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Tour de France report card: not easy being Orica-GreenEDGE

Cycling

Winner winner: while it was a fantastic Tour de France for overall winner Vincenzo Nibali, the story was not quite so rosy for Australia's Orica-GreenEDGE team.

Winner winner: while it was a fantastic Tour de France for overall winner Vincenzo Nibali, the story was not quite so rosy for Australia's Orica-GreenEDGE team. Photo: AFP

PARIS: The chances of Orica-GreenEDGE matching their success in the 2013 Tour de France – two stage wins and four days in the yellow jersey - were always minimal in this year's race.

Nonetheless, the Australian team fell short of the mark this year; even if some aspects of their Tour were pleasing.  All in all, it was a ‘thumbs down’ Tour for Orica-GreenEDGE.

True, they were not alone in finishing without a win; 13 of the 22 teams did not win a stage by the time German Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) clinched his fourth win in Sunday's 137.5km 21st stage from Evry to the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

Kittel outsprinted Norway's Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Lithuanian Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp), German Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Australian Mark Renshaw (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) in that order.

Meanwhile, Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), 29, placed 81st at 24s; but with his overall lead safe to add a first Tour victory to his wins in the 2010 Vuelta a Espana and last year's Giro d'Italia.

His final winning margins were 7m 37s on Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r) and 8m 15s on Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr) - both from France.

As for Orica-GreenEDGE?  Well ... there were pluses and minuses, but my report card shows there was more to learn from than applaud. 

PLUSES 

Briton Simon Yates was only picked after the British road titles the previous Sunday. The rookie went on to feature in two breaks in the mountains before being pulled by the team – against his wishes - before the Pyrenees in week three, but the experience, with his climbing prowess and calm demeanour, augurs well for his potential as a grand tour leader.

Australian Luke Durbridge did well to finish his first Tour – and with a 19th in the 54km stage 20 time trial – after surgery from a broken collarbone in the Giro d’Italia.  He did a lot of unseen toiling work and news in the last week that he had re-signed with the team was a big plus.

Countryman Simon Clarke rode solidly in his second Tour and showed his panache on stage 15 to Saint Etienne, starring in the main break of the 185km stage and after being caught with 5km to go took the most combative rider award.  He also had a late dig on the Champs-Elysees in Sunday’s  21st and final stage to Paris.

Clarke was not the only teammate to attack. Many tried to get in the main break of the day as Swiss Michael Albasini and Belgian Jens Keukeleire did on stage 16.

Simon Gerrans did not finish – he withdrew overnight before stage 17 due to injuries (including fractured ribs) from a crash in the sprint finish on stage one.  Nonetheless fifth-placed finishes on stages 7 and 11 which he targeted were impressive considering his injuries. There was more good news when he re-signed with the team for three more years.

MINUSES

The Tour began uncomfortably with the announcement before it began of South African rider Daryl Impey’s positive test for probenecid.

Impey’s case did impact Orica-GreenEDGE's Tour as he was a likely selection, but that didn’t stop the team from feeling confident of a stage win as there was depth to fill the void.

Orica-GreenEDGE sorely missed Australian Michael Matthews who crashed while training in Monaco the day before flying to Leeds still hopeful he could start of the Tour.  The Giro stage winner was a big hope for a stage win so his late scratching was a massive blow that left added responsibility on Gerrans.

The loss during stage nine of another Australian teammate in Mat Hayman also hurt.  While one of the team’s five Tour rookies, he is among their most experienced riders and would have been their road captain.  His departure not only robbed the team of vital manpower, but also of his admirable generalship of riders.

The Tour also ended on a sour note, with Albasini accused of a racist remark to French rider Kevin Reza (Europcar) in stage 16 by Reza’s team manager Jean-Rene Bernadeau.  Albasini denied the claim and attributed it to a miscommunication that was resolved when the pair met the next morning, but the issue still left a bitter taste.

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