A collective sign of relief was heard from all British cycling fans this week as Sir Jim Ratcliffe was confirmed as the new owner, and main sponsor, of Team Sky racing.
This year’s Tour de France – taken out by Sky Racing’s Chris Froome – was defined by a number of key stages, attacks and events.
Six of them are discussed here.
1: Stage 2 – Gutter action in the Netherlands
Tour organisers set the riders a challenge with Stage 2 – a flat, but brutal course buffeted by Dutch cross-winds. Chris Froome (Team Sky) rode superbly, staying up the front and making the correct decision when high winds, crashes and attacking riders inevitably split the bunch.
Notable riders who missed out were reigning champ Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and key favourite Nairo Quintana (Team Movistar), who both surrendering 1:28 to Froome.
2: Stage 4 – Cobbles of Northern France
Many expected Froome and Quintana to flounder on the technically-demanding, seven cobbled sections of Stage 4.
Nibali was aggressive on the same terrain he had such success in last year’s Tour, but despite numerous attacks, Nibali’s renowned handling prowess was nullified by the dry conditions and he was brought back each time.
Additionally, there were no changes to the general classification standings.
3: Stage 9 – Team Time Trial
The mountainous nature of this year’s Tour laid a trap for teams who stacked their rosters with grimpeurs. Time was there to be gained or lost.
Indeed, Stage 9 saw Nibali lose a further 34 seconds to Froome and an impressive Sky squad, with Quintana losing only three. The stage was won by Tejay van Garderen’s BMC squad, whilst Froome remained in yellow, with healthy 1:59 and 2:22 buffers over Quintana and Nibali respectively.
4: Dominating on the road to La Pierre – Saint Martin
Following the first rest day, Stage 10 was the first mountain stage, and finished on top of La Pierre – Saint Martin in the Pyrenees.
Here, Froome attacked with 6.4km to go and dropped everyone, winning the stage and putting 1:04 onto his advantage over Quintana. Only Richie Porte (Team Sky), who came in second after completing his duties for Froome, looked similarly dominant.
After a near-flawless display by Froome in the first week of the Tour, his display of sheer strength shocked fans around the world.
5: Signs of mortality in the Alps
After a devastating display of form in the Pyrenees, the Tour had moved to the Alps.
Stage 19 was a tough one due to four categorised climbs, and with about 60km to go Froome suffered a mechanical problem when a stone was jammed in his wheel. Although he quickly dislodged it, Nibali had already launched an attack.
With Nibali lagging 5:30 behind Froome in the overall standings, Froome had little need to panic allowing Nibali to win the stage.
However, with 5.2 km to go, Quintana attacked the yellow jersey group and was finally able to break free of Froome – finishing 30 seconds ahead of him.
The first real, if small crack in Froome’s armour.
6: Hanging on by a thread up Alpe d’Huez
Stage 20 was the last chance for anyone hoping to disrobe Froome of his yellow jersey – ‘anyone’, now essentially restricted to Nairo Quintana.
Firstly, passing over the Croix de Fer, a flurry of attacks were successfully neutralised by Froome and his Sky teammates.
What Froome had kept a secret was that he was now battling a chest infection. On Alpe d’Huez, the final climb of the Tour, Quintana attacked the Froome’s group at least three times – finally shaking them loose on the last attempt.
From here, the Tour would be decided in a drag race between the two key protagonists. Froome could afford to surrender no more than 2:38 to Quintana and in the end, Quintana took only 1:20 off him, leaving Froome safe in yellow and the 2015 Tour de France champion.
The Froome mythology was one that would see him stride imperiously to victory in the 2015 Tour. It certainly seemed that way in the early phases of the race. However, I think he became more vulnerable as the race progressed – particularly after getting ill.
In my view, he rode a near-flawless and tactical race – wasting no opportunities.
A deserving winner.