Vincenzo Nibali has proven a worthy winner of the 2014 Tour de France. He was clearly the best rider over the three weeks. No one was able to stick with him, either on the cobbles or over the mountains. The departure of Froome and Contador may have robbed us of some exciting attacks over the course of this three week sojourn through France but there is little doubt Nibali is a deserving winner.
For me, the team I enjoyed the most this Tour de France was Tinkoff-Saxo.
Now, this is not to say that Astana, did not ride an excellent, intelligent race. Of course they did.
Nor is to say that AG2R, the winners of the teams classification weren’t also exciting.
It was almost impossible to not excited for the performances of Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot, especially in light of Pinot’s efforts to overcome his fear of descending.
But the team I was most impressed with was Tinkoff-Saxo, for nothing other than, unlike Sky they did not crumble when they found themselves without their Plan A and they hadn’t bothered preparing a Plan B.
Perhaps their fluoro yellow wasn’t a highlight and obviously the abandonment of their leader, Alberto Contador was another low point, but this team did what their closest rival, Team Sky could not. They successfully reinvented themselves.
Tinkoff-Saxo went to the Tour de France with one plan and that plan was to put Alberto Contador into a nicer yellow jersey than any other Tinkoff rider. Who honestly would have thought that this was not a done deal after Contador’s closest rival, Chris Froome crashed out on Stage 5, before he even found the cobbles.
Sure, Bertie had lost a fair bit of time over the dreaded cobbles, but it would only have been a matter of time before the Spaniard electrified the peloton over the mountains with one of his classic attacks.
The wonderful thing about Grand Tours is that they are so unpredictable and in a strange turn of events, Contador found himself hitting the deck, battling on with his team trying to pull him back to the peloton, all the while in the rain with a broken shin bone.
The sight of Bertie putting his arm around Mick Rogers and telling him that his Tour was over will not be forgotten by many Australian fans anytime soon.
Tinkoff-Saxo would turn this calamity into success.
Writing in the Irish Times, Nicolas Roche spoke about the team’s lack of a Plan B. Their leader was out. Long live the leader.
What Tinkoff-Saxo did for the remainder of the Tour was nothing short of a brilliant display of teamwork and camaraderie.
They showed their class and experience through Australian Michael Rogers and Irishman, Nicolas Roche and they showed fight, grit and determination through Rafal Majka.
They did everything that Sky couldn’t.
The masterstroke by Tinkoff-Saxo was of course their response to Contador’s abandonment on Stage 10. Wisely, the remaining team members ensured that they rolled in to La Planche des Belles Filles within the time limit but so far behind that they would be of no bother to any teams with eyes on the GC.
This is not to say, that Sky were necessarily wrong in looking to Ritchie Porte as Plan B leader. But what it says, is that Tinkoff-Saxo developed a Plan B based on their realistic chances for success.
Porte was supposed to be Sky’s man for the Giro but illness forced him out. We’ll never know sitting in our lounge rooms on the other side of the earth, just how healthy Porte was going into the Tour de France, but we do know that to win the Tour you need to be very well prepared. You need to have built your whole year around this race. After all, this is the formula that has brought the British team success over the last two editions.
Seeing Porte win a Tour de France is definitely top of most Aussie cycling fan’s bucket lists, including mine. But that win will come from the same level of preparation that Nibali put into wining this year’s and the same level of preparation the previous winners have put into their victories.
The Tour is not a race that you can just roll up to and hope to win. Sky should know that.
That’s why they played a better game of poker and once their hand went from a Royal Flush to not even holding a pair of twos they came out on top.
Tinkoff-Saxo finished the Tour with three stage wins, two to Rafal Majka and one to Michael Rogers. Majka would also go on to the win the King of the Mountains.
Stage 11, their first full stage without Alberto also saw Nicolas Roche awarded the most combative rider for his breakaway exploits.
Tinkoff-Saxo also made a statement about leadership within the team. Contador is their leader. He is their leader whether he is on the bike travelling the roads of France with his team or whether he is sitting in a hospital bed in Madrid. That was never questioned.
Leadership at Sky seems to be something that is raffled, divvied up. Most of Froome’s teammates were nowhere to be seen when he came a cropper on Stage 5. Once he was gone, they found a quick replacement that worked for a bit but once it fell apart, they too fell apart.
In watching Tinkoff-Saxo at this year’s Tour de France it is clear that the wise words of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t Panic” must have been engraved somewhere in the team’s mind.
One of the most positive things to come out of this year’s Tour de France is that there are any number of teams we may strongly argue performed the best and they all performed differently.
For my mind, it was Tinkoff-Saxo.
Long live the tour and long live tour controversies!
A version of this article first appeared on The Roar