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Tour de France: Eight conclusions from the first nine stages

By:
Cycling News
Published:
July 08, 2013, 21:00 BST,
Updated:
July 09, 2013, 4:20 BST
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) attacked repeatedly to put pressure on yellow jersey Chris Froome (Sky)

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) attacked repeatedly to put pressure on yellow jersey Chris Froome (Sky)

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1. The week Orica GreenEdge had to have

Without a stage victory but with plenty of near misses at their Tour de France debut in 2012, Orica GreenEdge was set to live and die by the events of the next three weeks.

Lady Luck was not on the team's side for stage 1 on Corsica with the team bus wedged under the finish line and sprinter Matt Goss eventually crashing out of contention with less than 500 metres to go without spokes in his front wheel.

The squad re-grouped for stage 3. In the final island stage, a textbook leadout from Daryl Impey shot Simon Gerrans to the front just at the right moment and the Australian rode to his second Tour de France stage victory after his first in 2008. Gerrans' win meant that the pressure was off and in the Nice team time trial on stage 4. The team was on-song, riding to a 75 hundredths of a second victory over reigning world champions, Omega Pharma-QuickStep. That result put Gerrans into the maillot jaune, just the sixth Australian to do so in history. Gerrans retained the lead into Marseille, before illustrating how closely-knit an outfit Orica GreenEdge is, the former Milan-San Remo winner leading out Impey and transferring the yellow jersey in the process. Another first had been delivered for the team with Impey the first African to wear the famed prize.

While Goss has been largely missing from the sprint stage finales, and the team is searching for answers as to why, Orica GreenEdge remains confident that he can ride his way back into form before the Tour is out. What is certain is that Orica GreenEdge is a more cohesive unit under sports director Matt White and that this surge of results in cycling's biggest race comes with his return to the team is no coincidence.

2. Quintana in control of white jersey

The wearer of the white jersey as leader of the young rider classification comes as little surprise given the stellar rise Nairo Quintana has experienced but what few could predict before the Grand Départ was the Movistar rider holding such a commanding position in the competition entering the first rest day.

Tejay van Garderen (BMC) won the title in 2012 along with a fine fifth-place overall but this year's race hasn't gone to plan for the reining Tour of California victor. Losing more than 12 minutes in the first mountain test to Ax 3 Domaines signaled the end of van Garderen's white jersey defence while one of the pre-favourites Quinatana out-distanced his nearest rivals Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Andrew Talansky (Garmin Sharp) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step).

Entering the rest day, it's currently a two-way race between Quintana and Kwiatkowski while Bardet has continued to be a standout in the race at just 22. The Frenchman is not completely out of the running in third, 5:07 behind the man in white.

3. Green is Sagan's to lose

Peter Sagan (Cannondale) went into this year's Tour de France as favourite to claim his second successive points classification and the case remains after just over one week of racing.

The Slovakian has amassed a hefty 93-point lead over nearest rival Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) with a further 13 points back to 2011 winner, Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), but while the peloton's fast men have taken a stage each, it's Sagan's versatility that's giving him an edge.

A look at the intermediate sprints reveals that Greipel, with his superior lead-out train, has so far had the upper hand getting the better of the green jersey rivals at the daily marker - once the breakaway has gone through - on five occasions, while Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) and Sagan scooped up the points once each. The intermediate sprint however, remains not even half the story. Sagan's lead comes down to his consistency, with five podiums from the eight individually contested stages so far.

After a punishing few days in the Pyrenees, the focus returns to the sprinters following the rest day with three stages left for someone to prove that it's not just The Sagan Show when it comes to the points classification before next weekend. Given Sagan's lead, that onus is now on Greipel and Cavendish.

4. Froome and a weak Team Sky?

As Chris Froome spun the pedals on the rollers outside the Team Sky bus after stage 9 to Bagneres-de-Bigorre, he was alone, often lost in his own thoughts, having pulled on the yellow jersey for another day and spoken to the media post stage.

Froome seemed happy and occasionally thanked the British cycling fans who shouted encouragement, but his thoughts no doubt returned to the stage and his long day of solitude in the front group. What had happened to his Team Sky teammates?

As dust settles on the first act of the 100th edition of the Tour de France, Team Sky's apparent sudden weakness due to injury and crashes seems to be the only thing that could disrupt Froome's rest day relaxation.

He leads Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) by 1:25, Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) is at 1:51 and Cadel Evans (BMC) is 4:36. Other rivals have been put to the sword and have taken a hammering. Froome is also confident of taking more time in the Mont-Saint-Michel time trial on Wednesday. The first week of the Tour could have gone better, Team Sky no longer looks invincible, but it could have been a lot worse. Froome avoided the crashes and chaos, he gained some seconds in the team time trial and laid down the law on the first mountain finish at Ax 3 Domaines. Froome always looked in control on Sunday's climbs. He responded to Nairo Quintana's four accelerations with relative ease.

If only his team had been as consistent and fortunate to avoid crashes, he would have one arm in the sleeve of the final yellow jersey. Now his rivals think they have identified the team as his weakness and are ready to try to take advantage.

Froome still seems the strongest rider in the Tour but will have to put up a fight if he wants to win in Paris.

5. The struggles of Contador

Alberto Contador is good at putting on a brave face, at outwitting his rivals and convincing the media that everything is "bueno".

However, it is clear that the Alberto Contador racing in this year's Tour de France is not the same rider who danced away in the Alps and dominated the time trials. Nor is it the same Contador who smashed open the Vuelta last September and won the red jersey just a few weeks after completing his ban for doping.

The Saxo-Tinkoff leader has limited his losses to Froome and is sixth at 1:51 but already seems to be riding on defensive.

Contador was able to follow Froome when he surged after Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in the Pyrenees but pushed a big gear and seemed laboured when he got out of the saddle instead of showing signs of class and panache.

Several directeur sportif have predicted to Cyclingnews that the Spaniard would be unable to improve sufficiently from his poor Criterium du Dauphine performance to be a real yellow jersey threat. He is likely to lose more time to Froome in the time trial and so start the final week in the mountains with a significant handicap.

Contador always puts up a fight and he will try to take on Froome and Movistar but he surely have to be satisfied with a place on the final podium in Paris.

6. The Corsica effect

As the riders enjoy the first rest day around Nantes, the opening three stages in Corsica may be fading from their memory, but many are still carrying the scares and fatigue of the three intense days of racing on the Mediterranean island.

The Tour de France traditionally starts with a prologue time trial and some stages for the sprinters. Not this year. The race organisers wanted a vraie Grand Depart for the 100th edition of the Grande Boucle and included three testing road stages to show off the beauty of the island: first a technical finish in Bastia, then a route through the central mountains to Ajaccio and finally suffering with a thousand curves on the spectacular coastal road to Calvi.

Crashes, the heat and the intense racing left the riders in shock, sun burnt and scarred, but especially happy to head to the mainland. If this year's Tour de France is remembered as the one of the most open and unpredictable, it could be thanks to the impact of the three days in Corsica.

7. BMC struggle to make an impression

Two team leaders off the boil and a world champion lacking support, it's not the Tour that BMC were hoping for. After a promising Giro d'Italia for Cadel Evans and an important win for Tejay van Garderen at the Tour of California, the American team headed to Corisca in reasonable shape. A lacklustre performance in the team time trial set the tone, however with van Garderen coming unstuck in the Pyrenees and Evans struggling to for a top 10. Gilbert, still without a win this season, personifies a team that has underperformed despite the individual talent the squad possess.

Stage wins are all that can rescue the team now with an aggressive approach needed in the second week. Once again, it may not be their team captains who come up with the goods, with Marcus Burghardt perhaps one of their best bets for success in a break, a rider who has won once in three seasons.

8. Garmin united

Gilbert's comments are a complete contrast to those that purred from Daniel Martin's mouth during his winner's press conference on stage 9, in which teamwork and sacrifice where as crucial as Martin's own prowess. While Movistar won plaudits and critics in equal measure, there was little doubt that Garmin raced to their strengths in order to propel Martin to a debut stage win.

The early fireworks from Tom Danielson, Ryder Hesjedal, Jack Bauer and David Millar helped to break Sky, and Martin's perfectly-timed move after Quintana's assault saw the Irishman demonstrate his climbing and tactical abilities.

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