Humble Italian Wins The Tour

Those past few days, when I was asked which one was my best moment of the Tour, I anticipated that no feeling of happiness could be compared to what we feel on the podium at the Champs-Elysées. It’s even more beautiful than what I could imagine.Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali

Expect the unexpected

By Roger Childs

NibaliThis year’s tour was expected to be a battle between the 2013 winner Chris Froome and Spain’s Alberto Contador. Having won in 2007 and 2009, Contador was stripped of the 2010 title because of drug taking and served a one year ban. However the expected clash between the former winners did not eventuate as both had to retire after being involved in crashes in the first half of the three week race.

Out of the wings came an acknowledged contender, Vicenzo Nibali, who had won the Giro d’Italia in 2013. Nibali decided not to ride the June Giro this year to save himself for the Tour de France. It was a gamble that paid off handsomely.

KittelOut front from Stage 2

The first stage was a sprinters’ dash to the line and Germany’s Marcel Kittel won in a close finish to claim the first yellow jersey. Kittel would win the last stage on the Champs Elysees in Paris and three other stages, however he gave up the leader’s jersey to Nibali in Stage 2 through to Sheffield. The Italian would keep it to the finish except for one day: July 14.

Nibali’s success can be put down to

  • great support from his Astana team
  • all round skills as a fast finisher, mountain climber and time trialist.
  • strong performances in the mountain stages where the Tour is won or lost
  • winning four stages, including the crucial Stage 18 in the mountains from Pau to Hautacom.

Once he regained the maillot jaune with a win on Stage 10, Nibali gave no one else a chance. He went on to win two more stages and stretched his lead from just over 2 minutes after Stage 11 to 7 minutes 10 seconds following Stage 18. By the time he crossed the finish line in Paris last weekend, his winning margin was 7:37 – the largest for thirty years.

The French do well

GallopinDespite being a cycling mad nation and the hosts of this the most prestigious individual sporting event on the planet, France has not won the Tour since Bernard Hinault triumphed in 1985.

However this year

~ Tony Gallopin (shown above), won two stages and wore the maillot jaune on Bastille Day

~ Jean-Christophe Péraud was second in the general classification

~ Thibaut Pinot was third and also won the best young rider competition.

The emotions are huge, Pinot said. It really is the best place in the world, the Tour, so it’s wonderful. This is the reward for everything I’ve done since the beginning of my career.

Sprinters and climbers

SaganThe Manx Missile Mark Cavendish is one of the great sprinters in the modern era and was the hot favourite for the green jersey. Tragically he crashed in the finishing strait on the first leg and was out of the race with a broken shoulder.

Slovakia’s Peter Sagan (pictured alongside), then cruised through to comfortably win the sprinters title, but a stage win eluded him.

Meanwhile the polka dot jersey for the best mountain climber moved around throughout the Tour. However at the end of a hotly contested Majkasecond stage in the Pyrenees, Majka took Tinkoff-Saxo’s third mountain stage win out of four… and forged a substantial lead in the mountain jersey standings the process. (William Fotheringham The Guardian)

Rafal Majka, who hails from Poland, retained the jersey through to Paris.

Perhaps the biggest hard luck story belongs to Kiwi Jack Bauer. In Stage 15 from Tullard to Nimes Bauer lead for 220 km only to be run down by the sprinters a few hundred metres from the finish.

A triumph for Italy

PantaniVincenzo Nibali was a decisive winner of this year’s tour, the second in a year where drugs were not an issue. In 2013 winner Chris Froome signaled the determination of the world’s best to succeed without the assistance of drugs and doping.

Italy’s last winner was the infamous Marco Pantani (pictured alongside), in 1998. Knick-named The Pirate, Pantani was a tainted by drugs and was thrown out of the Giro d’Italia for blood doping with EPO. Tragically he died in his thirties from cocaine addiction.

In 2008, the International Cycling Union (UCI) implemented the “biological passport”, which creates a blood profile for riders and helps detect doping. Consequently the sport has made giant strides in cleaning up its act.

Symbolising this new image, Nibali said, after his win this year: I am a flag bearer for anti-doping.