With the curtains drawn on the Tour de France for the 103rd time, we can look back on what was another eventful Grand Tour that saw unusual attacks, ambitions crushed and the yellow jersey running up Mont Ventoux. Amidst this three-week circus however, stood a handful of riders who caught the imagination of the viewing public. Whilst all the riders who completed this cycling marathon deserve to be commended, there are five in particular who stole the show and find themselves warranting a Chapeau all alone. Below are my five top riders from this year’s Tour de Franc
Team Sky dominated this year’s race for the General Classification. It was clear that Chris Froome was head and shoulders above his rivals and it was also clear that Team Sky was by far the strongest team. Amongst this team that included the likes of Mikel Landa, Geraint Thomas and Mikel Nieve stood Wout Poels. The rangey Dutchman, who took Sky’s first monument at Liege-Bastogne-Liege this year, was an ever-present for Froome in the high mountains. Poels form looked so good that if he had been at any other team, he would have arguably been their General Classification man. Yet, such is the loyalty at Team Sky, Wout Poels buried himself each and every day to make it near impossible for other teams to attack. This was made clearest on the shortened Ventoux stage to Chalet Reynard. When after kilometres of pace setting, it seemed Poels had finally blown, only to drink a small can of coke, find a second wind and set up Froome for his attack that dropped all but two of his rivals.
Before the Tour, I had earmarked the young Frenchman as one of the riders to watch going into this year’s race. With early season success in one day and stage races, it looked as if Alaphilippe would be France’s big hope for this year’s tour and boy, he did not disappoint. Although the Etixx-Quick Step man failed to take a stage win, he did not fail in capturing the hearts of France. After coming painfully close to the win on stage 2, Alaphilippe saw an ill-timed mechanical rob him on stage 15. Filled with disappointment, the very next day, the 24-year-old found himself in a two-man breakaway with teammate and powerhouse Tony Martin, earning him the joint combativity award. He then rounded his Tour of by making the final selection on Stage 20 only to be dropped on the final climb. In what was his first tour, the young Frenchman can go home happy, knowing that he raced Le Tour exactly how his country would have wanted.
Riding for IAM Cycling, a team that will cease to exist next season, the Columbian used the sport’s grandest stage to put himself firmly in the shop window for potential new teams. With little in the way of GC potential at IAM, Pantano saw this as an opportunity to ride for himself, attacking when the road went up, and down, in search for stage wins and recognition. Eventually, Pantano came away with both. With victory on Stage 15 as well as 2nd place on stage 17 and 20, the Columbian climber was easily one of the best riders in the mountains showing grit and determination going uphill and breakneck defiance going downhill. His descending was so good that he even out-descended Vincenzo Nibali in the wet, which is almost unimaginable. This breakthrough Tour was mightily impressive and Pantano has without doubt guaranteed his status as a World Tour rider next season.
How could I leave Peter Sagan off of the list? A fifth Green Jersey in a row, a maiden yellow jersey, three stages and the overall combativity award made sure that the Slovakian World Champion went home as one of the most successful riders at this year’s Tour. The Tinkoff rider provided too many outstanding moments to pick just one but his points total in the green jersey competition was something to behold. The 26-year-old managed 470 points, 242 points more than second placed Marcel Kittel. Runner-up Kittel only managed 228 points. This only further proved that at times it seems as if Sagan is merely playing a game when others are suffering, he is that good. The man is truly an enigma and with every passing year, Sagan convinces the cycling world that he will be remembered as one of the greatest.
Team Dimension Data
So my final choice is not a single rider, but an entire team. In their first year as a World Tour team, the African outfit have come away with five stage wins whilst also overseeing the resurgence of sprinter Mark Cavendish. Cavendish dominated the sprint stages of this year’s Tour whilst yet again, fellow Brit Steve Cummings took another breakaway World Tour stage victory. Dimension Data’s five victories is more than most teams manage in five years and the African base to the team make this all the more special. It will not be long until Dimension Data nurture a first black African rider to the podium of a Grand Tour, a goal of the team.