It’s been an up and down week to kick off the 100th Tour de France. Here are five things to write down in your diary as the race hits the first rest day.
There’s been a lot going on in the past seven days, and to try to narrow it down to five is really down to personal interest. From Stage One in Corsica to an exciting Stage Nine on Sunday, keep a careful eye on these riders, races and decisions the rest of the way. The Pyrenees looked to answer all the big questions, but a glaringly bad day for Sky means nothing is totally ironed out. At least, not yet.
1. Peter Sagan Isn’t A Sprinter, But He’s A Green Jersey Rider. The original Tweeter of the following deserves my apologies for forgetting their name, but it was brilliant: “It isn’t a SPRINT jersey, it’s a POINTS jersey.” And Peter Sagan has delivered day in and day out. His coupling of seconds finally resulted in a stage win, but he’s been taking points at the intermediate sprints and proving himself capable of staying with Griepel and Cavendish on even the textbook sprints and leadouts. Having his entire Cannondale team at his disposal certainly helps, and you’ll see more of them in the break later in the race to sweep up points as Sagan tires, but rest assured, Sagan will win the green jersey if he stays upright and in the race. With Griepel, Sagan and Cav all taking stages, it’s a toss up to who is the fastest man in the Tour, but right now, Sagan is head and shoulders above the rest as the most consistent.
2. Andy Schleck Is Still Relevant. As John Leach, and this publication, asked once, so comes the answer. Schleck the Younger is, for the moment, ignoring his brother’s situation and riding close to his former self. Entering the race, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see Schleck over a half hour back after the two big mountain stages. Now, perhaps the most surprising aspect of the race is to see Schleck well ahead of pre-Tour favorites Cadel Evans and Teejay VanGarderen. He’s nowhere close to a podium, but he’s shown some signs of life already, including an attack Sunday on the heels of Ryder Hesjedal, Alejandro Valverde and others as Sky began to unravel over the first climb. He’s now four minutes back from Froome and sitting 14th overall.
3. Movistar Is Better Than Sky. They are leading the Team Competition and now have three riders in the top ten. Alejandro Valverde moved into second overall after the Movistar team attack obliterated Ritchie Porte to over 18 minutes down. Moving forward, they’ll have a lot of cards to play and a lot of reason to stay aggressive, and with Sky on their heels, rely on Valverde to unofficially pair with Alberto Contador and the other Spaniards to stay on the offensive. Sky will need Porte to settle back into his normal, stellar self as lieutenant for Froome, while they’ll need Sivsov, Kiryenka, Thomas and the rest of the squad to step up in a big way. As Cadel Evans pointed out, last year, Sky had its entire team recovered each day. For 2013, Movistar will need it’s full team ready to attack.
4. BMC Is Down, But Not Out. At 4:36 back from Froome, Cadel Evans’ chance at the GC may be over, but his drive to move into the top ten and perhaps even a top five could decide the Tour in three weeks. The 36 year old Aussie may be in one of his last Grand Tours and won’t rest on his third place at the Giro as his swangsong. He entered the race as a favorite, though some heralded the age of his American teammate, Teejay Van Garderen, as started. Van Garderen’s Tour effectively ended Saturday, losing over five minutes on the first climb. He’s now nearing a half hour down, though there’s hope he’ll find the form to play some role in the final week when the race hits the Alps. Evans, however, looks to have found his legs and will be a driving force late if Contador, Valverde, Dan Martin and others can somehow break the flood gates on Chris Froome. If today ever repeats itself, especially on a mountain top finish, Froome would be answering attacks from fifteen or so riders. If Cadel chooses to throw his name among the first to try, it could break the Tour wide open once again.
5. Chris Froome Isn’t Dead. Left alone by his team for well over 90km, Froome matched wits and legs with the best of the World Tour peloton for three hours. If he can survive one of the worst days we’ve seen a yellow jersey endure in years, he should be fine for the next two weeks. The chances of Sky having that poor a performance again are next to nill, and Froome should be able to extend the lead in Wiggo-fashion if need be in the two remaining time trials. For the rest, he need only ride defensively, as much as he wants to be known as an attacking winner. Two of the other most recent Grand Tour winners aren’t racing, and as such, Froome is the best rider in this race. Don’t count him out while he’s in yellow, or even if he isn’t.