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TOUR’18: The PEZ Crew Tour Top Picks!
The PEZ Crew Tour Top Picks: The 2018 Tour de France has been finished for nearly a week and the guys in PEZ Towers have had a chance for the French Grand Tour to percolate in the mind and put virtual pen to virtual paper with their thoughts. Good Tour/bad Tour? Deserving winner? It's all here in the PEZ Crew Tour'18 résumé.



Richard Pestes - Publisher
Like every few years when the Tour falls under a dynastic reign (think Indurain, Armstrong, now Froome), I anticipate the start of the race with my usual faint hope and guarded optimism. Like so many other fans, I'm less interested in who wins, as long as it's a good race with new action every day, and a nail biting finale.

I enjoyed watching this Tour, and am happy to see a new winner, even if Thomas' supreme domination quelled the GC excitement I'd hoped for. But the daily stage action was worth watching, and after a forgettable first week, the final two weeks were a series of great stages. I especially enjoyed the Stage 17 65km run through the mountains - the action started from the gun, without the two+ hours of procession that so many stages are, and everyone had fresh legs for the big climbs - so the racing was even better. I hope we see more of these short fast stages in the future.

Nairo Quintana made the most of the short stage 17:


But as Thomas emerged as a potential winner, I also expected some sort of in-team drama to unfold with Froome, much like we'd seen with the LeMond-Hinault, Armstrong-Contador, or Wiggins-Froome dynamic a few years back. Then as the race unfolded, and neither Thomas nor Froome waded into the mire of school-yard politics, and new thought emerged in my observational brain...

Both Thomas and Froome are indeed classy guys. They showed respect for each other, and respect for the race by getting on with their jobs, and each trying to win the race with only his legs. Now that shot of respectable credibility was a good thing for cycling. Chapeau to you both.

Best of teammates - Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas:




Ed Hood - Grand Tour Specialist
PEZ velo sage and prophet of two wheeled doom, Viktor and I disagree on many things; time trialling, the Vuelta, track racing, Alberto Contador. . . But one thing we do agree on is that Team Sky have just pulled off the PR coup of the year. And we both reckon Froome could have won that Tour.

Salbutamol, packages, crossing ethical lines, blurring of the truth? Surely there's some mistake?

'The Boy Next Door' Geraint has just won the Tour de France; his face smiles out at us from laptops, newspapers and television. Christopher (Dodgy Dog) Froome was the model team mate; but just to remind us, in case we'd forgotten, showed us who 'The Daddy' is in the final TT with the best 'chronoman' in the world beating him by a scant second. And cycling master tactician Sir David beams out at us too - as he cuddles his boys. Back in the spring no one would have bought a used car from him.

A great Tour? Hardly. A PR masterpiece? For sure.

And my bet on Froome for the Tour in 2019 is already down.

Everything went to plan for Sky:




Alessandro Federico - Italian Bureau
Because of my nationality the Tour 2018 was affected during l'Alpe d’Huez stage when Nibali hit the road because of an incident with a spectator. But how did this event affected the whole Tour race economy? The Sicilian rider has given a lot of unexpected actions during the GT he had won or lost in the past years and this Tour lacked in such action. Movistar couldn’t affect at all Sky confidence and Lotto Jumbo guys weren’t in a real control of the race. Tour 2018 lacked of surprises, and what we had at half race way, we had at the end. Could Nibali change anything? We won’t know, but we wait for the next opportunity to verify if this guy still have explosive legs and explosive mind too.

What could have been for Vincenzo Nibali, if not for the madness of l'Alpe?



Callum MacGregor - Roving Reporter
I missed not being at the Tour this year, I watched on television, it's not the same obviously, the spectacle, the madness of Dutch corner on L'alp, driving the course, experiencing France and the French up close, they love their Tour.

The race itself never seemed to ignite. Bardet didn't quite have the legs. Nibali crashing out reduced the likelihood of someone taking it to Team Sky. Dumoulin looked good but Sky had too many strong riders. Dan Martin raced with panache and deserved his stage win at the Mur de Bretagne.

Dan Martin on the attack:


I'm not a fan of analyzing rider data in real time, it's taking the application of technology a step too far in my opinion and contributing greatly to highly controlled racing.

Roglic, Kruijswijk and LottoNL-Jumbo did a good job of animating the race and at times it looked like they rattled Sky. A Team Lotto NL Jumbo, Team Sunweb combine might have stirred it up a bit. Movistar were disappointing with the three leader approach failing all round.

One of the men of the race for me and deserving special mention for his determination to finish despite his injuries in a stage one crash is Lawson Craddock, EF Education First-Drapac. Soldiering on for three long weeks and making the time cut every day to reach Paris as Lanterne Rouge over four and a half hours down. Chapeau sir! I hope you had a great night after that final stage. Rest long and well.



So the short mountain stage wasn't to my mind a great success. How about keeping them short but adding in: no power meters, no radio controlled riders, no live data analysis for three back to back mountain stages? Too retro?

And Cavendish, some say he's finished. I hope and believe not. He's a proper pro. Finishing stage 11 when he must have known he was out-with the time cut. He's a racer that needs racing and having had some horrific crashes he just gets back up and starts again. He's got some big wins in him still.

Finally Geraint, saving Team Sky and winning over some French fans which was never going to happen had the Dog pulled off number five. A super strong ride with no bad days and no one with a bad word to say about him.

Geraint Thomas - Not a bad word against him:




Sam Larner - London Office
Now that the Tour finish is a little under the week ago I'm able to look back with more perspective. I don't think this was a great Tour de France, there were certainly great moments but the overall battle was extinguished fairly early. Geraint Thomas and Tom Dumoulin have essentially the same skill set but, this Tour, Geraint was significantly better and when that became clear it was hard to conceive of a scenario which would end up with Dumoulin winning. The short 65km stage was great, maybe the best of the race, but Nairo Quintana and Dan Martin were really just shuffling the pack from 5th downwards. The other disappointment was the lack of competition for the other jerseys. The green jersey was won when Peter Sagan turned up on the start line, the polka dot jersey was fought over initially but Julian Alaphilippe was far superior than his only real competitor Warren Barguil. Finally, the white jersey lulled us in with the promise of a battle between Pierre Latour and Guillaume Martin, but Martin fell back and there was a late surge from Egan Bernal - he might have won by an hour if the race was one week longer.

Pierre Latour - Happy in white:


It wasn't all bad though, Primoz Roglic looks not only like a quality Grand Tour rider but also an exciting one. The Slovenian was virtually unstoppable in the final week and his attacks left Geraint Thomas isolated for once in the race. We'll never know what would have happened if Roglic and Vincenzo Nibali had the opportunity to put the pressure on Sky in the final week. The loss of Richie Porte, Rigoberto Uran, and the injury to Bauke Mollema that took him away from his best were another frustration. We might have had more joy if there were more GC contenders for the last week.

Primoz Roglic put the pressure on Sky:




Mark McGhee - Reporter at Large
The King is Dead, Long Live the King..?

Even before this Tour started I expected fireworks… ASO had just said that Chris Froome was not welcome and it looked like the Tour organizers were, once again, challenging the UCI for control of the sport… or at least the biggest races.

And then WADA accepted Team Sky and the rider’s explanation, throwing their own testing procedure into question in the process. And the race was on! Who could challenge Froome in his bid for another Tour crown and would Hinault shake his hand on the podium after his strong words? Richie Porte, Ilnur Zakarin, Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana… all names put forward but nobody expected the eventual challenge to come from within Team Sky itself.

Goodbye to Richie Porte on stage 9:


And it kind of happened more by chance than anything else. Geraint Thomas stayed upright where Froome fell, Thomas stayed with the attacks where Froome dropped away from the group. And although Thomas had vowed to work for Froome, in the end the Welshman’s strength won out and Froome had to accede to his teammate’s greater prowess in this year’s running of the biggest bike race in the world.

The strange thing is that a friend ‘in the know’ told me that Froome would be cleared in the salbutamol case but that Team Sky would drop him by the end of the year, and Froome would fade into retirement in his luxury pad in Monaco. And now that he and Michelle have just welcomed their second child, perhaps that may prove to be more important that being the hate figure of Sky for so many fans, French or otherwise.

The problem for Team Sky would have been who could replace him… step forward all-round good guy Geraint Thomas… and hasn’t he risen to the challenge? Already victorious in the Dauphiné, he was head and shoulders above everyone else at the Tour… once Richie Porte crashed out. He deserved that win though and he carries none of the baggage of Sky’s two most recent leaders, Wiggins and Froome. He’s liked by everyone and is genuinely overwhelmed by his win…but by next year he may be a different and more shrewd kind of rider, especially if he assumes the mantle of undisputed Team Sky leader.

That in itself is worth waiting to see and Geraint Thomas may well be the savior of Team Sky and provide Dave Brailsford with some respite. It will be interesting to see what happens at La Vuelta…

King Geraint of Team Sky




Chuck Pena - DC Bureau
First of all, thank god for the NBC Sports Gold package and the Internet. I could either livestream or watch replay of every stage ... commercial free! And I have to say that I love the announcing duo of Matthew Keenan and three-time Green Jersey winner (2002, 2004, 2006) Robbie McEwen.

So the best thing about this year's Tour de France? That's easy... Froome didn't win. Let's just say that I share my PEZ compatriot, Ed Hood's, opinion. And although I'm not a Sky fan, chapeau to Geraint Thomas. I've always been a fan and it's great to see his years of loyalty to Sky be rewarded. And he won in style! When was the last time the wearer of the Maillot Jaune won atop Alpe d'Huez? (That would be a certain Lance Armstrong in 2004 when it was an individual time trial and before that in 2001 when Armstrong gave Ulrich "the look" -- but both those results have since been vacated when Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.)

Biggest disappointment? Nibs getting crashed out on Stage 12 and then having to abandon with a fractured vertebrae. One can only wonder if he has still been in the hunt in the Pyrenees and able to animate the race. BTW, something has to be done about idiot fans and flares.



My favorite stages were Stage 9 and Stage 17. Although the cobble crushing stage didn't produce the kind of separation on GC that many of us were expecting, I like having a cobbled stage to mix things up and keep GC contenders and teams honest. How about a climber like Nairo Quintana holding his own with the hard men and finishing in the third bunch just 27 seconds back? And I couldn't be happier for Degs' win -- finally able to say he's back after he and his then Giant-Alpercin teammates were hit by a car in January 2016. And I love the idea of Le Tour stealing from both the Vuelta and Giro with a shorter mountain stage. It may not have been the kind of fireworks race stage organizers had hoped for (and the MotoGP/F1-style grid start was kind of a dud, but I actually liked it), but it put to rest any doubt who the strongest rider on Sky was and who would be riding for who to Paris. And Nairo Quintana salvaged what was otherwise a disappointing Tour -- both for him and his Movistar team.

Romain Bardet will have to wait another year to see if he's the next great French hope, but the French were at least rewarded with Julian Alaphilippe in red polka dots. And Peter Sagan earned a much deserved -- and hard earned after his big crash on Stage 17 -- record tying sixth Green Jersey. Although it really should be his seventh after last year's travesty of being booted from the race.

Finally, we have to celebrate this year's lanterne rouge, Lawson Craddock. After a feed zone crash on Stage 1, it looked like his Tour was over. But despite suffering a cut above his eye and a fracture to his scapula, he weathered the stage. And the next 20 stages all the way to Paris. There was almost as much TV coverage of Craddock hanging on at the back of the peloton as there was of the race action at the pointy end. He even took pulls on the Stage 3 team time trial, where is EF Education First-Drapac finished a respectable 6th place at 35 seconds. At the end of what had to be three grueling and painful weeks, Lawson Craddock finished 4 hours 34 minutes and 19 seconds down on the Maillot Jaune. On our best days, the rest of us wish we were as good as that.

Lawson Craddock crashed on stage 1, but finished:




Gordan Cameron - Scottish Bureau
Steven Kruijswijk, the romantic!

I’m not sure I’ve ever considered Steven Kruijswijk and romance in the same thought process. However, stage 12’s display of derring-do afforded us the sight of the Dutchman as a swashbuckler, unafraid of glorious failure. When you’ve been close before, as Kruijswijk was at the Giro d’Italia in 2016, there is probably a realization that sitting in the group and securing a top ten place is all well and good but that bigger rewards await the bravest.



After infiltrating the day’s breakaway, 'Der Kleerhanger' set off alone in pursuit of twin targets, a stage win and the overall race lead, with 70 kilometers to race. Despite his slow-burning acceleration on the Croix-de-Fer, it would prove to be a task beyond him, given that the other contenders started to eat into his lead as Alpe d’Huez approached.

Once on the climb, Egan Bernal’s brutal pace-setting hacked giant broadsword slices out of the Dutchman’s advantage, a little bit of the romance and hope cut to the scorched tarmac with every pedal stroke. Kruijswijk made us dream for a little bit: at six minutes clear of the peloton’s heads of state, he was the maillot jaune virtuel, and heading for victory. He failed, but any regrets were beautiful.

Steven Kruijswijk - Solo on stage 12:



Alastair Hamilton - Editor and Spanish Office
I don't think anyone would disagree that the 2018 Tour de France was not a vintage year, but there were moments of excitement and there was always the question of conflict between Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas - but it never came. Thomas could have had a bad day - but it never came. Dumoulin, Quintana, Roglic, Landa or Kruijswijk could have put in a big attack and Froome would have followed and ridden into the yellow jersey - but that also didn't happen. The suspense was always there, but the Welshman was never in any trouble and, as expected, Team Sky was always in control.

Team Sky never missed a beat:


The riders who impressed and kept the hopes for the future of cycling high, was: Julian Alaphilippe for the way he defended his KOM jersey and always looked happy and showed his character, no robot. Primoz Roglic for his attacks and to a lesser degree Mikel Landa. Pierre Latour was also a class act and should blossom in coming years. Dan Martin also brought his A game, where would he have finished if he hadn't crashed. Egan Bernal impressed with the amount of work he did every day, the 21 year-old Colombian will be a big star, if allowed.



The older riders; Tom Dumoulin and Steven Kruijswijk tried their best, but their moves didn't come off. Again Nairo Quintana was a disappointment apart from his stage 17 win. Peter Sagan was the hero he always is.

Tough for Rigo:


Disappointingly the four events that stick in my mind were crashes. Rigoberto Uran withdrew from the race ahead of the start of stage 12 after he crashed on the Roubaix stage. Vincenzo Nibali finished stage 12 on the Alpe d'Huez with a fractured vertebra and ended his 2018 Tour. Then there was Lawson Craddock's crash on stage 1 and his continuation to the finish in Paris, collecting around $200,000 for the Alkek Velodrome. But seeing Philippe Gilbert climb out from a gully after his high speed crash was a relief as it brought back memories of trying to write the 2011 Giro d'Italia stage 3 race report the day Wouter Weylandt died.

Geraint Thomas deserved the win and could go on to win more Grand Tours, or be remembered as the Welsh guy that won the Tour when Chris Froome was keeping a low-profile.



Bring on la Vuelta!

Stage 9 to Roubaix wasn't bad either:



You can look back at all the 2018 Tour de France stage reports in Race News and more of the best photos in PeloPics.

 

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