The general consensus seems to be that the 2015 Tour de France route isn't best suited to Chris Froome and the Team Sky way of doing things. That may be true – he’s come out and given his take already - with the time trials being cut to a level rarely seen, but that won't be the 2013 winner's main worry should he decide to line-up in Utrecht.
Everyone seems to be forgetting that Froome can climb with the best when he needs to and his adaptation to improving his performances against the clock has been a gradual process, which has affected those climbing abilities.
To put it in simpler terms, he's traded some of his natural explosiveness for a better time trial, and given the previous Tour de France routes, that's been a wise decision. The five mountain top finishes might suit Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali more but with a change to his training programme Froome can expect to see an improvement in his ability to deal with accelerations when the road goes upwards.
When it comes to training there's plenty of time to dial down on the time-trialling and bring in some specific efforts that will help Froome to deal with what the others are going to throw at him. If you can ride fast enough uphill everyday then it's very hard for anyone to attack, climber or not, and Froome has proved in the past that he can do that.
The big worry for Sky will be getting him through the northern stages in one piece and their tactics thereafter. Both are topics which have seen weaknesses in the armour. Their problem with tactics, or lack of, has been well discussed: no imagination, only one plan, and no adaptability, but next year's route doesn't allow a blinkered approach for the GC race.
There's going to have to be some changes made to the strategy, as and when any opportunity comes along. It has been a failing of the team in the past but it's not insurmountable, it just needs more lateral thinking.
The majority of the first week will be raced in a 'Classic-style' and Froome hasn't exactly been lining up for one day races too often. It's a very different skill set that's needed for surviving in Holland, Belgium and Northern France than it is for the approach to Plateau de Beille.
Unless he's put on a crash course (pun intended) of kermesses and semi-Classics in Flanders, he isn't going to learn what's needed. Nibali and Contador have the ability to survive as they naturally ride near the front and can keep their position without too much hassle, Contador might be concerned by the pave but elsewhere he should be relatively comfortable.
Quintana isn't fantastic in the wind but at least he rides well in wet weather, which is another factor to consider. It won't necessarily be sunshine and fair winds.
No, the biggest problem for Sky will be teaching Froome a few of the arts and crafts so beloved of the Belgians: jumping pavements, dodging street furniture, riding in echelons and taking someone's place not because you need to but because you know the other guy will give it up. Froome can't afford to keep losing five places on corners if someone gets too close to him and losing teammates’ wheels might not be too important on a normal stage but the roads aren't as wide in Belgium and the Netherlands therefore you need to fight for your position all day.
Massive crowds will add to the dangers and, since Froome's not been exactly sturdy if he loses his balance, he really can't afford to fall off. The opening stages are a nightmare waiting to happen when you're a limited bike handler.
It's not only going to be difficult for Sky to keep their chances intact. Nibali and Contador might have the skills but the French challengers won't be laughing either when they find themselves riding the Four Days of Dunkirk before the Ardennes Classics. Bardet versus Pinot on the Kemmelberg might just be as fascinating as it will be when they get to the Pyrennes.
No-one with serious ideas of riding for the GC can afford to limit themselves to just stage races and training camps as preparation for July. They will have to incorporate one day races and some of them will have to be up North, in the wind and rain, with the desperados and guys who have no respect for your person. It's not pleasant, but it's the only way to learn.
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Robert Millar was one of the last pure climbers of the Tour de France, winning several stages in the mountain stages and finishing fourth overall in 1984. He is also the only English speaker to have ever won the prestigious polka-dot jersey climber's competition jersey.
Millar retired in 1995 but has continued to follow the sport closely. He was often critical of the media and quickly cuts through the excuses and spin to understand why and how riders win and lose.
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