Who’s Really Winning The Tour de France (part deux)

"Yes, I think you'll find I've just won the Tour de France, unless you care to stop me..."

“Yes, I think you’ll find I’ve just won the Tour de France, unless you care to stop me…”

Back On The Offensive

Friday looks like being the new ‘attack day’ on this tour We saw the very briefest of phoney wars being overtaken by full on action as first Omega Pharma Quickstep, then Saxo Tinkoff blew the peloton apart on the way to Saint-Amand-Montrond. Last week it was Cannondale shredding the peloton over some mini-mountains and effectively winning the Green jersey for Sagan, this week it was Mark Cavendish’s team doing everything to eliminate the sprinting competition as they took advantage of some serious cross-winds and the whole show went echelon crazy. Saxo-Tinkoff then blew the remnants of the peloton apart as they sought to claw back some of Chris Froome’s time advantage over Contador, before Cavendish put the icing on the cake and outsprinted Sagan to take the stage.

The Phoney War (Wasn’t Quite So Phoney)

After the first 9 days it was understandable if the Tour took a bit of a breather. Normally these transitional stages take place in the first week as the Tour bimbles about one part of France or another on its way to some big arsed mountains. The competition for the Yellow jersey hasn’t really got going and the race seems to be about a very long run in to a frantic last 3km sprint. This can sometimes occupy the whole of the first week.

This year, however, it’s been ‘full gas’ from the word go. Corsica was fantastic, then there was the team time trial, then Cannondale blew things apart before we had the weekend of Sky triumph and catastrophe, so there was almost no room to breath. Week 2 had a hell of a lot to live up to and initially it looked like it was going to squib out on us. Monday’s rest day (surely some mistake that) was followed by a tiresome parade to San Malo – a nothing stage that was barely enlivened  by the sight of Kittel beating Greipel in a straight up sprint. Wednesday’s individual time trial, while very picturesque, produced nothing more serious than Froome gaining more than a minute on all his rivals à la Wiggo a year ago. While Thursday’s parade merely served up Kittel’s third win as he photofinished his way past Cavendish on the line. So three days of full on ‘racing’ for approximately 10 minutes of significant action.  And then there was Friday…

The Great Thing About This Year’s Tour

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this year’s Tour has been the ambition of so many teams and the different strategies they have used to achieve their goals. Cannondale’s desire to shake things up that first Friday, Garmin Sharp’s constant attacking on Sunday, which with Quintana’s break and Movistar’s pace put so much pressure on Sky, Omega Pharma Quickstep’s plan to shred the peloton on the second Friday, backed up by Belkin and built on by Saxo Tinkoff, have made for fabulously exciting racing even on some of the more ordinary stages. You get a sense that Sky’s strategies last year, where they basically rode at the head of the peloton for most of the race, grinding down their opposition, have forced the other teams to step up a gear and actually plan each day’s racing.

And Now The Mountains

So, coming into the mountains it seemed as if Sky were vulnerable once again, with Froome losing 69 seconds to Contador the previous day. And that Contador’s tail was up, despite being further behind Froome than he had been at the start of the week.  In the event, it could have been a bit anticlimactic as the only first stage drama was the success of the breakaway and the debut win for Cavendish’s teammate Trentin. In the end it was outstanding as Froome showed up his climbing credentials by cruising past everyone on Mt Ventoux as he won the stage and put even more time into his rivals.

So Who Is Really Winning?

Like last week it’s still a bit of a mixed bag, albeit less mixed than it was.

Tour Classification week 2

  • Froome (Sky) – stuffed everyone bar World Champion Tony Martin in the time trial, then stuffed them again up mt Ventoux, winning back more than the 69 seconds he’d sacrificed on Friday. Given the Tour is usually won in the mountains, that’s a nice bit of stuffing. Yet the way Sky once again imploded on the flat and their tactical naivety on Friday’s stage will have worried him. Given there’s another time trial coming up and that he has been dominant on the mountains, he won’t be worrying too much. More than ever, it’s his to lose.
  • Mollema, ten Dam (Belkin) – the two most unexpected names in the top 5, they are unlikely to seriously challenge Froome, their real goal will be to ensure that one (or both) of them is on the podium and ideally that second step at the end. This means they’re unlikely to gang up with Saxo Tinkoff until one of Contador or Kreuziger is out of contention. Expect them to wait until after the time trial on Wednesday, when Mollema will look to put more time in on Contador, for any communal actions.
  • Contador, Kreuziger (Saxo Tinkoff) – it’s a similar deal here. You sense that Contador still wants to win, his riding on Friday’s flat stage indicate that, but he doesn’t appear to have the legs, otherwise he would surely have stayed with Froome on Ventoux. However, given the way he won last year’s Vuelta by breaking away on the last flat stage, you feel he must have some kind of a plan.
  • Quintana (Movistar) – the single biggest loser on Friday was Quintana’s team leader Valverde (now in 15th, 14:42 behind), who is effectively out of the Tour. Froome aside, Quintana is the best climber on the tour and should be able to take time out of those currently ahead of him on the climbs, if not the time trial. But whether he can make up the 82+ seconds he needs to get onto the podium is another question.  He should, however, comfortably win the White jersey for best young rider.

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