Words by Mikkel Condé
Photos by Kramon
The first nine days of racing have been extremely hard in this year’s Tour de France. The riders have tackled crosswind in Holland, steep ascents in Belgium and treacherous cobblestones in France. Every day has been dramatic but it’s nothing compared to what awaits the riders in the last two weeks of the race.
Chris Froome is definitely the big winner at the first rest day. He was very attentive in the crosswind on stage 2 and later proved to be in excellent shape when he finished 2nd on Mur de Huy the next day. Many thought that Froome would lose time on the paves but once again, the Kenyan-born Brit showed he is more than ready to defend his title from 2013. The rest of the overall contenders all point to Froome as the main favorite. However, it’s important to remember that we haven’t had a real mountain stage yet. A lot can change in the following weeks. Froome is in pole position right now, but he needs to pay close attention to his rivals when the peloton enters the Pyrenees.
While everything looks bright for Froome, last year’s winner Vincenzo Nibali hasn’t had a very good start to the race. He was strong on the cobblestones but he couldn’t follow his rivals on Mur de Bretagne. In Saturday’s team time trial, Nibali lost over 30 seconds to Froome. This means that the Astana captain starts the Pyrenees with a deficit of nearly two and a half minutes. Completely opposite to last year. It will be very interesting to see if Nibali can compete with the best riders in the mountains. If he loses additional time in the next couple of stages, we may have to cross his name off the list of possible winners already.
One rider you can never count out is Alberto Contador. His big mission this season is to win both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. He accomplished the first part of his record-making attempt. Now, he hopes to do what nobody has done since Marco Pantani in 1998. So far, Contador is still very much in the game. He’s 1:03 minutes behind Froome after the first nine stages but that’s really nothing compared to the time you can gain in the mountains. Contador is aware this is not an ideal scenario for him but he also knows that a lot of things can still happen. The Spaniard has won all three grand tours multiples times. He knows exactly what it takes to end on the top of the final podium. For the climbers, the Tour de France is just about to start now. We can expect a big show in the mountains.
One of the key actors here will be Nairo Quintana. The Colombian super climber sits 9th in the general classification, 1:59 minutes behind Froome. The main reason for this is that the Movistar captain got caught in the crosswind already on stage 2 and lost one and a half minutes. This has set back Quintana much more than he had hoped. However, again, nothing is settled. We are yet to see who the strongest riders in the high mountains are. There are no less than seven mountain top finishes left in the race. At this point, a few minutes are nothing if you prove to be one of the best climbers in the race. Actually, it may only be good for the show that Quintana starts the Pyrenees a bit behind his rivals. This means that he has to attack early, which will open up the race significantly.
Before the Tour de France started, everybody was talking about The Fantastic Four of Froome, Nibali, Contador and Quintana. At this point, we need to make it five. Tejay van Garderen has had a great start to the race. Using the Cadel Evans-winning recipe, BMC has made sure Van Garderen is constantly kept near the front of the peloton. 2015 has been a great season for the American. The proclaimed goal in the Tour is a spot on the overall podium. Without having seen him in the high mountains yet, it’s still hard to say if he can succeed. What is certain though, is that he’s only 12 seconds behind Froome and - more importantly - 51 seconds ahead of Contador and more than one a half minutes ahead of Quintana. If Van Garderen stays with the top favorites again on stage 10, we can’t just look at him as an outsider for the podium anymore. He will be a serious contender then.
We have seen a lot of exciting racing within the first week of the Tour. We can draw a few conclusions on the rest day but many questions are still left unanswered until the riders take on the high mountains. One thing is for sure, we can expect a big show when the peloton enters the Pyrenees this week!