By David Ward — What does July mean? Well, the Tour, of course. Which tour you say? There is only one Tour. Everything else is the Tour de or Tour of something. But when someone says, “the Tour” with no other reference, they can only mean the Tour de France.
[Editor’s Note: This story is from our August 2016 issue, and is about the 2016 Tour de France]
Last month, I wrote about how I am a Tour junkie. And true to my habit, I spent hours and hours watching each stage unfold, and listening to the constant babble of my favorite commentators. Paul Sherwin and Christian Van de Velde are good for insightful commentary, and Phil Liggett, Jens Voigt and Bob Roll (and his hands) and just pure entertainment. Gotta love ‘em.
This year’s Tour was uniquely exciting. Without reviewing a lot of the race, which plenty of publications and websites are doing, I want to share my most lasting memories from this year’s Tour. Two in particular stand out. First was Stage 8, finishing in Bagnères-de-Luchon.. This stage ended by first climbing the Col de Peyresourde and then descending through a bunch of hair-raising turns to Bagnères-de-Luchon.
I have actually ridden up this Col, years ago, with my friend Rick and I eating lunch at a restaurant after reaching the top. As Froome, Quintana and others crested the top, I was looking at this restaurant from the helicopter feed. Suddenly I noticed, as Nairo Quintana grabbed a water bottle while coasting over the top, that Froome did not stop pedaling but rather accelerated. Rarely does a rider do this when going over the top with a group, and it especially catches your eye when it is Chris Froome.
I watched with amazement as Froome built about a 10 second lead, and then with more amazement as he sped down the mountainside switchbacks, crouching on his top tube and firing through the turns. Frankly, I was pulling for the chasers to catch him because, while I like Froome, my heart was more with Tejay Van Garderen and Quintana. But I couldn’t help but watch with a grudging admiration as Froome, with amazing panache, grabbed a frantic and scintillating victory. And in the process, the yellow jersey.
The second standout memory for me was Stage 11 from Carcassonne to Montpelier. This was supposed to be a finish for the sprinters. But with crosswinds forcing the peloton into echelons, and with 12 kilometers to go, Peter Sagan attacked into the wind, joined by his teammate, Maciej Bodnar. And who responded? None other than Chris Froome. And when he went, his faithful lieutenant, Geraint Thomas, made a huge effort to bridge the short but difficult gap. Suddenly, here was Sagan, Bodnar, Froome and Thomas, putting out a huge effort to keep the peloton, driven by the sprinters’ teams, at bay. Never leading by more than 22 seconds, these four riders managed to stay away. Comically, Froome even tried to outsprint Sagan for the win, to no avail of course. But he took second, and put an additional 12 seconds on his main rivals.
This was an amazing show by Froome. Who would ever think he would join an attack on a flat stage, into the wind. Especially with a finish on Mont Ventoux and a showdown with his main rivals awaiting him the very next day. This was an audacious move. This time, as I watched the drama unfold, I couldn’t help but pull for these four riders to stay away to the finish.
There was, of course, much more to the Tour than these two stages. The drama at the top of Mont Ventoux, and the indelible impression of Froome running on foot toward the finish, will live forever in Tour lore. Mark Cavendish’s four stage victories, when the commentators had pretty clearly written him off when up against Marcel Kittel and Andrei Greipel, were sweet, particularly given his move this year to the Dimension Data team.
Also, the three stage victories of Peter Sagan, including the aforesaid victory in Montpelier, were satisfying for him and all his numberless fans, given his lack of Tour victories the last couple of years. Sagan, ever the entertainer and, for good reason, a crowd favorite, is always fun to watch and a great interview to listen to. You can count me among his numberless fans.
And the final stage finish on the Champs-Élysées was exciting as André Greipel, a man difficult to really love but hard to hate, followed his team’s perfect lead-out and perfectly timed his sprint to nip a charging Sagan at the finish line for his first win in this year’s Tour. It was a satisfying win, as it kept alive his string of winning at least one stage in each Tour he has participated in.
(As a side note, his victory was especially fun in light of comments by Jens Voigt, NBC’s commentator who had, only shortly before, totally dissed on Greipel and written him off as a possible victor! Gotta love Jensie.)
Yes, this was all exciting, and combined for a great month of Tour spectating. But despite all the great stories and events of this year’s Tour, it will be Froome’s panache, daring and torpedoes be damned aggressiveness in Stages 8 and 11 that will stand out the most for me. What a show!