The 2017 Tour de France featured big names crashing out, a controversial expulsion and a buildup of suspense as the stages went by. Here are our five takeaways from the three-week epic.
Chris Froome was strong enough to win his third straight Tour and fourth overall -- his first victory in any race this season -- even though he wasn't at his best.
Speculation had been building all spring that Froome would be vulnerable, but he still had the best supporting cast in Team Sky. He kept his composure through two ill-timed mechanical issues and again when a bad day in the Pyrenees briefly cost him the yellow jersey. He appeared wholly undistracted by ongoing questions about Sky's past medical practices, its high-tech time trial skin suit and the ambitions of his teammate Mikel Landa. Froome's mindset was as important as his legs in securing the closest of his four Tours.
Tweaking the course to include more unpredictable "medium mountain" stages, just three uphill high-altitude finishes and shorter time trials didn't alter the balance of power.
The Tour looked predictable early on and tightened up in the second week. But there was actually more drama in a couple of the transitional stages than there was on the final summit finish on Col d'Izoard, where the three leaders marked one another. Time trials accounted for only 22.7 of the nearly 2,200 miles of the race, but Froome's mastery of the discipline meant he was able to bookend the Tour with time gains that made the difference.
Team Sunweb is stacked.
Already on a roll with the Giro d'Italia winner Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands, who did not ride the Tour, the Germany-based squad produced a pair of specialty jersey winners who won two stages apiece while sharing a hotel room. France's boyish Warren Barguil came back from a fractured hip in the Tour of Romandie in late April to claim the King of the Mountains polka-dot jersey, prevailing theatrically on Bastille Day in Foix and the final uphill finish on Col d'Izoard. Michael Matthews of Australia won Stages 14 and 16 and looked to duel Germany's Marcel Kittel for the green sprint/points jersey in the final days of the Tour, then inherited it when Kittel crashed out. Matthews was the first Aussie rider to finish in green since Robbie McEwen in 2006. Can the team hang on to all this talent? Stay tuned.
The race survived without Peter Sagan, but it shouldn't have had to.
The decision by a jury of the UCI -- cycling's international governing body -- to kick the charismatic two-time defending world champion and five-time green jersey winner out of the race after he got tangled with British star Mark Cavendish during the Stage 4 sprint finish was almost universally excoriated, for good reason. Video was at best inconclusive about Sagan's intent when he thrust an elbow at Cavendish as he tried to shoot through a whisker-thin gap along the barriers. Most analysts and current riders interpreted the action as reactive to a crash already in progress, not malicious, and said Sagan should have been hit with a lesser penalty. Sagan and Cavendish, who is faced with a difficult recovery from a fractured shoulder blade after most of a season lost to Epstein-Barr virus, said there's no animosity over the incident. The decision's most damaging legacy: It sets a precedent that will be hard to make sense of, especially in stage racing.
People like standing by the side of the road.
This may seem obvious, but it was never more so than in the Orange Velodrome in Marseille, where Saturday's final time trial started and finished. It was an interesting and surprisingly loud backdrop for the race's decisive stage but the venue was only a third full despite the fact that tickets were free. Crowds were plentiful on the course -- as they were throughout the three weeks, likely boosted by the strong performance of French riders.