Tear gas, disappointing retirements, and yet a new generation of cyclists look set to take the peloton by storm. This year’s Tour was a mixed bag – so let’s try to make sense of the results of the ASO’s weird and wonderful 2018.
Sometimes it seemed like Chris Froome vs The World. Froome’s staggering success has been met with accusations of doping, but his name has consistently been cleared. Froome has handled it with impressively good grace – but even Froome couldn’t keep calm after a certain policeman’s ill-judged intervention.
Remember, this happened after Froome fell hard early in Le Tour and, along with much of the peloton, struggled to make sense of the descent into Roubaix, was tear-gassed by riot control, and returned to face his demons on the climb up the Col du Portet on stage 17.
Much of this Tour felt like the ASO were deliberately engaged in psy-ops against Froome – and it worked. Froome regularly seemed brow-beaten and cautious until eventually he found himself fighting just to keep himself in a podium position.
Fortunately for Team Sky, Froome’s co-captain was hungry to compete, and Geraint Thomas not only capitalised on ASO’s mind games, but did so against Tom Dumoulin. If “good” had a colour this Tour, it would probably be orange. The only people capable of bothering Team Sky were either Dutch – or cycling for a Dutch team.
How @rogla became a top cyclist instead of a ski jumper?? ⛷
Watch our documentary ‘The Roglic story: from Telemark to Tour Glory’
— LottoNLJumbo Cycling (@LottoJumbo_road) July 30, 2018
I spent time with Team LottoNL-Jumbo last year, and Roglic, Gesink, and Groenewegen all had a swagger to them but, more interestingly, their race directors were tight-lipped and shady when it came to discussing race plans. I should say, shadier than usual for a pro team.
This showman-like approach to mind games reminded me of Team Sky’s director extraordinaire, David Brailsford. And given how Roglic nearly ruined Froome’s Tour, it seems that at least one other team has upped their tactical planning and is now capable of taking the fight to Team Sky. This can only be good for us cycling fans.
The early stages were a frantic affair for fans of the points race but, ultimately, the battle for the green jersey was disappointingly predictable in the end. Kittel and Cavendish failed to make it over some mountains quickly enough, and even Sagan fell dangerously behind on stage 19 – admitting that it was the hardest day he’d ever spent on a bike.
Fans of the green jersey can take some consolation in Gaviria’s explosive debut – two stunning stage wins announce his presence on the World Tour with some satisfaction. But when Groenewegen joined his departure early on with some nasty injuries, the green jersey competition was all but over.
When Greipel also retired, Sagan’s fight for the green was pretty much over – even when he appeared to limp into Paris. One silver lining was the pleasure of watching Magnus Cort Nielsen take stage 15 in spectacular fashion – and Alexander Kristoff’s explosive bunch sprint in Paris capped one of the most intriguing Tour finales since Wiggins led Cavendish to victory.