No suspense at Tour? Blame Team Sky
PARIS (AP) Chris Froome's superiority at the Tour de France was under threat for only a brief moment.
A few minutes of suspense over 21 days of racing shed a light on Team Sky's dominance in cycling's toughest race.
Froome and his elite team of excellent riders good enough to be leaders in other squads have looked untouchable this summer. They controlled the race from the start, reducing the British rider's rivals to also-rans as Froome joined American Greg LeMond, Frenchman Louison Bobet and Belgian Philippe Thys as a three-time Tour winner.
Apart from crashes at the Mont Ventoux and in the penultimate Alpine stage, the 31-year-old Froome enjoyed a very quiet Tour. He was at ease in the mountain passes and stamped his authority on the race in both time trials.
''Team Sky is so powerful, they are like Paris Saint-Germain in the French league,'' Tour director Christian Prudhomme said, comparing Sky's strength to that of runaway French champion PSG. ''They are so much stronger than the others.''
Tour organizers did their part to make the race more open.
Wanting to maintain a sense of suspense until the very end of the race, they crafted a well-balanced route with many opportunities for Froome's main rivals: Colombian climbing ace Nairo Quintana, two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador of Spain – who arrived in very good shape – and the French duo of Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet.
Pinot and Contador, who has won the Spanish Vuelta three times and the Giro d'Italia twice, dropped out early on.
In the Pyrenees and the Alps, Froome's teammates deployed their strong-arm tactics, riding at the front to set a punishingly fast tempo that prevented Quintana, Bardet and other pure climbers from attacking.
The strategy worked to perfection and Froome was hardly attacked. With teammates like Wout Poels, Sergio Henao, Mikel Landa, and Mikel Nieve, Froome has some of the best climbers of the peloton working for him.
''I feel so privileged to be in this position where I've always had teammates around me in the race,'' Froome said. ''Although we haven't won the team competition, we've had by far the strongest team.''
Here are some other things we learned during the Tour de France:
After ending runner-up to Froome twice, the Colombian climber was expected to challenge his British rival in the mountains.
But Quintana was not at the same level as last year, when he tried to corner Froome during the third week and gained time in the closing stages.
Weakened by allergies, the diminutive rider was unable to produce a single dangerous attack this year.
''Chris Froome was too strong,'' Quintana said after ending third overall, 4 minutes and 21 seconds behind Froome.
Elected the super combative rider of the Tour, world champion Peter Sagan livened up the race on a daily basis with his bold attacks and breakaways.
The flamboyant Slovak rider, who does not have the climbing qualities to compete for the general classification, won three stages and clinched the best sprinter's green jersey for the fifth consecutive time.
With his long hair and rock and roll star looks, Sagan is not only a fan's favorite, but also one of the most respected riders in the peloton.
''He's like the grandson of Eddy Merckx, he is a genius, he is having fun on the bike,'' FDJ manager Marc Madiot said. ''He is the most impressive rider of the past two, three decades.''
BARDET ON THE UP
With Thibault Pinot out of form, the French hopes of producing a first home Tour winner in 31 years hung on Romain Bardet's shoulders.
The 25-year-old climbing specialist finished runner-up to Froome, but left it a little too late after posting the only stage win for the host country in the penultimate Alpine stage with a bold attack.
A very attack-minded cyclist with excellent climbing qualities and a natural instinct for racing, Bardet is tipped as a future Grand Tour winner.
''Romain has been riding an extremely good race here,'' Froome said. ''I imagine it will give him a lot of motivation to come back next year and fight for victory. It's a great thing for French cycling.''