It’s been a topsy turvy Tour de France after the two stages in the Pyrenees and the Mont Saint Michel time trial. The Tour was over, then Sky was falling and now today after the contre le montre, Tour over again.
When Chris Froome and his Sky juggernaut put the hammer down on the road up to Ax 3 Domaines, the verdict was race over. The South African looked invincible — and extremely sweaty — as he did his homicidal angel of the mountains routine. (You know Froome has complete control of this race because his girlfriend hasn’t tweeted anything inflammatory.)
The entire Sky squad impressed to such a degree that people dragged out the US Postal analogy and things got testy and weird. (Froome really doesn’t look like Armstrong and he hasn’t threatened or sued anybody so give the man a break.)
Only the next day in the Pyrenees, the inconceivable happened — the entire Sky team other than Froome had a bad day. Richie Porte, who was second on GC, blew out the back almost as bad as Tejay van Garderen had on the first day in the moutons. Guys in black and blue crashed, missed the time cut, nursed a pelvic injury and just plain failed.
So expectations of drama ran high for the 33k time trial from Avranches to Mont Saint Michel where the monks in the abbey used to pray for peace and not serious time gains against dangerous rivals. “Si tu veux, tu peux, goes the Bernard Hinault quote — “If you want, you can” — and who would argue that Hinault isn’t some kind of religious figure in French cycling?
The drama however failed to materialize — specifically, Froome’s top rival, Alberto Contador, failed to materialize on his bike. The educated guess was he’d lose two minutes versus his Sky opponent and that’s exactly what he accomplished.
The formerly invincible Spaniard drops to almost 4 minutes behind Froome while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) holds second place at 3:25 and the Tour surprise Bauke Mollema is third at 3:37. What’s a Pistolero with no bullets?
One story actually stated that having Contador at 3:54 actually sets up a real battle for the GC. Not sure that kind of time gap sets up anything but desperation in the Alps. That’s not saying Contador can’t pull out something magic on Ventoux of the Alpe d’Huex double shot, but really, what are the odds?
Valverde said before the Tour began that he’d be happy with a podium spot and Mollema will be content to defend his third place on GC. Anybody else plan on attacking besides Dan Martin over at Garmin-Sharp?
Nairo Quintana will focus his efforts on the white jersey and Cadel Evans will grind away, falling farther behind. He did however prove us terribly wrong — we had Tejay van Garderen taking over by the third week. The American is a staggering 38 minutes back. He’s just ahead of some unknown pack filler named Alexis Vuillermoz at Sojasun.
After the Sky debacle on the stage to Bagneres de Bigorre, Sky principal David Brailsford said “it looks like we have a race on our hands.” Perhaps he was delivering a sly punchline. Yes, we still have a race on on our hands and it’s for second and third.
TDF NOTE: for those who’ve been wondering why we haven’t written as much here in France, we have. It’s just not here on Twisted Spoke. We’re doing a running travelogue Tour blog for Clif Bar. You can find it on the Clif home page.)