One down, two to go
Now that most of the GC contenders have laid their cards on the table, it’s possible to make a number of predictions about the last couple weeks of the Tour de France. One thing’s for certain: the race is far from over, despite Sky’s demolition job on stage 8. So what do the next two weeks look like? Here’s a look at the breakdown.
Froome will stay in yellow this week
Stage 10 tomorrow is one for the sprinters and we’ll almost certainly see the GC contenders sitting in and saving themselves for another day (not that a sprint day at the Tour de France is a walk in the park). On Wednesday we’ve got the stage 11 individual time trial, a race in which Froome is unlikely to beaten by any of the GC contenders who are within 5 minutes of him (there are 17 of them).
Stages 12 and 13 will give the sprinters another shot at glory before the seven categorised climbs of stage 14. They aren’t particularly challenging climbs — five 4th category climbs and two 3rd category climbs — but it’s a stage that should suit a breakaway.
Pierrick Fedrigo always lays low for the first week and will win a stages like this, but Thomas Voekler hasn’t done much yet, so watch for him to animate the race. That said, I would have predicted Voeckler to do more on stage 9, so anything could happen.
Stage 15 falls on Bastille Day and features the epic Mont Ventoux summit finish. Things could go either way here. Perhaps an escape group will be let go and a Frenchman will take the win. Pierre Rolland is one to watch — his victory on Alpe d’Huez in 2011 has shown that he can win on big mountain stages like these.
Alternatively we might see a monumental battle among the GC contenders. It’s certainly a stage where Movistar (for Valverde) and Saxo Tinkoff (for Contador) will be looking to chip away at Froome’s overall lead.
The race for green is all but over, but don’t ignore the sprints
Not only do we have an exciting battle for yellow on our hands, the sprint stages this year have been more evenly contested that we’ve seen in years. Kittel, Greipel, Sagan and Cavendish have each won one stage, a contrast from the Cavendish and Sagan show predicted by some.
Fortunately for Matty Goss, Orica-GreenEDGE’s success has diverted attention away from him. He’s got one win this season so far (not including the TTT) — stage 2 of Tirreno-Adriatico — and so far in this year’s Tour de France he’s only finished inside the top 100 once (not including the TTT).
Even though there’s still 12 stages to go, there’s little chance anyone will take the green jersey off Sagan. But that doesn’t mean the sprint stages won’t be worth watching.
Sagan will clearly be in the mix, Cavendish will be explosive as always (on and off the bike), Kittel and Greipel have proved they’re in great form, and that’s not to mention the likes of Boassen-Hagen, Ferrari, Bennati and Kristoff. Skip the flat stages at your own peril.
Week three will be where the yellow is won or lost
That might sound obvious, but stage 9 showed us that the likes of Garmin-Sharp, Movistar and Saxo Tinkoff aren’t about to sit back and let SKY go unchallenged all the way to Paris. This week will be extremely challenging and it will all take shape here. There’s also Laurens Ten Dam and Bauke Mollema from Belkin sitting quietly in third and fourth. Whether they can maintain (or improve) their positions remains to be seen but it’s a terrific effort thus far from the Dutchmen.
Stage 16, the first day back after the second rest day, looks relatively mild on the profile, but at only 168km we should see some hard racing from the get-go, just like we did on stage 9. The riders sometimes have heavy legs after a rest day, but this will serve as a nice warm-up for the thrilling stages that follow.
Stage 17 is the 2013 Tour’s second ITT and being all up and down it’s likely to suit Froome’s perfectly. As with the first ITT, it’s hard to see Froome losing any serious time here to the other GC contenders.
That said, Contador’s form is steadily improving and he’s normally at his best in the third week of a Grand Tour. While he mightn’t take time away from Froome here, it might serve as a good test to see if the Spaniard has the legs to put Froome in difficulty on stages 18, 19 and 20.
These are three massive mountain stages which, quite simply, will see Froome either win or lose the 2013 Tour de France. It’s hard to see him losing the yellow jersey before then, but as we saw on stage 9, the outcome is far from certain when it comes to big mountain stages – especially the shorter ones.
I’ve always said that a great Grand Tour is one that keeps you guessing until the final days. Last year I knew with certainty that Wiggins had the Tour won by stage 9. To be honest, myself and many others probably knew it from the beginning.
This year, I’ll be the first to admit I have absolutely no idea who will be standing on the top step of the podium in Paris. It could be Froome, but I’m far from certain. And that’s an exciting feeling with 12 days of racing remaining.