Tour de France 2014: 10 things we have learned

 

Sky must be more flexible

Two big-budget teams lost their contenders early on – but only one still prospered. Bjarne Riis's Tinkoff-Saxo squad recovered from losing Alberto Contador to win three times in the mountains with Michael Rogers and Rafal Majka, after Riis let the deputies off the leash. Sky's Sir Dave Brailsford made Mikel Nieve and Geraint Thomas sacrifice their own ambitions for a sickly Richie Porte after Chris Froome had abandoned.

A Frenchman will win soon enough

This was the Tour when the French returned as a cycling force. Three stage wins, three podium contenders and one white jersey is a greater haul for the hosts than the past five years combined – yet the future promises even greater things. The ability of Thibaut Pinot to race away from Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali on Stage 16 suggests he can soon challenge for the yellow jersey.

Inconsistency after Armstrong

There has been a perversely comforting inconsistency to this year's racing. Froome could not repeat his dominance of 2013. Contador appears a spectre of his younger self. The days when a rider could win multiple or even consecutive Tours appear to be over. A cleaner sport is a more unpredictable sport – and a more exciting one too.

Sagan needs to find extra gear

By normal standards, Peter Sagan has enjoyed a massively successful Tour. But norms don't really apply to the Slovak. He can exert his will over the sprinters' points competition for as long as he likes yet it won't compensate for a failure to win stages. It's an odd paradox: the sport's greatest all-round talent must learn the art of victory.

The Tour of illnesses

One by one they fell, like workers at a disease-ridden Victorian penitentiary. This has been the Tour of pulmonary complaints. World champion Rui Costa left with pneumonia; Simon Spilak abandoned with a tummy bug; Porte and Tejay van Garderen had stomach and respiratory issues but they kept racing. To win the Tour you need some luck as well as skill and endurance.

Cobbles provide a bumpy ride

Stage Five was as madly, chaotically brilliant as had been predicted. In dreadful conditions contenders slipped and slid all over the farmers' tracks – and in Froome's case didn't even make it to the pavé at all. Only Vincenzo Nibali of the yellow-jersey favourites brought order to the chaos. The riders hate the cobbles for their race-ending potential. Rightly so.

Good stages come in small packages

Monster mountain stages have their place – but their daunting length tends to encourage defensive riding. To their credit, the Tour organisers have begun to realise that what looks impressive on paper often plays out disappointingly on the road. On the 124km stage to Pla d'Adet, the short distance and plentiful huge climbs provoked attacks from the start.

Just a taste is good for Britain

The Tour's fourth visit to British soil was an unadulterated success. The thousands who lined the routes were in stark contrast to the dour welcome the race received on its return to France. But Britain is crazy for the Tour precisely because we experience it so rarely. Calls for the race to return soon should be tempered by fears about brand exposure.

Nibali has room to spare

Suggestions abound that Nibali's victory means less than it should due to the absence of Contador and Froome. Yet Nibali has barely been troubled en route to the easiest Tour victory of the post-Armstrong era. Only during his fourth-stage victory atop Hautacam did the Sicilian appear to be stretched – and by then he was competing only against himself.

Not just a young man's game

The young tyros have performed manfully – Majka, Pinot and Roman Bardet are all under 25. But 37-year-old Jean-Christophe Péraud was often the only rider able to hold Nibali's wheel. And Chris Horner, 42, also struck a blow for experience over innocence.

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