The Italian champion Vincenzo Nibali rolled into Paris as the race leader, taking a huge Tour de France victory. In what was widely considered one of the wildest Tours in recent memory, Nibali and Team Astana could be a sign of what’s to come in the newer era of pro cycling.
Leaders dropped like flies in this year’s race. Favorites like Chris Froome and Alberto Contador ended up abandoning, as well as the tough break for Andrew Talansky — and of course Mark Cavendish and his heartbreak. The Tour threw everything it had at the riders — rain, injuries and endless crashes. A race that used to be based in strategy was now a contest of survival.
The paradigm of supporting a lead rider with specialists and domestiques is not likely to go anywhere just yet. Sprinters like Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel will always have a place in the race, and climbers will always bring needed points.
However, Nibali brought something into this Tour that wasn’t usually an issue in the last few races — survival.
While it’s easy to poo-poo Nibali’s win and say he didn’t have to go up against Contador and Froome — and many people are — he could be signaling a shift in the approach and training philosophy for teams. Consistency is key in any Tour de France, but never like it was for Nibali this year.
In future Tours, it will be interesting to see the roster for teams like Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo. Will they continue putting dominant riders out front with a few support riders as they always have? Or perhaps will they spread the talent across five or six riders with great recovery who are hold-their-own guys that can be last rider standing?
Nibali might not be a fan favorite, but surviving the war of attrition that was this year’s Tour could prompt top UCI teams to take a new approach to choosing rosters.