Cannondale Pro Cycling suffered a huge loss early in the Tour de France when Ted King had to leave after a number of crashes. We were sad to see him go home but he deserves some major kudos for the hard work put in over the first ten stages. Although he is no longer in the Peloton, Ted was kind enough to share his perspective on the Tour with only a few stages to go. See what he has to say as he watches teammates, friends and competitors make their way towards Paris.
Stage 18… It’s nice to see all the work from Astana and then let Nibali go out on his own.
Horner. Substory there: taking some pride back from Vuelta.
Pinot and Tejay up…
Valverde suffering way down into 4th. What about his move between mountains?
You’re told beforehand just how big the Tour de France is. As a rider, you’re warned by veterans before you that it’s something massive, unlike anything else you’ve done before. At the peak of your physical fitness, you arrive expecting something big. Something enormous. Something monumental. And somehow it still supersedes expectations!
If you could mishmash the Super Bowl, the World Series, and maybe toss in a hefty dose of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, then spread it over the course of three weeks, that’s scratching the surface of the Tour.
One of the most fascinating attributes of this nearly month-long spectacle is the countless stories that comprise the Tour. The entire race is one legendary epic tale, made up of an interwoven series of stories told by every rider in the race. Each person on that start line has a fascinating story they want to tell — some large, some small, some featuring heroes and villains, and still others just trying to quietly survive. My story of the Tour was spun across England, Belgium, and France yet was just shy of half the Tour in length. It featured ten stages, all ten with turbulent weather (and some that were just downright biblical), millions upon millions of adoring fans; it showcased nasty crashes, hours of work, highs and lows, and one nasty case of bronchitis. Ahh yes, and one rogue #TDFselfie. That was my story to tell.
In truth, Vincenzo Nibali wrapped up the Tour nearly two weeks ago on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. As a result, the story of the yellow jersey has not been terribly interesting. Admittedly, it would have been a considerably more riveting battle for yellow with Contador and Froome still in the race (not to mention King), but the ease with which Nibali has stretched his lead to over seven minutes in the general classification, the dominance of his Astana team, not to mention his incredible bike handling skills, have put him securely in the lead. Plus I think we can agree that a prominent yellow jersey is far better to look at than the Italian red, white, and green tricolore sandwiched between Astana’s aqua blue.
You can see the tremendous trust Vincenzo has in his team by allowing the breakaway to swell from just two riders up to ten times that number. As someone racing for Peter who often has the leader’s jersey himself, I can attest that controlling the size of a breakaway is no easy task. It’s a job made exponentially more difficult on a day like today which, so late in the race, is effectively the last day for riders to stretch the legs and create some buzz. You can trust that 90% of the peloton had “GET IN THE BREAKAWAY” as a crucial part of their team’s pre-race meetings.
So it nearly goes without saying that the French riders wanted to shine on home territory today, which is why you see virtually half the breakaway hailing from France. Bryan Coquard was one of three riders from EuropeCar making the escape (no coincidence that all three are French) in order to chase down a few more intermediate sprint points. Coquard is a great example of having a story to tell; simply to finish second behind Peter in the fight for the green jersey is a very impressive feat. Having personally raced both for and against Sagan in my career, I can tell you that when he’s hungry for something, he usually gets it. Second to Peter in the green jersey classification is a tremendous honor for the young Frenchman.
Similarly, you see when the breakaway hit the slopes of the Tourmalet, immediately another Frenchman, Sylvain Chavanel, immediately went on the attack. He likely knew his time in the spotlight was due to be brief, but especially on home turf it’s better to go out in a fit of glory than to fizzle away and not be seen. Next, you saw Sky trying to salvage something from a Tour they would seemingly like to forget altogether. The Spaniard Nieve quickly caught and passed Chavanel; as the race snaked through the Pyrenees, very close to Nieve’s homeland of Spain, he was eager to make a move.
As these groups of ones and twos were caught by the ever charging diminishing peloton, one of the most fascinating stories for me was Horner going on the attack. Trying to garner a result after an injury-plagued first half of the year and a quiet race for Lampre, Chris leapt away… but only briefly. Vincenzo next bid farewell to all of his rivals — presumably after thanking his team for a tireless day at the office — and immediately was on Horner’s wheel. After what seemed like just seconds, the Italian stomped away, stone faced, as if to say,
You may have beat me in the Vuelta last year, amico. You’re getting no glory today. This Tour is mine!
(But of course in Italian, and yes, I can say all of that in fluent Italian.)
And likely the most gripping story of today’s stage 18 of the Tour was the battle for the rest of the podium behind the impossible to beat Nibali. A curious move by Movistar’s Valverde who attacked between the two massive climbs of the day was that of desperation. He knew he just didn’t have it in the tank, especially with such a brutal finish, so he took a page out of Chavanel’s book and went on the attack at least to show he was strong (or perhaps hoping that the hail mary would work), before dropping two massive spots on GC and off the podium.
So many stories comprise the Tour. Vincenzo’s dominance, Tejay’s resurgence and still nipping at the podium, the revival of the French. And given how this Tour has spun the previous two-and-a-half weeks, naturally it featured some damp weather too. And that was just one day of a three week race.
What’s your perspective?
Share your favorite stories, stages and predictions in the comments below.