The 2017 Tour de France had the closest winning margin since 1989 when Greg LeMond beat Frenchman Laurent Fignon by eight seconds. Since ’89, there have only been two Tours with a margin under one minute. So, what does this mean for the status of the race and the competition?
The riders are constantly looking for new ways to grab seconds wherever possible. This includes in training, racing and recovery. The next generation of grand tour riders is beginning to show themselves. Finally, the need for a strong team is becoming more and more evident as general classification riders are closer in ability level.
Team Sky coined the term “marginal gains” when they made history with Bradley Wiggins in 2012. The attention to detail in training, racing and recovery was first viewed as a bit excessive and robotic but it has since proven necessary to compete at the highest level. The idea is that if a rider and the team pay attention to the little things that make small differences, those small improvements will add up to larger performance gains.
Team Sky paid attention to diet, sleep and individual rider training plans long before other teams did. This set them apart at the Tour each year. The other teams have recognized that there is something to “marginal gains” and have since adopted it themselves in the hopes to close the performance gap.
Chris Froome started using the KICKR Power Trainer to warm up before time trials and then again to cool down after each stage. He even has his own podium version KICKR that is often behind the award ceremony stage. The use of a trainer before and after has become part of the normal process for any rider seeking the top step.
The Next Generation Has Arrived
The next conclusion drawn from this year’s close GC competition is that the next generation of riders is here. There has been a lot of talk over the years about Romain Bardet, Warren Barguil and Michael Matthews, but this was the Tour in which they arrived for good. Bardet has been the hope for French fans for several years. It will still take a climbing heavy and time trial light Tour for him to win in the coming years, but he can hang and even challenge the best in world. He did this by taking it to Team Sky with the support of his team, AG2R La Mondiale, in the mountains of the Pyrenees.
Warren Barguil rides for a German team but is another French rider who displayed his ability to climb in the high mountains by taking the Polka Dot Jersey on stage 8 and not giving it up for the remainder of the race. Finally, Michael Matthews fought every day for the Green Jersey. Ultimately, he snagged it as part of a team effort to support him in early stage sprints and two stage wins. The Green Jersey hunt in future versions of the Tour will be one of the most competitive classifications in the race.
The Team Makes the Individual
While Team Sky won the team classification overall, one of the teams that epitomized what it means to work together was Team Sunweb. Both Barguil and Matthews ride for Team Sunweb. They fought for and protected both the Green Jersey of Matthews and the Polka Dot Jersey of Barguil. The team was represented in almost every stage’s breakaway to protect intermediate sprint points or KOM points. It was clear that they were on a mission to win as a team and that was best accomplished by supporting their two strongest riders.
For the Yellow Jersey competition, a strong team is necessary to protect it and retain it till stage 21. This year’s Tour proved that a strong team is also necessary for the other classifications as well. Even team Orica Scott protected the Best Young Riders Jersey of Simon Yates by chasing their closest rivals and making sure Simon had everything he needed throughout the three weeks.
If a rider wants to compete at today’s Tour de France, then it is necessary to use every advantage possible and to bring the best team to support your efforts. Next year is sure to shape up to be one to watch with the return of Geraint Thomas and Ritchie Porte to the competition. We are already counting down – 346 days till the Grand Depart on July 7th, 2018.
Team Sky uses the KICKR Power Trainer to gain an advantage over the competition, see how here.