I could hide behind Contador's crash for the challenging position he now finds himself in but let’s face it, his first week wasn't great. Of course he still can win, but it won't be easy to outwit the opposition and certainly a lot more complicated than the wiping up I have to do.
Poor Alberto now sits between a rock and a hard place, not climbing well enough to stay with Nairo Quintana on the steep finishes and not confident enough to stay with Chris Froome and rely on picking off a few seconds where he can and hoping, praying for a return of his super TT days.
Theoretically, his only option is an ambush which is certainly possible – however, given the strengths of Movistar and Sky he'll need some allies, which brings us to Orica-BikeExchange. Remember Esteban Chaves' quiet start, how he was saving himself for the final week? Well that time to show if he is serious has arrived. Probably a bit earlier than he thought but since he's in the same position of being minutes and not seconds behind, he doesn't really have much choice. Orica have Simon Yates to assist and if Tinkoff can find more friends amongst those interested in the mountains competition then everything could change.
Guys like Omar Fraile and Thomas De Gendt have nothing to lose and have to gamble on getting their GPM points from a break, likewise FDJ and specially Cofidis who have business interests in Spain. At the moment it all looks rather far-fetched but if Sky and Movistar keep slugging it out on the medium mountain days, then it might come down to who can take advantage of the two top favourites having no or at least little support left.
Now we are into the second half of the race we ought to start seeing the guys who have raced the Tour feeling that effort catching up with them. Quintana has re-found his explosiveness but I suspect Froome has plenty of resistance to sustained effort to compensate. That'll be perfect for the individual time trial which has lots of false flats and probably a headwind so the Movistar leader is going to need more of a lead. That means a shoot-out with Froome on the Col d'Aubisque and a last gasp effort on the climb up to Aitana if the overall win is still within his grasp.
The organisers may just get the grand finale they hoped for as the last climb of the race suits the little Colombian's characteristics more than the big French stage. With changing gradients and steep sections, it's no Lagos de Covadonga but it's nasty and not easy to pace right. Which brings me to Movistar's number two and the person most suited to aiding an all-out assault at the foot of any tricky climb, Alejandro Valverde. Well into his third Grand Tour, he ought to be on his knees by now. If not struggling, he ought to be feeling notably sparkle free but he's anything but.
I used to watch Marino Lejarreta doing three Tours one after the other and be astonished that he kept going like a dynamo. No explosiveness left but as strong as an ox if you gave him ten metres and now we have Valverde proving you can do all the races, all year long and be involved in the pointy end of the race almost every time. Quite remarkable.
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