This year the first nine stages have had relatively little for the sprinters but plenty of chances for the GC riders to shown their faces. Chris Froome has been on the attack and has successfully put himself in pole position with the roads set to rise when the race resumes on Tuesday. There’s been a handful of nasty crashes and two race leaders have been forced to abandon. With the mountains looming large, the race has already provided a number of talking points. Here’s ten.
Chris Froome looks superior.
I had an inkling before this Tour that Chris Froome and Team Sky may prove to be one step ahead of the other ‘Big Four’. On more than one occasion Froome has pinched seconds from his rivals using the crosswinds, smart riding and strong legs to cross the finish line ahead of his struggling his rivals. Alberto Contador has rarely been so quiet in a Grand Tour, Nairo Quintana has been battling unfavourable terrain and Vincenzo Nibali has looked short of spark on all bar one stage. With time gaps of +1.03, +1.59 and +2.22 you will do well to remember the latter half of this race is still where real action begins.
Yellow brings bad luck.
Froome, currently in Yellow, will look at the fortunes of the previous jersey wearers with some concern. After Rohan Dennis’ ITT upset, he promptly lost over a minute in the crosswinds making way for Fabian Cancellara back to his best. The Swiss superstar hit the deck the next day in one the nastiest, high speed crashes the Tour has ever seen. A second pile-up in quick succession led to the race being stopped and neutralised for a short while. Cancellara bravely continued with two broken vertebrae before a DNS the following day- always more admirable than a DNF. On Stage 4 Tony Martin seized the jersey following a fantastic move from a cobble-worn pack. From boyhood dream to utter nightmare, Martin crashed out in yet another pile-up on Stage 6. He suffered the damning, and all too familiar, verdict of a broken collarbone. Chris Froome beware.
Two wins for Greipel, Cavendish one.
The first few bunch sprints saw another German dominate in the absence of Marcel Kittel. On Stages 2 and 5, it was Andre Greipel who was victorious and on both occasions his raw power and smart lead-out train left Mark Cavendish a frustrated figure. It was unusual to see the Manx man so clearly outpaced, though fault could be found with his team and subsequent positioning at the point of launch. A smile was brought back to Cavendish’s face on Stage 7 where he came from the back to round Greipel in a tight and messy finish, clearly the faster man on the day. Fans were then treated to a classic Cavendish interview, so clearly full of the joys of his 26thTour de France stage win.
Peter Sagan is fantastic.
After another tricky season and now stuck on a Contador-focussed Tinkoff team, Peter Sagan has done nothing but impress in the opening nine stages. When asked at the team launch what was in store for him this Tour he spoke rehearsed words outlining the team were here for Yellow alone. Still, Sagan has shown himself in all sprints, including intermediates, and looked strong on both the cobbles and the hilly finishes. He closed a vital gap on Stage 4 as Contador was in danger of losing time and has certainly not shied away from his responsibilities. There’s also been two moments of fun, encouraging his green jerseys rivals to form a breakaway following a sprint (Greipel’s serious stare contrasted with John Degenkolb’s beaming smile) and looming behind comically, or ‘photo-bombing’, friend Nibali during a post-race interview. No wins, five (!) podiums, two jerseys, one moment of key team work and a fourth place in the GC- take a bow Peter.
Tejay Van Garderen to go better than previous years?
Fifth in both 2012 and 2014, Van Garderen is looking in good shape to go better this time around, sitting just 12 seconds behind Froome. Again, it’s important to remember the climbing has barely started, but the long climbs in the next week should suit the defensive Van Garderen. If he can stay as close to Froome as he did in the Dauphine (this a hard ask) then he will likely feature on the podium. The favourites will all be looking to trade punches but there won’t be many that the American fears.
Use your team-mate’s bike.
When Tony Martin took his brilliant win he had actually re-joined the front group following a bike change. The German took to Matteo Trentin’s bike with no problem at all, launching a trademark attack and putting himself, and bike 117, into the race lead. In the same stage Thibaut Pinot experienced a whole host of bad luck, grew frustrated and appeared to refuse his team-mate’s bike. His refusal to make-do contributed to his finishing position and he found himself six and half minutes down at the end of the day.
Froome and Nibali make an impression on the cobbles.
It was on the cobbles that Vincenzo Nibali saw his best day of the race. In an attempt to mirror last year’s success, the Sicilian attacked the lead group time after time and was successful in putting rivals into trouble. On one of his last efforts, he tested even the specialists and I began to wonder just how good a cobbles rider he is. Somewhat surprisingly, the man who followed him every time was Chris Froome who put in an attack of his own late on and took only a small group with him. Motives and fitness certainly come into play but it would be fascinating to see either man attack the Classics in the future.
Teklehaimanot in spots again.
Following his polka-dot jersey win in the Dauphine, Daniel Teklehaimanot has been chasing the meagre KoM points on offer in the first nine days. He got the best of his breakaway companions on every occasion and has been the proud owner of the jersey since day six- Africa’s first in the Tour de France.
Vuillermoz keeps improving.
Alexis Vuillermoz has looked ready for Grand Tour stage wins following his 14th place in last year’s Giro. However, with big hopes for Romain Bardet it remained only a possibility that he would be given the freedom to ride for himself in this year’s race. Questions were answered on Stage 3 when he showed his Ardennes potential grabbing third behind Joaquim Rodriguez and Froome. Three days later he hit the headlines on the longer Mûr-de-bretagne, jumping away from the leaders with relative ease and riding away for a fantastic win- France’s first of the race.
And where has Alexander Kristoff been? Whatever happens in the next few months, 2015 will have been a good year for the Norwegian but after two wins here last time out he has been strangely absent from the front of the sprints. Top 5’s on Stages 5 and 7 show Kristoff’s speed hasn’t entirely disappeared but with not many chances left for a win, and no chance in the points competition, Kristoff’s Tour is likely to fizzle out.