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Inside the Tour de France: Laura Meseguer asks what could have been

Eurosport's Laura Meseguer refects on the many missed opportunities in a brutal but exciting Tour, and what the future has in store

Laura Meseguer
26 Jul 2017

The Tour de France is always surrounded by ifs. For instance, if Richie Porte hadn’t abandoned the race, the final time-trial in Marseille might have been an emotional and dramatic one.

If Alejandro Valverde hadn't crashed on the opening day, would he have enjoyed some freedom when Nairo Quintana’s attempt at the Giro-Tour double proved doomed and challenged Froome on a route that seemed built for the Spaniard?

If Peter Sagan had made it to Paris, would it have animated the battle for the green jersey?

If Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish had also been there, would we have seen a dramatic head-to-head on the Champs Elysèes between the two fastest sprinters in recent Tour history?

An open race

The 2017 Tour de France was a brutal one for the riders, and it made for fantastic viewing for many fans, but others were not so convinced by this year's race.

The roads of the Tour were lined with fans who loved this year's race and fierce critics in equal measure. The relative absence of high mountains and time-trials made for a more open race, full of questions until the very last moment, but I was sorry not to see one more stage in the mountains.

One more summit finish, especially, might have allowed for dramatic attacks and more subtle strategies from the leaders and their teams.

For riders and commentators, the question of shortening the stages of the Tour was also discussed a great deal.

The 13th stage on Bastille Day was only 101km long, but because of that we saw a day of action-packed racing from the very first kilometre, with the attacks from Alberto Contador and Mikel Landa animating the front of the race more than any other stage.

Why not include one such stage in every week of a Grand Tour?

Equally, some sprint stages were a bit dull, both for the public in general and the commentators who had to report on it, who were often seen at the end of the day leaving the box with weary eyes and dispirited smiles.

A lot of them, let's not forget, had been tasked with commentating on each stage from kilometre 0, on stages where very little of any consequence happened.

There were criticisms from all sides on such days. The race was often blocked by the major teams – for instance, the peloton didn’t allow BMC rider Stefan Kung to join the breakaway, simply because they claimed that he ‘is very strong’.

Whether valid or not, whenever the race rolls along as if to a pre-written script, the emotion is drained out of it.

Froome the fourth

A fourth Tour de France victory for Chris Froome, meanwhile, showed a new side to the quiet rider, maybe a more human side.

He wasn’t as dominant this year as in any of his previous wins, instead his path to victory effectively boiled down to defending the time he gained over his rivals during the opening time-trial in Dusseldörf.

But this shouldn’t play down the merit of his success. After all, the Tour de France is in many ways the final exam that comes after a year of preparation, effort and sacrifies.

With that i mind, I think that the prevailing public opinion is often unfair to Froome.

It's fair to say that his fourth Tour victory hasn’t captured the popular imagination in the same way as if one of the his contenders had managed a first win.

First stage win

I remember his first ever stage win in a Grand Tour, during the time-trial in the 2011 Vuelta a España. It was our first hint at what was to come from a very talented young man.

In the post-stage press conference he caught our attention with his measured way of speaking, and his intelligence.

Soon the conversation turned to his upbringing in Kenya and South Africa, his cycling career and his time at Team Sky.

During the next three years he would give us a great story to tell. He finished second that year in the Vuelta, then went on to stand on the podium in the 2012 Tour de France as a super-domestique for Bradley Wiggins before winning the race himself for the first time a year later.

He would crash out of the Tour in 2014, but returned in 2015 to win both the Tour itself and the mountains jersey, cementing his place as the number one GC rider of his generation.

Yet since then, Team Sky’s monopoly at the French race has propelled him to two more victories, but none have been as emotional and inspiring as those initial achievements.

Perhaps we will see a similar story with Mikel Landa, who was only a single second from the podium this year despite having devoted much of his efforts to helping Froome's yellow jersey bid over his own.

Indeed, Landa's final position in the GC opened an interesting debate around the last stage in Paris. While the processional nature of the final stage meant there was no straightforward way to take back that single second from Romain Bardet to claim a place on the podium, I also agree with what Landa said after finishing his time-trial in Marseille the day before: ‘The competition is competition until the last day’.

It reminds me of how Alejandro Valverde took the the green jersey from Joaquím 'Purito' Rodríguez in the last stage of 2015 Vuelta a España, and the anger that followed toward the Movistar team.

Rodriguez angrily claimied the last stage is cerermonial and many observers considered the jersey to have effectively been stolen.

But many unwritten rules have been dashed at this Tour, so if the opportunity arises, why not take it?

Changing of the guard

Flying back from Paris to Madrid, Contador was sat just two rows in front of me, and spoke of his misfortune in this year's Tour while we boarded the plane.

At this point, it remains to be seen whether this was his last Tour de France. The 2017 race marked 10 years since he first stood atop the podium in Paris, and it's hard not to feel that a generational change beckons.

A year from now, we can expect Romain Bardet to be up there fighting for a first Tour win for the French since 1985. Standing in his way will be any or all of Quintana, Fabio Aru, Daniel Martin, George Bennett, the Yates brothers, Rigoberto Urán, Louis Meintjes and Landa.

And of course Froome, who'll be looking for his fifth title.

As for Landa? ‘I don’t know if I’m able to lead a team for a victory in the Tour de France,’ he told me. ‘But for sure, I hope to lead a victory in another Grand Tour’.

That distinction between the Tour de France and the other Grand Tours is one every rider near the top of the classification knows all too well.

As Dan Martin said, it’s not only about the legs, the Tour is different to any other race – ‘it’s just brutal’.

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