The Tour de France’s second rest day is an occasion for the top contenders to try and regain some energy before their final assault of the race. This year they face three tough mountain stages as well as a difficult Alpine time trial before the final day procession in Paris so the interlude will be well received but for those watching the race will also be looking forward to recharge their batteries.
Grand Tour fatigue is something that many cycling fans suffer from. It takes a lot of time and energy to follow three week races and sometimes your interest in them can start to wane. I believe the Vuelta is affected by this fatigue as some can’t handle experiencing three Grand Tours in a season but this year I started getting symptoms of the malaise early. I am lucky enough to watch all of the stages live but with not much happening during the flat stages and little GC action in the mountains my interest has been slowly (very slowly) worn down. At times I was even happy to see a Voekler face to break the boredom. There have been many great stories in the race but overall it has been a disappointment so far.
Many people point their hands at Team Sky for the making the race dull by controlling things in a robotic manner. But what are they meant to do? They picked a strong team to support Chris Froome in his Tour challenge and they’re succeeding in a disciplined manner. In fact Froome has been one of the more colourful protagonists of the race in the way he’s looked for opportunities to gain time when his rivals aren’t expecting him to and of course there were the bizzare images of him running up Mont Ventoux. So because of Froomes antics he has the yellow jersey and Sky have to defend it. I wonder if the same people who criticise the team for being dull would also call them out for disrespecting the yellow jersey had they not been defending it. It is other teams who should be blamed for the state of the race.
Cofidis. It wasn’t till stage 12 when Daniel Navarro finished 3rd on Mont Ventoux that they did anything. Ok, they were missing their top rider Bouhanni but they needed to do more to justify the privilege of a wild card. They needed to get in more breaks at the start of the race. Many of the breaks in the first week were pitiful with only a couple of riders in them. They were always doomed to failure. Most breaks are but the more riders in them the better the chance of succeeding and attacks within the break are something which can animate things but there was none of these things to make the race interesting. Instead all that was on offer for the fans was hours of nothing and no prospect of anything till the end of stage sprint.
Movistar and Astana haven’t been much help either. Trying to challenge Sky for the race win they have used some bizzare tactics. First of all their team selection. They haven’t had anyone in the Luke Rowe or Geraint Thomas mold to power their leaders back to Chris Froome when he has forced a gap between them. In the mountains they keep on sending a couple of men up in the break, presumably for Aru and Quintana to bridge up to but in the mountains the breaks have been given so much time that these satellite riders are nearly finishing the stage as Aru and Quintana are only starting the final climb. The riders in the break could drop back but it seems that Movistar and Astana’s GC men have never intended on bridging up to them anyway. All the ‘tactic’ has resulted in is Aru and Quintana being a little isolated on the final climbs while Froome still has four or five men with him. Vincenzo Nibali hasn’t been much help for Aru either. Supposedly a Super Domestique he has clearly just riden for himself in the search of a stage win. When mentioning Nibali I have to consider Valverde too though he has been the polar opposite. The Spaniard has been a great team player for Quintana even though, judging by Nairo’s form, he might be the better rider.
The challenge against Froome by the top riders has also been disappointing. Quintana doesn’t seem to have much in the mountains, Contador crashed out early, Aru is missing something and it’s a surprise he hasn’t lost more than 5 odd minutes to the leader. Thibault Pinot has been the most disappointing rider. The Tour needs a credible French hope as the excitement that generates on the roadside can work its way onto the TV but within a few days it was obvious that Pinot had something wrong with him. Out of GC contention early on he seemed to be interested in the mountains jersey before dropping out of the race all together. Bardet has flattered to deceive, Tejay Van Garderen has been invisible and it is his team mate Richie Porte who out of the pre race favourites has been the closest challenger to Froome. He lost around 2 minutes on stage 2 due to a puncture but still seemed in the race after matching Froome in the mountains before, inevitably, losing another 2 in the Time Trial.
It hasn’t all been doom and gloom though. In the GC race Bauke Mollema and Adam Yates have shown good promise. Yates has done incredibly and even if he slips down the standings in the last week he is due much praise. Mollema has always promised a good Grand Tour and I’m hoping he maintans his form to put up a good fight with Froome in the Alps. Of the four mountain stages so far, three have been won from breakaways. I see this as slightly disappointing because it suggests a weak GC competition. The breaks were all also afforded buckets of time so there wasn’t even the excitement of “will they or won’t they succeed”. But I have to admit my feelings are biased due to my fantasy team which is loaded with overall riders rather than polkadot specialists. In fact the wins by De Gendt, Dumoulin and Pantano have made me smile. They were highly deserved by the three riders made popular not just by their panache but by their overall pleasant character.
Another popular winner has been Mark Cavendish. Written off for a while he is now the top sprinter at the Tour and as Kittel and Greipel are there too he could be considered the best sprinter in the world again. Four stage wins so far is an incredible achievement and the fact he is always quick to mention the charity Qhubeka and all the good work they do during his winners interviews makes the Cavendish story a good one.
Three other riders have also brought some joy to the race. Peter Sagan who could brighten up any race, apart from perhaps the Tour of Qatar, has been magnificent, at one point owning the Rainbow, Green and Yellow jerseys and Greg Van Avermaet put up a great performance in the leaders jersey especially on stage 7 when during a medium mountain stage he actually put time on his rivals. Steve Cummings again proved his worth with a great victory in that same stage 7 and made a mockery if Pete Kennaugh’s Olympic selection.
So today I rest up and enjoy life before plunging into the final week of the Tour de France not wanting to expect too much in case I get let down but at the same time knowing I’ll watch it all no matter how terrible it is as there’s always the chance you’ll see something quite special.