The Tour De France is often known as the most brutal sporting event in the world, and no wonder, with a wet first week pushing most riders to their limit, and while the race has it’s beauty it also has it’s beast, and we now head into the second half of the race without the two top favourites and two of the world’s finest Grand Tour riders in Chris Froome and Alberto Contador.
The Spaniard, twice a previous Champion of the tour, crashed on the approach to the third of six categorised climbs, the Col du Platzerwasel. This itself has become a story, many wondering just what happened – at first the story was that his bike frame snapped although it quickly emerged that wasn’t the case, with Nico Roche having given Contador his bike (that now famous picture of him at the side of the road saw a bike with an orange tint, a clear sign that it was Nico Roche’s bike, not himself) – but wait? Hadn’t he crashed then too?
It turns out that he’d hit a bump in the road (or a pothole) according to many riders, and was then given his bike, and then crashed again, this being the crash that basically caused a fracture in the tibia that won’t need surgery today. He started out again and passed several groupetto riders, but it was clear that he was injured beyond repair and he had to stop completely. This can only been seen as a massive blow to the race, with Contador having the terrain to attack Nibali and also the time to make up – 2’30 – and not only are we robbed of a fantastic rider but also another dimension to the battle for the overall.
The question for fans of El Pistolero was if he can make the Vuelta, a race already on his radar beforehand, but that looks impossible given the nature of his injury, but a long term recovery should be possible – “The good news is I have not damaged tendons or ligaments.” he is quoted as saying to the BBC.
The outstanding favourite if those two weren’t present would have been Vicneno Nibali already, but yesterday on the first summit finish (proper) to La Planche Des Blles Fillles, he struck out, attacked with about 3 and a half kilometres to go, and then rode the rest of the field into the ground, springing clear of an elite group that contained Thibaut Pinot (15 seconds back in second), and an elite group of the in from climbers in this year’s race, including Valverde, Romain Bardet, Tejay Van Garderen, and Richie Porte along with Jean Crisophe Peraud while there were serious losers, not least Bauke Mollema, Rui Costa, (1.06 lost), Jurgen Van den Broeck (1.16) and Michael Kiwatkowski, who tried a long range escape to make a big bold move for the white and then yellow jersey, but his climbing abilities failed him (2.13 lost) where Tony Martin didn’t (on the front for 100km over 5 major climbs for the second time in two days).
It looks hard to see anyone beating Nibali – but nothing is certain as we’ve seen and even if he’s the strongest on the climbs (and a fine time trialist too), he has to stay upright, safely positioned (just ask Alejandro Valverde), and healthy (see Chris Froome’s bonk upto L’Alpe D’Huez last year) – there also might be hope if he can be isolated with Team Astana sure to be holding the yellow jersey for the foreseeable future in terms of this race).
Richie Porte is second, a fine position for Sky after Froome’s exit, just 24 seconds ahead of Alejandro Valverde. A podium is well within his grasp and the upcoming summit finishes are the kind of climbs Sky have made their domain (see Chamrousse on Friday, 18.2km and a test of stamina and strength where tempo is likely to be king). He’s just 24 seconds ahead of Alejandro Valverde in third, as well placed as he was last year, and then we have a fiercely packed top 10 which includes young Frenchmen Bardet and Pinot with Jean-Cristophe-Peraud lying in eighth, a repeat of his fine performance from last year.
In terms of future pointers, we saw yesterday that Joaqium Rodriguez – our tip for the polka dot jersey – is back to something approaching his best, and while the summit finish point system gives an advantage to the main GC contenders, he should be allowed to make remaining breaks in the high mountains and his turn of pace is likely to be hard to beat on any sort of ascent.
We also saw that Vinceno Nibali is in peak form, and clearly the best of the main men shooting for he top prize. I’ve already talked about how hard he’ll be to beat and thankfully grabbed the 10/1 on him – he won’t be that prize for the rest of the tour – but he should be stretching his advantage, rather than seeing it reduced – however, he has two stage wins already and he’d be a fool to risk too much too soon – so a short price wouldn’t necessarily tempt.
I bet against Thibaut Pinot for the white jersey on the basis of his descending issues combined with the impressive form of Romain Bardet, but he has overcome any downhill sections so far and shown impressive form going uphill twice, thriving on the short finish to Gerardmer and then taking 10 seconds on the rest of the main contenders with a late jump yesterday.
FDJ doesn’t have the largest climbing squad but his experience in 2012 has put him in fine stead, and his seventh in the Vuelta last year has given him the best experience of repeated climbing with 11 of the 20 stages being summit finishes, and he is of great interest for the rest of the climbing tests coming up although that’s likely to be reflected in his price. Richie Porte might be better suited to the long, hard finishes and could be worth keeping onside although Tejay Van Garderen has the podium in his sights and has been quietly impressive, and if he can still improve physically still then a bold odium challenge could be in the offing.
Today’s stage is well underway, and with the Peloton moving up to catch a break of Elimigger, Lemoine, and Delaplace, the finale could see plenty of fireworks with a testing and difficult route that features 4 climbs in the last 40 that have been merited categorization and then several other lumps with double digits.
It looks to be one for the punchers with descending skills at a premium, and at the moment teams with fast finishers are pushing hard. Garmin’s Tom Jelte Salgeter looks an obvious name, while Nicolas Roche of Saxo Tinkoff has just jumped off the front; The realy obvious favourite is Peter Sagan although Simon Gerrans could be value in a reduced group push.