As the Tour de France 2015 entered its final third, the stage was set for yet more drama. And as the riders returned to the saddle after a rest day, it was clear that the downtime had been more advantageous for some than for others.
The main casualty of stage seventeen was Tejay Van Garderen, who was forced to pull out due to illness and in so doing, sacrificing his top three position. This gave other riders and teams more of a chance to shine as they headed into a tricky series of Alpine stages.
The mountains can be cruel, but for Simon Geschke of Team Giant-Alpecin everything fell into place and he managed to secure a clear victory, pulling away from the rest of the pack with more than 30 miles to go.
Chris Froome was still sitting pretty in first position overall, with his lead left intact not only thanks to Van Garderen’s exit, but also because key rival Alberto Contador suffered a crash on this stage. Contador’s tumble occurred on a descent and this error ended up costing him dearly, since he lagged Froom by an additional two minutes by the time he crossed the finish line in Pra Loup.
More reshuffling occurred in stage eighteen. While Froome maintained his overall lead, he lost out on first place in the mountain classification group because of the hard work put in by Romain Bardet. Bardet not only won the stage in a solo burst of effort, but also improved his overall position to tenth, demonstrating that even the intense climb to the peak of the Col du Glandon is not enough to dissuade some professional riders from their goals.
Stage nineteen was all about Vincenzo Nibali of Team Astana, who won over the 86 miles of mountainous roads between Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne and the commune of La Toussuire. But in the scheme of the race as a whole, especially this late in the tour, such victories have to be seen as relatively minor. Froome was still wearing the yellow jersey; an iconic garment which he managed to hold onto from stage seven until the very end.
Stage twenty finished with more of a group effort. And while it initially looked as though Nairo Quintana might be the man of the hour, it was France’s Thibaut Pinot who took the initiative and surged ahead of the breakaway pack of riders to secure a win.
Paris played host to the concluding stage of the Tour de France 2015; a fitting end to a famous event which has tens of millions of fans glued to their TVs around the world each year. And although Froome was destined to win on the day, the victor of the stage itself was Tony Geipel. This marked the fourth stage win for the German during the tour, singling him out as one of the key players, while also signalling his ambitions to any potential rivals.
Once Froome crossed the finish line, his tour victory was assured, with Quintana coming in second and Alejandro Valverde taking third place, giving the Movistar Team solid bragging rights even if Team Sky saw their man win overall.
In winning the Tour de France 2015, Chris Froome cemented his position in history to become the first British rider to achieve a second victory in this event. In addition, he was identified as the top performer in the mountains classification, breaking a 45 year old double-header achievement which was last held by Belgian legend Eddy Merckx.
Quintana’s second place finish in the tour was also recognised as he walked away with the accolade of being the best young rider. And at 26 years old, he still has many years left in which to prove himself one of the greats of the sport.
Froome’s win was not enough to bring Team Sky the victory in their classification group; instead it was Quintana’s Movistar Team that took this title, banking in all-important minutes on every stage and eventually emerging victorious with almost an hour’s lead on their closest rivals.
Looking back on the Tour de France 2015 it is easy to be wise in hindsight. Froome’s victory seems so inevitable now, but there were many moments during the tour in which it seemed that he might not be capable of making history.
The Movistar Team’s success in the team classification is yet more evidence of the fact that nothing is set in stone in the world of cycling and the success of an individual should not outshine the collective efforts of riders which also define the tour.
Of course with another Brit winning the Tour de France, the profile of cycling as a sport in the UK has never been higher. And this will doubtless help to encourage the next generation of riders, whether they jump on a bike for leisure or for competitive purposes.