Tour de France 2017: Chris Froome wins 4th title despite open course, big-name crashes played spoilsport

Route, rivals and ravines — nothing could stop Chris Froome from winning his third Tour de France on the trot and fourth in five years.

Alekh Agrawal July 25, 2017 11:58:58 IST
Tour de France 2017: Chris Froome wins 4th title despite open course, big-name crashes played spoilsport

The Tour de France 2017 finished on the ramparts of the Champs-Élysées this Sunday. Of the 198 riders that started in Düsseldorf, 167 reached the finish line in Paris. In the intervening 21 days La Grande Boucle saw riders covering 3,540 kilometres over various terrains. Firstpost takes a look at the stats and analyses how the 2017 Tour unravelled.

The Tour organisers change the route every year to bring fresh challenges and provide a unique flavour. This year's route was different in that it involved relatively less climbing with only three summit finishes and only 36 kilometres of time trial. Instead, it had more flat stages which provided a tactical challenge rather than test raw individual talent. It was a pretty open course, encouraging riders to be adventurous and looking to create exciting racing.

Most also saw the route as a measure to limit Team Sky’s dominance in the mountains. The short Individual Time Trials (ITT) looked to limit the advantage longer ones would have provided riders like Chris Froome. If this was the aim, it didn't bring about the desired results with Sky being dominant as they have been since 2012 (barring 2014 of course).

Tour de France 2017 Chris Froome wins 4th title despite open course bigname crashes played spoilsport

Cannondale-Drapac rider Rigoberto Uran of Columbia, Team Sky rider and yellow jersey Chris Froome of Britain and AG2R-La Mondiale rider Romain Bardet of France on the podium. Reuters

Also, consider that Froome gained 76 seconds over second-placed Rigoberto Uran in the ITTs, when his overall winning margin was just 54 seconds. Therefore, with the leaders cancelling each other out on the mountains, the Tour seems to have been decided by the two short time trials.

Before the start, Froome had indicated that the route will be a challenge to his team with fewer opportunities to crack rivals and open up big leads. For these reasons, he anticipated time gaps to be smaller at the top, providing for a closer and more exciting race.

This is what he had to say on the route before the race started, “I genuinely think this year’s Tour route presents the biggest challenge to me that I’ve faced in my career to date. It’s an open course and the level of my rivals is higher than it has ever been. It will be a much closer race in July, more hard fought than we’ve seen in the last few years. I think what strikes me most is the lack of time-trial kilometres.”

His words were proved true with this year's winning margin being the smallest in over a decade. We have to go back to Alberto Contador’s win over Cadel Evans in 2007 to find a smaller win margin — a mere 23 seconds that year. Route, rivals and ravines — nothing could stop Froome from winning his third victory on the trot and fourth in five years.

Froome now stands just one victory shy of cycling legends Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain, who have all won five Tours. Although, the Brit is now also part of a less popular group, becoming the seventh rider in history to win the Tour without a stage win to his name.

The Brit's victory though stands on his team's strength. None of his rivals had pillars such as Michal Kwiatkowski, Mikel Landa, Geraint Thomas and the likes working for them. On the final climb of Izoard, Kwiatkowski and Landa turned themselves inside out, defending Froome’s lead by setting up a scorching pace. The Pole dug so deep that after finishing his turn at pace setting, he had to stop pedalling to catch his breath and nearly crawled his way to the top.

Team Sky, though, also shared the dubious award of the Lanterne Rouge (red lantern) for the rider placed last overall. The distinction went Froome’s compatriot and domestique, Luke Rowe.

Behind Sky, no team was able to take advantage the open route offered. Attacks were few and far between and never sustained long enough to actually test Sky. Fabio Aru tried in the final 500 metres at the Peyragudes and got the faintest glimpse of a hiccup by Froome. But that was the most anyone got in all three weeks. Instead Aru himself imploded in the final week, dropping from second to fifth overall. At least the Italian has the consolation of wearing yellow, being the only non-Sky rider to do so this year, his two days as the race leader breaking Sky's complete dominance on the jersey.

Romain Bardet and his AG2R team tried to put up a challenge, but never had the depth required to sustain any attack. In the end, Bardet should be relieved clinging on to third place by a mere second, with fourth placed Mikel Landa of Sky missing out joining Froome on the podium by the narrowest possible margin.

The eventual runner-up Uran seemed to be playing it safe right from the start. He finished a disappointing 95th on the Stage 1 time trial, preferring to go slow to avoid crashing. Uran’s ‘safety first’ attitude was evident throughout the race, as he rarely attacked or risked snatching a precious few seconds over his rivals. The Colombian did win Stage 9, but chose to follow the leaders once he was in the run for a podium finish. Maybe it worked out well for him in the end, with his best ever finish, but one can only imagine what he could have achieved with a little more aggression.

Tour de France 2017 Chris Froome wins 4th title despite open course bigname crashes played spoilsport

Colombia's Rigoberto Uran, left, and France's Romain Bardet climb Izoard pass during the 18th stage of the Tour de France. AP

Irishman Dan Martin was the most aggressive rider in the top 10, but was perennially ridden down by bad luck, be it crashes or getting stuck in the cross winds. Had Martin not lost 90 seconds on the Stage 9 crash, maybe he would have caused more trouble for Sky. The Quickstep rider finished sixth overall, his best ever finish in the Tour, though that will be scant consolation for all the energy he spent gaining few seconds over the other top five rivals.

As for the pre-race favourites and riders with pedigree, most fell out of contention early.

Richie Porte crashed out in the first week. Alberto Contador tried to live up to his glory days by making courageous and well-planned attacks on stages 13 and 17, earning the award for the most aggressive rider on both occasions. The Spaniard’s efforts, though praiseworthy, were ultimately overshadowed by the younger climbers. Nairo Quintana, riding his fourth successive Grand Tour, never seemed to have the freshness in his legs that the route demanded and ended up finishing out of the top 10.

Behind the leaders, we saw a pitched battle for the green jersey between Marcel Kittel and Michael Matthews, till the German crashed out on Stage 17. If anything, the leading teams could have taken a leaf out of Matthews and his Team Sunweb’s aggressive tactics. They never lost an opportunity to attack — and with a little help from fate — were rewarded with the green jersey. Point being, they worked themselves to be in a position to challenge Kittel and put him under pressure to force a mistake. Sunweb's tactics are doubly validated by the two stage wins each by Matthews and Warren Barguil, with the Frenchman also adding the polka dot jersey to the team’s admirable list of achievements.

Barguil rode to the team brief, when despite being assured of winning the jersey, he did not coast and went for a gutsy win on the brutal slopes of the Izoard. Compare this to Uran, who a few metres behind, seemed content to follow Froome when the yellow jersey was still up for grabs. Barguil also gave the French the pleasure of their first Bastille Day victory since 2005, becoming an instant crowd favourite.

The final of the four major classifications, the white jersey for the best young rider was won by Simon Yates, who kept the jersey in the family for a second consecutive year. The jersey was won by his brother Adam in 2016 and it bodes well for Britain’s chances in the coming years.

Unfortunately, crashes played a big spoilsport right from the beginning this year. It started with top five aspirant Alejandro Valverde crashing out on Stage 1. I have already mentioned Kittel’s withdrawal, but before him, Mark Cavendish had crashed out on Stage 4, taking the mercurial Peter Sagan with him (who was disqualified by the officials for his part in the crash). Most brutal though, was Stage 9 which saw 12 withdrawals in all, most high profile being Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas and Rafal Majka. Stage 9 also took out nearly half the FDJ team, their riders nursing an ill Arnaud Demare and not making it to the finish within the time limit. Spare a thought for the beleaguered French team, with just three of their nine starters making it the finish line in Paris.

Beyond the action on the road, we got to relive the stunning French vistas and colourful locals who provide the unique romanticism of this event. The Tour this year started in Germany, also crossing Belgium and Luxembourg, to add a bit of variety. The State Velodrome start and finish on Stage 20 time trial was also a novel touch, which generated huge cheering crowds in a closed setting. For anyone looking for an instant gratification video recap of the 21 stages, you can’t get better than the official montage below. And for the newbies, this is enough to make you fall in love with the Tour forever. A must watch then, for all fans, old and new.

In the end, we have a similar podium as last year, with a Brit, a Frenchman and a Colombian. Only the order of the lower two spots has reversed this year. Will we get a bigger variation next time round? Well, we'll all have to wait a year for that, and for some like me, 2018 can't come soon enough.

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