Who Will Win The Tour de France?

Thursday, 3 July 2014


The closer the race gets the more uncertain the outcome. The year began with Chris Froome as the nailed on certainty but gradually Alberto Contador’s results made people take notice and his ride in the Dauphiné means we could have a three week duel. But now Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde are on the up too and the more names we throw into the mix, the closer the contest.


First let’s review the route. Five summit finishes and one 54km time trial, a route for the climbers, where the winner has to be capable of following the best uphill again and again, forget riding tempo to limit your losses. The three weeks are full of traps, a tough opening weekend, a feared pavé stage and three mountain ranges instead of the usual two with the awkard Vosges mountains coming before the Alps and Pyrenees. This means more opportunity for teams to shape the race and for fate to intervene. Don’t expect ambushes everywhere, the Tour is the most controlled race in the world, it’s just there’s the chance for mischief and adventure.


Chris Froome is the prime pick. Some bookmakers have him at evens or less which still astonishing given that’s the same odds for a coin toss and this is a three week bike race where crashes, punctures, illness and injuries can happen at any time. Why is this so? In short Froome’s proved the best in the mountains and and he can beat his rivals in the time trial. In theory he only has to match his rivals in the mountains then overhaul them in the final time trial. Remember the Mont St Michel time trial last year?

In 2013 Stage 11 was 33km and Froome put two minutes into some of his GC rivals, three or more to others. The Stage 20 time trial this year is 54km, even more to his advantage. The Briton comes with a team in full service, no sprinters nor sulkers. Vasil Kiryienka, Geraint Thomas, David Lopez will all be there in the mountains with Thomas doubling up with Bernhard Eisel as a bodyguard for the flatter stages where cult rider Danny Pate and Xavier Zandio will do a lot of work for little TV airtime. In the high mountains Mikel Nieve and Richie Porte should be there too, Nieve won a stage at the Dauphiné, a valuable hire.

What of Richie Porte? After the first mountain stage of 2013 it seemed he could join Froome on the final podium but duty the very next day saw Sky on the ropes and Porte sacrificed himself. 2014 started with a great Tour Down Under but he was supposed to lead in the Giro and didn’t ride, now he’s quit more races than he’s finished. Today his condition is unknown: if he’s back to his best the podium’s possible; if he’s still playing catch-up then duty calls.

Back to Froome because if he cruised to the win last year – dropping Nairo Quintana on Mont Ventoux, challenging Tony Martin in his  time trial – this year nothing’s quite gone to plan. He won the Tour of Oman but Arabian nights have turned to nightmares: illness, a back injury and when he did race he was beaten in the Volta Catalunya, crashed in the Dauphiné and even his win in the Tour de Romandie saw a media storm over his use of a TUE. There’s bad luck in all of this but the sum total means he’s not had the linear path he’d like. Added to this is the sense that he’s still not the finished element, whether the gangly position, the old “Crash Froome” nickname or some tactical choices, there’s a sense of fragility here.

Alberto Contador is the second selection. Anything Froome could do in the Dauphiné, the Spaniard could match. He’s having an excellent season. He’s ridden five stage races:won three, second in two. He’s experienced with two wins in the Tour de France and the experience of being stripped of a third, even in his anti-doping hearing he displayed a persistence to the end. Here’s a rider who races as if he’s got a dagger between his teeth, an attacker who will jump out of the saddle in the mountains. He’s a risk taker. Tinkoff-Saxo have a strong team in support with Nicolas Roche, Michael Rogers and a late call-up for Rafał Majka. Their tenth man is Bjarne Riis, the Danish manager is an experienced tactician although his cool head will but against new boss Oleg Tinkov’s frenetic ways. Contador’s Dauphiné time trial was identical to Froome but the short course won’t compare to Stage 20′s effort, he could lose time so he’ll have to attack. Often his attacks look great but if the initial surge gaps his rivals but he doesn’t keep pulling out a lead. But snaffle 20 seconds per summit finish and he’s got the better of everyone, especially if the attacks crack Froome.

Vincenzo Nibali is the equal third choice. The Sicilian is reaching the end of a two year cycle. Back in 2012 he stood on the podium in Paris with Bradley Wiggins and Froome and then went on to win the Giro in 2013 with extravagant ease before second place in the Vuelta that year too, all while announcing a return to the Tour for 2014. He’s got two weaknesses. First there are questions over his form, he’s come up short all year and even found his team manager writing letters telling him to get results; but plot his results and we see a gradual rise all season long.

The second is his tactical tendency to take a flyer too early. If Hennie Kuiper once said “racing is licking your opponent’s plate clean before starting on your own” then Nibali is like a diner in an all-you-can eat restaurant who overloads his plate at the first visit to the buffet. Time after time he’s attacked too early, biting off more than he can chew. It’s a criticism but it’s wonderful too, he animates a race. His confidence this time will be high because his performance in last Sunday’s Italian championships was very impressive, La Gazzetta Dello Sport witnessed “the Nibali of 2013″. The win was helped by Michele Scarponi who’d been invisble for most of the year until then but is also said to be in strong form and Astana come with a top-heavy team with Jacob Fuglsang and Lieuwe Westra there for mountain support, possibly Tanel Kangert too. It’s hard to see Nibali in yellow but the podium there for him.

Alejandro Valverde is next, where it not for a problem with his back wheel on an ordinary flat stage he could have finished the race on the podium… but that’s racing and there are questions about how he’ll cope with the opening week, especially the cobbles of Stage 5. Survive this intact and Movistar’s leader could win stages à gogo later on as he can climb well and packs a fast kick. He’s 34 but having one of his best ever seasons with nine wins so far and all a spring campaign that ended in April. But his best results have been where he didn’t win, for example second in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the same in the more recent Route du Sud. He took a long break after the classics to prepare for the Tour, the race is his big goal and he knows there’s no second chance given his age and that Nairo Quintana wants to ride next year. Time trials have long been his weakness but his form is so good that he’s the newly crowned Spanish champion. Yes Contador wasn’t there but he beat a series of specialist and had never stood on the podium before. He help team mate Ion Izagirre to the Spanish title, a display of generosity that only came about because it was all so easy. Movistar bring a strong team to support him.

Andrew Talansky is next and not because he won the Dauphiné. That was a great ride but the Courchevel Coup that saw him reverse Contador and Froome was a rarity and unlikely in the Tour de France which is just that bit more controlled. No, Talansky’s best riding was during the Dauphiné but on the stage to the Emosson dam, the steep climb saw Contador attack and Talansky was the rider who came in after him. In reductive terms we’ve seen his got the W/kg ratio to match the best.

Bauke Mollema is Belkin’s leader. He’s 27 and able to improve on last year’s sixth place in Paris. The 2013 result was helped by the crosswinds on the road to Saint-Amand-Montrond, he would lose time to his rivals later on. But he was one of the best in the time trial and now finished third in the Tour de Suisse. A gifted climber, he should feature in the race with able support from Steven Kruijswijk, Laurens Ten Dam and Stef Clement. If you can’t tell one Belkin from another Ten Dam has the beard, Kruijswijk the calves and Mollema has his head cocked to the side when suffering.

Tejay van Garderen had been tipped as a podium outsider but there’s been reset on expectations following the Dauphiné. Things might not have gone to plan but it could all be for the better. Off the pace on the Dauphiné following a hip fracture in the Tour de Romandie the passage of time can only mean he’s improved since. His ability and potential are known, the question today is how close he is to peak form. Often seen as a bit of a diesel, he demonstrated the turbo to beat Alberto Contador in the Volta a Catalunya’s Queen Stage.


Next comes the fascinating Jurgen van den Broeck. He likes even years with fourth overall in 2010 and 2012 so what about 2014? Twice fourth in the biggest race in the world but we know nothing about him, proof that the lowest step of the podium is still a vast height above everything else. With broad shoulders and a frame to house capacious lungs and it’s by riding steady that he climbs up the overall classification but he’ll have to do it alone in a team largely built around André Greipel. A pro since 2004 he’s had only one win so don’t expect stage wins galore.

Rui Costa had a great Tour de Suisse, strong in the time trials and stronger in the mountains. The world champion’s made a name for sniping wins, whether his world championship title or the recent Tour de Suisse where he didn’t seem to hit the front until the last kilometres of the last stage. But that’s how you win races and the antithesis to Nibali is aiming for the GC. Switzerland was impressive but the Tour is something else and it’s hard to see him sticking it to Froome and Contador but the battle with Nibali and Valverde could be fascinating.

Talking of Rui Costa, next up’s Joaquim Rodriguez. “Purito” might still be sore from losing the world championships last year but he will have recovered from his Giro injuries where he started with a broken rib and left the race with more injuries. He says he wants stage wins but that’s what they all say. He’ll have to lose time in the first week so as not to be seen as a GC threat, third overall last year he will relish the mountains in this year’s race especially the Pyrenees. Any bid for yellow could be awkward, he’s the only Spaniard on a team loaded with Slavic riders and Simon Špilak has quiet ambitions for the Tour too: he was the only one able to match Froome in the Tour de Romandie’s Queen Stage but results so far suggest he’s more a stage hunter.

In cycling the words “French” and “hope” go together so often that one day they’ll spawn a new noun. Frenchope? This time the GC burden falls on Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet. The former’s a gifted climber who has been making gains in the time trials although a 54km test is a big ask. Pinot almost has an appearance of a cartoon character from Belleville Rendezvous, a large thorax on top of stick-like legs but that’s perfect for climbing and he’ll animate the race. Ditto for Ag2r’s Romain Bardet, mentally more resilient and the author of a very good Dauphiné, fifth overall. Both can crack the top-10 with Pinot perhaps more likely to grab a stage win. The two might be duelling for the white jersey.

Talking of the French some bookmakers quote 300-1 for Pierre Rolland. Don’t rush as even each way bet for the podium is surely a donation to the bookies but all the same he can hang with Nairo Quintana when others cannot. Rolland’s dreadful in the timetrial but the mountains are his playground and he did seem a different rider in the Giro, still gambling with attacks but no longer afraid to hang with his rivals and pedalling in a smoother style. The worry has to be he’s distracted by mountain points.

Finally some more names. Chris Horner? Never say never after the Vuelta but he’s never been consistent so the Spanish highlight might stay, part of the story behind his win last year was that he started the race fresh against relatively stale opposition; none of the main GC riders are stale physically or mentally. Jean-Christophe Péraud is a pedalling limpet, able to hang on to the leaders for a long time and such resilience is a compliment and crashed out of last year’s Tour during the final week while in the top-10 but his form’s seemed down of late. Pédaleur de charme Michał Kwiatkowski was so far off the pace in the Dauphiné it’s hard to imagine a turn around but if he does a Lazarus the race will be all the better for it. IAM Cycling’s Mathias Frank is climbing well and the goal is a top-10, if it happens it’ll be the 8th-10th spot but a remarkable result for a wildcard team that’s only just got going. Similar for NetApp-Endura’s Leopold König, the Czech climber can soar up the GC with good performances in the mountains. Of the Schleck Brothers Franck’s the stronger right now but both brothers aren’t what they used to be, instead Trek’s Haimar Zubeldia is the team’s more consistent pick, he flies under the radar like a Basque version of Jurgen Van Den Broeck.

Chris Froome, Alberto Contador
Alejandro Valverde, Vincenzo Nibali
Andrew Talansky, Bauke Mollema
Jurgen van den Broeck, Tejay van Garderen, Rui Costa, Joaquim Rodriguez
Romain Bardet, Richie Porte

Summary
A duel between Chris Froome and Alberto Contador would be great but Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali are coming into form right now and could add plenty of crossfire.

There’s a pleasure to be had in being right after the event but for next three weeks I’d love it if every prediction and call above flew out of the window in a race that’s full of surprises. It’s what made the Dauphiné so great. This year’s route does lend itself to surprises but it’s up to the riders to roll the dice.

Who Will Win The Green Jersey
Who Will Win The White Jersey

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott July 3, 2014 at 5:25 pm

There’s a good chance the cobbles will throw a spanner in the works for someone listed above.
Previously Frank Schleck’s been put out of the race on pave – and Armstrong lost a musette load of time too (“Sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail – today I was the nail.”).

I think Contador was surprisingly cool on the cobbles last time. Has Froome raced properly on them before?

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One Man Grupetto July 3, 2014 at 6:22 pm

In the Barloworld Days (2008), he DNF’ed at Paris-Roubaix and was 121st at Gent-Wevelgem.

He didn’t ride the 2010 Tour when they hit the pave. Can’t discount that there haven’t been cobbled sections on other races which he’s raced but there doesn’t seem anything significant.

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The Inner Ring July 3, 2014 at 7:25 pm

In his book Froome says he got carried away in Paris-Roubaix, after missing the early break he tried to make amends on the cobbles but crashed. I don’t think he’s got too much to fear, at least when compared to the others. But if it’s raining it’ll be a lottery.

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Mr B July 4, 2014 at 12:18 am

Cant help but wonder if those a-symmetric chain rings used by Froome, and others, could cause a headache on the cobbles. Certainly glad I’m not his bike tech for that stage.

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Peter July 4, 2014 at 10:52 pm

I think he has returned to normal chain rings on his bike for this Tour.

James July 3, 2014 at 6:46 pm

2014 TdF Podium: Froome/Contrador/Valverde. So much for a post-doping era. Two convicts and one likely treading the line, if not over it.

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SilverSurfer8 July 3, 2014 at 8:37 pm

Chris Horner wins it in the mountains and holds on in the time trial – IF he survives the first week, which he will because he’s a smart rider. He’s not as good a TT’er now that he’s a pure climber, but late TTs tend to favor who has the most left in the tank, rather than who’s the best pure TT’er.

I think Talansky could podium as well.

It will be interesting to see who loses out in the early ‘trap’ stages. Seems like it’s usually Valverde, but maybe he breaks the curse this time.

Seems like the British stages are very dangerous for the riders. I predict crashes in all of them, with lottery finishes. I hope everyone comes through unscathed!

Good luck to all these incredible young men that I have the utmost respect and admiration for! Viva le Tour!

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Ian July 3, 2014 at 8:43 pm

Cult rider Pate? Would you care to elaborate? I wonder where you get that from (note: I’m not disagreeing but merely asking to explain)

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The Inner Ring July 3, 2014 at 8:47 pm

Unsung rider and a few legendary tweets.

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Tomek July 3, 2014 at 10:06 pm

I think Kwiatkowski is on the way back and will be good for a stage win later in the race. Thanks for the correct Polish spellings !

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zurp July 4, 2014 at 3:33 am

It’s interesting he’s been left out of the Tour conversations this year. I feel like he’s still a maturing rider finding his niche, but he rode SO consistently well last year. The kid is hungry and the team is behind him, he might be in contention for a podium spot

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Alpen July 3, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Frenchope, best yet! :-D

Valverde looks ominously good I have to say. I doubt he will win it but I can see him riding out of the Vosges in yellow.

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othersteve July 4, 2014 at 7:16 pm

+1…

Great wordcraft we are so lucky, we are your domestiques!

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Tyler July 3, 2014 at 11:19 pm

Navarro looks good and seems he’s been saving himself in preparation for the Tour. I can see him performing better than Konig or Frank

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Steppings July 3, 2014 at 11:33 pm

Not too bothered who wins and frankly wouldn’t like to place my bets. As long as the racing is exciting without too much radio control, I wonder if all the big hitters will make it to France, let alone Paris.

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Chrisman July 4, 2014 at 12:41 am

Contador and Froome are above the rest, in terms of talent but more importantly in terms of pure balls. Even in the old-ish days, when Contador may or may not have been juicing, he at least attacked. I’m not saying what he did with was cool – it wasn’t. But now that he is back and at least not as juiced as before, he is still attacking and I have to grudgingly admit it is exciting to see someone capable of going head-to-head with Froome.

Froome loves to attack too and there is an element of the showman about both of them. I don’t think either is capable of backing down. That being said, there is definitely more savvy about Contador and Froome can be a bit precious at times. Also, Sky look weak-ish. No Cataldo or Kennyacht. Nieve is obv mint but Porte looks a bit flimsy and the rest are just pre-mountain filler. Look at Saxo – Roche, Rodgers, Maijka – all top generals. Sky will prob end up burning men early then Froome will be left alone like a brave but ultimately doomed bear, picked off by a pack of SaxoWolves.

Challengers? By default, if he stays upright J-Rod will probably have a say. If all goes well there is no reason he can’t be the one to hang with Froome and Contador in the high ones. But he is at a bit of a low point. I hope he shows that he is actually a true champion and comes through with a big performance. A wounded animal can be a dangerous one.

Valverde is nothing. A field mouse. Surely the might of Movistar can summon a better champion than him.

Someone always comes from semi-nowhere to the top 5. Pierre Rolland. Mostly rides like he has no care for results or position. Maybe too much TiVo influence. Seems like he’s maybe ready to be more serious this season. And he seems like the type who doesn’t do half measures. If he has a serious crack I expect him to instantly bypass the likes of Pinot, VDB, Mollema. A true dark horse.

So that’s my final 4 for the final reckonings, with Contador to just out-Fox Froome overall.

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Swuzz July 4, 2014 at 1:56 am

” The Briton comes with a team in full service, no sprinters nor sulkers.” lol at the Wiggo jibe ;)

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Blurmen Burger July 4, 2014 at 2:06 am

As long as he stays upright then Froome will piss it, he can win it by just staying with Contador until the TT if he wants.

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Duncan July 4, 2014 at 2:13 am

If it turns out to be the expected final showdown between Contador and Froome in the high mountains, given the propensity of each to give it everything, will the second-placed rider be overcooked when the time trial arrives? If so, the holder of the yellow jersey may have both a physical and psychological advantage in the time trial.

The time trial also seems not ideal for Froome to have his usual advantage, being less straight and flat than last year’s route to Mont St Michel? And I’d guess Froome has more of a tendency to leave himself a little depleted near the very end of a three week tour than Contador, so unless Froome hits top form in the mountains, it could be tough for him. Hope they’re both in great shape throughout, with the lesser favourites giving them plenty to think about too.

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Mats July 4, 2014 at 8:08 am

I’m expecting an epic duel between Nibali and Contador.

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Tobi July 4, 2014 at 8:19 am

I don’t think Valverde will have any problems with the cobbles on stage 5 as he is the contender who raced most on cobbles in the spring and did very well, he might even gain time. Also I’d rate his win of La Flèche Wallonne higher than a second in both Liege-Bastogne-Liege and especially Route de Sud.

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Larry T. July 4, 2014 at 8:47 am

Anybody but Froome would be OK with me. Nibali a sentimental choice of course, despite the ghastly “tricolore” Team Borat is making him wear. :-) How I wish some Italian backers would come forward and liberate their countrymen from Vino and Co.

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Guy July 4, 2014 at 8:59 am

Too true about Astana’s abomination of a design of the Italian jersey. I’m surprised there hasn’t been uproar amongst the tifosi. Has any journalist asked Nibbles what he thinks of it?

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The Inner Ring July 4, 2014 at 9:03 am

It’s a contrast to past national champions on the team who’ve had the whole flag-with-sleeves jersey. I don’t know if its coincidental but some Kazakh politicians have been making noises against the team, resentful about paying foreigners such large amounts of money. One even regretted that the Kazakh national anthem wasn’t played when Contador won the 2009 Tour de France.

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Philip July 4, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Does the trade team design the national champions jersey then? No input from the national federation?

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The Inner Ring July 4, 2014 at 3:25 pm
GeorgeY July 4, 2014 at 3:58 pm

You should also hear the arguments of the other side:

I remember watching Processo alla tappa during Giro and hearing Mario Cipollini speak about the need of an all Italian Pro Tour team. My Italian is rudimentary but I managed to make out: We Italians supply the bikes (Pinarello) and the riders (Niballi, Aru et al) so that foreign teams win races, so it’s fitting that we have our own Italian team (riding Italian made bikes & mostly or all Italian roster).

P.S. Of course super (patriot) Mario wouldn’t mind selling a few bikes of his own as long as the Italian state stepped in to finance the team.

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Larry T. July 4, 2014 at 5:59 pm

I have fantasies of Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari connections resulting in a team of mostly Italians (Bettini’s already on board) riding gorgeous (perhaps Colnago by Ferrari?) bikes in a tricolore-themed kit, using Campagnolo groupsets and lots of other Made-in-Italy stuff. They could hire Super Mario as PR guy. Fat chance no doubt, but I can dream at least :-)

Tobi July 4, 2014 at 9:05 am

What could Nibali possibly say about it publicly? Don’t think he wants another angry letter from Vino:)

I completely agree about the want for a great Italian team, got no love lost on Astana.

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Richard EASTHAM July 4, 2014 at 10:20 am

“… no sprinters nor sulkers” – whatever could you mean?!

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Anon July 4, 2014 at 10:25 am

Great insight, looking at the route, which mountain stage do you think promises the most action? Stage 10, 17 and 18 are all on the shortlist for a tdf night.

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The Inner Ring July 4, 2014 at 10:28 am

Hard to say, Stage 10′s unpredictable. Don’t forget 13 and 14 while 17 and 18 are both short and offer intense action from start to finish.

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Daz555 July 4, 2014 at 1:29 pm

2013 Froome looked set to win multiple Tours. This year however he has never looked great. So Froome is worse and Contador is a lot better.

Sadly I fear an ‘easy’ win for Contador (crashes and punctures etc aside).

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tintinbike July 4, 2014 at 2:33 pm

After a long spell of good weather in GB looks like Sunday has got harder http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/6940582

Pedant’s corner:- “although his cool head will but against new boss Oleg Tinkov’s” probably will “butt against”.

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Spokey Dokey Blog July 4, 2014 at 4:59 pm

Keep thinking that Porte struggles to ‘back-up’ his rides, I think he can be with the best one day in the mountains but fail to follow it up unless he’s in the form of his life. If this is the case we might see Sky only using him when really necessary & perhaps resting him on days when Froome can deal with things by himself with the support of Nieve.
Fully expect Froome & Contador to let somebody notable go while worrying too much about each other, somebody like Van Den Broeck might ‘do a Chiappucci’ & get an advantage in the first 2 weeks that the podium favourites will be chipping away at. Well, that’s what I’d like to see, but really don’t think this years Tour is going to be dominated by any one rider, hoping for multiple jersey changes & a very close race.

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Newfybullet July 4, 2014 at 9:16 pm

Not to excite on misfortune, but you can’t help but wonder who’s going to be out after stage 2 or if not then by stage 5. Carnage is likely if it rains as forecasted in England, and heaven forbid we have wet pave.

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