Monday, August 31, 2015

Grit and fight lead the way for Dumoulin and Froome

Yesterday's stage 9 finish in the Vuelta on the Alto de Puig Llorença was one of the best climaxes to a stage I have seen in some time. On such a short climb you wouldn't have expected the damage we got, but it was so brutal that those attacking early completely underestimated what was to come. Tom Dumoulin stood up to those attacks, measuring the timing of his efforts perfectly to take the win and overall lead, while Chris Froome went from looking in real trouble at one stage to blowing the race wide open with a set of searing attacks late on to hammer home a remainder to his rivals that he's getting better by the day.

With around 3km to go I was thinking in terms of minutes as to the time Froome might lose, as Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Fabio Aru took turns attacking the Tour de France winner. With Froome in trouble and sliding out the back it was clear they felt the chance had come to put a dagger into his GC ambitions. The only problem was the hardest part of the climb was still to come and their early efforts only served to exhaust them as the attacks became ever more fleeting before the ever shrinking lead group slowed down to look at one another for the next move.

In doing so Froome was able to ride at his own tempo and limit any losses and in doing so rode himself back into the group. Suddenly he was the one at the front and putting down the hammer with a renewed vigor. From the brink of extinction of the GC battle, Froome was suddenly making his overly-excited opponents look like under-experienced rookies as his perfectly timed ride up the climb was in stark comparison to the others.

Only Dumoulin measured up. The Dutchman known more for his time-trailing is having the week of his life here and seems suited to the kind of short-sharp finishes we've seen thus far. On a climb that seen continual changes in elevation he could allow himself to attack on the flatter sections and use his time-trialling skills while merely surviving on the super-steep parts. One of those steep parts allowed the fast moving Froome to overwhelm him but with the finish in sight and knowledge that the red jersey of Estaban Chaves was in serious trouble, Dumoulin summoned one final burst of effort to close the gap to Froome and come past him for a fine victory on the line by a mere 2sec.

Joaquim Rodriguez rode it smartly, covering moves rather than making them until the final stretches when he attempted to win on a road that his father had spent the previous night painting his name on, only to run out of gas when Froome came through. He finished 5sec back on Dumoulin but with enough to move into second place overall.

Aru was next in at 16sec, Quintana and Valverde lost 20sec, and the Red jersey of Chaves lost 59sec by the time all was said and done. These time gaps are relatively small for the likes of Aru, Quintana and Valverde, but it was the manor in which they were achieved that stood out. The way in which Froome remained composed under what must have been serious stress as the others got excited early and the way in which he took it to them later. There is a long way to go and Froome is still 1sec behind Quintana overall and 1min 18sec off the Red jersey, but a statement has been made and he must be the favourite heading into the kind of terrain in which he thrives.

The individual time-trial will suit Dumoulin more than Froome, though Froome himself will relish it more than the rest, but it's hard to see Dumoulin measuring up to Froome in the high mountains where the serious time gains will be made.

Result: Classement:
1. Dumoulin (TGA)

2. Froome (SKY)

3. Rodriguez (KAT)

4. Aru (AST)

5. Majka (TSC)

6. Quintana (MOV)

---
7. Valverde (MOV)
15. Chaves (OGE)
in 4h 9' 55"

@ 2"

@ 5"

@ 16"

@ 18"

@ 20"


@ 20"
@ 59"
1. Dumoulin (TGA)

2. Rodriguez (KAT)

3. Chaves (OGE)

4. Roche (SKY)

5. Valverde (MOV)

6. Aru (AST)

---
7. Quintana (MOV)
8. Froome (SKY)
9. Majka (TSC)
in 35h 22' 13"

@ 57"

@ 59"

@ 1' 7"

@ 1' 9"

@ 1' 13"


@ 1' 17"
@ 1' 18"
@ 1' 47"

* The stages either side of this one both ended up in bunch sprints with Jasper Stuyven winning on stage 8 and Kristian Sbaragli on stage 9. The only change either day made to the overall was on stage 8 when Dan Martin and Tejay Van Garderen both crashed out. Also mixed up in a crash involving a motor bike (those again!) was Peter Sagan. He was furious and had to be restrained and he finished the stage, but he didn't take the start the next day.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Froome loses time while Quintana and Valverde still look strong

So after a flat stage won in a sprint by the impressive young Caleb Ewan and another hill-top finish won, once again, by Esteban Chaves who took back his Red jersey after its day on the shoulders of Tom Dumoulin, the Vuelta once again finished at the summit of a hill, albeit a bigger one that we've seen thus far, and once more put the contenders to test.

Bertjan Lindeman won the stage, a survivor of the days break, but the big news was the sight of Chris Froome struggling near the top and losing 27sec on the majority of his rivals who finished on the same time as one another 36sec behind Lindeman. Tejay Van Garderen also lost out, conceding 49sec to the likes of Majka, Valverde, Quintana, Roche, Dan Martin and Joaquim Rodriguez.

Chris Froome losing contact on this climb was somewhat surprising, though perhaps not completely unexpected. Surprising in the sense that this was far from the worst climb they're due to face; one in which the likes of Chaves and Dumoulin stuck with the big-boys with the former retaining his overall lead. Not unexpected because the effort Froome put in to win the Tour followed by the host of post-Tour crits he has been attending which ate into his time for ideal pre-Vuelta preparation was sure to ware on him and take its toll.

The key for Froome here is limiting any losses in this first week and even parts of the second week and hope that his legs come back to him. He need also hope that the likes of Quintana and Valverde, who finished on the podium with him in Paris and suffered right with him through the Pyrenees and Alps, would start to find the going tough too, but so far, perhaps surprisingly (and perhaps young legs in the case of Quintana) both of them look strong here as though the Tour was months ago.

One rider not expected to suffer in this first week was Fabio Aru. The young Italian skipped the Tour to target the Vuelta and should be fresher than many of those around him; should be looking to take as much time as he can, while he can. And that proved to be so today when he went on the attack and stole 7sec on the contenders.

Tomorrow is an interesting stage, though not one the favourites likely need to worry about as the two cat. 3 climbs top out some 17km from the finish. It's virtually all down hill for the first 140km, and while the sprinters may have their day spoilt by the two climbs, someone like Peter Sagan must really fancy his chances.

Result: Classement:
1. Lindeman (TLJ)

2. Richeze (LAM)

3. Aru (AST)

4. Cousin (EUC)

5. Majka (TSC)

6. Chaves (OGE)

---
7. Valverde (MOV)
8. Quintana (MOV)
17. Froome (SKY)
in 5h 10' 24"

@ 9"

@ 29"

@ 34"

@ 36"

ST


@ 36"
ST
@ 1' 3"
1. Chaves (OGE)

2. Dumoulin (TGA)

3. D. Martin (TCG)

4. Roche (SKY)

5. Valverde (MOV)

6. Rodriguez (KAT)

---
7. Quintana (MOV)
8. Aru (AST)
12. Froome (SKY)
in 27h 6' 13"

@ 10"

@ 33"

@ 36"

@ 49"

@ 56"


@ 57"
ST
@ 1' 22"

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

12 years on Valverde still winning at the Vuelta

The ever popular and age-less Alejandro Valverde timed his ride up the 1.5km finishing climb to Vejer de la Frontera to perfection as he held off a surging Peter Sagan to win today's fourth stage of the Vuelta and pick up a 10 second time bonus on his major rivals.

It was the seemingly ageless Spaniards 11th career win at the Vuelta, the first of which came twelve years ago on stage 9 of the 2003 edition, a race in which he won two stages and finished third overall behind Roberto Heras and Isidro Nozal. Also winning stages that year was the still-active Joaquim Rodriguez (who finished 6th today) as well as the long since retired Erik Zabel. Abandoning the day of Valverde's big first win was 35 year old Alex Zulle, the same age that Valverde is now.

The win today wasn't enough to wrestle the Red race leaders jersey off the shoulders of Esteban Chaves (who finished 10th) as the top 25 were all given the same time, strangely, despite seemingly obvious gaps between riders on the line. Still, thanks to a 10 second time-bonus Valverde did jump up to 4th overall and in winning showed he's recovered from that grueling three week Tour in July pretty well as Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana both finished several lengths behind him.

Sagan had clearly been targeting this one and after winning yesterday must have liked his chances of making it two wins on the trot, but the finish appeared to come quicker than he expected and as he fought to get past other riders who were slowing, he failed to keep tight on the wheel of Valverde and ran out of room to get past him before the line arrived.

In fourth place was Team Sky's Nicolas Roche who having also finished third on Sunday's summit finish, has shown he's carrying good form, coming close to winning both stages while keeping a high placing overall. Whether Roche is being given a bit of freedom to bid for GC contention or simply try get a big result in this tough opening first week remains to be seen, but the efforts he has been putting in clearly aren't simply in service of Froome.

And likewise Valverde over his team-leader Nairo Quintana. Can Roche and Valverde keep this form up or will Froome and Quintana answer back and re-assert their dominance? The hill-top finishes thus far have been too short to get any real definitive idea as to who the strongest riders are, highlighted by how tight the GC still is with 13 men within a minute of the lead, but both stages will have served to soften the legs a little and we won't have long to wait long to get a better idea of everyone's form.

Tomorrow is a flat stage but on Thursday they hit hills again with yet another steep finish; this time a 2km drag up to the line after plenty of climbing beforehand.

Result: Overall:
1. Valverde (MOV)

2. Sagan (TCS)

3. Moreno (KAT)

4. Roche (SKY)

5. Goncalves (CJR)

6. Rodriguez (KAT)
in 5h 7' 30"









all ST
1. Chaves (OGE)

2. Dumoulin (TGA)

3. Roche (SKY)

4. Martin (TCG)

5. Valverde (MOV)

6. Rodriguez (KAT)
in 13h 11' 31"

@ 5"

@ 15"

@ 24"

@ 28"

@ 35"

Monday, August 24, 2015

It took 71 stages but Sagan has finally won again, and expect more

781 days. Or 2 years, 1 month, 19 days since Peter Sagan last won a stage in a Grand Tour. Or, in a more personal perspective, his first GT stage win in the life of my youngest daughter! And it's only because it is Peter Sagan that all of this is so significant as today he broke his Grand Tour barren spell and finally got a win in the third stage of today's Vuelta.

Going two years between stage wins in Grand Tours would be just fine with 90% of riders, but Sagan is a man who is in contention to win almost ever day, and yet somehow has become Mr. Second Place in recent times as victories allude him either because everyone marks him to chase a late move which he doesn't, and which then succeeds, because everyone marks him to chase a late move which he does and they then capitalise on his tired legs, or because it's a flat sprint and he's got those two or three men in the world who as pure sprinters only can out drag him to the line.

Not today though.

Sagan has taken to the start of 71 Grand Tour stages over those 781 days and has likely been in the mix to win about 50 of them, but to no avail, until today. Today, the Slovak, the four-time Green jersey winner, the widely regarded best all-round rider in the sport despite those lack of wins, finally burst clear of his rivals in the drag for the line and held them off to win.

In other circumstances, perhaps for the other 9% that win, or are expected to win more than once every two years, you might think that this result will do wonders for their confidence, but Sagan is in that 1%, perhaps 0.1% as he stands alone, that doesn't suffer from crisis of confidence and who will put himself back in contention to win again the very next day regardless of the outcome.

What the win will do is quell any panic by those not named Peter Sagan that he's lost his winning touch and that the eyes of the marking peloton have ensured he can no longer win. The reminder that is today's win will only enhance the danger to the rest that this isn't likely to be his only win over the next three weeks, but then you won't need to tell Sagan that.

Result: Overall:
1. Sagan (TCS)

2. Bouhanni (COF)

3. Degenklob (TGA)

4. Drucker (BMC)

5. Richeze (LAM)

6. Sbaragli (MTN)
in 4h 6' 46"









all ST
1. Chaves (OGE)

2. Dumoulin (TGA)

3. Roche (SKY)

4. D. Martin (TCG)

5. Rodriguez (KAT)

6. Quintana (MOV)
in 8h 4' 1"

@ 5"

@ 15"

@ 24"

@ 35"

@ 36"

Nibali DQ'd for taking a tow

It's been a turbulent start to the Vuelta what with a riders complaint about safety leading to the times taken in yesterday's team-time-trial, finishing on a beach in Marbella, not counting to the general classification, and then today, Vincenzo Nibali being disqualified from the race for holding onto his Astana team car after being held up by a crash and losing contact with his rivals.

As a result of the times not counting towards the GC, the team-time-trial was nothing more than a show piece, highlighted by Team Sky coming third-last, more than a minute behind the winner, Team BMC. Thankfully the likes of BMC, Tinkoff-Saxo and Orica GreenEdge, proud competitors in team-time-trials and with an eye on next months World Championships, still took it serious and raced it hard with BMC covering the course in a time of 8min 10sec, a mere second better off than Tinkoff and Orica.

But enough on that. The real action and first attempt at time gains took place on the Sunday and it was no gentle induction into the third Grand Tour of the season. Rather, a stage with hills and a short-sharp summit finish to Caminito del Rey in which Esteban Chaves of Orica GreenEdge timed his attacks to perfection coming in a second up on Tom Dumoulin with the Irish pair of Nicolas Roche and Dan Martin coming in at 9sec and 14sec respectively.

Nairo Quintana was the biggest of the big names to show his hand when he attacked but he couldn't sustain it, perhaps evidence of post-Tour rust, though he did gain a psychological 4sec gap on Chris Froome.

But all the drama was reserved for the 2010 Vuelta champion who, perhaps in seeing a second successive Grand Tour go up in smoke when held up by a stage 2 crash, reached for the panic button. Vincenzo Nibali, while at the front of a large chasing group, suddenly grabbed onto his team-car, and within a handful of seconds had gained a huge gap on those with him. The penalty to later disqualify him may have seemed harsh in the moment, given how often we see riders 'taking a tow' behind a team-car following an accident or indeed using the services of a 'sticky bottle', but when helicopter camera footage later emerged showing how blatant the offence was, the decision was obvious.

It's a shame though because it would have been good to see Nibali in the mix with Froome and Quintana, and indeed to have seen how the inter-team rivalry between himself, Aru and Landa would have played out. But we can thank the crash itself for that as much has his own stupidity because even had he not held onto the car its clear he would have lost significant time and likely have put himself out of the running, much like stage 2 at the Tour. Even the 10 minute time-penalty he longed for would have done that.

Nibali later apologised for his actions and said he felt a time-penalty would have sufficed while claiming this stuff happens more than you think before criticising his team for not waiting for him en-mass, but it's hard to feel sorry for him. Perhaps it's understandable why he did it: a moment of desperation, or frustration, that forced his hand, though the better question he might have asked of his team was why, in the heat of the moment, the team-car actually agreed to speed up when he grabbed hold? Either way, the rules are clear and so too was the video footage.

Stage 2 result: Overall:
1. Chaves (OGE)

2. Dumoulin (TGA)

3. Roche (SKY)

4. D. Martin (TCG)

5. Rodriguez (KAT)

6. Quintana (MOV)

---
7. Froome (SKY)
8. Valverde (MOV)
10. Aru (AST)
12. Landa (AST)
15. Van Garderen (BMC)
DSQ. Nibali (AST)
in 3h 57' 25"

@ 1"

@ 9"

@ 14"

@ 26"

ST


@ 30"
@ 31"
@ 37"
ST
@ 45"
DSQ
1. Chaves (OGE)

2. Dumoulin (TGA)

3. Roche (SKY)

4. D. Martin (TCG)

5. Rodriguez (KAT)

6. Quintana (MOV)

TTT results:
1. BMC
2. Tinkoff Saxo
3. Orica GreenEdge
4. Lotto-Jumbo
---
20. Team Sky
in 3h 57' 25"

@ 5"

@ 15"

@ 24"

@ 36"

ST


in 8' 10"
@ 1"
ST
@ 8"

@ 1' 11"

Friday, August 21, 2015

A talent filled field come to compete in a wide-open and brutal Vuelta a España

If the Giro is to cycling fans the gateway into summer, then the Vuelta is surely the backdoor out again. Beginning in the height of a mid-late August summer and ending three weeks later in the fading light of a slowly cooling early-mid September. To me it typically signals about four weeks left of my fair-weather-cycling season (which, if truth be told, barely got started in the first place this year) as well as a sign that my October Thanksgiving turkey isn't far away.

Thankfully though, there's three weeks of action before any of that and it's setting up to be a heck of a race even if today the organisors confirmed that the times taken on the race opening team-time-trial would no longer count towards the general classification after riders complained about the dangers of the stage finishing on the beach, literally.

When I seen a picture taken yesterday by Nicolas Roche of his bike tire sinking into the sand, I couldn't help but feel this was surely the most appropriate way to mark the start of a Grand Tour race in Spain, and that perhaps they could have went one step further and had the clock stop only upon the fifth rider on his team lying down on a sunbed. Instead they've gone a step back and disregarded the point of the stage at all except now for show.

Still, let that not take anything away from what's in store for we've a host of big hitters showing up expecting to win it and none more so than Tour champion Chris Froome who will be looking to do what Alberto Contador failed to do at Giro-Tour by completing a single season Grand Tour double win and becoming the first man since Bernard Hinault in 1978 to do the Tour-Vuelta double (or Vuelta-Tour double as it was in Hinault's day).

There's also Froome's Tour nemesis, Nairo Quintana and his sidekick Alejandro Valverde, out to get that dastardly Froome this time, while Astana will roll up with a team loaded with team leaders in the shapes of Vincenzo Nibali (out to make amends for a poor start to his Tour defence and to show his final week form is still there), Fabio Aru (out to go one better than his 2nd at the Giro), and Mikel Landa (out to ignore any team orders to support the other two since he's, likely, joining Sky next season anyway).

So that puts the top four from this years Tour all at the start line in Porto-Banus and they will be joined by TeJay Van Garderen who took ill and abandoned the Tour from 2nd place in the final week, which will see four-fifths of that five-piece boy band that he formed out of the 'fab-four' after the first week of the Tour, going on a re-union Tour of Spain. Does that simply make it a fab-four again with Contador replaced? Or does someone like Fabio Aru jump in, in the roll of Ronnie Wood in the Rolling Stones, as a new member?

Aru certainly deserves to be mentioned in the same category as the Tour's top-four finishers, plus Tejay. They should all be a little tired whereas he has targeted the Vuelta all season. Likewise Landa (3rd at the Giro) and even Domenico Pozzovivo (6th in 2013 Vuelta) will look to take advantage of tired legs.

And it's tired legs that will surely play a pivotal roll. The climbing comes early and often -- on just the second stage, which is now the first official stage, the race finishes on the summit of a cat. 3 climb -- and that won't play into the hands of the Tour survivors. Stages 4 and 6 both have short-sharp hill-top finishes to test the field and create time gaps, before the first mountain stage a day later with a cat. 1, 20km at 5% average gradient, summit finish. Then, sandwiched between two flat stages, on stage 9 is another summit finish on a 3.5km, 11% grade leg snapper to complete a hellish first week into the first rest-day. And you thought the first 10 days of the Tour was demanding? How each of the Tour contenders have recovered and who has done it best will be fascinating to see as those who haven't will surely be exposed by now.

The second phase only gets harder with six stages of which four are in the mountains and only one is considered flat. And of those four mountain stages, all four have summit finishes with the first on stage 11 looking a real nightmare with five climbs crammed into just 138km.

There's a fair chance the Vuelta will be won by here and for 98% of entrants it will surely have been lost, but after a second rest day there are five more stages of which we have a bit of everything including rolling roads, medium mountains, a final flat stage, a penultimate day in the mountains (though without a summit finish this time) and, on the day after the rest day, and 38.7km time-trial. You would imagine that this will be to the advantage of Froome from which he will surely believe he can take time out of (or back on) his rivals, but given what has come before, how the legs react by this third week is anyone's guess.

The Vuelta doesn't have the prestige of the Tour but in recent years it has become the race that those with disappointing seasons, by their own high expectations, turn to for salvation as well as a race for those looking to poach some late season glory. Beyond that though it's one brutal race in its own right and for fans everywhere, suffering from a post-Tour hangover and safely located in their armchairs, this is sure to be a brilliant cure.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Le Tour review: In conclusion...

So often the Tour de France is defined by the high mountains. All our memories are built around the big mountain stages when we think back to some of the most magical moments of the Tour. The Alps and the Pyrenees dominate the historic books just as they dominate the horizon when the race approaches. The obvious exception was, perhaps, last year when that epic stage on the cobbles became one of those stages for the ages. And maybe that's fitting because it's only in the most recent of Tours that the race organisation has tried to put more emphasis on stages away from just the mountains.

There's too much love for the suffering and drama of those high Alpine and Pyrenean stages to remove them (though it would be fascinating to see a Tour with just one mountain stage and lots of others like what we seen in the first week or on the transition between the Alps and Pyrenees! Peter Sagan would surely fancy his chances!) but the race organisors have been looking for ways to spice up the first weeks racing in an attempt to make those stages count for something in the grand scheme of the three week race.

And now they have succeeded.

For the first time that I can remember, this Tour might well be remembered most for the first week of racing. Gone for sure are the days of sprinters dominating the first week of racing with the contenders doing little more than avoiding accidents on pan-flat stages while using them as glorified training sessions to find their form ahead of the real stuff in the later two weeks. Once upon a time only a time-trial could sort out the general classification before the mountains. But not this year.

No doubt, the Pyrenean stages were decent, and in the case of the first one to La Pierre-Saint-Martin, decisive as Froome took 1min 14sec (including the time-bonus) out of Nairo Quintana, a mere 2sec more than which he won the Tour by. Likewise the Alps, as two young Frenchman, as well as the reigning champion, took victories to salvage their respective Tours, before Quintana made a last ditch bid for glory and almost pulled it off as Froome began to struggle and we found ourselves on the edges of our seats for the first time in over a week.

All great moments, but lets not kid ourselves, the first week stole the show.

The short individual time-trial in Utrecht in the Netherlands did little to affect the contenders but it seen the fastest time-trial in Tour history, by Rohan Dennis, breaking the record set by Chris Boardman at the 1994 prologue. From there we had three distinctly different classic type stages -- in cross-winds, on the Mur de Huy and on the cobbles -- in which more time was won and lost in a way that twenty years ago would only have been seen on a long time-trial or on the side of an Alpine mountain.

We seen Cancellara take Yellow, then abandon. Then Froome lay down a psychological marker and take the race lead, only for the ever popular Tony Martin to win on the cobbles and overcame three days in which he had missed out on Yellow to three different men by five, then three, then a single second, to finally pull on his career first Maillot Jaune. It didn't last long though, on stage six he too crashed out when he came down and brought three fifths of the 'boy band' of Quintana, Van Garderen and Froome with him. It caused a brief fallout between Nibali and Froome with the former blaming the later and the later storming the team-bus of the former. Their fued would ignite again on stage 19 when Nibali would attack to win the stage while Froome was suffering a mechanical.

There was also the traditional first week crashes, and none so serious as on stage 3 when several riders came down hard, consuming all medical personnel behind the race. The result was the sight of the race being stopped briefly. Several riders abandoned that day including Cancellara who rode the final 50km to the finish with a broken back, while others soldiered on. Adam Hansen separated his shoulder and Michael Matthews broke ribs and while both suffered greatly, both made it to Paris.

The sprinters got their bunch gallops, but only twice in those first nine days as Greipel won his second stage (having survived the cross-winds of stage 2 to win) and Cavendish took what would be his lone win of the Tour.

By the time they had rode up the tough Mûr-de-Bretagne and suffered through a team-time-trial that came so late into the Tour that many teams were already without riders and many riders were already suffering from tired legs, the GC had been blown to bits.

We had witnessed a magical first nine stages in which all the contenders looking to win the Tour in the mountains that still lay ahead had been active almost every day trying not to lose it. It had exhausted them before what they might have perceived as the 'real racing' had even begun. And, as we found out, it took its toll on many legs throughout those mountains.

Chris Froome, expected to spend the first week limiting his losses came out in Yellow, while Vincenzo Nibali, expected to make a lot of gains that first week, had been shedding time. And that only continued into the mountains as for a brief time his team management stripped him of team leadership. All before he finally found his legs in the final days in the Alps, though too late to win the Tour, but enough to vault himself back into the top 5.

Beyond that first rest day the race was split into three parts for me: Froome winning the Tour in the Pyranees, Sagan winning the points competition on the transition stages, and the young Frenchmen rescuing their Tours with wins in the Alps.

Sadly though there was a fourth part to this Tour that, along with the first week, done its best to steel who spotlight, and that was the treatment of Chris Froome in the (French) media, on back corners of social media and, worst of all, at the side of the road. The later was clearly influenced by what was said in the media as the likes of Laurent Jalabert began to doubt Froome and pseudo scientists on social media took up the baton with innuendos that led others to outright condemnation. We see this stuff every year now, things took a more sinister twist in 2015 when so-called fans at the side of the road spat at Froome and one so-called human threw a cup of urine in his face.

And all this for a man who has done little more than win. Win in the face of little hard or even circumstantial evidence of any wrong doing. It was fascinating to watch the likes of Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador get a free ride (and rightly so in the sense that no fan interference is warranted on any rider, whatever the situation), while Froome bore the brunt. Of course, this is the price to pay when you wear the Yellow jersey, it's nothing new. Merckx seen it because he would dominate the event year-in year-out; Froome is seeing it because the generation before him that won, cheated. And only in the Tour. During his rider to Giro victory Contador got a virtual free ride by comparison to Froome and the later is without history here.

But unlike the generation before in Yellow, say Lance Armstrong seven times, there has been no covered up tests, no back-dated TUE and certainly no disgruntled ex-team-mate looking to sell his story, and we all know there's some disgruntled ex-Sky employees out there.

And yet, Froome handled it with a class that not many could. He'd have been forgiven for losing it in a press conference, certainly with a fan at the side of the road, yet he kept his composure, he maintained his focus, he responded calmly and articulately when questioned and then he got on with racing his bicycle.

In the end, nobody knows 100% that Froome is clean except himself, but at some point in sport, just as in life, we need to give some people the benefit of the doubt. This is a bike race and there is going to be a winner; someone has to win. If the point comes at which I can no longer give anyone the benefit of the doubt by weighing up what I see and how I perceive them, then I wouldn't watch anymore. Why be a hypocrite? Why waste your time watching, or tweeting, or waiting at the side of the road to throw urine when there's so much else to do?

As things stand, Froome is deserving of that benefit of the doubt. I'd prefer to give him the chance and be let down than to condemn and abuse and later find out there was nothing in it. But maybe that's the human being in me. The way in which Froome carries himself as a person on (riding style aside!) and in particular, off the bike is only to be admired. The way he faced the kind of adversity he did, the way he reacted to it, and the way he overcame it to remain on the moral high ground leaves him as the kind of athlete - the kind of person - I'd want my kid to look up to. Dangerous ground you might say, not just with athletes but cyclists too, but sometimes you have to be courageous enough to believe in someone.

Anyway, let not the final words on this years Tour be overshadowed by a subject and incidents that in the end failed to overshadow the race itself. Froome won it in the end and that's what mattered.

And so there goes the 2015 Tour. That first week of winds, Murs, cobbles, grit and exhaustion; that second week of Froome on the first Pyrenean stage and Sagan attacking day after day but without reward of a win; and that third week of French wins, Nibali winning and Quintana making a go of it only to fall short as Froome stood victorious a-top the podium in Paris. Many came in hoping to make their mark on this years Tour, and some did. Some came in hoping to win it but one by one they fell by the wayside, and only one did. It wasn't the greatest Tour ever, perhaps highlighted by the first week being so damn good, but no Tour is bad, none resigned to failure nor worth forgetting.