DRAMA, HEARTBREAK AND VICTORY AT TDF 2014
The 102nd annual Tour de France is almost upon us, which makes this a perfect time to refresh our memories of what happened on last year’s Tour.
As is traditional, the race finished in Paris on Sunday, 27 July after 3,643 kilometers and 21 stages, made up of nine flat stages, five hilly stages, six mountain stages with five altitude finishes, and one individual time trial. Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, and Vincenzo Nibali were among the favourites for overall victory, but fate would be cruel to Froome and Contador, leaving the field open for Nibali to dominate the race.
2014 saw the Tour de France return to England again with the first stage starting in Leeds on 5 July. But things didn’t get off to a good start for UK fans as Mike Cavendish, Britain’s big hope for a win, crashed 200m from the finish, leaving Germany’s Marcel Kittel to take the stage. Despite this, Vincenzo Nibali took the race lead by winning in Sheffield. Still, Kittel succeeded with a brilliant sprint finish as the race moved to France for Stage 4.
Stage 5 was a dramatic day in wet conditions as defending champion Chris Froome, already suffering from a crash during stage four, abandon the race after crashing two more times. Other riders also struggled on the wet roads, with Team Sky losing another rider when Xabier Zandio hit his bike and couldn’t continue to Stage 6, and Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo team-mate, Jesus Hernandez, also crashing out.
The drama continued during Stage 7 when New Zealand’s Jack Bauer and Switzerland’s Martin Elmiger lead a break for over 200 kilometres before being swallowed by the peloton in sight of the finishing line, with Norway’s Alexander Kristoff winning the stage. This famous photo shows Bauer crying helplessly.
Stage 8 saw a rare breakaway victory for Blel Kadri, delighting French fans in the Vosges rain as he took control of the King of the Mountains jersey. But the real drama was reserved for Stage 10, when Spaniard Alberto Contador failed to rejoin the race after a heavy fall. The two-time champion withdrew and was later revealed to have fractured his leg. Nibali took full advantage and took back the Yellow Jersey with a dominating ride that put him more than two minutes ahead of his nearest competitors.
After first winning the Yellow Jersey on Stage 9, then losing it on Stage 10, Frenchman Tony Gallopin turned Stage 11 into a true thriller. He seemed doomed when Peter Sagan, Michael Rogers and Michal Kwiatkowski caught him after a perfect solo break, but dug deep and kicked again to break clear and win the stage. Still, Nibali managed to keep his lead of more than two minutes in the general classification.
Nibali’s dominance seemed further unbreakable after he finished Stage 13 with a commanding victory in the Alps that extended his race lead to more than three minutes over Spain’s Alejandro Valverde. The only contender who could challenge Nibali’s superiority was Polish Rafal Majka, who only found out he was making his Tour debut a few days before the race started. Proving himself worthy, Majka took victory in Stage 17. But Stage 18 once again belonged to pedaling machine Nibali, who broke away before the final climb to the summit finish at Hautacam with a lead of more than a minute.
After a crash on windy Stage 19, Ramunas Navardauskas escaped to become the first Lithuanian to win a Tour stage. Nibali, who stayed on his bike, however, didn’t lose his lead and even with a fourth place finish in Stage 20, still finished faster than any of the riders below him in the general classification.
In the final stage, Marcel Kittel underlined his sprinting abilities with his fourth stage win and his second successive victory on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. But with his 7-minute margin, Nibali took the Yellow Jersey to become only the sixth rider in history to win all three Grand Tours. He was also the first Italian to win the Tour since Marco Pantani in 1998 and posted the largest margin since 1997.
On a final note, 2014 saw German rider Jens Voigt compete in his seventeenth and final Tour, a truly impressive feat.