On Sunday Chris Froome entered the elite group of cyclists who have won the Tour de France three times. Earlier in the tour, Mark Cavendish won another four tour stages to leave him second in the all-time stage-winner rankings. But several other British cyclists excelled this year in a race where they were a rarity not long ago. Here are three outstanding examples.
The 23-year-old from Bury, cycling in only his second Tour de France, became the first British cyclist to win the white jersey for the best young rider, and narrowly missed out on third place in the general classification. His fourth-place finish has been bettered only by Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome (though it was equalled by Robert Millar in 1984).
Yates said he came to the Tour “with no ambitions” to go for the general classification. He also declared himself rubbish at time trials, but put in a strong performance in both of the time trials in this year’s tour. And he kept going after an inflatable arch – the flamme rouge – collapsed on him in Stage 7, with 1km to go.
At his most comfortable on mountain stages, Yates’s tactic was to sit patiently at the back of the leading group on climbs, earning himself the title of “gatekeeper”. As cyclists ahead of him tired and dropped out of the group, he would take their place.
Before the Tour he was seen by his team, Orica-BikeExchange, as a less likely winner than his twin brother, Simon. Simon, however, received a four-month ban after using the asthma drug terbutaline (which the team doctor forgot to declare) and Adam got his chance to excel.
Few would disagree with his own assessment that this is “just the beginning”.
For the second year in a row, Cummings snatched a stage win with a dramatic acceleration on the final climb of a medium-mountain stage, demonstrating a combination of strength and tactical cunning. In the foothills of the Pyrenees he left behind a four-man breakaway, including former Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali, and cycled the last 26km (16 miles) alone, finishing one minute ahead of the nearest chaser.
But if Cummings has the reputation of being a lone wolf rather than a team player – someone who concentrates his efforts on stages he can win – he could be seen in the early stages of this year’s Tour supporting his Dimension Data teammate Mark Cavendish.
As outspoken as Yates is unassuming, Cummings called on the eve of the Tour for British Olympic cycling selector Rod Ellingworth to resign, furious at having been left out of the Olympic road race team. But when his stage win showed once again that he was on tremendous form, and Peter Kennaugh announced his withdrawal from the Olympic squad, Cummings was given Kennaugh’s place.
The hilly Olympic road-race circuit in Rio should suit him perfectly.
This could have been the year that Team Sky allowed Thomas to go his own way as a “free electron” and aim for a high placing in the Tour de France, rather than serving as a domestique (helper) for team leader Chris Froome. He spent most of last year’s tour in the top 10 and won this year’s Paris-Nice race in March. But when he underperformed in the Tour de Suisse in June, Team Sky decided to switch him back to his usual role in support of Froome.
He performed the role impeccably, soldiering on despite injuring his ribs in a crash on the first stage – a repeat of his heroics in 2013, when he rode most of the Tour with a fractured pelvis.
It was Thomas’s bicycle that Froome commandeered when he damaged his own during a wet descent on Stage 19. Thomas then deterred attacks from Froome’s rivals by setting a stiff pace on the climb up the Col de Joux Plane on Stage 20 – and then led Froome down the treacherous descent into Morzine in pouring rain.
The Froome-Thomas duo will next be in action in the Olympic road race, together with fellow Team Sky rider Ian Stannard – and with Yates and Cummings.