Curtain falls on Tour of ups and downs

Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali is on course to win the Tour de France in Paris tomorrow

Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali is on course to win the Tour de France in Paris tomorrow

First published in Cycling column
Last updated

BY the time you read this, the Tour de France organisers will be putting up the bunting on the Champs Elysees as the 2014 edition of the great race comes to its always thrilling finale in Paris.

The overall winner is already a dead cert (barring some unforeseen catastrophe), with Italian Vincenzo Nibali of Team Astana a more than worthy wearer of the yellow jersey.

For many race fans, this year’s race is one of what ifs, given the abandonments of the two big favourites, Chris Froome of Team Sky and Alberto Contador of Saxo Tinkoff.

Nibali, though, has proved that he would have provided very stiff opposition had these two remained, riding strongly on all terrains; in the high mountains, on the fast descents and on the very tricky cobbled sections in the first week.

It is testament to his all-out attacking style that he has won four stages and worn the yellow jersey of race leader for all but two days throughout the three weeks.

From a British perspective, it has been a Tour from which to learn lessons and come back stronger.

Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas will be the only British rider to finish in Paris and this will be the first Tour in a long time without a British stage win.

But those lessons will be learned, and Froomey and co will be back next year hungry to make amends.

As the second week of the Tour progressed and turned into the third the roads, and the temperatures began to soar and the leader board began to take shape.

Richie Porte had a nightmare in the Alps and was unable to step into Froome’s shoes as team leader – though he too will be back next year as Froome’s most trusted lieutenant.

Alejandro Valverde, the veteran Spaniard, clung on desperately to his second place as a veritable horde of Frenchmen snapped at his heels.

This year will be remembered for two things – Nibali’s dominant display in the face of high profile withdrawals and for the resurgence of French cycling with three riders in the top five.

Youngsters Thibault Pinot and Romain Bardet will be around for years to come and will form a stiff challenge to Nibali, Froome and Contador in 2015.

The performance of 37-year-old former BMX rider Jean-Christophe Peraud has been truly remarkable and given his strength in the time trial he is a strong contender for the podium (probably third behind Valverde would be my prediction).

There are strong rumours that Pinot may be on his way to Team Sky when the World Tour transfer window opens on August 1.

Sky manager Dave Brailsford likes a challenge and would love to be the man to bring a French victory at some point in the not too distant future.

Back to the here and now, and the four main jerseys are more or less settled with Nibali taking the overall, Rafal Majka striking a blow for Polish cycling and salvaging a result for Saxo Tinkoff as the winner of the King of the Mountains jersey and Peter Sagan winning (again!) the points competition.

The aforementioned Pinot and Bardet are fighting it out for the young rider white jersey and, given that Pinot is the least bad at the time trial of the two, he should keep the jersey.

That brings us to today’s stage – the 55 kilometre time trial, which really should be a case of who finishes second behind German powerhouse and three-time world time trial champion Tony Martin.

Nibali should extend his lead further still and Valverde should have the legs to regain his second place, though predicting a time trial at the end of a three-week stage race is a far from perfect science.

Tomorrow’s finale should finish in a bunch sprint, though don’t be surprised to see the obligatory desperate bid for victory by a breakaway (and if he’s got the legs after today’s time trial don’t be surprised to see Martin in it).

In the event of a bunch sprint, it’s hard to look beyond Marcel Kittel, who has spent the last week and a half dragging his 13-odd stone body over the mountains just for this moment. For a dark horse outside chance, Alexander Kristoff of Norway has shown his prowess with two stage wins.

The last three weeks have been a thrill for me, and it’s been a pleasure to share my thoughts on the highlight of my sporting year with you all.

I hope that some of you have been inspired to dust off your old bikes, or even better, head down to one of York’s local bike shops and make a very shrewd investment.

If you are wondering where your next cycle fix is going to come from don’t worry, the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain) starts next month and will likely see Froome’s return to competition.

The Tour of Britain is also still to come and you can cheer on Sir Bradley Wiggins in the World Time Trial Championships in September.

And finally, if you want to get involved in a major event yourself, the York 100 (which yours truly will be riding) features a variety of distances depending upon ability and will be taking place on August 17 and there are still places available.

See you on the road.

• Christopher Gargett is a cycling blogger and Sky Ride leader. Follow him on Twitter @yorkvelo

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