Tour de France: Five things we learned

AFP takes a look back at the French grand tour and highlights five key takeaways

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PARIS (AFP) — Following Chris Froome’s victory at the 2015 Tour de France on Sunday, AFP Sport looks at five lessons learned from this year’s Grand Boucle:

The course

It’s not just the riders and their rivalries that make for a great race; the course itself plays a pivotal role. Organizers ASO ratcheted up the challenges this year with crosswinds, cobbles, punchy short finishes, and varied mountain parcours. From the very first day, the racing was exciting and despite fears Chris Froome (Sky) would run away with the overall victory, the yellow jersey battle went down to the wire. A resounding success.

Sky Tour kings

It may polarize opinion, but there can be no doubt that British team Sky holds the key to Tour success. Criticized for not yet winning either of the other grand tours or a one-day race, Sky doesn’t hide that its focus is on the Grand Boucle. Three victories in four years is a phenomenal achievement, but with domination comes damnation. Sky is unpopular in many quarters and some refuse to believe the team is winning fairly, regardless of how many times team manager Dave Brailsford insists, “We race clean.”

French failure

The hosts may have a talented generation of young riders such as Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), and Arnaud Demare (FDJ) all aged 25 or under, but they appear no closer to ending their 30-year wait for a Tour victory. The first three may all be good climbers and potential overall contenders but with Nairo Quintana (Movistar) only 25 and both a superior climber and stage racer to all three, France may be scrapping over the podium positions rather than fighting for yellow glory in the coming years.

Doping dominates

Experts and insiders may agree that cycling is cleaner and more fair than perhaps ever before and certainly than the last 30-50 years, but the damage done by the likes of Lance Armstrong and Richard Virenque cannot easily be forgotten. Armstrong’s dominance and performances — boosted by EPO and blood transfusions — have left a bitter taste and lasting cynicism. Now, whenever a rider produces a remarkable performance, cries of doping and cheating drown out the plaudits. Froome has never tested positive for doping nor has he ever produced a suspicious test result, but every brilliant victory elicits scorn and suspicion. He says his shoulders are broad enough to support the responsibility but the vultures loom at every turn and some seem hell-bent on bringing him down, guilty or not.

African emergence

East Africans already dominate another endurance sport and the time may well come one day when the same goes for cycling. Kenyans and Ethiopians reign supreme over middle- and long-distance running, and even Froome believes they have what it takes to take over the Tour de France. MTN-Qhubeka made its debut as the first African team at the Tour and even won a stage. That may have been through a white Briton in Stephen Cummings, but Eritreans Daniel Teklehaimanot and Merhawi Kudus became the first black Africans to ride the Grand Boucle. It was a learning experience for both but perhaps more importantly in years to come people, will look back on their participation as that of trailblazers. They finished 49th and 84th, respectively, overall in a very credible performance from both. It may take time, but the door has been opened for East Africans.

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