Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto Belisol) finished just ahead of Vincenzo Nibali and Bradley Wiggins
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A look back at the previous week of Tour action
1. The route of "new possibilities"
When Christian Prudhomme unveiled his 2012 Tour route in Paris last October it was labelled as the 'parcours of novelties'. After the celebration of the Pyrenees in 2010, the Galibier in 2011 and with the 100th edition in 2013 on the horizon the Tour's grand fromage went in search of a route of possibilities. In broad brush strokes he has succeeded, providing the riders with stages in the Vosges and the Jura designed to inspire a peloton to break free from modern constraints and race as they once did: young and carefree.
However, the reality has now hit home and the burdens of modern racing have shown up Prudhomme's faith. While he could never have predicted that Alberto Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez, Andy Schleck and Ryder Hesjedal would all be out of the race or that Sky would be so dominant, Prudhomme has failed to grasp that the peloton would never rise to the challenge. The importance of summit finishes are sometimes overplayed but the stage to Foix was a perfect example of where Prudhomme got it wrong. The final climb coming 40 kilometres from the finish negated a Pyrenean stage and made for mundane GC riding, although the sight of Cavendish riding tempo on the final climb and Sagan finishing second can't be blamed entirely on Prudhomme.
Similarly, riders in the GC aren't prepared to sacrifice a possible top-10 or top-20 on the slightest chance of glory. Four of the top 15 are riding for the team prize (RadioShack), while Roche is without contract and knows a top ten place is far less a gamble than a possible stage win. Brajkovic, Coppel, and Van Garderen all seem happy to be in the mix, too. All is not lost, though, the Pyrenees stage to Luchon on Wednesday could be a classic.
2. Classy Luis León Sánchez
One repercussion of Prudhomme's route has been the subsequent success of some of the classiest puncheurs and specialists in the bunch. Millar, Fedrigo, Voeckler, and even the emergence of Pinot have provided showcases of some of the best rides this year. Special mention must go to Sánchez, who had been lying on the ground on stage 1 with a suspected broken wrist. While his Dutch teammates have fired blanks, gone home, or both, the mercurial Spaniard was a joy to watch on the road to Foix.
Working within the most impressive break we seen so far in the race (Voeckler, Casar, Gilbert and Sagan) the 28-year-old handed out a master class in measured, tactical and simply breathtaking racing. It was reminder of Sánchez's all-round class, too. Graduating with the likes of Contador, Rodriguez and Freire, Sánchez has never really had the attention his riding has deserved but four Tour stage wins plus a Paris-Nice, Tour Down Under, and San Sebastian amount to an enviable palmares. The Spanish have had a miserable race all round but Sánchez's win – every bit as good as his win Aurillac in 2008 and Saint-Flour in 2011 - gave the nation something to cheer.
3. Millar reprogrammes Garmin
Garmin could have sat back and coasted through to Paris and after their Giro success who would have blamed them due to their shocking first week. However, despite the abandonment of several key figures including Hesjedal, the team has rebounded. For several days the American squad tried to send riders up the road and on stage 12 to Annonay Davézieux they succeeded with David Millar. The Scot hadn't won a road stage in the Tour since 2002 but showed he'd lost none of his racing instinct. Luck perhaps plays some part but on a fraught stage Millar seized an opportunity to join a group in which he was the strongest and his reactions to chase several attacks, including Peraud's, was enough to save Garmin's Tour.
Vande Velde was equally successful in making the break to Pau but came up short against Fedrigo. This time the Garmin rider broke free with a Frenchman in the closing stages of the race but found himself the prey and not the predator. If Garmin keep riding with matching enthusiasm and aggression another stage win beckons.
4. RadioShack "we're the best"
How ironic that RadioShack is leading the team classification? Disjointed off the road, saved by Cancellara on it, they've lurched from crisis to crisis throughout the season culminating in a Tour in which Jens Voigt and Chris Horner appear to be the only riders allowed to contractually smile.
Until Fränk Schleck's unsavoury departure from the race they had been favourites for the team prize, over 12 minutes head of Sky. Zubeldia, Horner, Schleck and Klöden all sat within the top 15 but what could be interesting are their individual objectives the closer the race moves to Paris. With the team rumoured to disband at the end of the season a stage win could generate a far more lucrative contract. As for Schleck, he's spent the evening in a police station and will not start the stage to Luchon. There's the B sample to come so until then it's unfair to speculate.
5. Wiggins chalks off own goal
That's better, isn't it? A yellow jersey on the shoulders of a rider willing and able to talk about doping in the sport: why they should be believed and the merits of true sacrifice. Put aside the blog in The Guardian - he didn't actually write that - because what's been impressive is Wiggins's demeanour and language in his post-stage press conferences. Australian Anthony Tan has relentlessly peppered the Tour leader with excellent questions after each stage, and in Le Cap d'Agde Wiggins delivered his best answer yet, pointing towards not just to the UCI Passport, but his own desire to share all his data, against team rules, with the public. He reasonably argued that no matter what stance he undertakes, what measures he goes to, some will always doubt him but what Wiggins also added, and this is a perfect summation: only time will tell whether he is as clean as his word.
6. Froome to the fore
But Wiggins may not even win this year's Tour. At La Toussuire the former track star was found out by his own teammate Chris Froome, who now sits second on GC, 2:05 down. On the climb Froome, as we all know, distanced his team leader before team orders crackled through the Sky radio and the Kenyan native was told to sit up. After two weeks of racing it was the only moment of weakness from Wiggins and the fact remains that Froome can still win the Tour. In all likelihood Sky will win the race either way, but with which rider?
A Tour win for any rider is a monumental achievement but for a British market it's comparable to Murray winning Wimbledon or Hamilton triumphing on four wheels. Will Froome sacrifice all that for team loyalty even though he's the strongest rider, does he really think that Sky will work for him next year, or has he just been biding his time until the Pyrenees where he'll drop Wiggins and win the Tour?
Twenty wins in your debut season is no mean feat and the Australian arsenal deserve credit for their success at the TDU, San Remo and Goss's win at the Giro. But when building a team from scratch the Tour de France needs consideration and as a result you need to be competitive on all fronts unless you possess a Cavendish or Contador. It's almost as though GreenEdge are a set of Russian dolls, many of them in the mould of Goss but all a little weaker than the last and incapable of picking up the mantle of leadership should their sprinter fail. Gerrans has missed key breaks this week but his pedigree is similar to the likes of Sánchez and Fedrigo and the Australian national champion could still win a stage yet.
8. Nibali and Evans
With Wiggins and Froome dominating the current top two spots in GC, Evans and Nibali find themselves in similar positions, trailing the Sky duo but both with important roles to play in the final week. At La Toussuire Nibali was far more formidable than Evans, whose early attack on the stage blew the race apart but was nullified by Sky. Nibali has the greater hand to play with, the descent on the stage to Luchon a prime opportunity to attack. Evans, now 3:19 down on Wiggins, is still capable of a podium spot but the conclusion from the first two weeks is that young American teammate Van Garderen (in white and showing great promise) is out-climbing and out-time trialing the defending champion. Even for a rider capable of improving in the final week, that's not a good sign.
9. Polka dots and Green
Fredrik Kessiakoff, a rider who Garmin released in 2010, leads the mountains race but his 14 point margin over Rolland looks in danger. The Swede must aim for another break on Wednesday in the hope of hoovering up enough points, and that Rolland preoccupies himself with a top-10 place and possible stage win. Chris Anker Sörensen is still in with a shout, too. As for Green, Sagan looks unstoppable, his second place in Foix a nail in the coffin for Greipel and Goss. The Slovak could dominate the competition for the next 5 years.
10. Cav and the Olympic Games
While there has been plenty of debate over whether the road race course for the Olympic Games is too hard for pre-race favourite Cavendish, the sight of a trim Manx Express leading the bunch up the Port du Lers was a welcome one. However with Sagan and Greipel given greater support and therefore dominating the sprint stages it does raise the question over whether Cavendish has the necessary match-practice ahead of his date in London. A win in Paris would readdress the balance somewhat and with four GB riders winning Tour stages this year, at least he’ll have the added bonus of a motivated and high-on-morale-team.
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