There’s just less than a month to go towards the Tour De France but already the three main favourites look to be coming close to the shape they want to have for the Grand Depart judged on the fascinating and close knit results of a technical and testing short time trial yesterday. At only 10.4km, with a cat four climb at the halfway point and a very testing descent, it would be fascinating to see how the finals unfolded but the gaps we’re small for all but Chris Froome, who smashed Alberto Contador’s time with a stunning 13.13, boding very well for his shape after a trouble season – Vincenzo Nibali, fastest at the first checkpoint, was just 13 seconds behind, a promising showing ahead of the blow sure to be exchanged on today’s first road stage proper – an Alpine finish.
Today, as said in the preview for the overall, is a 6 climb 156km stage from Tarare to Col Du Beal, starting out in hard fashion with of the two opening climbs of Côte de Saint-Marcel-l’Éclairé (5km at 6.1%) and Côte d’Albigny (2,3km at 5.5%), the mid stage tests of the 2nd category Cote De Bard (6.3km at 5.3%), Homme Mort (5.6km at 5.6%), and the 3rd category Col Des Paradeux (7.3km at 3.6%) before a steep descent and fast run to the final climb, the hors-categorie Cold Du Beal, 13.6km at 6.6%, a test of stamina with a kilometre at 9% midway through. In reality it’s not a true HC test, something along the likes of Ventoux or L’Alpe D’Huez, but it’s a tough test still, one of the climbs that bears resemblance towards the tour.
This isn’t likely to be as selective as one might think from a causal glance, as the long softer sections allow non climbers to stick on the heels of the favourites although if one team sets a hard pace then it’ll be a struggle for the best to stay close to the proper climbers. Today is set for a breakway early, but with such small gaps between many of the top contenders, the quality of an escape is hard to judge and a long descent and flat run before the finish might favour a Peloton eager of fighting for bonus points on the line.
Chris Froome’s uphill form can’t be predicted with certainty but he looked in good shape yesterday and this is the kind of climb that he excels upon. When last seen climbing he took and held a minute’s advantage in Romandie, and approaching close to prime physical shape. Froome was near unbeatable on most summit finishes last season and has made vast improvement based on visual evidence.
A battle we’re all looking forward to seeing is Froome taking on Contador, like on last year’s summit finish at Valmorel, although those battled did not materialise during the Tour in any shape or form. However with 2 stage race wins and 6 victories this year, it would be disappointing not to see much better form and while he’s downplayed his chances, most of the time he lost last year would have been in the long time trial where he complained of seasonal allergies – it’s to be hoped he provides a stuff test for Froome.
Vincezo Nibali’s lack of a win from a lot of racing has been a source of concern for many – not least Astana – but look at the circumstances and one will see judging him is premature; Paris-Nice was not one for the GC men and he wasn’t as bad as many said in Romandie. Yesterday he looked in good shape, recording the fastest time to the top of the climb, and today looks an ideal finish for Scillian, who could have improved a lot following significant amounts of training.
Watch out for the top American talents, Tejay Van Garderen – who says he’s at a physical peak – and Andrew Talansky, who consistently climbs with the best of them on week-long events. Both are far too big for those who want a casual interest.
5 pts win Chris Froome (2/1 Paddy Power)
1 pt each/way Vincenzo Nibali (9/1 Coral)