Monday, July 8, 2013

Rest day analysis: Tour is more interesting but remains Froome's to lose

Chris Froome, from his Twitter profile

Stage 9 provided hope that Team Sky's dominance, which began last year in a boring romp for Sir Bradley Wiggins, had ended. Attacks by Garmin-Sharp and Movistar blew apart Sky and dislodged Richie Porte from second in the overall classification to 33rd. 

Not so fast.  Yes, the script has changed. Sky will not have the two best riders this year, as it did in 2012 with 1-2 Wiggins and Froome. And eight of Sky's guys had a bad day Sunday, which is understandable after the effort they put in Saturday. But one had a good day, and he's the guy that counts. Froomie was isolated but matched every acceleration that Movistar's Nairo Quintana threw at him -- to the point that the attackers gave up and rode together at the end. Movistar could come to rue the decision to call off the dogs.

If everyone rides to form, Froome will pick up time on his rivals Wednesday, in the 33 km time trial. Alejandro Valverde and Alberto  Contador have been unable to shine recently in the race of truth. Climbers such as Quintana and Belkin's pair of Bauke Mollema and Larens Ten Dam won't come close to matching Froome. Jacob Fuglsang, Dan Martin and Cadel Evans are decent and stand the best chance of picking up time and moving up in the GC The time trial could cause some shifting of position for everyone BUT Froome, who should extend his lead.

Perhaps his Sky teammates will recover and prove as formidable as they were last year in setting tempo for His Worship Wiggins. If not, Froome showed Sunday that he was capable of riding the kind of race that Cadel Evans did in winning in 2011. Evans was largely left to his own devices to ward off his challengers and slowly leave them all in his rearview.

Several early GC hopefuls have fallen woefully behind: Tejay Van Garderen, Ryder Hesjedal, Pierre Rolland, Damiano Cunege, Andrew Talansky and Thibaut Pinot. They'll be looking to get something out of this Tour, as will the usual animators, such as Big Jens Voigt, Sylvain Chavanel and, yes, Thomas Voeckler. Lots of riders will be shooting off fireworks from the bikes.

If the scenario unfolds, the ride should be fabulous. With a climb up Mont Ventoux and a stage that includes two ascents of Alpe d'Huez, the attack will come fast and thick and provide drama and hope, even if there's no change in the final standing.