• The inexorable tempo riding of Team Sky has already won them seven Grand Tours - and is likely to net them an eighth. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Finding this year's Tour missing a certain je ne sais quoi? Sorry to disappoint, but controlling the uncontrollables is how you win the race, writes Anthony Tan.
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Cycling Central
27 Jul 2018 - 4:29 PM  UPDATED 27 Jul 2018 - 4:34 PM

Was that the most boring stage EVER in the 105-year history of the Tour de France?!

At least one time in your life, be a roadside spectator at Le Tour. I did it for the first time in 1997, after a few months' racing in Europe and realising I would need a lot more than Ventolin to turn pro. (That I'm not asthmatic is besides the point.)

Grand Tours cannot be reduced to all sub-100 kilometre stages because if that were the case there would be a transfer every few days. And even if they were, there's no guarantee of greater excitement.

Because watching from the roadside is a metaphor for the Tour itself, and, by extension, Grand Tour racing: brief moments of excitement interspersed among hours and hours of utter boredom.

And it's not just the sprint stages. Though of course, we could have done without 160 kilometres of Thursday's 171km jaunt to Pau. The most excitement came when Jens Voigt made a cameo on the SBS Television broadcast with about 27K to go, and said in his inimitable Germanic way, "I thought he was going to go all-bananas on the second-last climb and go for the stage and yellow jersey", referring to the previous day's overhyped grid-start stage to Saint-Lary-Soulan, and what he expected from the defending champion.

All-bananas. Gotta love The Jensie. Much better than the trite 'full-gas'.

At 65 kilometres and with three mega-mountains, it appeared so tantalising - on paper. But it wasn't just the start that was a fizzer, as Rob Arnold opined. (Read: Pole position? Vrrrrmmmm, vrrmmmm...fizzer) The much-anticipated long-range attack that saw Chris Froome win the Giro d'Italia two days from the finish did not eventuate, providing further confirmation that in the modern era, the Giro-Tour double is not feasible.

Might as well just say it. Giro-Tour: Impossible.

Prior to the stage, too much was expected from the likes of Tom Dumoulin, Romain Bardet and Nairo Quintana, even though the latter would prevail atop the Col du Portet. Like Froome, the Dutchman is also rather buggered after riding that race in Italy, and even if he tried Team Sky would simply chase him down. Contrary to popular belief that you should take the lead as late as possible so you have less days to defend, Team Sky prefer to assume control early and with their inexorable tempo march, place a virtual stranglehold on the classement général.

Just two crucial stages remain at the 2018 Tour de France
Just two crucial stages remain at this year's Tour de France - one tough mountain stage and an individual time trial. Until Geraint Thomas kisses the Tour de France trophy on Sunday in Paris, this race is not over.
Quintana: 'I'm always a bit f****d up'
Nairo Quintana crashed hard in Stage 18, suffering some minor injuries ahead of the final mountain stage.

It is a formula that worked for Bradley Wiggins. For no less than six Grand Tours it has worked for Froome. And barring disaster, it will work for Geraint Thomas.

Other than Dumoulin, prior to Stage 17 Bardet, Quintana and the best of the rest, Team Sky didn't need to worry too much about. They were too far behind, and other than Primoz Roglic, are inferior to Thomas against the clock. The final Pyrenean leg is unlikely to change the status quo: it is tailor-made for the Skybots to control from go to whoa. Domoulin and Roglic would be dingbats to go for broke because for them, finishing on the podium in their first TdF as a leader is almost as good as victory itself.

Grand Tours cannot be reduced to all sub-100 kilometre stages because if that were the case there would be a transfer every few days. And even if they were, there's no guarantee of greater excitement.

Besides, there's still been plenty to marvel at.

The rise of Fernando Gaviria and Dylan Groenewegen, coinciding with the demise of previous sprint greats Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel; the resurrection of John Degenkolb; Julian Alaphilippe's daredevil descending prowess; laterne rouge 'Awesome Lawson' Craddock's Tonka toughness, who enjoys a healthy 20-minute 'advantage' over his nearest man on GC; and yes, the might and power of Team Sky - there's no other Grand Tour-focused team quite like it.

And let's not forget the beguiling scenery - the Gorges de l'Ardèche is simply too beautiful for words (note to self: must get myself a pied-à-terre there) - or gastronomic genius Gabriel Gaté, who's been serving pièces de résistance to our screens in July for God knows how long.

Or how Matthew Keenan and Robbie McEwen can jibber-jabber for four hours on a day when absolutely nothing happens!