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PARIS (VN) — Familiar faces stood atop the Tour de France podium on Sunday, but the 2016 edition will be remembered for a gallery of new names who pressed into the frame.
Chris Froome (Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) reconfirmed their Tour credentials by reclaiming podium spots — Froome with his third win and Quintana with his third podium — but new riders are elbowing their way into the conversation in what was hyped as the Froome-Quintana clash.
Look no further than the man in the middle, Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale). The 26-year-old Frenchman raced the way Quintana wanted to, attacking late in the third week to win a stage and make a late rally for the podium.
“We are not surprised, but very satisfied,” said team manager Vincent Lavenu. “Romain has shown his class, and every year has improved. This will only give him more confidence looking forward.”
Just off the GC podium was an even bigger surprise, with Adam Yates (Orica – BikeExchange) winning the white jersey and finishing fourth overall in just his second Tour start. At just 23, Yates stayed close to the GC group nearly every day, and even took a few digs himself. He leaves the Tour with bolstered confidence and maturity beyond his years.
“This is the one I’ve ridden for GC, and I think I managed it quite well,” Yates said. “For a lot of people, it’s a dream to ride the Tour, so for me to come top 10 or top 5, I’m super happy. I’ve learned a lot, and it will help me go one step further.”
Another revelation was eighth-place Louis Meintjes (Lampre – Merida), who tied seventh-place Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) at 6:58 back, also in his second Tour start. A tiny pure climber, the South African held his own despite weighing just 61kg. As expected, the 24-year-old lost more than three minutes to Froome in the rolling time trial in stage 13, but he we consistently following the fastest wheels in the climbs. Meintjes could follow a similar trajectory as Bardet, aiming next for a stage win, and then pick away at the GC. His bosses at Lampre will be satisfied with this Tour, and give him more support next season, while Yates will raise the bar even more.
“I need to put in more work in time trialing,” Yates said. “It’s hard to say if I could win some day. I see ‘Froomey’ a big step ahead, but most of the other guys are close. I’ll keep working, and be back to go that one step further.”
Further down the GC are a few more names worth watching. FDJ’s Sebastien Reichenbach, 27, stepped up following Thibaut Pinot’s exit, riding to 14th. IAM’s Jarlinson Pantano, 27, won a stage and finished second in two more en route to a top-20 on GC. The Colombian climber has been linked to Trek – Segafredo next year, and has enjoyed a breakout season that included a stage win at the Tour de Suisse. And finally, Bora – Argon 18’s Emanuel Buchmann just missed a top-20 with 21st. The promising 23-year-old all-rounder is Germany’s best GC hope in a while, so many are hoping he can continue progressing.
One name disappointed: Fabio Aru (Astana), who sank out of the top 10 on Saturday after losing 17 minutes to drop from sixth to 13th in his highly anticipated Tour debut. After two podiums at the Giro d’Italia and victory in last year’s Vuelta a España, losing sixth place will be a bitter pill on what was otherwise a fairly solid Tour debut. As one of the most explosive climbers in the bunch, he will be back for more.
In the sprints, Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) reclaimed his status as the fastest man in the bunch, but a few new fast guns were putting the established sprinters to the test. Top among them was Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie), who nearly won in Limoges, and has a promising future. Other young sprinters included Edward Theuns (Trek – Segafredo), Daniel McLay (Fortuneo – Vital Concept), Dylan Groenwegen (LottoNL – Jumbo), and Sondre Hoist Enger (IAM Cycling), a 22-year-old Norwegian who punched into the top 10 four times, including third in Bern.
Every Tour delivers its fair share of surprises. It’s always interesting to watch how riders develop. Some make a big splash, and then are never able to live up to their previous results and heightened expectations. Others only seem to grow under the pressure.