TDF’16 Round-Up: Setting The Stage For Week #2
Race Analysis: As the Tour de France leaves the Pyrenees, two things seems clear. Team Sky is, once again, the most dominate squad at the race and Chris Froome has come to the race as well-prepared as ever. However, it wasn’t the Pyrenees, but the first three stages of the race that has had the most impact on the general classification.
Seven-time grand our winner, Alberto Contador, crashed heavily on his left shoulder on the race’s opening stage from Mount Saint Michel and then crashed on his right shoulder the next day. After that Contador never seemed to regain his psyche or form ultimately pulling the plug on Stage 9 to Andorra.
Losing Contador from the race is a game changer, but it was even more critical because of a tactical error by BMC Racing Team. As we have seen in the past few years, the teams which come to the Tour with one single objective are more likely to be successful. Unfortunately, BMC brought enough diverse talent to the race to have multiple aspirations. That left the squad in a pickle when Richie Porte flatted in closing kilometers of stage three while the team was working hard at the front to setup Greg Van Avermaet for the win.
BMC Racing Team should have designated at least one teammate, preferably with a bike close to the same size a Porte, to ride next to him in the finale. In the closing kilometers the hecticity makes it almost impossible to get quick technical support. You have to have a teammate close by who can give your leader a bike. That Van Avermaet went on to win stage 5, and the yellow jersey, and Richie Porte was raging on the queen stage to Arcalis only amplifies the gravity of the error on stage 3.
Sky’s the Limit
The second day in the mountains, stage 8 to Luchon, answered a lot of questions, not only about who were the best riders in the race, but also the best team. On paper, Team Sky and Movistar Team appeared to have the best teams to support their leaders in the mountains. At the start of the stage it appeared that Movistar had selected well as the boys in blue were all over the front setting the tempo.
However, when the race reached the money miles on the climb of the Peyresourde, it was the black jerseys of Team Sky who not only set the tempo, but applied the pressure with testing attacks from riders like Sergio Henao. Alejandro Valverde was there for Nairo Quintana, but that was about it as Movistar came up short.
To their credit, the next day, on the stage to Arcalis, rather than try a head to head battle against Sky once again, they tried a different tactic. Attacking from the gun they put last year’s third place rider, Alejandro Valverde, in the breakaway. Sky reacted quickly and the stage looked like a battle royale. The presence of Alberto Contador in the move, even though he was reported to be suffering a fever at the stage start, also heightened the tension.
Maybe the breakaway was just too big to get properly organized or Team Sky is just that good, but when Valverde was back in the main peloton everyone eased off the gas and settled into a more tolerable pace. All the contenders were able to regroup, catch their breath and save some matches which led to the all out war in the final 5 kms of the stage.
It was great to see the English speaking riders lighting it up with Richie Porte, Dan Martin, Adam Yates and Chris Froome all taking major digs. That made it much, much easier to understand the post race interviews.
Here’s What We Know
So what did we learn as the race leaves the Pyrenees? Let’s have a quick look at the top of the GC.
First off – just when you thought Chris Froome couldn’t look any geekier riding a bike, there he was sitting on the top tube pedaling to a stage victory and the yellow jersey. What he loses in style points he more than makes up in speed. Sitting atop the leader board, he looks hard to beat.
Second on gc @ :16 seconds is Orica-BikeExchange’s stage 7 breakaway surprise Adam Yates. Here’s hoping his untimely crash into the red kite barrier doesn’t affect his overall aspirations. He’s one of the revelations from the first week of the Tour, looks good in white and should keep that jersey for a while, potentially all the way to Paris.
Dan Martin was impressive on the climb to Arcalis. Sitting in 3rd overall just 19 seconds back of Froome, will he shed the role of stage hunter and focus on the GC? Now that his teammate Julian Alaphilippe is out of contention for the overall, maybe team management will ask Martin to sheath his sword for a while and keep his eye on Froome and Quintana.
Sitting in 4th is a passive Nairo Quintana, the only one of the contenders who didn’t take a swing at Froome on the final climb to Arcalis. Based on what he did in the third week of last year’s Tour where he clawed back loads of time and almost won the race, we know if he feels good he will take his chances later. Is he waiting again for the third week? His current time gap of 23 seconds to Froome is much narrower than in 2015. Could we see him on the offensive on Thursday’s stage to Mont Ventoux?
Team BMC needs to figure out what they are doing at the Tour. True to their word, even after being down two minutes, they have maintained that Richie Porte is still a co-leader of the team. He proved that by leaving Tejay Van Garderen in the finale to Arcalis. Could Porte have helped Tejay limit his
losses? Maybe so, but now the team has not one, but two riders trailing minutes behind the yellow jersey.
The third week of this year’s Tour is supremely difficult, enough so, that even after three days in the Pyrenees, the race has barely started. Mont Ventoux will be the next big test and then four punishing stages in the Alps. Chris Froome may need to figure out yet another way to pedal his bike if he is going to keep the yellow jersey.
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