Kelly: Contador clear favourite for Tour de France

Felix Lowe Columnist

By Felix Lowe, Felix Lowe is a Roar Expert

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    Alberto Contador doesn't ride to come second - so what can we expect from him at the Vuelta? (Image: AAP)

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    Spaniard Alberto Contador – and not Britain’s Chris Froome – is the stand-out favourite for the 100th edition of the Tour de France, according to cycling legend Sean Kelly.

    Speaking to The Roar at a Tour de France preview lunch hosted by Eurosport in central London, four-time green jersey winner Kelly said he believed Saxo Bank-Tinkoff’s Contador would hit peak form for the all-important final week of the Tour.

    He said Contador has both the experience and savoir faire to ride into Paris on the evening of 21st July wearing the coveted yellow jersey.

    When, over a double espresso at the back-end of the cheese course, I asked whether Froome’s consistently high finishes this year – including the Sky rider’s recent victory in the Criterium du Dauphine, in which he beat Contador by more than four minutes – had made him the outright favourite for Tour glory, Eurosport analyst Kelly replied: “No, no, no.”

    “Froome may have the results to back him up but sometimes it’s hard to maintain such a level throughout the season,” said Kelly. “Being the in-form rider can act against you because the expectation is high. With Contador, he’s slowly riding back to his best. What’s more, he knows how to win the Tour.”

    Kelly, who will notch up 87 hours of live commentary for Eurosport during the course of the three-week race, believes that Contador showed enough quality during the Dauphine to ensure he starts the Tour as favourite.

    “We saw with his attacks in the mountains that he has the acceleration but just not the form yet to sustain it to the end. But in last year’s Vuelta, Contador was very strong and I expect him to be the man to beat in the Tour.”

    Thirty-year-old Contador has not won a race since beating compatriots Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez to the Vuelta crown last September.

    Froome, on the other hand, has hardly lost a race since finishing fourth in Madrid.

    The 28-year-old beat runner-up Contador in the Tour of Oman in February ahead of wins in the Criterium International, Tour de Romandie and Dauphine, as well as a second-place finish – behind Giro d’Italia victor Vincenzo Nibali but ahead of Contador – in Tirreno-Adriatico.

    Ominously for the other Tour GC contenders, Froome’s season is shaping up distinctively similar to that of fellow Briton Bradley Wiggins, who last year also won the Dauphine and Romandie, not to mention Paris-Nice, ahead of an historic first British victory in the Grande Boucle.

    Where Wiggins had Froome to lean on for support – sometimes more than figuratively – Froome this year has the much-improved Australian Richie Porte, winner at Paris-Nice and twice runner-up to the Kenyan-born Froome in the Criterium and the Dauphine.

    But unlike Wiggins, Froome will have to face the obstacle of seasoned Grand Tour competitor Contador, who missed last year’s Tour owing to a back-dated ban for the banned substance Clenbuterol.

    Contador’s sanction overturned his victories in the 2010 Tour and 2011 Giro.

    Even with two years’ worth of his results scrapped, however, Contador’s record in Grand Tours remains incomparable to any other current rider in the peloton: he is unbeaten since 2007 having notched two Tours, two Giros and one Vuelta in the process.

    Kelly believes that such a record will be the difference for the Spaniard when it comes to the business end of this year’s Tour.

    Public opinion may be with comparatively inexperienced Froome, but the smart money is on the man many have already written off.

    “You just can’t look beyond Contador. Despite Froome’s form, I’m don’t think he’ll have what it takes to beat Contador,” Kelly confirmed.

    The battle for the yellow jersey aside, Kelly is excited about the prospect of Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan going head-to-head in the green jersey points classification.

    And despite Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Cavendish showing both strength and class to win the red points jersey in last month’s Giro, Kelly believes Sagan is the favourite to take what will be a second successive green jersey in Paris.

    Asked by yours truly if Cannondale’s Sagan was a modern day incarnation of himself given the Slovak sensation’s ability to win on all terrain, Kelly said: “Yes, I believe so. Sagan is a huge talent. We saw in last year’s Tour that he can win stages from sprints and from breakaways – and that he can take intermediate points in the mountains.”

    But could Sagan one day make the step up – as Kelly did with his overall victory in the 1988 Vuelta – and top the GC of one of the Grand Tours?

    “Yes, I believe he could,” Kelly told me before qualifying his bold statement. “The problem is that to win a Grand Tour nowadays you have to dedicate your entire season towards one goal. If Sagan was to do this, he would not be so successful in other stage races or classics – and it may not be something he’s prepared to do.”

    Having finished up our coffees, we agreed that Sagan would perhaps be best suited to concentrating on winning that elusive Monument or major classic before targeting the GC of any Grand Tours. Besides, stage wins and pipping Cavendish to the green jersey should keep him quite busy in the meantime.

    Felix Lowe
    Felix Lowe

    Felix Lowe is an English photographer, writer and Arsenal fan with a penchant for pro-cycling. Eurosport writer and blogger, Felix has covered the major cycling races in the pro calendar for the past decade and is now taking up the sport himself, at the ripe age of 31.

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    The Crowd Says (21)

    • June 14th 2013 @ 9:05am
      Burwood said | June 14th 2013 @ 9:05am | ! Report

      Very interesting, Felix. From what we saw at the Dauphine, Contador has some serious improvement to make up in a month, Froome looked to have him well covered.

    • Roar Guru

      June 14th 2013 @ 9:22am
      Bones506 said | June 14th 2013 @ 9:22am | ! Report

      Funny that everyone has all but written Contador off after a poor TT.

      I certainly haven’t – he is right in my mix for the Yellow jersey.

      I have made several comments on that TT – he said he was a bit unwell but I noticed he was moving around a lot on his saddle and I think he was likley racing on a new setup for the first time given Spec have only recently released a new ‘full blood flow’ saddle in the aero position. Watch him in prior TT’s and he is very smooth and consistent. He looked anything but at Dauphine TT.

      He may well have trained on it a couple of times but I am highly confident this was his first hit out in a race. Micro changes to setup can have very damaging consequences when you are not used to them.

      Contador will have very good support from Rogers and Sorenson as well. Rogers is a product of Sky and will be well informed at the tempo and FTP that the Sky boys can hold. Rogers is able to match this and I expect he will help pace Contador and Sorenson before they try and push off as both are very aggressive in the mountains.

      Froome too has a good attack in the mountains but it is usually a shorter range attack.

      I expect plenty of fireworks in the mountains.

      • June 14th 2013 @ 12:22pm
        Abdu said | June 14th 2013 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

        Bertie was wiggling like a fish on the saddle in that ITT Bones, Keeno spotted it but no one has elaborated. With that much wiggling he’s going to struggle getting any power down, hence why Richie literally pulled his pants down on that ride.

        Rogers was 3rd in the Dauphine last year and rode a very strong Tour at Sky. This year he was going ok before struggling in the ITT, and Bertie dropping back to wait for him was a very good psychological move. Bertie’s guaranteed support, plus able to argue that he wasn’t trying and ‘let Froome win’.

        I just think Froome will crack mentally and won’t be able to lead the Tour every day, Bertie can and will do so. Once Froome drops a lead, that will be it. Bang gone. Richie will be highest placed Sky rider and podium.

        You heard it here, get your bets on.

    • June 14th 2013 @ 12:24pm
      Abdu said | June 14th 2013 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

      Lots of people are also making judgements without knowing the stages.

      Stage 1 is a sprinters’ stage. so Cav has that. Stage 2 has some decent climbs, as does Stage 3, so Sagan should be able to get into the green early. With Alpe d’huez needing to be climbed twice in one stage (Stage 18), I am doubtful Cav will be able to make it to Paris to take the green jersey…

      • Columnist

        June 14th 2013 @ 5:51pm
        Felix Lowe said | June 14th 2013 @ 5:51pm | ! Report

        You make it sound as if Alpe d’Huez is the most fearsome climb known to man. It isn’t. The organisers wouldn’t have included it twice in one day if they thought half the pack would finish outside the time limit. Since establishing himself, Cav has never failed to make it to Paris – and has a remarkable record on the Champs Elysees (four in four). The question is more whether he’ll arrive in Paris in green than whether he’ll arrive at all.

        • June 14th 2013 @ 9:20pm
          ed said | June 14th 2013 @ 9:20pm | ! Report

          I think in 2011 on the alp dhuez stage the grupetto, including Cavendish, finished outside the time limit but they were reinstated.

      • Roar Guru

        June 14th 2013 @ 7:19pm
        Bones506 said | June 14th 2013 @ 7:19pm | ! Report

        Following from Felix’s comments – Cav has made it to Paris every time (excpet for his first ever Tour I believe – which is common).

        Furter to that – if he can get over the Giro climbs – which he did – e will be good to go at TDF.

        I fully expect Cav tobe there in paris nd he has an entire team to help get him there. They carry his water bottles for im if and when they have to.

        • June 15th 2013 @ 10:58am
          Frank Spinetti said | June 15th 2013 @ 10:58am | ! Report

          Almost,

          Cavendish took part when the race began in the Smoke in 2007. He crashed a bit, in the year when McEwen won that stage in Canterbury.

          Cavendish dropped out in that year and then again in 2008, in preparation for the Olympics in which he and Wiggles failed to win the Madison.

          Since 2009, he has always reached Paris, winning every time.

    • Roar Guru

      June 14th 2013 @ 3:41pm
      Wal said | June 14th 2013 @ 3:41pm | ! Report

      With Dauphine only one month out from Le Tour, it is a rarity to win both and is often not a great guide of form other than to highlight those that are heading in the right direction.
      A Lot of the riders will be in the Full intensity cycle of their training and won’t have tapered at all going into the Dauphine, Cadel would fit into this based on his late start to the season.
      A months recovery will help some and hinder others, great article below on the links between the 2 tours

      http://autobus.cyclingnews.com/road/2008/jun08/dauphinelibere08/?id=/features/2008/dauphine_tour08

      • Columnist

        June 14th 2013 @ 5:55pm
        Felix Lowe said | June 14th 2013 @ 5:55pm | ! Report

        Nice article – but it’s dated 2008. Since it was written, you can’t deny the link between the two races. Contador was 3rd in Dauphine in 2009 and won the Tour. He was 2nd the next year and won the Tour (before the sanctions). Wiggo won Dauphine in 2011, with Evans second. Evans won the Tour after Wiggo crashed out. Wiggins won both races in 2012. Seems a pretty good guide to form judging by these results!

    • Roar Guru

      June 15th 2013 @ 1:37am
      Tom Fish said | June 15th 2013 @ 1:37am | ! Report

      I still think Contador will come good for the last week. He surprised Rodriguez on a medium mountain stage in the Vuelta last year, and I expect he’ll find a similar stage to take Sky by surprise in the Tour, especially if his attacks on the major mountains aren’t coming to much.

    • June 15th 2013 @ 1:51am
      Rob Wright said | June 15th 2013 @ 1:51am | ! Report

      Sean Kelly certainly knows his stuff. I have thought and hoped for some time that Contador will win. Though last year’s Tour ended with a pleasing result, Team Sky killed the racing, and the Vuelta made me remember what a wonderful, exciting sport it is.
      Good luck Alberto.

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