Best of the 2014 Tour de France

As I said when I did the same thing last year, everyone loves a ‘best of’.

Best viewing option – mute

What is it about cycling that attracts such mediocre commentary? Sean Kelly’s emotionless analysis on Eurosport is usually interesting and informative, but while his partner, Carlton Kirby, can have his moments, when he starts talking about “pushing the ‘go’ button” it’s hard to avoid pushing the ‘mute’ button.

Similarly, ITV4’s highlights programme is brilliantly put together, but for some reason they still make use of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen for the actual commentary. I presume it’s a generic English language feed, which would explain why Sherwen is forever translating prize money into dollars. However, that doesn’t explain their pronunciation or overuse of certain phrases. Whether talking about ‘Jokkim’ Rodriguez or Rafal ‘Maker’, they were invariably only a second away from saying ‘bike handling skills’ or ‘the ride of his life’. Liggett’s attempts at ‘Ramunas Navardauskas’ were almost transcendentally inept.

Best joke – Gary Imlach

He’s not the joke. Far from it. ITV4’s central figure delivered his usual barrage of unsmiling one-liners, but the finest was this intro:

“Stage 19 finishes in Bergerac and we’ve looked everywhere for a statue of John Nettles, but we’ve had to settle for this one of a bloke with a big nose.”

Best ride(s) – Tony Martin

An honourable mention for Andrew Talansky’s tragic solo mission to beat the time cut, but there was another man who also covered forlorn pointlessness and then added selflessness and unbelievable superiority over fellow athletes to the mix. On stage nine, Tony Martin outrode the entire the peloton to take a glorious win. On stage ten (the very next day, if your maths isn’t up to that) he did the same thing again – only this time he did it in the name of maybe giving a team-mate half a chance of gaining some time.

Self sacrifice is a theme of the Tour, but this was near-pointless sacrifice of exceptional physiology; sacrifice so complete that when he finally peeled off, this phenomenal athlete ended up pedalling like a tired four-year-old, almost falling over sideways he was going so slowly. I’m a sucker for glorious pointlessness and this was something else.

Tony Martin won the time trial later in the race, by the way. This was so inevitable that it was only a couple of days later that I realised I’d completely neglected to mention him when writing about the stage.

Best stage – the cobbles

Rainy, dirty, tense, and hugely unpredictable. This was a day to remember, crowned by one of the great performances by a Tour de France champion. The previous year’s champion abandoned before he even reached the cobbles, the then-favourite lost minutes and looked to be in huge difficulties towards the end and a guy called Boom crossed the line first, covered in mud. What more could you want?

Best competition – the King of the Mountains

If the yellow jersey is Champagne and the green jersey a vintage red wine, the polka dot jersey is traditionally half a bottle of warm WKD. But this year it all kicked off. The competition started well with the almost universally popular Jens Voight first to earn the right to dress like a fool in his final Tour de France. From there, we had one of the best climbers in the peloton, Joaquim Rodriguez, sprinting for summits alongside Monsieur Breakaway himself, Tommy Voeckler – and then Rafal Majka got involved. Watch how Rodriguez goes in this year’s Vuelta and then watch how Majka goes next year. It’s possible that the 2014 King of the Mountains was contested by stronger riders than were challenging Nibali. Plus it was actually a competition, unlike the green jersey.

Best bridesmaid – Peter Sagan

He may have won the points competition, but he ended up with no stage wins and more sad seconds than one of those warehouses where families sell off the threadbare furniture of the recently deceased.