Alpe d’Huez provided the perfect race finale
The final mountain stage of the 2015 Tour de France lived up to its expected billing as showdown between the overall contenders on the iconic climb of Alpe d’Huez – as well as a platform for a fine stage win by home rider Thibaut Pinot (FDJ).
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The short but brutal stage eeked every last bit of energy from the legs of the leading men as they fought for podium positions on the last real day of action. Briton Chris Froome (Sky) successfully survived a strong attack from Colombian rival Nairo Quintana (Movistar) to all but secure the 2015 Tour title. Only the final, processional stage into Paris remains in the race.
The crowds on Alpe d’Huez were as large as ever – some say one million fans lined the roads – but despite concerns over out-of-control spectators causing bother, trouble did not really materialise. The fans were content to let the riders provide the thrills.
Chris Froome is a record breaker
Let’s throw caution like an empty bidon into the wind and pretend that Sunday’s final stage parade into Paris goes without hitch and say that Chris Froome has become a British Tour de France record breaker.
Not only has he become the first Briton to win two editions of the race (2013 and 2015), but he has also become the first to win both the general and mountains classifications in the same year – or in any year.
He has also worn the yellow jersey of race leader more than any other British rider – a total 29 days after Sunday. Next closest is Bradley Wiggins with 14 days.
With victories in the 2013 and 2015 Tours, second places in the 2011 and 2014 Vuelta a Espana, and second in the 2012 Tour de France, Froome is unequivocally Britain’s most successful Grand Tour rider in history.
Nairo Quintana lived up to his promise
After Froome’s perfect performance in the opening week, and then into the Pyrenees, for many it looked as though the Tour de France was done and dusted before it even reached the Alps.
However, as Froome’s three-week effort started to takes its toll, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) seemed to find fresh legs in the final two days – coming good on his promise to attack Froome wherever possible.
The racing of Quintana – and a lesser extent defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) – led to one of the best final weeks of a Tour de France in recent memory. It’s what cycling fans dream about.
At only 25 years of age, Quintana still has plenty of years to win the Tour de France, and plenty of years to provide thrilling racing in the mountains.
Team Sky pulled it back together
Even ardent, unswaying fans of British WorldTour team Sky would have had some doubt to their collective strength during Friday’s stage 19, which saw Froome appear isolated and vulnerable at the worst possible moment.
Before the start of stage 20, many believed that they were on the ropes – an extended period of defending the yellow jersey and riding at the front, chasing down attacks having taken its toll.
When it came to the crunch, though, Sky rallied behind their leader and provided him with support when it was most needed. In particular, Richie Porte and Wout Poels who dragged Froome up the final 10km of Alpe d’Huez and onto the podium in Paris.
Even Geraint Thomas, who suffered a terrible day on Friday and lost 22 minutes, will finish in 15th place overall.
The Yates brothers were impressive
Twenty-two-year-old twin brothers Adam and Simon Yates are set to both complete the Tour de France for the first time – and in some style. For Simon it’s his second attempt after last year, but the first that he’s completed. And for Adam, it is his debut Tour.
Despite their Orica-GreenEdge team suffering badly from crashes during the opening week, the British brothers survived into the mountains, where they were given a free rein to see what they could do.
It’s too early to expect a stage win at this level, but 11th and 22nd places for Simon and Adam respectively on Alpe d’Huez in among the likes of Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali has proven that any expectations of greatness have strong foundations for the future.