The 2016 Tour de France will be remembered, above all, for the manner in which Chris Froome and his Team Sky stamped their superiority on the world’s most grueling and prestigious road race. When he crossed the final finish line in Paris on Sunday, 4 minutes and 5 seconds ahead of the second-place Romain Bardet of France, the 31-year-old Froome became the first British rider to win the Tour three times and the first man in more than two decades to defend his title.
His title was not only well deserved, but it seemed inevitable as early as Stage 8, when he donned the race leader’s yellow jersey for the first time. He never relinquished it thereafter. Froome overcame several crashes, including one with a camera motorcycle that had been blocked by spectators near the top of Mont Ventoux, to prove his resilience and his will to win. But the one stage that illustrated his vast superiority was Stage 18, a 17km uphill time trial in the Alps, which he won easily – by 21 seconds, a considerable margin in such a short time trial.
Froome was so much the class of the field that he finished second in the other time trial, 37.5km over relatively flat going, and was never truly challenged in the four Alpine stages that marked the Tour’s final week. Not only was Froome the best climber and one of the fastest time trailers in the race, he also had the most discipline and fittest team. If some challenger, such as Bardet or Colombia’s Nairo Quintana, did put him to the test, his Team Sky teammates always disarmed the challenge, working like a relentless machine to control any and all breakaways that menaced his position.
In winning the Tour de France’s green jersey for the fifth consecutive time and being named the race’s most combative rider, Slovak Peter Sagan cemented his place among the world’s road-racing elite. Sagan showed his class particularly at the finish line of Stage 16. After a grueling 209 kilometers, Sagan seemed beaten with just inches to go, but he had the strength and presence of mind to thrust his bicycle forward, beating Norway’s Alexander Kristoff by the smallest of margins. Comfortable in rolling hills and in flat-out sprints, and strong enough to climb the most difficult mountains, Sagan may become the best cyclist in history never to win a Tour de France title. And at age 26 he seems to have many years of combativeness and green jerseys ahead of him.
Romain Bardet not only saved France’s blushes by becoming the only home rider to win a stage of this year’s Tour, but his second-place finish in the overall standings has given the entire country hope that there may well be another French winner of its national race before long. No French rider has won the Tour since Bernard Hinault’s victory in 1985, 31 years ago! But the 25-year-old Bardet’s performance in the Alps, and his gritty victory on Stage 19, a race plagued by rain along the route, suggests that this series of futility may soon be ended. However, Bardet needs to improve in several aspects of his cycling – and Christ Froome needs to retire—before France can celebrate again.