In the days before colour televisions, rest-day tactics used to involve staying in the hotel room with the curtains pulled and a menu of apples to survive the day. Why apples? Well, the theory, and bear with me here, is that they suppress the appetite and therefore the poor rider who had been eating 6000 calories per day wouldn't be tempted to overdo it and eat too much before the mountain stages.
I've no idea why the room had to be darkened, maybe it was to help with staying asleep as long as possible because if you aren't awake you can't be eating. The obsession with weight isn't a modern idea at all.
The Big Four won't be doing any of that fruit case stuff before the Pyrenees, they'll be going on a bike ride for an hour or two and then answering questions on how they think the others are and why there's now five of them, not four. Here’s my look at the form book so far.
Chris Froome (Team Sky) in yellow
Chris Froome has, up until now, played a blinder. He's always been in the right place at the right time and on the very few occasions when he's been caught out his team have very quickly sorted out any situation before it really happened. The cobbled stage being dry helped him out but given his present form I don't think a bit of mud would have been that detrimental to his race. He entered all the sectors in a good position and even closed gaps when Nibali tried to attack, so ominously for his rival that was a sign he wasn't at his limit.
The two finishes in Le Havre and the Mûr-de-Bretagne didn’t trouble him at all, in fact he looks the strongest of the GC contenders and heading into the mountains is in the ideal position. Defending may not be his natural way to ride but it gives him the option of counter attacking when the others commit.
Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) second at 12 seconds
Considering Tejay van Garderen's performance at this year's Dauphiné it's surprising that few considered the American a serious challenge to the Big Four. That's all changed now he's sitting in second place and hasn't looked to be in any trouble. The BMC leader has ridden a very similar race to Chris Froome; he is always well protected, well placed and willing to distance anyone left behind.
Going into the mountains he looks like the successor to Cadel Evans that his team have been waiting for. The first mountain stages will tell how his real climbing legs are as he's had a few difficulties before dealing with big accelerations but saying that he hasn't had this kind of opportunity and form in previous Tours. Maybe he’s not capable of climbing with Contador and Quintana but he doesn't look like he's going to have a bad day either and if they do distance him won’t be that far behind.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo) fifth at 1:03
The double is still on for the Spaniard and though he hasn't shown any sparkle yet, you just know that he's just waiting for one hesitation or opportunity to attack his rivals. He struggled on the pavé and surprisingly the Mur de Huy but the one thing about Contador is his powers of recovery. Everyday that goes past where the others haven't got rid of him is another day where he might just have got stronger. In terms of reading the race and positioning himself he's still right up there with the smartest.
Saxo-Tinkoff might be wanting Sagan to have the Green jersey in Paris but that'll be sacrificed in Alberto takes the race lead. I won't be surprised to see Contador attack on the climb to La Pierre St Martin and I won't be surprised if he just waits and watches either. A minute deficit at this stage might irritate him but when you look at what's to come it's not that much of a worry.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) ninth at 1:59
The Movistar leader has probably had the most uncomfortable first week of the big favourites. He might even have envisaged being further behind than he is already when he recced the route so two minutes to Froome isn't that bad. It could have been three or four if the cobbles on the way to Cambrai had seen him distanced. He hasn't shown what he's capable of on the little uphill finishes on the two Murs and that's a sign he and his team know the real fight starts in the Pyrenees.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) thirteenth at 2:22
What a difference a year makes. The 2014 champion was cruising at this point twelve months ago but now he's the last of the favourites and looking the most irritated. He wouldn't have thrown a strop at Froome if he was lucid and in control on the Le Havre finish. And he wouldn't have given up time on the Murs if he was in top form either. With over two minutes to make up he'll attack at some point but if his climbing form doesn't return on stage ten then he risks being countered and that might mean more losses. Then we can expect fireworks on the descents and an all or nothing long-range play from Astana.
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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