2014 Tour de France: Is The Yellow Jersey a Hollow Victory With Chris Froome and Alberto Contador Out of the Race?

You know, I’ve heard and read sentiments that Vincenzo Nibali is winning the 2014 Tour de France solely because Chris Froome and Alberto Contador abandoned. Yesterday someone even asked me if I thought Nibali would think less of his victory because of their absence. My emphatic answer was, “Hell no!” Being able to stay in the game is part of any competition, and Nibali’s success in staying upright, healthy, and out of trouble is part of the reason he’s in a position to win. Froome and Contador started the race and weren’t able to finish, and while it would have been great to see the three men battle it out all the way to Paris, their abandons resulted from incidents that happened during the competition and in my view their subsequent absences don’t diminish Nibali’s achievement. 

Taking a wider view, Contador and Froome’s early exits are a great illustration of why you always have to look for opportunities in bike races. In amateur racing you often see athletes give up too quickly. They see the breakaway go up the road and figure they’re just riding to finish. Or they get dropped on one climb and figure there’s no way to make it back to the group. But in bike racing, nothing is over until the last finish line and you have to keep an open mind. Cycling and all endurance sports reward optimism because the race is long enough for good opportunities to present themselves. You just have to be ready to seize them.

Rafal Majka was added to the Tinkoff-Saxo Tour de France squad a week before the race began. He’s openly stated he didn’t really want to ride the Tour de France, but did so because the team told him to. Initially he was coming to the Tour de France to be a support rider for Alberto Contador. If Contador were still in the race, Majka would have been setting the pace for him on the climbs, expending all his energy for his team leader, and falling away well before the finish. But when Contador crashed and broke his leg Majka was presented with the opportunity to go for the King of the Mountains jersey, and he seized it! He’s since won two stages, and by finishing third on Stage 18 he clinched the climber’s polka dot jersey. Not bad for a man who didn’t even want to be there!

Similarly, Majka’s Tinkoff-Saxo teammate Michael Rogers came to the Tour de France in a domestique role. With Contador still in the race, he would not have had the freedom to go out in the day-long breakaway on Stage 16 and finally get an elusive Tour de France stage win after 10 years at the race.

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When it comes to the French riders battling for podium positions, they too are making the most of the opportunities presented by the unexpected absence of Contador and Froome. Both the AG2R and FDJ.com teams came to the Tour de France with the strongest squads they’ve had in years, and AG2R leads the team classification by almost half an hour! Perhaps Thibaut Pinot and Jean-Christophe Peraud would be fighting for top-5 positions if Froome and Contador were still in the race, but instead they are fighting for top-3 positions. That’s especially opportunistic for Peraud, who at 37 years old may only have this one chance to combine great form with good fortune.

The lesson I think all endurance competitors need to embrace is that you should never stop looking for opportunities to succeed. You can’t control or anticipate what’s going to happen to other competitors, but you can make sure you’re aware and prepared to seize on opportunities when they present themselves.

Comments 10

  1. This is a prime example of what I call the “Any Given Saturday”. Races and results can be affected by not only who shows up but who is left standing in the end. You show up and do your best and see what happens. This tour has given some great examples of this. Overall this has been one of the most interesting races in a long time because of this

  2. Unfortunately, in the Seattle, WA area racing opportunities are few and far between. most are crits and you’re pulled if you get dropped. You get no results for your effort. I stopped racing due to lack of venues.

  3. What was Nibali’s set up front and rear for Stage 18? The way he rode he looked like he was on Mtn Bikr gears compared to everyone else!

  4. He may not have won 4 stages, but he has demolished anyone who has challenged him. Today was another example of his superiority in this year’s TDF.

  5. I agree with all 3 of you. You have to keep the rubber side down. Well said Heather, RoadGlide and Fred!
    Bob Zimels, LCI #992

  6. Absolutely correct. Nibali has ruled this tour. He’s finessed his way through weather and crashes, dealt with isolation and all the conditions and variable no matter what GC contenders remain standing. Bottom line is this. You’ve got to be in the race to win. Froome, Contador, Talanskey, Costa all baled. No matter the reason. Nibali dodged the daily Tour bullets better than anyone else and for that he is a supreme champion. Now if he can keep it together for another 3 days he’ll be the 2014 Tour De France Champion. Just my .02.

  7. In addition, Nibali had already amassed a fairly significant time gap over Contador/Froome before either abandoned. They might have started to catch it in the mountains, but with his form, it seems unlikely he would have let an attack by either go unmatched; the time trial could have been even more important. The gap most likely wouldn’t be what it is today between 1st and the rest of the podium, but I think he still could have beat both of them anyway. Victory definitely NOT diminished by their absence! 🙂

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