The peloton makes room for Generation Froome

The 28-year-old's Tour victory, combined with the top performances of other 20-somethings, confirmed there is a new breed of racers

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PARIS (VN) — The 2013 Tour de France saw a generational change as many of the top names over the past few years were choking on the dust behind Chris Froome and the Sky juggernaut.

Chief among them was Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), once the king of the grand tours, who got pummeled by Froome at every turn, losing major time to his British rival in every key stage.

Contador wasn’t the only big name struggling through the 2013 Tour, as others who once dominated the race were wondering what happened. The 2011 champ Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), 36, and 2010 winner Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard), 28, took their lumps during this Tour. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), 34, was relegated to super-domestique duty for Nairo Quintana.

This Tour was out with the old, and in with the new.

“The new ones are coming. Froome, Quintana, [Michal] Kwiatkowski, [Tejay] van Garderen — he had a bad Tour, but I believe he can come back and win a Tour,” said Omega Pharma-Quick Step sport director Brian Holm. “Alberto’s legs are not the same as before. For Cadel, it looks like something has passed him by. The others are older. It will be exciting in the coming years. I think we will see some good duels.”

The 2013 Tour confirmed the obvious: Froome is the new sheriff in town. And many other big stars that have been challenging for the yellow jersey were left choking on his dust.

Behind Froome, four others riders in the top-10 had previously ridden into the Tour’s top-10.

Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who crushed Contador going up the Semnoz at the end of stage 20 to jump to second overall, and who also claimed both the best young rider and king of the mountains jerseys, is only 23.

Three riders in the under-25 category finished among the top-11, including Tour rookie Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), who fought and scraped his way to 10th.

At 28, Richie Porte (Sky) is a prince in waiting behind Froome. Others, such as Bauke Mollema (Belkin), 26, and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), 28, proved they have the chops to challenge for the Tour podium.

Though he suffered through a bad Tour, BMC’s van Garderen, 25, has an open road ahead of him, evidenced by his fifth overall in 2012, when he was the best young rider.

And it’s not just young GC riders making themselves known. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) took his second consecutive green jersey at just 23. German Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano), 25, won four stages, and proved himself to be the sprinter of reference, ahead of Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma).

Froome said he could not ignore the fact that there were new faces nipping at his heels.

“I watch all my rivals, but it’s true there are some younger riders coming up,” Froome said. “Aside from Quintana, there are other guys, like Michal Kwiatkowski and Andrew Talansky, who stand out.”

Since World War II, Tour history has been marked by the emergence of a singular rider who dominates his respective generation. From Jacques Anquetil to Eddy Merckx, to Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain, and to the scandal-tainted Lance Armstrong, all ruled the peloton through guile, strength, and authority.

There’s a sense that the peloton is experiencing a similar changing of the guard, with Froome and Giro d’Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) emerging as the top two riders of a new generation.

“We are seeing a big generation change. The two big leaders of this new generation are Nibali and Froome,” said Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué. “We are seeing them dominating the grand tours. It’s inevitable. New riders are always arriving to challenge the established leaders. It’s part of the natural cycle.”

After Armstrong’s first retirement in 2005, Contador looked poised to emerge as the next dominant Tour rider, but he’s since been derailed by scandal and politics that saw him sidelined from the Tour in 2008 and 2012. His 2010 victory was stripped after he tested positive for clenbuterol.

Though Contador returned from his backdated, two-year ban last year to win the Vuelta a España, the Spaniard was nowhere near his previous best during this Tour.

Contador earned a trip to the podium, with Saxo winning the best team prize, but his fourth overall — at more than seven minutes behind Froome — was far under expectations.

The past two Tour champions — Evans and Sir Bradley Wiggins (Sky), victors in 2011 and 2012, respectively — are largely viewed as “one-off” winners.

Filling that vacuum are Froome and Nibali, with a whole herd of new riders stampeding behind.

Though Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) might have realized a career-long goal of standing on the final podium in Paris at 34 (he placed third this year), there was a growing sense that the Tour belongs to the future.

It would be a mistake, however, to count out the experienced hands too soon.

Contador was already talking a big game even before this Tour ended, promising that his “2014 season begins today” as he watched Froome stand atop the podium.

Schleck, still just 28, showed glimpses of his former glory, with some aggressive riding that bodes well for a return next year to challenge for his place atop the GC fight.

“Often you read about generational changes, but it doesn’t happen in one day on the calendar. Every year, there is always going to be someone who falls by the wayside because of their age, because stronger riders are coming from behind,” said Garmin-Sharp sport director Charly Wegelius. “This Tour definitely provided the public with a lot of new faces. That’s a great thing.”

And Froome will be under heavy pressure to confirm his first yellow jersey with a second in 2014. Nibali is all but sure to race next year’s Tour, and riders such as Contador and Schleck will not go down without a fight.

That should set the stage for some epic battles in the years to come.

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