Into the Pyrenees

Monday, 13 July 2015

From Pau the Pyrenees sit on the horizon like ramparts of a distant fortress, the scene of battles to come. The opening week of the Tour de France has been dramatic and thrilling but in the race for the yellow jersey it’s merely been a qualification event.

The race trekked to Utrecht where Rohan Dennis took yellow only for a day when he missed the split on the road to Zeeland and the rest of his BMC Racing team didn’t wake, confirmation that the team was all in for Tejay van Garderen even if it cost the yellow jersey.

André Greipel has won two stages and had a spell in the green jersey, much to the delight of German TV ratings. Broadcaster ARD is reportedly very satisfied by its return to the race. It’s been a hit for many channels with excellent ratings in France too, presumably helped by the lively and risky route.

A bicycle race should never be confused with healthy exercise
– Antoine Blondin, L’Equipe, 1971

Stage 3 saw two huge crashes minutes apart and even a brief neutralisation because the race medics where overwhelmed by the injuries; a video by Orica-Greenedge gave an alternative view of the damage. Crashes seem inevitable and the number of abandons is no higher than normal despite a nervous and tactical first week. The sense of danger was heightened by some high profile abandons but remember this time last year the race had lost Alberto Contador and Chris Froome.

The yellow jersey has resembled the Shirt of Nessus, a poisonous tunic that proves lethal for its wearers. Dennis can count himself lucky but Fabian Cancellara crashed and left the race to end his spell in yellow, ditto Tony Martin and Tom Dumoulin’s time in white was over before he could hope to take yellow in Huy. Chris Froome has worn yellow but has been keen to rid himself of it. The paradox is that to win the race you need to take yellow but it’s about timing, if someone else can carry the burden for a few days better to let them.

Etixx-Quickstep have had a volatile week, salvaging the humiliating defeat in Zeeland into stage wins and the yellow jersey. As Patrick Lefevere said he’d rather have highs and lows than a flat week. Highs and lows for Katusha too, Joaquim Rodriguez won in Huy before Luca Paolini left in shame, leaving little more than a trail of lame jokes behind.

A wild time for Ag2r La Mondiale too with Romain Bardet and J-C Péraud on the receiving end all week. They had a puncture for Christophe Riblon after 4km yesterday and the teamed wait for the rouleur otherwise they’d have done quite respectably. Despite losses there are gain thanks to Alexis Vuillermoz’s stage win. Watch them in the mountains where the team classification is a goal, a small deal to most but big for team managers and sponsors.

We’ve seen a stage win for Mark Cavendish, a relief and a useful addition to his CV as his agent tries to land a new contract. It’s quite the saga but don’t forget Cavendish will always find a well-paid role. Europcar soldier on with no news of a replacement sponsor and time is running out. If the Tour is supposed to be a shop window they’ve got “closing down sale” signs, symbolised by Thomas Voeckler’s brief, fruitless counter-attack on the road to Le Havre.

Never introduce a gun into a story if it is not going to be fired wrote Anton Chekhov. What would he have made of this week’s visit to the cobbles? Feared for the danger everyone made it through without misfiring or mishap. It’s the perfect outcome, the big names were tested and thrived rather than being pruned out of contention. Thibaut Pinot was the exception, his electronic derailleur disconnected on the cobbles but so was his head. Vincenzo Nibali floated over the cobbles but a headwind meant he could not escape.

Of the “Big Four” Nibali has to be the loser so far. His Astana team haven’t looked strong and things got off to a bad start thanks to Lars Boom’s cratered cortisol count. Some said Nibali would win the Tour in the first week but he’s ended up with the biggest time loss, losing time in the plains and on the small climbs alike. Hopes of him going full-Lazarus are diminished as La Gazzetta reports his morale is as low as his 13th place on GC which doesn’t bode well for any audacious attacks. As the chart above shows it was Stage 2 and the storm on the way to Rotterdam that ripped up the race more than the Mur de Huy and pavé combined.

Alberto Contador has been there or thereabouts. Look closely and he’s not been brilliant, he tried to follow Chris Froome on the Mur de Huy and lost time but we’ll see how he fares on the longer, steadier climbs compared to the stinging efforts so far. It’s said to be all about the third week for him.

Nairo Quintana missed the split to Zeeland but has tracked Froome the rest of the time. The Pyrenees will finally let us see what he can do. His style is the solid mountain attack, grinding his rivals away pedalstroke by pedalstroke. We knew nothing about his form and a week later we’re no wiser as he rides behind that stoic mask. The Pyrenees can’t come soon enough and, despite the wizened looks, he should emerge with the white jersey if nothing else. Movistar hold some tactical cards that others don’t with the potential for a two-pronged attack thanks to Alejandro Valverde.

For Chris Froome things have gone so well his only problem has been getting rid of the yellow jersey, that intolerable shirt of flame. The three Pyrenean mountain stages are crucial for many, television ratings included. Broadcasters will fear a Team Sky steamroller job with Froome winning tomorrow’s stage to seize control of the race and tame his rivals. Froome is where he needs to be but we’re not at the “anything can happen” phase yet, watch for this phrase as it’s code for “barring a surprise, the race is sewn up”.

4 – 1 + 1: Tejay van Garderen’s had a flawless first week. BMC Racing picked plenty of flatland bodyguards to shepherd the American from Utrecht to Brittany. But as stressful as the opening week has been it’s merely a qualification phase ahead of the mountain stages. Van Garderen has made it to the Pyrenees intact thanks to powerful riding and a muscular team but it’s the coming days that will test him. It’s difficult to see him overhauling Chris Froome in a summit finish scrap yet alone in a long range raid, you sense he’d settle for a podium at Vincenzo Nibali’s expense, playing it steady while others fall away. We’ll see BMC ride to defend his second place, chasing down anything by Quintana or Contador?

The others? Rigoberto Uran sits sixth overall without anyone having seen him, which feels about right. The climbers and overall pretenders are scattered all over the GC, they’ll start moving up the table in terms of rankings as the first week heros cruise the gruppetto, a process of elimination. But who can make up for lost time? Thibaut Pinot seems the best climber but it’s la tête et les jambes, if he’s got the legs – there’s talk of a sore knee – is his head still in it? Those far down the rankings like Wilco Kelderman and Ryder Hesjedal could start tomorrow’s stage before breakfast and still pose no threat. As for riders like, say, Warren Barguil, Romain Bardet, Robert Gesink, Andrew Talansky there’s a top-10 waiting if they play it steady.

Peter Sagan’s in green by just three points. The system may have changed but so did the Slovak, apart from the TT and Huy he’s finished no lower than fourth every day to amass points, he’s been better placed this year than last. Greipel has two stage wins but will need to win in Valence and Paris and harry Sagan all the way too. It’ll be fascinating to see what Tinkoff-Saxo do if Sagan’s grip on green is stronger than Contador’s bid for the overall win, will resources be shifted from one challenge to the other?

Daniel Teklahaimanot’s brought a new story to the polka dot jersey. Nobody wore it until the third stage as the route was so flat. The Eritrean is on four points and tomorrow’s summit finish offers 50 to the winner.

Conclusion
For all the drama of the first week and a route that’s had many contenders nervous since October the main riders are still closely grouped and the contenders for the overall classification are all in the race rather than hospital.

The yellow jersey has changed shoulders four times, will it change again? Chris Froome is in the perfect perfect position already having not only survived a first week where some thought he would implode but he’s come out on top. His rivals, Tejay van Garderen included, will spend their day making plans for the mountains. To attack or follow?

 

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Duncan July 13, 2015 at 12:24 pm

The real race starts now. Enjoyed a great week so far, is it me or has this whole season been good?

Keen to see what Movistar do with Valverde, will he play it steady to help Quintana, attack to help Quintana or just ignore Quintana and race for his own result. Other teams all have one top man.

Augie March July 13, 2015 at 1:24 pm

It looked as if Movistar’s excellent TTT time was mostly thanks to Valverde who was on the front almost the entire way up the final hill. Surely the team weren’t trying to save Quinatana’s legs ahead of the rest day when he still has so much time to make up on Froome/TVG/Contador? I know it wasn’t a high mountain but Valverde looked the stronger rider.

Special Eyes July 13, 2015 at 1:32 pm

Or Movistar may have been deliberately saving Quintana, and asked Valverde to do the spade work ?

Augie March July 13, 2015 at 3:05 pm

We’ll find out tomorrow. Quintana’s big attack in the first Pyrenees stage in 2013 was a fizzer and he ended up losing 1:45 to Froome, but I expect him to be a bit older and wiser this time around.

gabriele July 13, 2015 at 3:31 pm

And he was riding with Valverde as his road captain (it was his first Tour…), hence that attack made perfectly sense.

Dan July 13, 2015 at 2:50 pm

Season has been really good so far, and the Tour is shaping up to be one of the best in years. Last years Vuelta was fantastic, this years Giro the best in a long time too, if the 2015 Vuelta is as good as last years this will have been quite some year!

gabriele July 14, 2015 at 1:32 am

The Giro has been arguably the best since… 2010, which was at least on the same level.
Not that long ago (with 2011 a close match).
2013 and 2014 were good, too, even if the former was lacking during the last week because of the weather and the latter had a slow start.

Gavin July 14, 2015 at 1:40 am

+1

dave July 13, 2015 at 12:49 pm

it was always going to be about the mountains but with that advantage and if Froome wins tomorrow we’re definitely in the “anything can happen = sewn up without a surprise” territory.

Everything really depends on Quintana – he’s the only credible rival, unless TVG springs a massive surprise.

If Q can get 10-20secs then there’s a race to be had – if not and he loses time, then barring a massive surprise it’s kind of over?

Nibali is out of it barring again a massive surprise, and likewise Contador.

TVG will play it steady from tomorrow sureley? & ride for 2nd/3rd unless he gets a slice of luck to push on or needs to go harder later in the race to maintain podium.

if Astana, Tinkoff, Movistar combine it could end up being BMC& Sky vs…….

I suspect TVG will track Froome and hope for 2nd overall, and then be happy with 3rd dependent on Q.

Tuesday’s stage seems to have taken on more significance than originally expected.

Saw Geraint saying it’s a day for a breakaway……. ha! Not likely, Quintana won’t give away those time bonus’ freely, especially on Tuesday.

D

hahostolze July 13, 2015 at 12:54 pm

Think everyone is writing off Contador too soon. It’s Contador. Best GT rider of his generation. 1 minute is a lot but with as many MTFs as we have, who knows. If Quintana can still make up 2 mins, why not Contador 1 min?

Special Eyes July 13, 2015 at 12:58 pm

The legs, to put it simply.

irungo txuletak July 13, 2015 at 10:07 pm

I don’t think Kontador is strong enough to play it against Froome or maybe Kintana this year in “normal” circumstances. But Kontador is Kontador, and you can be sure he will try something. You can never write him off. Ask Purito for instance.

Special Eyes July 13, 2015 at 12:57 pm

With the success and almost universal acclaim of the opening of this year’s tour, I would think that ASO will continue in this vein in future years.
This tough schedule surely makes a nonsense of Mr Tinkoff’s wish that the best riders should race all 3 Grand Tours. Just not physically possible to do that and win. They’d become like whipped mules by the time that the Vuelta came round…

Lanterne Verte July 13, 2015 at 1:17 pm

unless all three grand tours were shortened to 16 days…..

J Evans July 13, 2015 at 1:19 pm

And thus ruined.
And you’d have the same people going up against each other all the time.
And – if as has been common throughout cycling history – you had one dominant rider that would mean three dull grand tours.

Lanterne Vert July 13, 2015 at 5:51 pm

No. Even the Vuelta should be kept at 21 days. It’s a badge of honour to even complete all three GTs in a single year. Winning all three in a single year should be nigh on impossible. That adds to the romance of the sport, and romance is one reason why I still find it fascinating despite Armstrong, Operacion Puerto and Festina.

PS, I’m not arguing with myself!

irungo txuletak July 13, 2015 at 10:08 pm

completely agree on that.

Alex July 13, 2015 at 1:05 pm

Two Colombians on the podium? Or will Uran have his jour sans on the wrong day?

rupert July 13, 2015 at 1:05 pm

Strikes me that there are only 5 teams in the top 10 of the GC, each has a GC contender and a classics specialist (I know Sagan is more than just a classics rider and G is capable of becoming a GC contender)

point is Nibali doesn’t seem have that same level of assistance with fulsang 25th in GC his nearest team mate.

Is it cause or effect? – the lack of a strong team mate being the cause of his poor showing or the effect of a week where he’s struggled continually and team mates have sacrificed themselves to help? he seemed do do a fair bit of work in the windy belgium stage and on the cobbles when he could have used a team mate to help he also lost time in Brittany (also without a team mate to help).

I think i’m convincing myself that most of his problems are seem to be caused by the lack of a team mate(s) (although maybe he shouldn’t have needed one in Brittany)

HWSB July 13, 2015 at 1:42 pm

Feels like the strain on Astana with their licence story, Boom, etc etc has all maybe caught up with them, and they just haven’t had a successful team-bonding approach to the tour. Look at how the 9 in the Giro were a unit compared to this.

Sam July 13, 2015 at 1:47 pm

Just my opinion, but I think its become increasingly difficult to win back-to-back Tours in these different times. People can interpret that however they choose!

Special Eyes July 13, 2015 at 2:04 pm

Ha, I’ll play that one with a straight bat !
But yes, I agree with you.
The Giro (shorter but sharper stages, promoting aggressive racing) & TdF (eclectic first week) have been tweaked, whilst L a Vuelta remains a climbing fest. All in all a tough ask.

Sam July 13, 2015 at 2:27 pm

Sorry Special Eyes, I should have been a bit clearer….I meant back-to-back TdFs…..

The Inner Ring July 13, 2015 at 2:07 pm

Gruzdev has a fever of some kind, Scarponi has had a stomach bug and Boom a scare. Never good when several riders have health problems.

Lanterne Verte July 13, 2015 at 1:13 pm

At this point in the race is there anyone that Froome could hand the Maillot Jaune to without risking his own long term chances too much? I’m thinking it might look unsporting to appear to deliberately give up the lead now, where in the first week it is more accepted. There are a few riders at 5 or 6 minutes back who could perhaps be allowed to get away in a break on tuesday, but would that be reckless?

As for Contador, he seems to be keeping a very low profile which suggests to me that he is carrying more fatigue than he hoped from the Giro and has asked his team to shield him from publicity. It will be very interesting to see how his and Nibali’s morale plays out from here and I expect a fight for third between them with Froome and Quintana fighting for first and second. On the other hand it might well be Uran in third come Paris. Also very interested to see what Barguil and Bardet will do, irrespective of their final placing, as they seem a lot more pugnacious than Pinot who seems more fragile despite his great talent. Great to see Robert Gesink doing well after his operation too.

Sam July 13, 2015 at 1:32 pm

For the life of me I cant think that Froome and Sky will willingly give up the jersey now.

God knows, they’ve had enough practice defending a jersey.

Week 2 ain’t easy and week 3 is brutal.

J Evans July 13, 2015 at 1:46 pm

Too true: they probably have the best team for this.
I think they should happily hand it over if it was to a complete non-contender: why would/should they chase a non-threatening breakaway? But that’s not how they tend to ride.

RonDe July 13, 2015 at 2:41 pm

Look at the history. The two Tours Froome has completed for Sky included him monstering – and winning – the first mountain top finish, Les Planches des Belles Filles in 2012 (when he was released having pulled Wiggins clear) and Ax 3 Domaines (when he and Porte destroyed the field).

Expect an attempt at the same tomorrow. It is Sky’s M.O.

rt July 13, 2015 at 11:06 pm

not only sky do this its an old tradition to try to impose hierarchy on the first mountaintop finish

BenW July 13, 2015 at 3:24 pm

“As for Contador, he seems to be keeping a very low profile which suggests to me that he is carrying more fatigue than he hoped from the Giro and has asked his team to shield him from publicity.”

I don’t think Contador thought he could do the double. Not without a friendly butcher anyway 😉 tongue out of cheek, I think he set out for the Giro knowing he could win fairly easily and gave lip service to taking on the Double to please motormouth Mr Tinkov.

gabriele July 13, 2015 at 3:53 pm

Uhmmm… yeah, and that’s why he conjured up the most decisive and time gaining move until now on the 2nd stage. ‘Cause he really isn’t interested in trying the double, he believes he can’t so he’s just spinning legs O__o
Quite hard to tell the difference between trying to win or anyway do your best because you hope you may win and faking commitment while deep inside you know you won’t go anywhere. Quite a tiring way to please Tinkoff, like Contador wouldn’t get a contract elsewhere.
The fact that it ain’t be easy at all, well, I think he himself aknowledged it publicly, like, thousands of time?

J Evans July 13, 2015 at 1:18 pm

Unfortunately, I fear Froome looks too good and has too much of a cushion for this to be a close fight. (Swap his standing with Nibali’s and we’d have a hell of a race.) Hope I’m wrong and I wouldn’t count out Quintana or Contador just yet: depends if NQ is as good a climber as some say (for me, he’s still unproven) and if Contador can improve as the race goes on.
For Nibali I think the race is all but over – he looked like the fourth best guy before the start. As for TVG, if there is attacking in the mountains I think he’ll be dropped aplenty over three weeks.
Don’t think T-S need to do a single thing to help Sagan.
I’d like to see one or preferably more of the no-longer-GC-contenders – mostly French, but any of the Cannondale big three, for instance and Rodriguez – go for the KOM prize. For me, that means more than coming 7th.

Dan July 13, 2015 at 3:01 pm

+1

Lanterne Vert July 13, 2015 at 5:59 pm

Nothing’s settled at all. I agree Nibali is probably out of the running, due to a relatively weak team. Quintana and Contador will probably ride defensively in the Pyrenees and attack hard in the Alps. Time gaps of 1 and 2 minutes are nothing if Froome cracks or bonks or simply runs out of team mates. TJVG also very well placed, but unlike Quintana, unproven.

RonDe July 13, 2015 at 8:36 pm

Many people think that Quintana is also unproven. That Giro win wasn’t against, Contador, Nibali or Froome. Or Tejay for that matter.

ronytominger July 13, 2015 at 11:26 pm

he did not have that much time to prove himself yet. but what he did so far he did quite good.

Qwerty July 13, 2015 at 1:26 pm

Chapeau to Adam Hansen too

BenW July 13, 2015 at 3:35 pm

+1

J Evans July 13, 2015 at 1:58 pm

The good thing about how it stands now is that Contador always tries something innovative, Quintana likes a long range attack and, in desperation, Nibali might go ballistic on various downhills.

Cilmeri July 13, 2015 at 2:03 pm

Spotted a typo “Highs and lows for Katusha too” I think you mean “Highs and more highs for Katusha too” 🙂

Also I did the Etape 3 years ago from Pau, and having not seen the pyranees before went for a walk to a viewing platform in the city and could see the mountain rising in the distance. I know exactly what you mean with the first sentence.

Finally surprised by how high Contador is on the rankings. He looks to have struggled, and I presumed he was on the second page until I looked at them closely for the first time last night. I wouldn’t write him off as easily as some other posters above.

Special Eyes July 13, 2015 at 2:08 pm

I know what you mean. But, would you have thought that Contador would have been gapped on both Murs ?
TTT was sticking the knife in as well.

Anonymous July 13, 2015 at 2:04 pm

Regarding this “much to the delight of German TV ratings. Broadcaster ARD is reportedly very satisfied by its return to the race”
Has there been any fallout due to Paolini’s positive test? I know/think there is a stipulation with the German broadcaster if anyone failed a test

Chuffy July 13, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Froome isn’t just in the best shape, he’s been riding like an absolute boss. He seems to have massive confidence & is genuinely leading his team, witness the way it was he dropped back on the TTT to shepherd Roche over the line and the way he dealt with Nibali’s tantrum. He seems to have grown into himself this year.

Richard July 13, 2015 at 2:32 pm

+1 and also got a grip on tactics which he didn’t seem to have before – he talks them very well in post race interviews.

Anonymous July 13, 2015 at 3:15 pm

Agreed. I predict a huge attack on one of the first three moutain finishes to kill off AC, QT may be more difficult.

Anonymous July 14, 2015 at 6:32 pm

great shout

RonDe July 13, 2015 at 2:45 pm

+1 I’ve noted with happy surprise Sky ride much more to the front in this Tour and take charge of things they once left to others. The result is the marginal gain of taking the initiative early.

Sam July 13, 2015 at 3:34 pm

They’ve been riding this way all season.

Different tactics this year

J Evans July 13, 2015 at 3:35 pm

Actually, Sky have been riding less on the front in this Tour than previously. And wisely so: they’re no longer needlessly chasing down breaks, but have kept Froome near the front when it actually matters – e.g. Stages 2, 3 and 4.
They seem to have finally learned that it is unnecessary to always be at the front of the peloton – compare this with the last few years.
Tactically, they seem much improved this year – and I think, as someone posted above, they’ll have the nous to attack Contador tomorrow whilst he’s – possibly – weak. (Of course, Contador being Contador, as he’s mentioned that he’s hoping that he’ll pick up his form later in the race, whilst others suffer from fatigue, he’s probably feeling really good. Either that or it was a daft thing for him to say.)

Larrick July 14, 2015 at 4:45 am

Spot on. They’ve been more subtle and have even tried different tactics earlier in the season like sending someone ahead on an MTF. I’m sure we’ll still see the tempo riding on the climbs but I don’t think they’ll ‘panic’ as much as they have in the past.

Louis le B July 13, 2015 at 2:10 pm

Thank you Again, Inrng – for a wellwritten first week summary. Your analyzes are sharp and the paper loves your pen.
For an observer not born into cycling, it’s difficult to see any other rider threating the polite and correct ‘young man from next door’ – Chris Froome or his little columbian friend Quintana. The facination about sport are often described with words like ‘passion’, ‘elegance’ and ’emotion’ – but through my glasses neither Froome nor Quintana are expressing/showing these human qualities. One of them will properbly win the Tour this year, but to me they are too much mecanic and mask and Duracell. Too bad riders like Nibali or Contador have mistimed their form- and ‘G’ are domestic .

Richard July 13, 2015 at 2:34 pm

I know what you’re saying, but for me personally, I would rather emotionless, polite and dare I say it slightly boring Chris Froome, with his exciting, attacking riding style over someone like Bradley Wiggins, full of emotion and passion, but his 2012 win was the Sky train at its dullest.

SirDave July 13, 2015 at 2:47 pm

And the most powerful engine in that train was? How people describe Chris Froome as boring I don’t know. The two words that describe him in this Tour to date are “impassioned leadership”.

BenW July 13, 2015 at 3:29 pm

Presumably Froome’s boring because he doesn’t throw bidons at other riders in unwarranted fits of pique.

GB July 13, 2015 at 3:46 pm

Hee hee

I often wonder how fond people would be of the tempestuous riders of years past if Twitter had existed back then

Sam July 13, 2015 at 3:36 pm

It all comes down to personal preference in the end

I can’t bear to watch Froome on a bike

Nairo’s the rider for me in this race

SuperDom July 14, 2015 at 1:59 am

If Froome and Thomas Voeckler ride side by side up a mountain or two I’ll have to change channel for a while. No TV viewer should be required to sit through double ugly riding.

Anonymous July 13, 2015 at 2:12 pm

Out of interest, what are the maximum mountain classification points any one rider could amass (if he won every climb)?

Richard S July 13, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Just as an FYI – for those of us trying to sneakily read this at work having loads of massive pictures all the way down the article really doesnt help! We all know what the main contenders look like! 🙂

In my opinion its hard to look past Froome now, he looks the strongest by far. I think Quintana will get stronger as the race goes on and will be bossing the mountains in the last week, its just whether he has too much to pull back. There is a chance Froome may have burnt too many matches too early with a few over eager attacks here and there and pulling a lot on the TTT. Van Garderen is looking at 3rd at best for me. People are bigging him up but its not as if going quick on the flat has ever been an issue for him. Contador has been very difficult to guage, is he fully containing as much energy as possible or not at his peak? We’ll see. I think Nibali is looking at the bottom end of the top 10, he just doesn’t look sharp. I bet he’s glad he didn’t bother with any other races so far this season… 7th in the Tour doesn’t look too bad if you already have a classic or a decent Giro in the bag. Sagan will lock the green jersey down over the next few days with a series of big hauls in intermediate sprints, it’ll be out of reach for Griepel by the time he has the chance to win again. The mountains jersey should be a good fight. I’d imagine it’ll be a target for Rolland and Pinot but whoever wins the HC summit finishes will likely take it.

Anonymous July 13, 2015 at 3:12 pm

You can turn off picture viewing. The exact procedure depends on your browser. With Microsoft Internet Explorer, for example, go to “Tools” menu > “Internet Options” > “Advanced” tab > Turn off the check box in front of “Show Pictures.”

The Inner Ring July 13, 2015 at 6:45 pm

For the pictures it’s because they’re mostly hosted on tumblr.com and to explain they look better there in medium resolution so they get uploaded there like that and then embedded back on to the pieces here. It’s because there are so many readers here it’s better to have the images hosting off this site’s servers… which keeps the text loading and saves on bandwidth charges.

piwakawaka July 14, 2015 at 10:34 am

Post as many pictures, as often as you like, you also have a good eye to go with an excellent insight.

AK July 13, 2015 at 2:49 pm

The way it looks now Froome is going to win this. He’s showing great form an riding very aggressively. And he has some very strong team mates to close down attacks, which is very useful with the slopes not too often in the double digits. Have Koenig and Porte been taking it easy or is their form no so great? In any case a plan B is not part of SKY tactics.
I think that only if Quintana can repeat his Tirreno trick a few times there may still be hope for a tight match. But maybe TJvG, Contador or Uran surprise me. And of course anyone can implode on one of the hard stages in the last week. Froome’s display of power in the first part may have been a show of too much eagerness, but you’d think he’s got enough experience by now.

Battle for green may also remain interesting. The intermediate sprints come before any big climbs so I expect Lotto-S to chase down any breaks that Sagan tries to slip into. So there is Mende & Rodez as possibilities for Sagan if they don’t go to breakaways. And then the intermediates, Valence & Paris as must-haves for Greipel.

Shaun July 13, 2015 at 2:54 pm

Excellent first week of racing, complimented by inrngs brilliant writeups.

My only gripe is the stage scheduling frim ASO. I would have thought that the weekends provided the highest potential viewing figures, and therefore scheduling the Queen stages (on paper at least) for those days would make sense.

But instead it was the flat run with 1km uphill sprint in Bretagne and TTT – which, in my view, never works well on TV. Similarly next weekend, the two stages appear like break-away snooze inducers (in profile at least) sandwiched between potentially decisive mountain stages.

If most viewers tune in on the weekends, they miss the most immersing and exciting racing.

Richard S July 13, 2015 at 3:27 pm

If most people tune in only at the weekend then they obviously aren’t cycling fans, probably weren’t aware of any better stages occurring in the week and aren’t worth worrying about any way. It always puzzles me why adminstrators/fans of ‘minority sports’ (i.e. anything that isn’t football) worry so much about what the uninterested floating masses think or want. There are enough people into cycling and the Tour de France has been going on for enough time for nobody to need to worry about adapting the schedule of the race so that Mrs Miggins in Trumpet Town can watch the finish of a mountain stage after she’s had her Sunday lunch.

BenW July 13, 2015 at 3:33 pm

What about all the cycling fans at work during the week who can’t watch it live?

Anonymous July 13, 2015 at 3:52 pm

Good point.
With Eurosport online you can rewind by up to 3 hours – so you can get home at, say, 5.30 and watch the last 2 hours.
They’re not paying me: I just think it’s very useful.

BenW July 13, 2015 at 4:30 pm

That’s really handy to know – I tried signing up during the Giro though and couldn’t get the signup process to work. I tried on desktop and mobile to no avail. It is tempting to try again. Thanks 🙂

ccotenj July 13, 2015 at 7:32 pm

i never watch it live, and wouldn’t even if i had the option during the week, because i doubt i would have the tolerance to see the same 10 commercials 100 times apiece… i always record it and then watch it when i get home from work… it isn’t that difficult to avoid hearing/seeing the results, at least living in the usa…

AK July 13, 2015 at 3:50 pm

Because the uninterested Mrs Miggins does watch the TdF, enjoying the views of castles etc. Actually, there are are more of her than of ‘real’ cycling fans watching, as mentioned on here before. And she too, buys advertised products. That is, if she has a Carrefour supermarket, Krys optician, LCL bank etc near by, which is probably not the case in Trumpet Town.
And yes, there are cycling fans with a day job too…

Anonymous July 13, 2015 at 7:46 pm

Mrs Miggins will buy the crappy Alpecin shampoo, really?

gabriele July 13, 2015 at 4:09 pm

It’s an old debate between keeping average high figures and reaching higher tops. The Giro tried both, but it depends a lot on what your aims as an organiser are (and they often talk with the TVs, too, at least in Italy).

Ken July 13, 2015 at 3:12 pm

Expect Froome to ride strong, steady, programmed climbs, watching his power meter more than his rivals. Accelerate and get a jump on him, and, a few minutes later, there he is his back on your tail!

The way to beat Froome is to accelerate AND then hold a fast pace, easier said than done. The risk to Sky may be Froome has four big rivals (I don’t discount TJ), any one of whom could come alive in the mountains. As Inrng and commenters have noted, the preliminaries are over and the real race begins Tuesday.

gabriele July 13, 2015 at 4:07 pm

The way to beat Froome is, if anything, change the power numbers from what he expects during the hours *preceeding* the last 30′-40′. Changing the conditions under which you race the last climb, not changing how you race *that* last climb (and that’s why he’ll be hard to best in a stage like tomorrow’s).
At least, if his trick is similar to previous years; I guess that maybe they could have decided to change something, when they became aware that some among the others had found out. If he’s racing differently, we’ll see it during the next 13 days…
OR they just consider that they and BCM have the means to keep things in order.

Rupert July 13, 2015 at 6:47 pm

I expect he’ll attack really early on the climb and pull away – like ventoux 2 years ago and the stage race earlier this year where he beat Contador by a couple of seconds on the second mountain stage (think it was the ruta del sol). he’ll win by 40 seconds or so. For the rest of the mountain stages he will ride on the back of his speeding sky train then to his power meter and what he knows is his quickest way up the mountain. – letting the others squabble for scraps (and probably still winning a stage or two)

J Evans July 13, 2015 at 3:27 pm

Froome sounds like he thinks he’s already won it in his interview.

Alberto Contaminatedor July 13, 2015 at 3:28 pm

Bertie has obviously been eating his beef from more reputable sources this year, no chance of gaining time on Froomey this year.

gabriele July 13, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Obviously! ^___^
He just won a little three weeks race a month or so ago, against the Evil Doping Troopers from the East. That would also explain how could he drop Froome a good number times in 2014, he still hadn’t give up the steaks (not clear why he has this year).
If you want to see notably fluctuating results along several years of a career you’d better look elsewhere. Contador just had an under par year when he was back from his suspension, due to the months spent without racing. As it tends to happen to nearly every rider who can’t race for months, whatever the reason.

SeeingElvis July 13, 2015 at 4:05 pm

Inrng, thanks for the great synopsis; loved the Chekhov quote.

To those of you who have already awarded Mr. Roome the final tunic, I would not write off El Pistolero so easily; the Accountant may yet have some collections to make.
Looking forward to a lot more racing.

And sorry to hear the bad news for Basso, best wishes to him.

Special Eyes July 13, 2015 at 7:57 pm

+1 to Basso.
How will that terrible news affect Contador and his team mates moreover ?

gabriele July 14, 2015 at 1:34 am

I feel as if I don’t really like to mix sport considerations with what Basso is facing. However, he was sharing room with Contador and they spent the last four months essentially together, which means it will be a hard blow in psychological terms.

SeeingElvis July 13, 2015 at 4:05 pm

Mr. Froome, sorry!

Anonymous July 13, 2015 at 4:08 pm

Tell us about the weather under the stone where you live….

GB July 13, 2015 at 4:12 pm

Hey, there’s no combativity award for blog comments, settle down

PT July 14, 2015 at 12:44 am

Thankyou for that lovely piece of wit. No combativity awards in blogs indeed.

J Evans July 13, 2015 at 4:13 pm

Can’t see any benefit for Porte in going to BMC. He has no chance of winning the TDF whereas he could possibly scrape a win in a Giro or Vuelta that had a weak line-up – if he had the strongest team possible behind him (i.e. Sky, not BMC).
Can’t see how it’s good for BMC either: now they’ll have two riders who might just get on the podium if they’re lucky.

Lanterne Vert July 13, 2015 at 4:31 pm

TJVG seems to be mentally more resilient than Porte. I think Porte is going there as super-domestique.

Sam July 13, 2015 at 4:59 pm

Porte may get a shot at leading BMC at the Giro. But when it comes to the Tour, yes, agreed – super-domestique. Also gives Dennis time to develop.

But it also comes down to $$$. Porte wanted a new contract with $$$ commensurate with a GT contender, as well as further guaranteed GT leadership next year. But from Sky’s perspective, he had a couple of chances, and blew it. And Sky would now rather back someone like Thomas. And Landa if they can get him.

Lanterne Vert July 13, 2015 at 5:29 pm

I don’t think Thomas will ever lead a team in a Grand Tour. If he did want to he’d probably have done it a year or two ago. I do think he might want to win a few monuments though.

J Evans July 13, 2015 at 5:40 pm

Yup, he should focus on the Monuments. Far more prestitigious than the stage races (even ones like Paris-Nice) and he’s not a grand tour rider.

Sam July 13, 2015 at 5:40 pm

Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell, and as soon as next year I suspect. But whatever, Sky decided that Porte wasnt worth the 2 million or so that he wanted.

J Evans July 13, 2015 at 5:44 pm

Thomas needs to choose one or the other. He’s shown he can do the one-days, but he’s never shown the climbing ability for a GT.
Sky were right about Porte – he’s not worth that kind of money.

Sam July 13, 2015 at 5:47 pm

Just to add: to repeat Daniel Friebe’s words on another topic, the people who are in the best position to know a rider’s capabilities etc, tend to be the team management…rather than us keyboard warriors 🙂

J Evans July 13, 2015 at 6:09 pm

Many, many examples of teams favouring an inferior rider, based on nationality. They may know more, but they’re also less objective – they know that a UK rider will make them much more money.

Augie March July 13, 2015 at 5:28 pm

Well moving to BMC changed Cadel Evans from perpetual “almost” guy to Grand Tour winner; different riders flourish at different teams, and a shift to BMC has also worked out pretty well for Rohan Dennis I think all would agree. Also Dave Brailsford knows if he wants to keep the team going into the future then they need big results with British riders. British riders with the correct accent who the public can get behind, sorry, Froome. It looks like they’re easing Geraint Thomas away from the classics and towards GTs, and Porte’s smart enough to know that in the next few years Brailsford will be waving a big money contract at one or both of the Yates brothers, so getting out now when his value is at its maximum makes sense. A couple of mil a year and leadership at the Giro/Vuelta plus other stage races sounds pretty good.

JC July 13, 2015 at 6:21 pm

Landa, Kwiatkowski, Italian U 23 rider (sorry forgotten his name) hardly household names in the UK?

Augie March July 13, 2015 at 6:47 pm

Not saying the “name” factor is the only one, but it’s not a stretch to say that teams would prefer a star rider of the same nationality – hence Movistar’s interest in Landa, most likely to replace an ageing Valverde (at least as far as Grand Tours are concerned). Kwiatkowski could be Thomas’ replacement in the classics if he is directed more towards three week racing, and guys like Koenig surely signed on the dotted line knowing they were most likely hired to be super domesitiques rather than outright leaders. But hey, if they money’s right, why not?

I believe Sky’s sponsorship is not guaranteed past 2016(?) so it behooves Brailsford to secure a future for the team, and as a UK based outfit with a title sponsor that’s almost exclusively UK-based that probably means getting results with British riders. Would the British public have gotten so excited had Sky won the TDF with Cadel Evans or another foreign rider? Probably not. On the other hand BMC, despite it’s notional American status, is both a bit of a side project for Andy Rihs and a promotion for BMC bikes, so it matters less who gets the results.

Anonymous July 14, 2015 at 12:31 am

One good reason, $$$$$$$$$.

PT July 14, 2015 at 12:54 am

Agree that its $$ and also the need have more than one GC rider at BMC. TVG can’t do every grand tour and their other guys (unless I’m overlooking someone) are too young. RP will probably get more shots at GT leadership (TdF aside) at BMC over the next 24 months than he would at Sky. But that is all just speculation by a distant fan with no real knowledge of the situation.

Larrick July 14, 2015 at 4:50 am

Don’t underestimate the pull of Alan Peiper.

PT July 14, 2015 at 8:08 am

You’re probably right – I had thought about that too.

whippet July 14, 2015 at 3:51 pm

I don’t think Sky offered Porte a contract, so staying there isn’t an option.

Ron July 13, 2015 at 4:21 pm

Excellent recap, thank you for this! So much going on in the first week. Thankfully I’ll be on vacation from 15-25…more time to really tune in on all the action!

And good lord, would really like to know what happened with Paolini, would love to hear the truth behind that positive!

J Evans July 13, 2015 at 5:42 pm

He took cocaine. That’s it.

Ian July 13, 2015 at 6:07 pm

He disapeared in a puff of smoke, or something like that

CD July 13, 2015 at 4:40 pm

Seems like every year the riders say the first week was the most nervous and intense ever. Too bad about the crashes. Last year took out three of four top contenders. This year two of the most prominent riders, each in the yellow jersey. Both to protect the riders and the integrity of the race, they should take action to reduce crashes in week one. Less riders on road? Split up the field earlier?

RonDe July 13, 2015 at 8:46 pm

Let’s just have them all on rollers and they can do virtual races. Then in week 2 we can whisk them off to the mountains.

Safety first, eh?

Gargatouf July 13, 2015 at 4:56 pm

I think that the fact that Contador is 1′ behind and Quintana 2′ behind promises some attacking cycling during the next two weeks. Whether it works or not is a different thing, but at least we should see some attacks in the Pyrenees and the Alps as the favourites need to make up a bit of time. I can’t see Contador not trying to attack and make up his time.

If they were all within 10” of each other, you’d probably see some conservative climbing. I am looking forward to it.

mitch July 13, 2015 at 5:49 pm

Watch out for the Spanish(-speaking) Armada. Quintana & Contador (&Valverde) team up to attack Froome? Then replay the the Route du Sud?

Sam July 13, 2015 at 5:58 pm

There’s always talk of a Spanish Armada ganging up against a common ‘enemy’

Doesn’t happen. Too much other interests at play when it comes down to it. And besides there’s no great love between Valverde and Contador (or between Valverde and J-Rod etc)

The Inner Ring July 13, 2015 at 6:42 pm

Indeed, all the talk of alliances never comes to much. If anything teams/riders from one country are competing for the limelight back home and fight fiercely for the win rather than make patriotic alliances. Of course riders often ally on the road if circumstances suit.

mitch July 13, 2015 at 8:11 pm

Maybe I overcooked that a bit. I’m really just saying I’d love to see Quintana and Contador (who don’t not get along (ISFAIK)) join to go after Froome and then square off to see who’s strongest.

Froome looks like too much for either alone at the moment.

Larrick July 14, 2015 at 4:52 am

Especially at the Worlds 🙂

Jonhard July 13, 2015 at 6:04 pm

Sky and Froome have been pretty flawless but it’s much, much too soon to write off the GC battle. Froome looks comfortable in his skin, confident and aggressive but he could still fall off or have a mechanical.

One Man Grupetto July 13, 2015 at 6:05 pm

Very worrying to hear that there is no news of a replacement for Europcar. To go from two teams based in the Vendée to none within two years is a bit depressing, as well as it being a wider concern for French cycling.

Quéméneur looks like he’s auditioning for a role with his native Bretange-Seche next year but even the more gossipy transfer sources aren’t throwing our Rolland and Coquard’s names yet. Sicard and Martinez aside, not sure who else is really attractive on the market – unless Vocekler fancies one more year?

Anonymous July 13, 2015 at 6:26 pm

I thought IAM and Coquard was a good bet?

The Inner Ring July 13, 2015 at 6:39 pm

It is, we’ll see.

One Man Grupetto July 14, 2015 at 11:03 am

I’d totally missed that – thanks!

JC July 13, 2015 at 6:13 pm

From a race excitement perspective, it would have been much better for Chris Froome to have had some sort of issue and be in 5th or 6th. He still could, punctures can happen at the most inopportune moments, a crash just outside the 3km marker on a transition stage etc. Excluding these sort of things it is difficult to see how such a strong team lead by someone as strong and determined as Chris Froome is going to let this go. Perhaps Quintana can launch a long distance attack along the lines of the Stelvio debacle but on that occasion there was really no other team capable of riding hard enough to pull him back, Sky were out, not really Quick Step’s sort of thing and without Nibali Astana did not have the strength. A completely different scenario here, both Sky and BMC would seem capable of responding. Not sure TJV really has the legs to win, Alberto Contador does not quite seem at the races (and I am sure Ivan Basso’s health issues wont help) and Vicenzo Nibali shows no sign of being able to challenge.

In Richie Porte, Leo Koenig and Geraint Thomas, Sky have 3 “domestiques” who would be capable of leading a GC push (on a side note who will lead for Sky at the vuelta, Leo Koenig did the giro, Richie Porte is leaving, it seems a bit early for Geraint Thomas, Chris Froome for a double – not inconceivable if the remaining two weeks are not too stressful) no other team can come close to this.

After all the hype about the closest Tour for years this could very quickly become about who finishes second, which, despite being happy to see Chris Froome win, would be a little disappointing. Perhaps this particular tour course is not as challenging as it was made out to be or perhaps it is simply a function of the money at Sky’s disposal and their ability to put out such a strong squad compared to everyone else?

gabriele July 13, 2015 at 6:33 pm

Even if I may share your general perspective, I wouldn’t forget that most of Froome’s advantage in GC has been produced by Tinkoff team.
What we saw from Team Sky was more than anything a great defense and good consistency – I acknowledge that this could be even better for Sky’s purposese from now on (Froome may have pushed himself a bit too much, but the team sure hasn’t), yet it’s a fact not to be forgotten when assessing this peculiar first week.
However, that stage apart (where Sky and BMC legitimately raced more or less as mere passengers), the rest is a matter of seconds here, seconds there.

Anonymous July 13, 2015 at 7:18 pm

Actually, most of Froome’s advantage has been produced by the EQS team. They did the most work in that stage.

Regardless, doing well on the flat and doing well in the mountains are two completely different things…

gabriele July 14, 2015 at 1:26 am

Etixx maybe pulled the most, but it was Tinkoff team who, besides working hard in the move, promoted it and made the right moves to create the big splits. I’m absolutely aware that from now on a different Tour starts (just look at the profiles), but I was making sort of a general point not to be forgotten – partly prompted by JC’s last sentence.

Jonhard July 13, 2015 at 6:29 pm

I suspect Sky will look to Sergio Henao for GC, with back-up from Nieve and Deignan. Roche may well co-lead, he likes the Vuelta doesn’t he?

SirDave July 13, 2015 at 8:50 pm

As a Froome fan I hope that a newly crowned Tour champ decides to try and go for a double of his own.

cthulhu July 13, 2015 at 6:33 pm

I don’t see the race as set in stone as some other here.

Let’s start with green. I, too, see Sagan as the favourite but before next weekend I don’t see him tightening his grip on that jersey. I think the mountain top finishes now are too hard for him and the placing of the intermediate sprints suggest that Greipel and other sprinters will still be there. I can even imagine the jersey changing shoulders again this week. The stages to Mende and Gap is where he has to collect his points, if he fails there the sprinters will probably stay in contact and could win it back in Paris.

As for yellow, Froome looks the strongest and freshes and his climbing qualities are well known. Tomorrow might be the decisive day, but let us see how Quintana faires in the mountains. Will he really as many predict be able to outclimb the others and steadily reduce his time gap? Also TVG shouldn’t be taken lightly, since in the Dauphine he was climbing with the best and I doubt him beating Froome on that one climb was just a flux. Though his stamina and recovery over a three week tour is unknown yet. And he is more the steady climber. With Contador just one minute behind, he is still well in contention in my opinion. He looks to miss the freshness and the spring and the top accelarations, but he is a smart racer, who ususally gets better the longer the race continues while others fade. He might have lost a few seconds more than wanted yesterday, but despite that knocked look he carried around last week, I believe he is far from knocked out.

As for the route and the race so far, I think the makers’ plan has succeeded. The top contenders still within striking distance. A lot of drama on the stages, changing jerseys and a lot of action, although the parading of the top contender teams at the front each beside one another for long parts of the race and the defacto neutralisation of each other was as boring as the so dreaded flat sprinter stages.

noel July 13, 2015 at 6:34 pm

I know he likes to party, but blimey… when your (probably pretty decent) livelihood depends on passing regular but random drug tests… what a shame… that Gent-Wevelgem win was a cracker… the way he led Kristoff to his MSR win… best beard in the peleton… shame…

noel July 13, 2015 at 6:34 pm

sry, that was in response to Ron’s comment about Pauolini, miles up the thread

cthulhu July 13, 2015 at 6:37 pm

Oh and one addition to Sky “willingly” losing the jersey to some outsider to conserve energy idea here. They’d never do that, and wisely so. Tour 2006 where Pereiro won thanks to such a breakaway, anyone? They won’t give it up now and surely have a strong enough team and captain to carry it all the way to Paris. Better losing it defending than giving it away and unsuccessfully trying to conquer it back.

Garuda July 13, 2015 at 7:27 pm

As much as i hate Pereiro for claiming holier than Landis when he was as holy as he is, Pereiro is a bonafide climbing domestique. There are plenty of riders that could be given a leash that Froome or anyone can take minutes on any mountain stage.

Enter GVA. Sitting third in GC. Bonus; tire out one of TVG flatlanders.

Alpine9 July 13, 2015 at 8:01 pm

Can’t help but think that yellow is sewn up, but would dearly love to be proven wrong. The one positive to Froome being in yellow IMHO is that the riders behind are far better suited to attacking him creatively, than he would be of attacking them. Sky’s job is clear, but there must be potential for varyied tactics from Astana/BMC/Tinkoff to crack the race wide open again. I personally don’t think I united front or a Contador/Quintana alliance would do that. If sky have to cover different attacks from three different teams they could suffer.

Fingers crossed for some long range attacks, searing accelerations on mountaintop finishes, and crafty teamwork – oh and Purito to at least win the polka dots.

Louis le B July 13, 2015 at 10:03 pm

Enough about Froome and the Fab4.
I have a question to all you wise guys in here: Apart from the teamcaptains which riders should I be looking for in the high Mountains? Who can do well in the heat and the height- and isn’t injured or in bad shape? I have thought of Kelderman, Tim Wellens, ….. Who’s your pick?

Special Eyes July 13, 2015 at 10:33 pm

A Frenchman tomorrow, given the date – Bardet / Barguil ?
Possible stage winners in the mountains.
Inrng has named some contenders above.

Anonymous July 14, 2015 at 1:34 am

The Yates twins have looked lively enough on the odd occasion the tour has gone up hill so far. They’re targeting stage wins, and I would love them to succeed after OGE’s unlucky race so far. They’ve shown themselves to good effect in smaller races, being able to hang with the big guys, so if they get in a break on a day the Bigs decide not to chase, they should do pretty well.

Unfortunately Simon woke up with a cold today, so it’ll probably be Adam who’ll look to do something in the Pyrenees.

Sam July 14, 2015 at 12:08 pm

Kelderman’s suffering with back problems, I think

Joe K. July 14, 2015 at 2:45 am

Given that it is Bastille Day, hopefully Pinot will have gotten himself together after his emotional melt-down, and he should be up there along with Froome, Contador and Quintana for the finish.

Alejandro Marinero July 14, 2015 at 3:58 am

Cycling IQ and teams’ climbing strength will play more important roles among the Top 5. Froome when in tandem with Porte is known for his stinging uphill attacks. Quintana, being the lightest, will try to isolate himself when Valverde could no longer keep up with his pace. Contador, although not at his peak due to the tiring Giro, has proven that he could improvise a similar Fuente De attack; he has also Kreuziger and Majka who are still freshly reserved for the mountain passes; Nibali, will wait for those mountain stages with technical downhill runs to launch a suicidal drive. For TVG he has Sammy Sanchez wheel to follow during daredevil runs in case he has some doubts in his descending skills. The Cannondale, AGR, Trek, Europecar and the Lottos standouts could become good allies during breakaways too.

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