Sean Kelly Tour de France blog: I know exactly how Sagan feels

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In his latest Tour de France blog for CyclingTips, four-time Green Jersey winner Sean Kelly analyses the frustration felt by Peter Sagan, assess where he and the team could be going wrong, discusses the withdrawals of Chris Froome and Alberto Contador and weighs up Vincenzo Nibali’s prospects of winning the Tour.

He might have a huge advantage in the green jersey competition, but I think it’s safe to say that this Tour has been frustrating for Peter Sagan. He’s been second three times on stages, as well as three times fourth and once fifth. On stage 11 he was in a break clear at the end, but the other riders in it marked him really closely and this allowed Tony Gallopin to get away for the win.

From my own experience, when you have the green jersey, it’s like a bloody flag on your back. Everyone looks at you and it makes things that much more difficult in terms of going for a stage win. I took five stages near the start of my career, but once I started winning the green jersey it became much more difficult.

2014 Tour de France - Stage   7

The problem is this: if you wait in the peloton and if riders attack in the final, the others look at you and say that you should chase because you are the sprinter.

If you are in the front, as Sagan was yesterday, and you get to the very important moments, when somebody attacks they look for you to close the gap. That was exactly the situation yesterday – with Kwiatkowski there, you could see Sagan was having words with him and trying to get him to ride.

It is a similar situation which I experienced a lot in my career. It is an awful pain in the butt.

So what can Peter Sagan do differently? I think he needs one or two riders of his team in the final to help him control things. However the problem is that when his team rides all day behind the break to keep the break’s advantage to the minimum, then in the end he is going to be isolated.

It is a difficult situation; you could see that yesterday nobody else wanted to ride and so Sagan’s Cannondale team had to try to control the breakaway.

They could try and play a bit of a bluff…Degenkolb was there yesterday, and ended up getting second on the stage. If they started playing the tactic saying that they were not riding, then they would probably get more teams to contribute. It’s a gamble, it’s a risk, but it’s one which could pay off for them.

Some have pointed out that Sagan has attacked from select groups when perhaps he didn’t need to. It happened on stage two in Britain and also on the stage Trentin won. On the first of those, Greg Van Avermaet went clear over the top of the last climb and Sagan went after him.

But it is the same situation – if you don’t go with Van Avermaet and then he is in front, then the guys look at you and don’t want to chase. When you are there, they say what is the point in chasing? They just attack and once one is clear, the others don’t want to ride after the attack.

So you try to go with the guy. Then when you are with the guy, of course they ride behind. It’s Catch 22.

With the green jersey it’s a bit of a no-win situation when you get into the final, unless you have team-mates with you. But that is what Sagan doesn’t have because his team is doing too much too early.

Nibali has one clear challenger for the Maillot Jaune:

The big story in terms of the yellow jersey is of course the withdrawal of Chris Froome and Alberto Contador. Both crashed, both tried to continue in the Tour, both were unable to do so.

With Froome, I think he believed he could continue, but when you are handicapped with your bike handling from a wrist problem and then you have a day like you had on day five with cobblestones and wet weather and the brutal roads that are in Belgium, with traffic furniture everywhere – that makes it very, very difficult.

The timing of Froome’s crash was very unlucky. If it had been a normal stage after he fell, he might have been able to struggle on. But when he crashed a second time, it was game over.

Contador is also out; I believe he had a great opportunity to win this Tour, especially with Froome withdrawing. At the very start in Leeds, I thought that Froome was going to be the one. He was the most dangerous, in terms of the overall. But once he was gone, Contador was for me the one who could win.

Nibali now remains in yellow and two of the riders who could have put him under pressure are gone. Some suggest he might fade in the third week; I’m not sure about that, because it’s not like he has been on a peak for a long time. He wasn’t at his best at the Dauphiné, then he came into good shape just before the Tour, winning the Italian championships.

2014 Tour de France - Stage 10

I think his form is came at the right time, the timing is perfect. One question though is this: is he good enough for three weeks, in terms of the stress of the race, being the yellow jersey and all that goes with that?

When you look at it, every day he has to go to the doping control, he has to go to the press conference. He loses an hour, perhaps an hour and a half to the other riders, in terms of getting back to the hotel. All that adds up as fatigue at the end of the race.

There is also the extra stress to consider, with journalists all the time asking questions, looking for quotes. As a result there is a lot of weight physically and mentally on his shoulders. It will be interesting to see if he can hold on.

What was interesting for me was when he attacked at La Planche des Belles Filles, it was almost two and a half kilometres from the line. Despite going so early, he didn’t take much from Porte, from Thibaut Pinot, from Bardet. He attacked, he took fifteen seconds and the gap just stayed there at fifteen seconds.

2014 Tour de France - Stage 8

Compare that to Froome last year. When he went on the first mountain top finish, he rode away from everyone. Porte was the only one who was able to get near him at the end.

As a result of that, I don’t think that Nibali is that much ahead of the other riders, but it’s clear the other ones will have to start attacking. We need to see if they will actually do that; sometimes they start riding for the second place on the podium rather than gambling on the win.

When we get into the Alps and the Pyrenees, it could go either way. There could be a very interesting race and a lot of attacks, or it could be the other way around, they all play conservatively and nobody wants to commit.

I’d say Nibali is in a pretty good position overall. However nothing is guaranteed. He could of course have an off day. If so, I think a guy like Porte could benefit. He is always there. He isn’t really super thus far, but he is always very good.

He’ll look forward to the time trial. If Nibali loses a bit of time to Porte, it will be a difficult one once they get to the race against the clock. He has to keep the advantage that he has now going into the final time trial.

It is all a question if there is somebody able to put Nibali in difficulty. The only one I think who can do it is Porte.

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