Well that was a Tour de France and half I reckon. They could cut next year’s edition to 12 days and still it’d be bubbling from the plethora of excitement, incident and intrigue that was lavished upon us these past three weeks.
Let’s leave aside the question marks though for another day and look at the revelations of the Tour. They came in two packages, one small and one large, but their respective impacts both left barn-sized craters deep within the Tour landscape.
First up, Nairo Quintana. Others have come along and won the whole kit and caboodle on their first attempt, amongst them such greats as Laurent Fignon and the greatest of them all, Eddy Merckx, yet the 5 foot 5 inch pocket rocket from Combita, Colombia made one of the most stunning debuts in recent Tour history.
It is to the great shame of the sport of cycling at this highest level that these days just about any sparkling performance is doubted but you cannot doubt the potential of the man with just about the longest name in the pro peloton.
Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas turned pro in 2010 for the Café de Colombia-Colombia es Pasion team and duly set about stamping the pedals and his credentials on the Euro scene with a win at the Tour de l’Avenir, winning both stages 6 and 7.
At home in the mountains, Nairo still has some work to do in the TT’s. Here he’s pictured taking 47th at the 2011 U/23 Worlds, 4m18s behind current Orica GreenEdge pro, Luke Durbridge.
The next year was relatively quiet with ‘just’ the overall victory at the hard-fought Vuelta a Catalunya but it was in 2012 that he moved to Movistar and really began to fly. 1st in the Vuelta a Murcia, first in the Route du Sud followed by 1st in the Tour of the Basque Country this season.
At just 57kg he is built to climb and is from an area of Colombia that sits at 9,200 feet – we all know about the benefits of living that high up. His upbringing was tough and has been described as economically deprived, but he’s reaping the rewards now. A national hero in his native homeland, his win on Stage 20 sent the nation wild, earning him the wildest praise.
Yet this is not a complete rider by any means. He was 54th on the Stage 11 ITT, losing almost 3 and a half minutes to Froome. If we factor in improvements he can make in that discipline and say he would perhaps lose half that after a year of working on his race against the clock, he could well emerge as an even more serious threat to Froome in 2013.
In an interview yesterday he gave thanks to all those who have worked on anti-doping in recent years and credited his win in part to that factor, though yes, we’ve heard it all before, it is interesting to note that he beat out some riders in the top ten who are convicted dopers and now supposedly riding clean – or cleaner – than before.
We hope, that is all we can do. Certainly the sport needs greater diversity and it is warming to see a Colombian back in the mix. Amazing to see just how much they love their cycling over there.
Next up – and for me THE revelation of the Tour, considering who he had to beat to get those 4 victories – Marcel Kittel.
I can hear some of you asking ‘What?!’ but think about it for a moment. He took 4 wins to Cavendish’s 1. And though it would be simple to say that Cav hasn’t got the train he used to, well he never had one at Sky too at last year’s Tour but still won three stages, and his Omega boys took him to 5 wins at the Giro just a few weeks ago.
Cavendish (who’s just been told he’s not welcome at a Dutch post-Tour crit this week thanks to knocking Tom Veelers off his bike earlier in the Tour) didn’t have it this year, but that isn’t the whole story.
Another rider that went all rabbit-in-the-headlights of the Kittel Machine is Andre Greipel of Lotto-Belisol. Talk about sitting at home alone on Prom Night. In a tangerine dress. He has been gunning for the Manx Rocket for so long and seemed every once in a while to be edging ever-nearer but then the combo of Cav’s natural talent and sheer force of will would come along and slap him in the mush with a moist haddock.
And then Kittel comes of age. 25 years old to Greipel’s 30 and Cavendish’s 28. Time, and no little speed, are on his side.
Stage 1 was a mess with the bus getting stuck under the overhead banner but his Stage 10 win, the second of 4, ahead of Greipel showed just how strong he really has become. The Stage 12 win was perfection with a great leadout from the aforementioned Tom Veelers, with Kittel using the wheels ahead of him later on to take the win from Cavendish.
That was an absolutely fair win with Kittel coming out from behind Cav – usually unbeatable in those situations – to take the victory. But it was the win on the Champs yesterday, taken with real style, going head to head with both Cav and Greipel to win, that truly impressed.
Not sure which Tour the TV director had been watching for the past three weeks but as the camera lingered on the Briton and the older German, as though they together would fight for the win, another wheel hovered just ahead, tantalizingly close but half a bike length up – Kittel’s.
Almost taken at the line but that didn’t matter, it was another example of a great leadout and a devastating finish. Kittel became the #1 sprinter in the world on form and did it on the sprinter’s version of Alpe d’Huez.
Have at ye, speedsters! The kid’s well and truly arrived.
Thanks for reading the Lowdown over the past three weeks, it’s been a blast. See you next year!
Lee Rodgers leads a double life as a pro racer on the UCI race circuit with the Lapierre Asia Cycling Team, competing in the UCI Asia Tour as well as some European events and the likes of the Tour of Qatar and Oman, rubbing shoulders with the best the WorldTour has to offer, whilst keeping up a day job as a cycling journalist. The highlight of his cycling career so far was winning the Singapore National Champs – road race and ITT – as well as claiming the Green Jersey at the 2.1 Tour de Taiwan in 2012, and naturally, writing for PEZ. His writing appears in several magazines and websites and you can catch up with him regularly on his blog, http://crankpunk.com/