We are approaching the half way point of the Tour de France, and it’s a good excuse to sit back, reflect and look ahead at what’s to come. This Tour de France has been exciting, unpredictable and a great platform for some awesome Kiwi performances along the way. But who will wear yellow in Paris?
Here’s the interesting thing. Nine days of racing into the Tour and we have 13 riders all within 1.23mins of each other at the very top of the leader board. The top 4 are separated by less than 30 seconds. And while Chris Froome finds himself in yellow, and convincingly so, he doesn’t have a tight grip on the race just yet. Credit where credit is due, the likes of Daniel Martin of Etixx-Quick Step, Nairo Quintana of Movistar, Adam Yates of Orica-BikeExchange and more have done a great job of keeping him in check. It is only once you get to positions 14 onwards that real daylight opens up.
It is conceivable at this point that Fabio Aru, 13th overall, could have a brilliant day in the mountains and in one fell swoop seize the maillot jaune. All it takes is one bad day on the part of Team Sky and Chris Froome and there is no buffer to fall back on. He will be forced to concede the lead. As expected Nairo Quintana is among the fiercest challengers, but the names of Daniel Martin and Adam Yates in the fray cause one to raise an eyebrow just slightly.
We know about Daniel Martin, the great one-day classics rider, who we expected to poach a stage or two; but not to seriously challenge for top honours. His consistency has been the stand out for him this year. He has not had a bad day yet. The same can be said for Adam Yates, best young rider in the Tour de France so far. He has ridden just two grand tours in his career, and finished no higher than 50th (in the Tour last year), but he has been a rock of resilience among the flurry of attacks from the rest of the GC hopefuls.
It was a shock to see Alberto Contador at one point off the front doing what he does best yesterday, and the next minute getting into the team car as the latest to abandon the Tour. Circumstances conspired against the Spaniard from the start, and if they hadn’t, if he’d managed to stay upright for those first four days; our tension levels as we look at the general classification might be even higher!
Despite this I think it would be foolish to say that Froome and Team Sky look shaky. Although their margin over the rest is slim, they have looked by all accounts to be a team in control. And in stage 12 they will have a chance to return to the scene where Chris Froome put together one of the crucial pieces of the puzzle that led to victory in the 2013 Tour de France. The Ventoux is the next big hurdle for the GC riders to jump across and I think it will be the scene of a showdown between Quintana and Froome. On the Ventoux there will be nowhere to hide.
To pick a winner between the two of them is really hard, because they’ve been so difficult to prize apart up until now. Where Froome goes, Quintana follows and vice versa. I think Daniel Martin will be strong, but not quite strong enough on the Ventoux to match these two; he for me is my third place in Paris right now.
But it’s the individual time trial the day after that I think will be the start of Froome’s settling a third Tour title. He is the best against the clock of the GC contenders, I have little doubt of that. I would like to see what the BMC boys, van Garderen and Porte, can do then too. If they can keep pace with the likes of Rodriguez, Mollema, Yates and co then I think they will have a platform to leap up the GC in the race against the clock. But beyond them, there aren’t a great many time trial specialists in the top ten on GC. Quintana can come good on his day, but our top ten is resplendent in climbers, climbers, climbers and Froome. This is his ace, and he needs to play it in the TT to gain a stronghold on yellow.
And I think he will . . . .
RoadCycling’s prediction for Paris:
1st: Chris Froome
2nd: Nairo Quintana
3rd: Daniel Martin
4th: Tejay van Garderen
5th: Adam Yates
6th: Joaquim Rodriguez
7th: Romain Bardet
8th: Louis Meintjes
9th: Bauke Mollema
10th: Fabio Aru