Monday, July 8, 2013

Tour De France 2013 Notes from week 1 on Rest Day 1


Nine stages down, twelve to go.  Chris Froome is where we expected he would be at the first rest day: in charge, although his team has showed serious kinks in the armor. We have a general idea of who the real contenders will be for the overall classification, as well as the other jersey competitions. And we have seen who has not brought their best game to the race. The current jersey holders are all good contenders to be wearing those jerseys come Paris. Two more weeks of testing roads stand between them and the Champs Elysees first.

The Orica GreenEdge bus stuck under the stage-1 gantry
The first nine stages added up to one of the most thrilling Tour openings in recent memory. Corsica hosted a beautiful start, and all of Southern France delivered on compelling action. It has been very competitive, full of surprises, several lead changes, elation and deflation, hot sun, some records broken and others neared, tears and laughs, crashes, sacrifices, failure and success. It is the Tour De France.

Looking back at some of the fascinating events and protagonists of the first nine stages I will just pick a few to discuss briefly:

First of all, Chris Froome: He stayed out of trouble for seven days, and then dominated the first mountain stage. He then responded to every attack thrown at him in the second mountain stage. The only problem for Chris “Vroom” was his team. The normally robust Sky squad showed the effects of the heat and physical damage they have suffered with a terrible showing on stage 9. Worse, Froome’s most reliable Sherpa, the Tasmanian Richie Porte, hit the wall on Sunday, losing eighteen minutes, and dropping way, way out of podium contention (He dropped from 2nd overall to 33rd). The stage 11 time trial on Wednesday will give Sky another chance to shine.

Alejandro Valverde: He is comfortably sitting in the seat vacated by Richie Porte, second overall, and his Movistar team sent a very powerful message to Chris Froome and the rest of the world that they are a bad-ass force to be reckoned with, and that Sky are maybe not so invincible after all. It was the best refreshment after all the clamor about Froome possibly running away with the maillot jaune like Wiggo last year and making for a dull race. No dullness here.  

Valverde also enjoys a top-notch support squad, each one of which is a high talent in his own right. And Valverde is not as bad a time trialer as many are making him out to be. On a flat course he may be not too dissimilar from the three riders behind him on GC. I would not be surprised if there is very little change in the top 5 after the TT.

Alberto Contador: “el pistolero” has not been at his best so far, but obviously this bears frequent repeating: He gets better over the course of a tour. He hasn’t sounded as confident in the last couple of days as he did before the race, but riders find many ways to cozen their foes and the press. Contador is still perfectly placed to stay in contention for a podium spot—at least. It may be that he will not rediscover that top form, but I would never count the five-time grand tour winner out. Plus he has a high-caliber firing squad of support that includes Roman Kreuziger and Mick Rogers.

Cadel Evans The 2011 Tour champ looked a little shaky for a while there, but he stepped up and stayed with the leaders all the way to the stage 9 finish, and picked himself up from 23rd to 16th. Unfortunately the time he lost on stage 8 is probably enough to keep him from hoping for anything above a top-five finish. Still, he recovers as well as any Tour champion I’ve ever seen and if he is one of the few remaining in the last mountainous week, he could still net a high spot.

J-Rod: Katusha’s diminutive torque-thrower Joaquim Rodriguez has not yet tasted the tastiest stages for his mountain goat legs. But he stayed with the front group through the treacherous ninth stage, and more importantly stayed with them all the way through the 30k descent and flat finish. He could have a surprising TT and possibly remain a legitimate podium candidate, at least. Though TT’s are not purito’s forte, so he will have to be patient until stage 15, when the Mont Ventoux finish will beckon for the climbers’ return.

Everybody seems to be calling Bauke Mollema a “surprise”. I do not find anything surprising about the good-going of the Dutch rider for Team Belkin. I mentioned in my TDF race preview several stage races in which he made top-5 this year, including finishing second at the TDF warm-up race, the Tour de Suisse. He has showed good TT results, and continues to climb with the best. Mollema could be just coming into his own now, and although his past Tours De France have not been exceptional, this year does seem to offer him a good opportunity to show what he can do.

The other important riders I want to discuss are the young riders.

Nairo Quintana has been putting on the kind of show that we have come to cherish about him. He rides with calm composure and then periodically, at will, puts in some serious damaging attacks. He reminds me of Contador a few years ago, the way he can attack and come back, and attack and attack and attack. He is one of the most entertaining riders of this year’s race, and a very good bet to win the white jersey now.

Thibaut Pinot: the young French hope was in close contention for white jerseys at stage races all season long. He was also runner-up in two mountain jersey competitions, and rode a powerful Tour de Suisse right before the Tour De France, finishing fourth overall, sixth on points, and 2nd in the KOM. Suddenly, Pinot’s prospects for this Tour are dwindling fast. He was 10th overall last year and 2nd in the young rider’s competition, despite having revealed a serious handicap: he fears descending. How he dealt with it last year, I don’t know, but if he does not find a way to deal with it, then he will never be the grand tour contender his team and his country are hoping for.

Pinot lost a devastating 25 minutes yesterday on stage 9. At the finish he made some damning remarks like, “I cracked on the descent… I'm afraid of speed. It's a phobia,” and “When I saw that I was not able to stay on the wheel of a rider like Mark Cavendish on the descent of a mountain pass, I asked myself: ‘What am I doing on the Tour?' I received the clear response that I have nothing to do here." He continued, ”I don't know if I will be able to get over this trauma.”  We knew he was not a great descender, but this is an issue that should not be rearing its ugly head during the Tour De France. At least Sunday’s revelations will have to inspire FDJ to work on Pinot’s problem, either with training or psychological therapy, or whatever they can come up with to dispel his “fear of speed”.

Michal Kwiatkowski recovered on stage 9 to climb back up to 13th overall. His talent is big and he is showing the heart to capitalize on it. The TT’s might be his friend as he fights to climb higher in the standings, and actively take on Quintana for the white jersey. I cannot wait to see how he goes for the next two weeks.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Enjoy the rest of the race!


  1. Oh Thibault say it ain't so! That's just about the craziest thing I've ever heard a cyclist say. What a tour so far! I couldn't agree more that it's off to a better start than years past. Stage 9 was just the right mixture of exciting and interesting-didn't see Porte dropping so far back. Thank you for not counting el pistolero out...yet!

  2. I was shocked by the amount of time Pinot coughed up on stage 9. It seems his mind took over and he could not recover. The extent of that pessimism was drastic, but he had just finished the race when he made those comments. Time always tempers those emotions. Anyway, I hope he is getting one monumental pep talk!