The British domination of the Tour de France


Yet another yellow jersey for Chris Froome, to go with seven stage victories, one third of the stages, by British riders, and the best young rider in Adam Yates, it’s a British game now.

It’s amazing to think that it’s not that long ago that Adam Yate’s fourth place in the Tour de France would have seen him be the joint best rider in the the three week race that Britain had.

Fourth, where Robert Miller finished in ’84, and Bradley Wiggins in ’09, later upgraded to 3rd after Armstrong was downgraded. For 98 editions of the biggest bike race in the world stage victories and the odd yellow jersey, a polka dot from Millar and the green for Cavendish were the highlights.

From the 99th edition in 2012 to this year a Britain has stood on top of the podium on the Champs Elysees four times out of the five past tours.

Wiggins of course won the first in ’12 and then Chris Froome took over and on Sunday joined a select group of riders with three titles to their name – Thys, Bobet and LeMond. Above him now is just the mount Rushmore of the Tour de France, the four men who have won it five times – Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault and Indurain.

Wiggins has the Tour along with a clutch of Olympic medals, a lot of gold. Chris Hoy has a bunch of them as well. Froome has one Olympic bronze but a third Tour title probably lifts him above the two knights. If as Merckx says he could he adds to that number, well it’s a done deal. He also has this year’s Olympic golds to go for.

It’s hell of a Grand Tour record that Froome has amassed since his breakthrough as a domestique for Wiggins on the 2011 Vuelta. Of the GTs he’s finished since coming second in the Spanish race he’s finished outside the podium place just once. Three victories, three seconds and a fourth. Not bad, not bad at all.

And this wasn’t your granddad’s Froome or Sky.

Yes there was the black and blue machine, with a hell of a team that for once wasn’t reduced in numbers by the time they reached Paris. But this was different than the past. No mountain top stage wins for Froome.

We saw it at the Dauphine where Froome went out to win it and we saw it here as he took them all by surprise.

Stage 8 summing up the Tour’s general classification. Froome attacking at the top of Peyresourde as his main, well seen by many as his main, competitor Quintana dithered and looked for a wheel to follow. Nairo did that for the whole tour – Froome could sing to him “Me and my Shadow”.

Haring down the mountain on his crossbar, somehow getting those long legs to pedal, what was it an octopus on an ironing board. An iconic image of the Tour, as he took the initiative which gave him not only the stage win but the yellow jersey.

That wasn’t the last time Adam Yates would be unlucky. If Froome hadn’t done what he did then Yates would have taken the yellow jersey. The day after his luck changed when he’d attacked the bunch and was ahead when, in timing that couldn’t have been any worse for him, the inflatable flamme rouge collapsed right on him. He might have been given a better time but did he have more than the seven seconds he was given?

The stage was won by Steve Cummings, his second in two years and Britain’s fifth of this Tour. So with Froome’s victory the following day Britain had six stage victories and were first and second in the general classification.

Three stages later in the crosswinds Froome saw the attack of Peter Sagan and managed to get onto the wheel of the Slovakian, with Gerraint Thomas putting in a great effort to join them and Sagan’s team mate Bodnar as the peloton split up behind them with Froome’s competitors left behind.

Quintana without Froome to shadow was lost, later to cry and moan about the wind and those horrible race organisers who should only pick a parcour where the Colombian has it the way he wants and doesn’t test his team.

You know somewhere like Ventoux. Oh yes the great mountain where Nairo could attack. Except things didn’t exactly go to plan.

Ventoux has played an important part in British road racing. The good the bad and the ugly. The bad of course is Tommy Simpson’s death on Ventoux in 1967. The good that race in ’09, when Wiggins ground his way up the mighty climb in the blazing hot sun, yes he was behind the GC contenders of the day but it made him believe he could be one of those competitors if he was just built a bit more for climbing.

The next good was Froome bursting away from Quintana before cresting Ventoux victorious in yellow on Bastille Day in 2013 on way to his first tour victory.

This was the ugly. With wild winds at the summit the stage was reduced by 6km to now finish at Chalet Reynard. With that the vast crowds that would have lined up that top part of the route was now compressed further down the climb. Porte attacked, Froome followed, Quintana again had nothing and couldn’t keep up with them. Mollema joined them. The crowd closed in and the motorbikes in front of Porte stopped just in time for him to collide with the back one, his chin bouncing off it’s tail.

Froome and Mollema pilled in behind. The Duthcman was first up and first off, then Porte who got going but Froome was left with a busted bike and with no team car available to get a replacement he set off up the mountain. First with his broken bike then after it was deposited by the side of the road the yellow jersey was running bikeless to the finish line.

Eventually he got a neutral service bike, which was too small and he couldn’t get his cleats into the pedals. It really was ugly, while being a great sporting moment. Eventually the car arrived and he was off.

Off to lose the yellow jersey initially. Again Yates unlucky as he was the one who would be on the podium receiving his first maillot jaune.

But it wasn’t right, the race could let the yellow jersey be lost in this way. eventually times were sorted out. Froome, Porte and to his great credit Yates were happy. Mollema wasn’t. He felt the two others being given the same time somehow cheated him. Well, looking at the way he faded later on, it cheated others. Thankfully he didn’t benefit from it.

Nairo did of course, while Yates was later penalised 10 seconds for an illegal hand sling from a team mate, when he had a change of bike with about 85km to go in the stage. Quintana seemed to get away scot-free with hanging onto the back of a neutral service motorbike. Oh, he was just keeping himself upright. Yeah right. He was done before the incident. I don’t know if Rolland got 10 seconds for his hand sling from his team car a few stages later.

That crowd and what followed later on Bastille Day in Nice seemed to bring a change. I didn’t think there was as many people on the route and especially up the mountains as there was before. Don’t know if people were being cautious and not coming out or were being restricted. Police bikes were more prominent clearing the way for the riders and unsurprisingly there seemed to be more police lining the Champs on the final stage and they weren’t shifting for riders who wanted to ride in the gutter. Don’t think there was as many in the crowd in Paris as in previous final stages, Norwegian corner didn’t look as crowded.

In the end Froome would still have won even if he hadn’t been given the time back, as he put more time on his rivals in the two time trials, the second of which he won by some distance. Seventh British stage victory.

Seven and I haven’t mentioned the first four. Who could they have been by? Oh that’s right, yesterday’s man. The old man. The man who couldn’t beat Kittle. Well he did and didn’t he do it well. Taking the yellow jersey with his victory on the first stage one of the two things missing from his palmarès. He left after the second rest day – with four stage wins to take his tally to 30, second on the all time list to Eddie Merckx – to get himself ready to get the final thing missing from that palmarès, an Olympic medal.

All that track training for the Olympics worked wonders to get his sprint speed back to his best but wasn’t much good for getting over those big mountains in the blazing sun.

So Froome had one more tumble on that wet descent, which led to a cautious final day in the Alps, where his team made sure nobody could threaten his lead. Unfortunately Yates lost that second place and slipped out of the top three podium places. Bardet, yes he did something to get second so you can have no complaints but Quintana again did nothing and didn’t in any way deserve that podium spot on the Champs. Only other shame was Greipel winning that final stage, nice if Sagan had, he is box office, a real superstar.

People will moan and complain about Sky but this was a great victory by them and Froome, with some other cracking racing by British riders and others who were allowed the time and space outside of the GC. Along with some very memorable moments in Tour history, mainly involving Froome, his descent on the crossbar, his sprint with Sagan and his running up Ventoux.

So now Froome for the Olympics, road and TT, then the Vuelta where he has unfinished business and then Tour number four, all on his own just behind the greats, though with that third he is a great…

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