Who’s Really Winning The Tour de France?

2013 Tour de France route map

Less a circle than a strangely designed @ symbol, the 2013 route has been a masterpiece so far…

This Is Offensive Sport

The tediousness of the 2013 Prem season aside, this has been something of a watershed year for sport. You can almost feel the barriers coming down and there’s a real sense of the old guard/old systems being superseded by the brash new kids. For me the most obvious sign has been the refusal of lesser players to be cowed and the rise of offensive play. The most perfect example of this being Bayern Munich taking the game to Barcelona and crushing them in the process, but you could also see it in the strategies employed by teams like Tahiti, Japan and Brazil in the recent, excellent Confederations Cup.

In essence it’s a reaction at the consistent dominance of the big players. Faced with what appear to be fait accomplis, the smaller, supposedly weaker teams have recognised that there’s little point in simply playing the defensive game, hoping your opponents crumble and somehow let you into the game. Instead they have taken the game to their opponents, surprising them in the process.

Sure it doesn’t always work. Both Tahiti and Japan crashed and burnt, losing all their matches and being roundly spanked in the process, but it really worked for a Brazil team that had looked distinctly average when playing against Engerland only a fortnight before their Confederations Cup final against Spain. Their desire to attack meant they scored vital early goals which changed the complexion of their games and won them the Cup.

This Is An Offensive Tour

Cycling has had a similar epiphany. Faced with the apparent dominance of Sky, other teams and riders have have to adapt to have any chance of winning. Right from the off this Tour has been offensive. Even the route has been unsettling. Riders have had to compete right from the start, without the usual bedding-in time trial that would give the also-rans a comfortable, breakaway legitimising deficit from the word go.

The crash on Stage 1 also meant that the predicted jersey flow went right out the window. So no Cav in Yellow headlines for Day 1, no Sagan in Yellow for Day 2. Instead we saw the last sprinter standing (Kittel)  in Yellow for Day 1, followed by the tightest of breakaway finishers for Days 2 and 3, before the jersey was seized by Orica Greenedge in the Team Time Trial. For the first week it seemed as if the jersey was going to the riders who just wanted it more and were prepared to go that little bit further.

The same thing happened with the Green jersey. By Friday, Sagan might not have won a stage but he’d snapped up most of the intermediate sprints and had come in second on a regular basis. But on Friday his team helped him win the jersey. In what was essentially a 140km lead out, they powered Sagan to victory, destroying all the other sprinters as they spat them relentlessly out of the back of the peloton, before Sagan finally won the Stage.

You could argue that Sky did the same for Froome on Saturday as they crushed the other GC contenders on the first real mountain stage and watched Froome ride off into the distance and a lead of nearly 2 minutes over all his supposed rivals. Again, the day was about a team who appeared to want it more driving their opponents into the ground.

Yet they didn’t seem to apply the final, killer blow. Indeed, you could say that Garmin’s constant attacks on Sunday, along with the disciplined intensity of Movistar, helped destroy the apparent invincibility of the Sky team, spitting out members of the Skytrain as brutally as Cannondale had shat out sprinters on Friday. While Dan Martin’s breakaway win on the final descent simply emphasised the power of offensive thinking.

But Who Is Really Winning?

The Green jersey competition already appears to be over, with Sagan the winner for the second year. He already has more points than his nearest rival amassed in the whole of last year’s Tour, so unless he falls under a bus or down a mountain, it’s his to lose.

The King of the Mountains has barely started, but with a bunch of serious mountain top finishes to come it’s likely to go to one of the GC boys as something of a consolation prize as, Froome aside, they can’t afford to not attack on these stages in an attempt to damage the leader.

The Yellow jersey is, strangely, still very much up in the air. All the GC contenders could be said to be vaguely satisfied with the weekend, with each having something of a balance of success and failure.

  • Froome (Sky) – absolutely caned everyone on Saturday, took the jersey and put the best part of 2 minutes into all his rivals. But his team cracked, losing their ‘shield of invulnerability’ as they shed riders on Sunday. While the breaking of Richie Porte means that Sky are spared another year of ‘is the no 2 really the no 1?’ questions, the elimination of Kiryienka, injuries to Kennaugh and Thomas and the apparent disappearance of Boasson Hagen, López, Stannard and Suitsou means Sky seem far from the dominant force they were last year.
  • Valverde, Quintana (Movistar) – must take great credit for crashing the Skytrain on Sunday with a very disciplined performance, yet for all their dominance on Sunday, they looked less like contenders and more like Froome’s new lead out train as they failed to put any distance on the leader. True, they may be playing a long game – there’s another 2 weeks to go after all – but their failure to press home their advantage may have been a serious mistake. Also with Valverde and Quintana in second and seventh place and the younger Quintana although 37 seconds down looking so much better than his ‘team leader’, they seem to have inherited the Wiggins/Froome issue from last year. What will happen if Valverde cracks on the mountains?
  • Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) – won’t be pleased to have lost almost two minutes to Froome, yet he and his team have been almost invisible and have come through the Pyrenees totally unscathed. Again, they may be playing the long game, but it seems a stark contrast to his dominant display in last year’s Vuelta, where his attacking won the day. He seems to be pinning much of his hopes on Froome being worn down by others.
  • Evans (BMC) – along with Porte, the big loser over the weekend. 16 place, 4:36 down and his GC ambitions are essentially over. Like 15th place Andy Schleck, his only hope is a long mountain breakaway ahead of a self-destructing peloton and that’s not going to happen.
  • Mollema, ten Dam (Belkin) – third and fourth respectfully, they, like Contador have had a pretty good weekend skulking in the background.  Expect both to lose time, if not position, over the next fortnight.

Next week sees a flat stage or two, where Sky can begin to regroup,  an individual time trial, which should allow Froome to extend his lead and then it’s the Alps. And while Froome might not have the jersey nailed on, his challengers are going to have to be brave and attack him if they want to snatch it off him.


Comments are closed.