So much for the first week of the Tour being easy. As we crossed the pave yesterday, the race exploded in every which way possible, with the race for the stage taken in exemplary style by the superb Lars Boom, while the GC contenders, slipped, tripped, and floundered. All the talk had been about how Chris Froome wouldn’t even make it over the cobbled but he never made it to the first section, two crashes proving to be enough to remove him from the race. Watching a distraught Froome step into the car gingerly was a terrible sight, and while it’s sad for British cycling it also removed from the race as a whole, with one of the main contenders now lost and an attacking, bold rider at that too despite the Team Sky death star comparisons. Many people predictably called from the rooftops for Bradley Wiggins but that has the feel of a short sighted reaction given that Wiggins had nightmares in the Giro’s wet conditions just a year ago and was woeful before crashing out in the Tour De Suisse; Say what you like about Brailsford but by now it’s known there are no form excuses and Wiggins didn’t have it or the condition based on what we’d seen of him in Europe. In any case, a double team of Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas looks a much better backup, with the two having the benefit of Team Sky’s huge climbing experience, and it’ll be interesting to see how they go over the next three weeks as opportunity is abound.
Thankfully we only lost him but the GC is now blown open. Alberto Contador suffered even more than 4 years ago, is now 2.37 down on the yellow jersey of Vinceno Nibali, who rode away superbly, helped greatly by Jakob Fulsang and Liuwe Westra – strategically placed in the day’s breakway – in the leading group to put himself firmly in yellow an give himself full race control.
The Italian was one of few not to suffer a big crash and for a first timer on the pave (also though he had advice from 2003 Flanders winner Peter Van Petegem) he put in a magnificent effort, powering clear from the likes of Sagan and Cancellara – yes, those names – and he was rewarded with a fantastic position – the race leaderboard shows him as being 2 seconds clear of teammate Fulsang but in reality this is the GC leaderboard;
Van den Broeck +1.45
Van Garderen +2.11
That’s a huge advantage to have over those rivals before the mountains start and considering that he’s a much stronger time trialist than most, a position he couldn’t have dreamed of. There are no negatives with this situation and while the race will badly miss Chris Froome, neturals have the massive bonus of every major contender having no choice but to go after Nibali early and often.
Those who have backed the Scilian are in a very good place right now but before we start preparing to sing Il Canto degli Italiani, remember that he came into this race as big as he did because of an abysmal season by his standards – and he was seventh, in the Dauphine when the Spaniard passed him like he was standing still, and that Contador’s form against the clock has surpassed his too this season. While he clearly feels very strong, it remains to be seen how he’s going up the major climbs and no chickens should be counted yet, all the riders still have to stay up and out of trouble and crosswinds play a part too.
Today’s stage has some crosswind worries and wet roads, but the finish isn’t overly complicated and it should be another bunch sprint. Marcel Kittel wasn’t as impressive on Tuesday after his imperious win on the Mall but that he found a way to get past Alexander Kristoff given the strength of the leadout from Kathusa – who have a sprinting stage target with Purito aiming for the mountain stage wins and polka dot jersey – was impressive in itself and he looks a worthy favourite.
The first French sprint stage had a second between the top 7 and the right leadout could see any one of Kittel, Kristoff, Griepel, Demare, Coquard, or Renshaw winning – if Andre Gripel’s Lotto team an put him in the right place then he’s likely to serve it up to Kittel but they’ve had a hard race and were battered yesterday. Coquard makes appeal but the Russian pushed Marcel closest and looks each/way value.
1 pt each/way Alexander Kristoff (10/1 Skybet)