

16) No one will ever forget Froome’s attack on the descent of Peyresourde. Audacious, ballsy, madcap; choose whatever you like, it was an inspired piece of race tactics rarely seen by a GC contender. What great climber attacks on the way down a climb? The name is Froome. Chris Froome.

17) What about the stage eleven attack with 12 km to go into Montpelier? There goes Sagan with teammate Maciej Bodnar.  “Hey Peto!! I’m on my way!!!” and there goes Froome and teammate Geraint Thomas. They cranked the amplifiers to 11 and rode to a stunning victory. What great climber joins a last chance attack by a sprinter? Ah, yes, Mr. Froome, we’ve been waiting for you. 

18)  Chaos on Ventoux. High winds forced the finish of the race down about 6 km from the peak. This brought thousands of spectators down as well. The crowd barricades were inadequate. The security escort was also inadequate. This takes me back to point #2. Motos are not the best choice for crowd control.

As a result, we had the horror: riders rear-end a motorcycle, then each other, then another moto rear-ends the cyclists, bikes break, support vehicles unable to reach riders, subsequent carnage.

There is no excuse. This whole scenario was 100% avoidable and 100% the race organizers fault. Had not the race jury exercised prudent wisdom (and how often does that happen?), it would have changed the outcome of the race in Paris. The egregious lack of preparation by the ASO would have allowed fans and motos, not the skills and fitness of the riders, to determine the podium. Shameful. But not a surprise.

Did you ever doubt that Froome was dedicated to “win or die trying?” He ran up the Ventoux until he could get a bike to replace the one shattered in the crash. For the record, I thought that Froome showed pretty fair form, especially for a guy running up an 8% grade in a pair of Sidi Shots. 

Chris Froome

Froome running up the Ventoux

19)  Sallanches to Megeve. In only 17 km, Froome showed us that as the road goes up, he becomes Gozar the Destroyer. He took 30 seconds or more out of all the men who mattered. My dad is 85, and since I started racing bikes in 1979, has become a student of the sport. As Froome closed down gaps on everyone ahead, a message appeared on my laptop: “He’s the perfect rider. Look at that. Nothing moves. Just legs. He’s perfect. This race is over, isn’t it?”

Yes, Dad, the race was over.

Chris Froome

Over, indeed.

Did the Tour have a moment like Greg and Laurent in 1986? No, and it won’t have that again. The sport has changed dramatically. Today, it is not enough to prepare one GC leader and one lieutenant per team. In this modern era, the team that wins will be coached by a group that is best able to bring an entire nine-man team, well-balanced for the flats and the climbs, to the peak of fitness for 23 days in July. Team SKY figured it out first. It’s up to the rest to implement their own systems if they wish to challenge for the podium’s top step. It was a thrilling Tour, filled with great exploits as well as pathos. As I write this on Sunday evening, I wonder what I’ll do Monday morning.
Maybe I’ll go for a ride.