Sean Kelly Tour blog: Nibali dominates but other big guns absent

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In the end, the Tour de France was dominated by Vincenzo Nibali, but it’s hard to know if that was always going to be the case. What stands out from the race is that two big favourites were lost with the crashes of Chris Froome and Alberto Contador; Mark Cavendish also went out, too.

I think if Froome and Cavendish had been in there, it would have been a different Tour than it ended up being. It would have been a much bigger battle for the yellow jersey. The question is, who would have been the best? If they hadn’t crashed out, how would they have clawed their way back from the time they had already lost to Nibali? Would they actually have been able to claw their way back? All those questions are now unanswered.

That aside, you really have to be impressed by Nibali. You couldn’t be anything but. He managed the race very well. Tactically he was really good. On the cobbles on stage 5 he was really strong, taking time from his rivals. Then he continued to gain time in the mountains.

The way he was riding against the other guys, it’s clear that he was by far the best. The question still remains how he would have compared to Froome and Contador, but he certainly dominated the rivals he was up against.

The French riders were very impressive. Jean Christophe Péraud and Thibaut Pinot took second and third, while Romain Bardet was sixth. Bardet has been on the up for the past few years. He showed his talent two years ago in Amstel Gold and he has been promising ever since. He has done some good performances.

He is a guy who is improving all the time. Pinot is also on the up. Two years ago he did a good Tour de France, winning a stage and taking tenth overall, but then last year he totally messed it up. I think he was probably focusing too much on it, got stressed out. He seemed to just lose it with his descending – he wasn’t able to go down a hill last year.

This year he has improved so much on the descents it is almost unbelievable. When I saw him last year I thought that it could be career over if he doesn’t get over that. If you are nervous on a descent, it is not easy to overcome it. But he has actually done it, so well done to him.

So with Pinot third and Bardet sixth, many people are asking if one or other of them could go on to win the Tour overall. They are young, they have time on their side. If you look at Contador, look at Froome, they are not going to be there for that much longer. Those guys have four or five years at least, maybe six years, while Contador and Froome are much older. So I think in the future they will be there all right.

That said, it’s important to remember that this year we were deprived of the battle with the three missing riders. If Froome, Contador and Nairo Quintana were there, you would have been able to make the calculation as to how good the French riders are.

It is a little misleading without the top three in the race; it is hard to know how much the others would have been off their performances. What’s clear is that if the others were there, Nibali could have been pushed much more.

Without them, Nibali looked like he was playing with the others. He rode with them, then just attacked and rode away. He never had to ride 100 percent.

Another young rider who was up there was Tejay van Garderen. He took fifth overall but might have been third if he hadn’t that bad day. It is the second year in a row when something went wrong; last year he was there in the Tour and messed it up.

Thing is, you can do that maybe two, three times, then after that you get paranoid with it. You start to get scared that something is going to go wrong and become wound up in that. Van Garderen needs to get out of that, otherwise it is going to be getting too late for him to try to win the Tour.

General classification riders aside, Tony Martin’s win in the time trial on Saturday was very impressive. He had shown his excellent condition earlier in the race. On stage nine he won over the Ballon and his performance that day was very strong. He held off a big group of riders who were chasing, maintaining that advantage on his own. Then the next day he was riding very well again.

When I saw the time trial course, I said it was going to be for a strong man. It was one for the big gear, a powerful man’s route. It ended up perfect for Martin and he achieved a big result.

He’s already won three individual time trial titles at the worlds and will try again for that this year. He’s likely to be up against Fabian Cancellara there, but I think that Cancellara is going to find it tough.

I believe that with the way Martin is going at the moment, it is going to be difficult to beat him.

I don’t yet know the circuit, the route this year and what it is like. But I think if it is an undulating course, Tony Martin is going to be very, very difficult to beat. On a totally flat course, Cancellara would have a better chance of doing something against him. However it’s difficult to see that happening; Martin is that good at present.

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