The Tour de France is over for another year, but relive the last three weeks here and find out what we learned in the 2015 edition of the great race
Froome proved he can win without a time trial
The Brit dominated against the clock in his 2013 win, just as Bradley Wiggins had done the year before, and time trialling ability is what really sets Froome apart from his general classification rivals.
But sense prevailed and Froome focussed his season on being in peak condition for these three weeks in July, working hard on his climbing throughout the winter and early season with teammates Richie Porte and Wout Poels.
Going into the Tour, Froome was favourite among many pundits to win his second Tour, but it was widely agreed that he wasn’t the best climber in the Tour.
Alberto Contador was coming off the back of a tough Giro d’Italia win and wouldn’t be able to match the freshness of his rivals, while Vincenzo Nibali’s offseason and preparations were blighted by concerns over whether his Astana team would even be granted a racing licence.
Nairo Quintana, the one rider who Froome knew could beat him in the mountains, is more of an enigma, hardly racing in the build-up to the Tour and preferring to train in his native Colombia than race at the likes of the Criterium du Dauphiné or Tour de Suisse.
When the race reached the mountains, though, it was pretty clear that the Tour was Froome’s to lose, mainly thanks to the fact he claimed the yellow jersey in the first week.
His attack up the Col du Soudet was planned weeks in advance and pretty much won him the Tour de France. Quintana couldn’t keep up on the race’s first mountain and he paid for the time loss for the next 11 stages.
In many ways it was probably a relief for Froome that there wasn’t a time trial to contend with on the penultimate stage, with the energy he had to expend to keep Quintana at bay in the mountains as the Colombian tried valiantly to gain back lost time.
Like in 2013, Froome took yellow early, padded his lead in the early mountains and then played defence for the rest of the race. And it worked.
While Wiggins won his Tour on the back of excellent time trial performances, Froome proved this year that he’s got the full package and is a deserved winner.
Organisers didn’t want the race decided in the mountains
While many Tours have been decided by time trials, this year looked as if the race would come down to a mountain duel. But in reality it was the race’s first week that set the tone for who would win.
The first nine stages were absolutely relentless, and organisers ASO must have known that would be the case when it decided on the route.
A short opening time trial in Utrecht was pretty harmless, but from then until the first rest day the riders were battered mentally and physically from all directions.
Stage two along the Dutch coast proved to be the decisive stage in the general classification battle, with Quintana losing 1:28 to Froome after high winds and rain created echelons in the peloton.
One could argue that had Quintana finished alongside Froome on that stage he would have won the Tour by 10 seconds, but who knows how the mountain tactics would have differed if that was the case.
A massive crash on stage three took out a number of big-name riders and left others injured for the rest of the race, making the whole peloton a bit edgy in the process. The last thing they needed after that was a cobbled stage, but that’s exactly what they got.
Thankfully there were not the crashes and injuries over the pavé that devastated the 2014 race and all the main contenders not only got over safely, but didn’t lose much time either.
Stage six saw the yellow jersey holder Tony Martin crash out with a broken collarbone in another challenging stage, while stage eight took riders up the tough Mur de Bretagne, just in case they weren’t tired enough.
The Pyrenees came and went and the riders could look forward to some easy transition stages across southern France. Except they couldn’t, because these were far from your normal transition stages.
Instead of skirting the French Riviera, the race went straight through the Massif Central and the relentless hills that come with that area of the country. The climb to the Mende airfield was brutal on stage 14, while stage 15 to Valence was far from a walk in the park for the sprinters.
For many of the riders it wasn’t about racing to Paris, it was about to surviving for 21 stages and trying not to lose the will to live on the rest days.
The Giro/Tour double is really hard
Since Contador announced his intentions to complete the Giro/Tour double at the start of the season we’ve been inundated with people telling everybody just how hard the challenge is.
It turns out they were right. It is hard, and even Alberto Contador can’t pull it off.
Contador’s Giro was no easy race, dislocating his shoulder in a crash in week one, riding through the pain and having to deal with a dual Astana threat in the form of Mikel Landa and Fabio Aru through the mountainous race route.
He gave himself a bit of time off after May 31 and returned to racing at the Route du Sud shortly before the Tour – winning it, naturally.
The Tour de France, though, seemed one step too far as a fresh Froome plundered minutes from the Spaniard on the first mountain and Contador couldn’t muster the energy to get it back.
With the title out of his reach by the time the Alps rolled around, Contador could at least try a few spirited attacks to try and get a stage win, but when push came to shove he couldn’t keep up with Froome and Quintana.
And it didn’t help that he had Valverde on his tail for the last two weeks as he looked to consolidate his podium place.
Andre Greipel isn’t getting any slower with age
Even without Marcel Kittel in the race, the quality of the sprinters at this edition of the Tour de France was incredibly high. Mark Cavendish was looking to add to his 25 stage wins, while John Degenkolb was touted to win a couple of stages after a phenominal Spring Classics campaign.
Andre Greipel always mentioned alongside these names, but as seems to be the case with the big German he wasn’t really expected to set the world alight.
But that’s exactly what he did, proving time and time again that he was the fastest sprinter on show, wearing the green jersey for much of the first week after claiming two of the first five stages.
When Cavendish triumphed on stage seven, Greipel was only just second and the Gorilla doubled his tally with impressive wins on stages 16 and 21.
The Lotto-Soudal rider has now won 10 stages of the Tour since 2011, with at least one each year, but never has he won four in the same race – that’s Cav territory. Neither had he, until this year, ever worn the Tour’s green jersey.
At the age of 33 Greipel is expected to be slowing down, but if anything he’s even faster and stronger than ever.
MTN-Qhubeka weren’t just there for the publicity
It was one of the stories of the spring – an African team would be riding at the Tour de France.
All the talk was of how much African cycling would benefit from MTN-Qhubeka’s presence at the race making it all sound like they were going to rock up and be a novelty wildcard, simply there to boost cycling’s worldwide appeal.
But far from being the Tour’s whipping boys, MTN-Qhubeka set the race alight with some fantastic performances from a number of their riders, African or otherwise.
In the first week it was all about Daniel Teklehaimanot fulfulling his childhood ambition of wearing the polka dot jersey at the Tour de France.
Then came their defining moment of the race on stage 14 when Brit Steve Cummings zoomed past home favourites Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet to win in Mende on Mandela Day.
Serge Pauwels was regularly in the breakaway and profited from the fact the peloton didn’t bother chasing them down and claimed three top-10 finishes.
Edvald Boasson Hagen was in the mix for many of the sprints, including fourth place on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday, while Louis Meintjes was showing his climbing prowess in the Alps until he was struck down with quite a serious illness.
All indications point to new sponsorship coming in 2016 and maybe a WorldTour berth for the team, which should only see them becoming more competitive in the big races, with the clout to sign some bigger name riders.