You can be forgiven for having a bit of Tour de France-related short term memory. When the Tour blasted through the Pyrenees and lit fireworks throughout the Alps, it sent the first week back into distant memory. However, before Thomas Voeckler’s tear-fueled defense of the yellow jersey, before Thor Hushovd’s reign of terror, and before Evans, Contador, and the Schlecks really began trading blows in the high mountains, it was Phillipe Gilbert who helped define the Tour de France.
Gilbert had a banner Tour de France. He won stage one and wore the Yellow Jersey for a stage, the Poka Dot jersey for two, and the Green Jersey for a remarkable seven stages. Throughout, he raced with flair and panache, winning difficult uphill sprints and even going on an inspiring late attack on Stage 10. He put up a fight for the Points Competition for longer than anybody really expected of him, and indeed, if it weren’t for Mark Cavendish’s near-stranglehold on conventional field sprints, it wouldn’t have been strange to pick Gilbert for the Points Comp victory. In line with speculation about where he might develop as a rider (will he win all monuments? Will he lose weight and become a GC contender?), his ability to hang tough at the front of the Tour into the early mountains was impressive.
Did Gilbert lose out on an opportunity to keep the lead in the points competition? Let’s take a look at what caused him to miss out on points:
Working for Andre Greipel: Omega Pharma Lotto has found significant Tour success this year, with Andre Greipel winning Stage 10 and Jelle Vanendert winning Stage 14. This must be a morale booster to the team, considering the early injury to GC candidate Jurgen Van den Broeck. However, Gilbert’s commitment to Greipel’s success – whose Stage 10 victory was a long-overdue return on OPL’s investment in the German sprinter – cost him the ability to pick up a handful of sprint points here and there to stay in contention with HTC’s Mark Cavendish and JJ Rojas of Movistar.
A few doomed attacks, including a late dig on Stage 10, ultimately won by Greipel. Gilbert’s attack drew out Thomas Voeckler, Tony Martin, and Tony Gallopin. Though powerful and beautiful, may have been foolish – it left Gilbert unable to contest the finish and he missed out on a handful of Points he may have gotten for a top-fifteen sprint finish. Was even the chance of a solo win on the stage worth the price he paid?
Despite the Omega Pharma-Lotto’s success, Gilbert rode into Paris having been defeated in the Green Jersey competition. Is this an opportunity for a great win lost? Or, is it the reasonable side-effect of a smarter play for more diverse success by Omega Pharma-Lotto?
Furthermore, what are the chances that an attacker or puncheur can win a Green Jersey competition in the Tour de France, or a points competition in any Grand Tour? There’s a growing trend for Grand Tour organizers to build Grand Tours that are geared toward exciting and dramatic racing. Should we see another Grand Tour in the near future with a parcours featuring few conventional bunch sprints and more powerclimbs and opportunities for late attackers, we may see a puncheur winning a Points Competition.