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by Neal Rogers
July 30, 2018
Photography by ASO; Cor Vos; Gruber Images
After 21 stages and 3,351 kilometres, the 2018 Tour de France is over, with 145 of the race’s 176 starters finishing Sunday in Paris.
For the sixth time in seven years Team Sky has won the race, and now with a new champion in Welshman Geraint Thomas.
The 105th edition of the Tour de France saw breakthrough rides from Quick-Step’s Fernando Gaviria, who won two stages and wore yellow for the first time in his career, as well as teammate Julian Alaphilippe, who won in the Alps and again in the Pyrenees, taking the polka-dot jersey as King of the Mountains.
Alaphilippe gave the host nation much to celebrate, as did Perre Latour (Ag2r La Mondiale), winner of the Best Young Rider competition, and Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), winner of Stage 18 in Pau.
For the sixth time in seven years, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) wore the green jersey in Paris; this time he won three stages before a high-speed crash nearly ended his Tour. Covered in bandages, the world champion ended the race heroically, sprinting for eighth on the Champs-Élysées and setting a new record for the number of days any rider has worn a Tour classification jersey, at 103.
The Tour began with American Lawson Craddock of EF Education First-Drapac crashing in the first feed zone and fracturing his scapula; it ended 22 days later with Norwegian Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Team Emirates) winning the field sprint on the Champs-Élysées.
Along the way, over about 90 hours of racing and 26 high mountain passes, there were moments of celebration and moments of crisis.
Below is my selection for the top-10 most significant moments of the race, ranked in reverse order, with the most significant moment last.
Bib number 13 struck early for American Lawson Craddock, who went down in the feed zone on Stage 1 when a loose water bottle took out his front wheel, fracturing his scapula. His participation was in doubt, and even after he made it through the first week, the EF Education First-Drapac rider faced a jarring ride across the pavé on Stage 9 before he could get to the first rest day.
Craddock spent nearly the entire three weeks in France at the back of the peloton, struggling to cope with the pain. He broke into tears on camera at least twice along the way — speaking with the press after he’d received his x-rays in Fontenay-le-Comte after Stage 1, and again after completing the Stage 20 time trial, as the realization set in that he would be finishing the Tour.
Craddock turned his journey through France into an opportunity to raise money for the hurricane-damaged Alkek Velodrome in Houston, where his racing career began, by donating $100 for every stage he’d finished, and asking fans to do the same. At press time he’d raised nearly US $200,000.
Craddock’s story of adversity and perseverance captured the attention of race fans around the world, and along the way he made history — not only is Craddock the first American to be the Tour’s lanterne rouge, he’s also the first rider to be last on the general classification from the first stage to the last.
Philippe Gilbert’s crash on the descent of the Col de Portet d’Aspet was shocking, so it was a relief to see him helped out of a ravine and back onto his bike.
Philippe Gilbert’s dramatic crash on Stage 16 wasn’t significant to the overall story arc of the Tour de France, but it was certainly significant for what it could have been, as well as symbolic of the spirit of the Tour — pushing through the pain to reach the finish line.
On the Col de Portet d’Aspet — the same descent where Fabio Casartelli crashed and lost his life in 1995 — Gilbert was descending alone at the front of the race when he came in hot on a lefthand turn, locked up his brakes and hit a rock wall, flipping over the side and into a ravine. For a tense few moments, Gilbert’s condition was unknown, and for many it was difficult to put thoughts of Casartelli’s fate out of their mind.
Gilbert was not seriously injured, however, and he was quickly helped out of the ravine and back on this bike. He climbed two more mountains and finished the stage 30 minutes behind his Quick-Step Floors teammate, winner Julian Alaphilippe, and was presented the day’s Most Combative Rider award while still wearing a blood-soaked sock.
Gilbert required help to walk down the podium steps, and subsequent x-rays revealed he’d broken his kneecap in the fall.
A late mechanical for Tom Dumoulin saw the Dutchman distanced at precisely the wrong time on Stage 6. He had teammate Soren Kragh Andersen to help pace him back, but in the end he lost 53 seconds on the stage and received a 20-second time penalty for drafting behind his team car for too long.
With 6km to go on Stage 6, finishing atop the steep Mûr-de-Bretagne, Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) ran into Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), damaging his front wheel. The 2017 Giro d’Italia champion took a front wheel from teammate Simon Geschke, and was then paced back by several teammates. Dumoulin finished 53 seconds down, and also received a 20-second penalty for extended drafting behind his team vehicle.
He finished the Tour 1:51 behind Geraint Thomas. That deficit, before the race had even hit the mountains, changed the way Dumoulin raced against Thomas, forcing the Dutchman to attack. And because Thomas was always able to follow, those attacks were both wasted effort and demoralizing.
It’s impossible to know how the race might have played out had Dumoulin not had the mechanical incident, however following the Stage 20 time trial he suggested it hadn’t changed the outcome of the general classification.
“[Without the time deficit] it would have been different for Thomas, because he would have attacked me,” Dumoulin said. “He held back on some stages because he was pretty safe. He played a safe game in the mountains. If I’d been closer without the time lost at Mûr-de-Bretagne, he would have taken more time on me in the mountains because he was definitely stronger.
“Thomas was the absolute strongest over the last three weeks, and he showed that every day, so losing time on Mûr-de-Bretagne wouldn’t have changed any result. I would have been second also.”
Peter Sagan crashed heavily on Stage 17, and his focus shifted from winning the two remaining field sprints to simply surviving to Paris.
It’s not often that Peter Sagan crashes, but when he does, he does it in a big way. The world champion had the green jersey mathematically locked up heading into Stage 17 when he misread a turn on the descent of Col de Val Louron-Azet, the second of three climbs on the short 65km stage, and flew off the road, landing on a large rock with his back.
The Bora-Hansgrohe rider finished the stage shredded and bloodied, and even contested a field sprint the following day into Pau. But on Stage 19, which featured the HC climbs of the Tourmalet and Aubisque, as the soreness and stiffness set in, it was touch and go whether the green jersey would make it to Paris or be eliminated by finishing outside the time cut.
Sagan finished in the grupetto, aided by several Bora-Hansgrohe teammates, and called it the worst day he’d ever had on a bike, adding that if he hadn’t already won the green jersey competition, he likely would have abandoned. “But I was wearing it and I was going to make it to the finish, within or outside the time limit,” Sagan said. “Finishing this stage has been more than a victory for me”
Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) did not finish within the time cut on Stage 11 from Albertville to La Rosière.
Two days in the Alps saw nearly every marquee sprinter in the race either abandon or miss the time cut, dramatically changing the composition of the three remaining field sprints. Stage 11 to La Rosière saw Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) finish “hors delay” — outside the time limit — while Stage 12, finishing at l’Alpe d’Huez, saw Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo), and Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) all climb off because they knew they would not finish within the time cut.
Altogether, that was five sprinters who have won multiple Tour sprints leaving the race in the span of 24 hours. The riders who would win the remaining three sprints — Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), and Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Team Emirates).
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) took his second summit finish victory in two days atop l’Alpe d’Huez on Stage 12.
If there was a moment that turned the tide on the GC battle, it was atop l’Alpe d’Huez on Stage 12, where Geraint Thomas not only became the first British rider to win on the sport’s hallowed climb, he did it wearing the yellow jersey, in what was his second mountaintop stage win in two days.
Inside the final 10km of the climb, with Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) up the road, Thomas held his own behind teammate Egan Bernal, one of the most talented pure climbers in professional cycling, whose pace gapped off riders like Adam Yates, Dan Martin, Nairo Quintana, and Mikel Landa. In the finale, from a group of five riders, Thomas easily won the sprint and took his second 10-second time bonus in two days.
His GC lead over Chris Froome stretched out to 1:39, and though Thomas contended that he would still ride in support of Froome, the reality that Thomas might just be the strongest man in the race began to set in.
All questions of whether Chris Froome or Geraint Thomas would be Team Sky’s protected GC leader were answered on Stage 17, where Froome struggled under pressure on Col du Portet.
Speculation surrounding Chris Froome and the maillot jaune within Team Sky were answered on Stage 17 when the four-time Tour winner was gapped off a select group of podium contenders with 3km to go on the 16km climb of the Col du Portet.
Froome was nursed to the line by teammate Egan Bernal, ceding 52 seconds to Geraint Thomas, who finished third on the stage. Froome slipped to third overall, 2:31 behind Thomas.
It was an important moment not just in this Tour, but for British cycling, as Thomas looked set to become the third British rider to win the Tour, and ahead of his longtime friend and team leader. “I just didn’t have the legs in the final,” Froome said at the finish. “I’ve won the last three Grand Tours now and [Thomas] has ridden an absolutely faultless race this year, so he fully deserves to be in the yellow jersey.”
Richie Porte’s bad luck at the Tour de France continued in 2018 when he crashed early on Stage 9 and was forced to abandon with a broken collarbone. Porte crashed out of the 2017 Tour, and had an untimely puncture in 2016 that arguably cost him a podium finish.
The 21km of cobblestones on Stage 9 had the potential to impact the general classification, but it was the asphalt that ended the hopes of three GC riders. Australian Richie Porte (BMC Racing), sitting 10th overall, went down in an early tumble with teammate Stefan Kung, as well as Andre Greipel and Jens Keukeleire of Lotto-Soudal; Porte had to abandon the race well before the first section of pavé.
Spaniard Mikel Landa (Movistar) also crashed hard on the pavement when he hit a drain cover while drinking from a water bottle between cobblestone sections with 33km remaining. Landa hit the deck hard but was quickly back on his bike, with several Movistar teammates rallying around him. Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac) fell in a righthand corner coming off the cobbles with 30km remaining. Aided by several teammates, last year’s runner-up would lose only 90 seconds, but the real damage was to his body, forcing him to abandon prior to the start of Stage 12.
Altogether, three of the race’s podium contenders saw their GC hopes evaporated on one eventful stage. In a race that had a surprise winner in Geraint Thomas, it’s hard to overestimate how much these three separate incidents impacted the fight for the maillot jaune.
Froome came in as the pre-race favorite, but in the end his teammate Geraint Thomas won the race, while Froome put in a strong Stage 20 time trial to finish third overall.
Geraint Thomas had the yellow jersey all but locked up heading into the Stage 20 time trial, but second through fourth overall were separated by just 32 seconds, with all three riders — Dumoulin, Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), and Froome — among the very best in the sport racing against the clock.
Roglic had seemed freshest in the final week, winning Stage 19 with a daredevil descent down the Col d’Aubisque, while Froome had shown signs of fatigue, his chances for a podium finish looking bleak. Dumoulin, the world TT champion, would win the time trial, however it was the Team Sky riders that surprised.
Froome put in a very strong ride to finish just one second behind Dumoulin, leapfrogging him over a disappointed Roglic, who gave up 1:11 to Froome over 31km. With that ride, Froome nearly won the stage while reclaiming his position on the podium. Thomas, however, may have truly been the strongest against the clock. The maillot jaune led Froome by 13 seconds at the second intermediate time check, 22km into the 31km stage, but the Welshman eased off the pace, finishing 13 seconds behind Froome — a time differential of 26 seconds over the final 9km.
Thomas, who finished third, acknowledged that he cruised the home stretch, saying his team director instructed him to just get home safely. Whether the Welshman was also hoping to set up his teammate for the stage win, we may never know.
Despite sitting on the front for the last kilometre or so, Degenkolb was strong enough to win the sprint in Roubaix.
The drama on the road on Stage 9, across the cobblestones into Roubaix, was no match for the drama in stage winner John Degenkolb’s post-race interview. The Trek-Segafredo rider took his first major victory since a January 2016 accident, when he and his teammates were struck by a car in Spain. Degenkolb suffered hand injuries, including nearly losing a finger, that threatened to end his career.
Through tears, Degenkolb, winner of Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix in 2015, explained what the victory meant to him after a difficult journey that had also involved the recent loss of a close friend he described as a second father.
“Pure happiness,” Degenkolb said, his emotions flowing freely. “I was chasing this victory for so long… It’s really hard to describe. It’s a very big victory after a very long time. I have been through a lot of things in the past, and it was such a hard time.
“I’m so happy to dedicate this victory to one of my best friends, he passed away last winter. This was really something for him, because everybody said I was done, that after this accident, I will never come back. I said, no, I am not done. I have to get at least one really big victory for this guy, his name is Jörg and he was my second father.
“It was a horrible accident, and it is a huge loss without him. I’m so happy to get this victory now for him. There’s no way to make it more dramatic, more nice, more fantastic. I’m totally overwhelmed.”
After a highly anticipated day of intense racing, it was a moment that transcended sport, and the moment I’ll remember most from the 2018 Tour de France.
CyclingTips editor Neal Rogers wrote a daily column during the 2018 Tour de France, focused on analysis, commentary, and opinion. This was his final installment of the race.