We’re at 67 days from the Yorkshire start of the 2014 Tour de France, not even officially into May, and Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali are rubbing their hands in feverish anticipation.
They think Chris Froome is off his game. They think he’s vulnerable and ripe for a beating. For the first time in two years, they believe that maybe the Sky machine is suffering some mechanical problems.
They have reason to be optimistic.
Froome, the South African who beat Nairo Quintana in Le Grand Shindig by over four minutes and Joaquim Rodriquez by over five and Alberto Contador by over six, does look vulnerable so far this season.
Unlike last year where Froome burst out of the gate and won everything in sight on the way to France, his list of achievements so far read: DNFs, a back injury, a chest cold, a bad sunburn and a scary picture of his vein-popping calves.
That’s not momentum and doesn’t sound like the Sky juggernaut.
Meanwhile Alberto Contador is the number one ranked rider in the world with a strong run of results. Tinkoff-Saxo egghead Bjarne Riis just proclaimed that El Pistolero is in better form than at any time since they’ve worked together. When the Spaniard looks at Froome’s 2014 results, there is a smile on his face and hope in his legs.
That’s also true for rival Vincenzo Nibali who is on a steady build for his run at the Tour. In particular, Nibali will take great comfort in what appears to be Froome’s fragile body and immune system. The Italian thrives in hard weather conditions like the 2013 Giro d’Italia and any bad weather in France is to his advantage.
Nibali only needs one off day from Froome to beat the Sky Tour champion and right now, the odds of that happening seem to be shooting up. While Froome has ridden two strong Tours, there are now questions about his health.
Then again, maybe this is all loose talk and pointless optimism. We’ll all discover much better answers based on Froome’s performance in the Tour of Romandie.
A strong performance in Switzerland will put the weakness rumors to rest. However, should Froome underwhelm, then Contador and Nibali will gain even more confidence for the Tour de France. Based on the scenarios going in, Romandie looks like a stage race to watch very carefully.