The Tour de France remains cycling’s greatest event, as well as one of its most gruelling. And 2015 marked the 102nd time that this grand race took place, covering over two thousand miles and taking in some of the most famous sights that Europe has to offer.
With the tour returning again in a few weeks, now is the perfect time to reflect on the highs and lows of last year’s event.
Build-up & Rivalries
Although 22 different teams took part in the race, with hundreds of riders, there were four key competitors who garnered the most media attention. The so-called ‘big four’ were the source of much debate in the run-up to the 2015 tour. And while cycling of this kind is very much a team sport, it is invariably the highest profile members of each team that attract the spotlight and are ultimately those looking to earn the right to wear the race leader’s famous yellow jersey.
Cycling for Team Sky, British rider Chris Froome was hotly tipped to achieve great things during the tour, having enjoyed success in preliminary races leading up to the main event. And since his first Tour de France win in 2013, significant expectations had been placed on his shoulders, especially by fans in the UK.
Relative veteran of the sport Alberto Contador, riding for Tinkoff-Saxo, was arguably the contender to beat. He had already walked away with a victory at the Giro d’Italia just two months before the Tour de France commenced. And with key wins in both 2007 and 2009, there was little doubt that this was a man with nothing to prove professionally and yet all the skills and experience needed to secure another win.
Columbian cycling virtuoso Nairo Quintana was also hoping to be in with a serious chance in the build-up to the event. He performed incredibly well two years earlier and just lost out to Froome at the time, in spite of proving himself a specialist on steep mountain climbs.
2014’s tour winner Vicenzo Nibali was still seen as a viable prospect before the tour, although a rider’s previous track record is never a guarantee that they will succeed again in the same circumstances. Questions were raised about his competitive potential ahead of the event because he had failed to secure a high ranking finish in two of the previous competitions he had entered that year.
A host of other riders were in contention to make a major impact on the race, if not necessarily win. With stalwarts including Mark Cavendish from the UK and Alexander Kristoff of Norway likely to set the bar high on sprint stages, backed up by a series of wins in the season’s top events preceding the tour itself, anticipation was building to a fever pitch.
The Dutch city of Utrecht played host to the opening stage of the Tour de France 2015, with a time trial victory secured by BMC Racing Team’s Rohan Dennis of Australia by a margin of five seconds over second place Tony Martin.
Dennis’ win was noteworthy not only because it was the first occasion on which this young rider had worn the yellow jersey on the tour, but also because he managed to achieve an average speed of 34.5 miles per hour over the course of the stage, which was a record.
Stage two saw the riders head out of Utrecht towards a finish line in the province of Zeeland. Harried by high winds, the riders became divided from one another, although in the end the stage concluded with an all-out sprint from which Andre Greipel emerged victorious in terms of the points awarded. Fabian Cancellara of Trek Factory Racing managed to secure the race lead thanks to a mistake by Tony Martin that saw him miss the opportunity to earn extra points.
The first significant crash of the 2015 Tour de France came during the third stage, with the result being that Cancellara and five other riders were taken out of action altogether. Froome may have been beaten to the win by a matter of a second, but he still managed to come away from this stage wearing the yellow jersey.
Tony Martin was wearing this hallowed garment once more by the end of stage four, achieving dominance during the 139 mile journey between Seraing in Belgium and Cambrai in France.
Sprinting was the name of the game in stage five, with Cavendish facing off against Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel, with the latter managing to outdo his rivals between Arras and Amiens.
Stage six passed by relatively smoothly, with stage seven overshadowing much of the news of the tour thus far because of a crash just a few hundred metres from the finish line which left Tony Martin with a broken collarbone and no way of continuing.
With Froome still in the lead, Martin’s early exit meant that the yellow jersey was not worn by any rider during stage eight. Eventually it was Alexis Vuillermoz who came out on top as the riders headed to the Mûr-de-Bretagne.
Stage nine capped off the first major section of the Tour de France 2015, with riders covering 17 miles in a time trial from Vannes to Plumelec. The competition between BMC Racing and Team Sky really built during this stage, with the former beating the latter by a single second, leaving Movistar Team headed up by Nairo Quintana to take third.