Words by Mikkel Condé. Photos by Kramon
With both, Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, out of the race, Vincenzo Nibali has been in a league of his own. Unless he cracks completely in the Pyrenees or crashes out, nobody can take the yellow jersey off the shoulders of the strong Italian. Richie Porte seemed to be the biggest threat to Nibali after the stage to La Planche des Belles Filles. Unfortunately, the Tasmanian wasn’t able to save his poor season in the Alps as he lost over eight minutes in the extreme heat on stage 13. The very next day, Alejandro Valverde cracked too, losing important time on the ascent to Risoul. Vincenzo Nibali is now more than four and a half minutes in front of the Movistar captain, who’s still sitting second overall. It’s safe to say that the rest of the GC riders are only racing for the last two spots on the podium now. On stage 14, nobody tried to - or could - attack Nibali. It seems like they are all suffering from selachophobia, the fear of sharks.
Vincenzo Nibali, on the other hand, is not holding back. He’s using any given opportunity to gain time on his rivals and he’s not giving away anything for free. The Italian champion has already won three stages and I won’t be surprised if he wins one more stage in the Pyrenees. Nibali is on his way to become the only 6th rider in the cycling history to win all three Grand Tours (Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España and Tour de France). He knows that many might diminish an overall win due to Froome’s and Contador’s crashes. Therefore, he wants to be as superior as possible. For the future, there shall be no doubts about who the strongest rider was in this race. Before this Tour, Marco Pantani’s mother gave Vincenzo Nibali one of Pantani’s old yellow jerseys. If - when - Nibali wins this Tour, he will go and visit Pantani’s grave delivering one of his own yellow jerseys as the first Italian to win the Tour de France since Il Pirata won in 1998.
Tour de France 2014 is not only an Italian show though. The French riders are flying and for the first time since 1997, France has a real chance of getting a rider on the podium in Paris. FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot and the Ag2r duo Romain Bardet and Jean-Christophe Peraud have a unique opportunity of making top3. However, with Alejandro Valverde in front of them and Tejay van Garderen being much better in the time trial, the French trio might have to change tactic.
If these time gaps stand as the peloton reaches the Pyrenees, Pinot, Bardet and Peraud have to be willing to risk losing the podium in order to make it onto it. Only Peraud is strong against the clock. Both Pinot and Bardet will lose minutes to Van Garderen on stage 20. Hopefully, this means that Ag2r will be even more aggressive in the coming days. Romain Bardet is in a very good position to win the white jersey. Still, I hope this won’t keep him from aiming at the podium as well. If Bardet attacks from afar, Valverde, Pinot and Van Garderen have to chase hard. This means Peraud will get a free ride and then be able to counter-attack. Let’s hope we will get to see French fireworks in the Pyrenees. Without Alberto Contador, Tinkoff-Saxo has quickly changed focus. Nicolas Roche, Michael Rogers and Rafal Majka are all great on the climbs. Especially Majka has proven to be very strong uphill. The Polish climber got called in last minute after Roman Kreuziger was benched due to irregularities in his biological passport. At first, Majka said he had no place in this Tour de France, being out of shape. However, as soon as the peloton hit the Alps, Rafal Majka came alive. He finished 2nd on Chamrousse and won on Risoul the next day. He’s now leading the KOM competition and it will be interesting to see if Majka starts chasing the polka dots for real. No matter what happens, we can expect a great final week of racing. As we have already seen, anything is possible in this year’s Tour de France!