The 2017 Tour de France had it all: crashes, disqualification, controversy and a tightly packed classification battle heading towards Paris and stage 21. Experts say that the rivals may be upping their game or that Chris Froome's forces may be levelling off.
"It was interesting because at the end of the Tour [before the final time trial], you had three riders within one minute of each other," Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) told Cycling Weekly. "Other years after two weeks, you'd have a three-minute difference already. Instead this year it came down to the final time trial. It would've been very interesting for those watching at home.
"Maybe the years have passed for Chris Froome, but at the same time, other cyclists raised their level. Many of them are at the same level and in fact, in the Giro d'Italia, we saw the race settled on the final day."
"For the French it must have been good because they have Bardet and Barguil in the polka-dot jersey, a rider winning on a famous climb Izoard," Laurens Ten Dam (Team Sunweb) explained. "Warren Barguil winning on Bastille Day - he will be a legend in France for the rest of his life.
"Do you remember a few years ago when Vincenzo Nibali was five minutes ahead going into the last mountain stage? But it has been that way in the past with Chris Froome also, so this was exciting tension for the race."
Watch: Tour de France stage 20 highlights
Froome faltered in the Pyrenees and lost the yellow jersey to Fabio Aru (Astana). However, he bounced back well and Sky managed its rivals in the Alpine days. Froome, already with an advantage, would be unstoppable in the Marseille time trial.
"The 2013 Tour and this one were very intense and this one has been very tightly raced and required us to use more of the team," Team Sky sports director, Nicolas Portal said. "We needed to be smart everyday and focused everyday, and that wears on you mentally.
"Froome showed how well he is going with his climbing speed, how he's been able to attack or come back quickly. So I don't know what to say to people who say that he is not as strong as he used to be. But the level of the GC competition is high and our rivals have improved, too."
"When I saw the profile, I thought, there'll be many bunch sprints," Bahrain-Merida sports director Tristan Hoffman said. "People said that maybe was boring, but in the past the Tour de France was like this and then it became harder and harder, but this edition is good. We lost some big stars in the start because of crashes and decisions by the jury, but the race makes stars.”
"It's exciting, Romain and Rigoberto were still there" Richard Plugge, LottoNL-Jumbo general manager added. "If I was watching on TV, I would have loved it. This is better than the last editions, when you already knew with two weeks to go who was going to win."
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Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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