Probably the toughest job for any pro cycling team boss is putting together the perfect selection of talent for the biggest race of the year, the Tour de France.
Squad selection for the Tour is a tightrope walk, as management balance the demands of the sponsors, the compulsion to win, rider injuries, form and personalities, as well as the budget limitations of signing riders you might want to carry you to the top step.
While some team managers hedge their bets, choosing to back a sprinter and a GC hopeful (looking at you Jumbo-Visma), others go all-in for the yellow jersey with either one, two, or even three leaders.
But if we were to throw out all the rules and restrictions, ignore the budget and the personalities, and choose purely on Tour de France talent from the last decade, who would make the list?
Well if we were given free reign, here is what our fantasy eight-rider Tour de France squad would look like.
Thank god we don’t have to manage this lot.
The GC leader – Chris Froome
While there are a handful of riders you would love to have as general classification leader on your team, there is an obvious choice that stands out above the rest.
Chris Froome is the most successful Tour de France rider of the last decade and arguably among the greatest in cycling history.
With seven three-week titles to his name, including four Tours de France, there is no one from the last 10 years more consistent on the biggest stage, making him the clear choice for leader of the fantasy eight.
Mountain domestique/back up leader – Vincenzo Nibali
The choice for an ultra-domestique and back up general classification leader is between two riders in my view – Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali.
Contador sits level with Froome on seven Grand Tour wins, with two Tours de France, two editions of the Giro d’Italia and three red jerseys from the Vuelta a España.
But Contador’s golden years were before the last decade, when he won both his Tours and one each of the Vuelta and Giro between 2007 and 2009.
His last Grand Tour podium was his victory in the 2015 Giro and he retired before the end of the decade.
Vincenzo Nibali continues to build his already remarkable legacy at 35 years old.
The Italian has may have fewer Grand Tour victories than Froome or Contador, but his ongoing success make him the top pick for my fantasy squad.
All of Nibali’s three-week victories come from the last 10 years – two editions of the Giro, two Vuelta and one Tour.
He is a regular Grand Tour podium finisher, most recently finishing 2nd in the 2019 Giro, and has added Milan-San Remo and Il Lombardia to his palmarès in recent seasons, which is an added bonus.
Although good luck asking a champion like Nibali to support another rider in a Grand Tour.
Sprinter – Mark Cavendish
Now for choice of sprinter in the fantasy team, again there is a clear favourite.
While arguments could easily be made for the German powerhouses André Greipel or Marcel Kittel, there is one rider who has to be included based on the sheer number of Tour de France stage victories in the last 10 years.
Mark Cavendish may have started his almost-unparrallelled winning streak back in 2008, but more than half of his 30 Tour de France stages have come since the turn of the last decade.
Since 2010, the ‘Manx Missile’ has won 20 Tour stages, while Greipel has won 11 in his career, Kittel 14.
Of course Cavendish hasn’t reached his former heights in recent seasons, but as the second most successful Tour de France stage winner in history, only four behind the legendary Eddy Merckx, not including him would be a crime.
Lead-out rider – Mark Renshaw
Every great sprinter needs a rider and friend they can trust to deliver them at the perfect moment to fight for victory, and there is none better than the legendary Mark Renshaw.
The Australian played a huge role in the success of his long-time friend Cavendish before his retirement this year.
Renshaw said one of his fondest memories was finishing second to team-mate Cavendish on the Champs-Élysées on the final day of the 2009 Tour de France.
Time trial specialist – Tony Martin
This was a tough selection between two era-defining TT specialists, but I’ve opted for Tony Martin.
The other choice was the also outstanding Fabian Cancellara.
On paper, Swiss rider Cancellara has more career wins – 86 to Martin’s 66 – and of course has a slew of glorious victories in the Classics, most notably three Tours of Flanders and three Paris-Roubaix.
However, when narrowing down results purely to the last 10 years, for me, Martin has to be the choice for the squad.
All of the German’s four World Championship time trial victories happened after 2010, while Cancellara’s last of four Worlds wins was in 2010.
Martin also has more Tour de France victories from the last decade – five to Cancellara’s three.
However, Cancellara did close out his career with his second career gold medal at the Olympics in 2016, which is a huge result to have as your last ever competitive race.
The clinching factor however is longevity, as Cancellera retired part way through 2016 while Martin will close out the decade still racing at 34, as a faithful road captain and workhorse for Jumbo-Visma.
But I wouldn’t begrudge anyone who swapped Martin for Cancellara.
The breakaway specialist – Tommy Voeckler
Another tough choice here between to stars of the stage escape, but I’ve gone for the legendary Tommy Voeckler.
With 43 career wins to his name, Voeckler was one of the unsung heroes of the cycling world before his retirement in 2017 – the kind of rider who slowly cultivated his palmarès with prestigious wins through experience and opportunism.
With three Tour de France stage victories from the last decade, he is slightly ahead of the other heroic breakaway rider, Thomas De Gendt, who has also built up some phenomenal victories sporadically.
But the clincher for Voeckler is his performance in the 2011 Tour de France, when he led the race for 10 days and came within a handful of stages of winning the yellow jersey in what would have been a huge upset.
Voeckler may have slipped back to fourth with three stages to race, but his exploits live on in history.
All rounder – Peter Sagan
No Tour de France roster is complete without an all-rounder to pick up results when things get unpredictable and Peter Sagan is the ultimate in that mould.
The Slovakian started winning in 2010 and has barely stopped since, taking 14 Tour de France stage wins since his first in 2012.
While Sagan’s versatility him a strong contender for any Tour squad, the factor that guarantees his inclusion in the team is his rockstar status.
Sagan has a reputation as an entertainer, whether it be in the race with his exciting attacking style of racing, or his one-handed wheelies and infamous finish line celebrations, the former three-time world champion is a crowd pleaser, a rider that will definitely keep the sponsors happy while racking up wins along the way.
Road captain – Luke Rowe
Luke Rowe at the 2018 Tour de France (Sunada)
Team Ineos road captain Luke Rowe may have only ridden his first Tour de France in 2015, but the Welshman has built up a reputation as a formidable tactician despite being only 29 years old.
Rowe’s understanding of bike racing has been matched by few others in the professional peloton in the last 10 years, as shown by his control in the 2019 Paris-Nice when he helped split the race and taught rising star Egan Bernal a few things while he did it.
Also a Classics specialist, Rowe is an essential asset when things get tight and technical, successfully steering his team through the Tour de France to victory in the last five editions.