Froome’s rivals falling apart

John Thompson-Mills Columnist

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    That hurts... Chris Froome cracks in tough day, behind Cadel Evans (Image supplied)

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    Debates over team selection at Sky and BMC have ensured anticipation about this year’s Tour de France has rarely dropped below fever pitch.

    But for me it’s been as exciting to just consider the list of rivals assembling to knock Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome off their sky-high perch.

    Yes, the boys in black and blue are a formidable obstacle but looking at the contenders, the battle for podium honours was shaping up to be one of the most memorable ever.

    That’s not the situation now though.

    In the space of a couple of weeks, the cycling gods look to have spoken and entire complexion of the race has changed.

    Chris Froome still has to ride the lap of France but he must be thinking that “all” he has to do is have a trouble-free race and the title is his.

    Especially so when you consider the name that now won’t be on the start line in Corsica.

    Twelve months ago, the top ten for the Tour de France looked like this: Wiggins, Froome (Sky), Nibali (AST), Van den Broek(LOT), van Garderen (BMC), Zubeldia (RSH), Evans (BMC), Rolland (EUR), Brajkovic (AST) and Pinot (FDJ).

    In the Young Riders classification, Kruijswijk (RAB) and Taaramae (COF) placed behind the dominant duo of van Garderen and Pinot.

    What a shame it is then that a number of them won’t be there and others have question marks over their form.

    Wiggins’s cursed Giro campaign cruelled his Tour ambitions with a knee injury the final blow to the debilitating chest infection.

    Vincenzo Nibali made it quite clear some time ago that the Giro would be his preference over the Tour.

    Jurgen Van den Broek will be there but based on his form in the Cirterium de Dauphine (29th on GC), and the Tour de Romandie (7th) he is not in earth-shattering form. You can add to that the illness that’s hit Jelle Vanendert.

    The emerging Belgian climber is suffering from a parasitic infection in his intestine and won’t race the Tour. Given Lotto isn’t blessed with climbers, this will weaken van den Broeck’s ambitions.

    Tejay van Garderen will be absolutely ready again, assuming he emerges unscathed from the Tour de Suisse which like so many races this season is presenting riders with some truly awful weather conditions.

    Of course, van Garderen does have to sort out who between him and Cadel assumes team leader status at BMC. Given his Giro podium finish, Cadel will deservedly begin the Tour as BMC’s big cheese, but doubts persist whether ultimately he’ll be able to recover from such a brutal Giro.

    Andy Schleck’s agonisingly slow return to fitness, confidence and form and the absence of Fabian Cancellara must mean that Haimar Zubeldia will be the protected rider for Radioshack Leopard Trek. He finished 14th at the Dauphine but prior to that was only 17th at the Tour of California.

    Schleck looked quite good (at times) in that race (he finished 25th), but hasn’t continued to improve at the Tour de Suisse. Surely can’t be ready to complete a three-week Grand Tour. With Chris Horner also out through injury the Trekkies don’t look likely to pose any kind of threat to Sky.

    Twelve months ago, French hopes of a home Tour podium were starting to look very promising with a number of emerging riders taking the spotlight away from evergreen Thomas Voeckler.

    Voeckler’s Europcar teammate Pierre Rolland was one of those riders but now his immediate future is in question, let alone his participation in the Tour. Low cortisol levels, which would prevent the body fighting inflammation, were detected ahead of stage 7.

    It meant that barely 24 hours later, Rolland had to abandon the final stage after only 20km. Sadly though, it seems Rolland defied team orders to start the stage in the first place and may have now caused a lot more drama for himself.

    Compatriot Thibaut Pinot finished 10th at last year’s Tour de France and after a solid Tour de Romandie (12th) he’s now looking good in the Tour de Suisse, but again he’s not a name to strike fear into a Sky heart.

    The biggest rival to Froome should be Alberto Contador, and while he’ll have a formidable team around him for the big lap, Contador’s mediocre performance in the Time Trial was more than a surprise.

    To blame an allergy may seem plausible, but it seemed a little too convenient. I reckon Contador will be glad there isn’t as much time trailing in this year’s race, but still, Froome is in such great form he won’t need much in the way of gifts to take maximum advantage.

    And the list goes on of those who could be threats but the jury remains out.

    Joaquim Purito Rodriguez managed a modest 16th at the Dauphine but surely must be primed for a serious shot at the podium.

    Failing that, then his teammate Daniel Moreno Fernandez who finished third in the same race might be a good dark horse.

    Euskaltel’s Sammy Sanchez may have also been a challenger too but after surviving the Giro and scoring a stage win in the Dauphine has decided to focus on the Vuelta and the World’s.

    Daniel Navarro Garcia’s fifth at the Dauphine was an excellent result but whether his Cofidis team is strong enough to push him to a similar finish in Paris remains to be seen.

    And while there’s little doubt that the Movistar team will be competitive, (they won four Giro stages), Alejandro Valverde’s ability to go high in the GC will be seriously tested.

    Ryder Hesjedal may have also been a contender, but a nasty crash in the Tour de Suisse looks to have scuppered his ambitions.

    Of course the Tour will throw up a surprise contender or two and we’re yet to see what role “luck” plays in proceedings, but right now, what was a start list befitting the Centenary edition of the Tour is lacking a little.

    Not great news for cycling fans but Chris Froome won’t be complaining.

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    The Crowd Says (37)

    • June 12th 2013 @ 8:51am
      King Kebab said | June 12th 2013 @ 8:51am | ! Report

      Some questions for everyone:

      Can Evans win le Tour this year?? or is he a foregone conclusion??

      Will Gabriel Gate return to the 2013 tour on SBS??

      Is Wiggins a drug cheat?

      Thanks

      King Kebab

      • Roar Guru

        June 12th 2013 @ 11:31am
        HardcorePrawn said | June 12th 2013 @ 11:31am | ! Report

        @King Kebab –
        Where’s the suggestion in this article, or any other, that Wiggins is a drug cheat?

      • June 12th 2013 @ 1:35pm
        Brendon said | June 12th 2013 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

        I very very much doubt Wiggins is a drug cheat

        • Roar Rookie

          June 12th 2013 @ 9:36pm
          Lamby said | June 12th 2013 @ 9:36pm | ! Report

          There is PLENTY of circumstantial evidence:
          – The doctor they have had for the last few years was the same doctor who orchestrated the drug program at Rabbobank. Why would you hire this guy if not to cheat? (He has now left on the zero tolerance policy)
          – Team dominance the likes of which we have not seen since US Postal
          – A number of older riders, after years in the doldrums are suddenly riding up mountains with the best in the world (Rogers, Froome)
          – Froome. Suddenly he is a chance to win the tour. At no stage in his career has he looked anything other than a middle/back of the pack guy – now he is riding away from everyone without trying.
          – In the big mountain stages, you never see the (team) leader surrounded by three or four domestiques. He usually finishes the climb on his own. That wasn’t the case during the big period of EPO

          • Roar Guru

            June 13th 2013 @ 10:02am
            delbeato said | June 13th 2013 @ 10:02am | ! Report

            – Most experienced cycling doctors have been involved in doping – you need to recognise that doping was (and still is to a lesser extent, i’d assume) an integral part of the sport back then. OGE have now taken Matt White back – is that also evidence that OGE have a doping program? I don’t think so, in either case.
            – Sky have just spent up big hiring a bunch of highly talented riders. That they are riding well should not surprise anyone.
            – Both explained by overcoming illness (parasitic worms for Froome, glandular fever for Rogers). Both were serious illnesses that credibly explained their previous, poor form.
            – As above.
            – Sky’s domestiques would be leaders on most other teams. This is explained simply by their large, Murdoch-backed budget.

          • June 13th 2013 @ 10:46pm
            HardcorePrawn said | June 13th 2013 @ 10:46pm | ! Report

            Sorry Lamby, I wouldn’t call that circumstantial evidence at all, that’s just speculation.

            Sky’s budget dwarfs the amounts spent by the other teams so it’s hardly surprising that they’re dominating tours at the moment.

            Just to clarify something: if you suspect that Wiggo is on drugs, on the basis of your “evidence”, and through his association with Sky, does that mean that you also believe that his Sky teammate Richie Porte is using drugs too?

      • June 12th 2013 @ 2:26pm
        nickoldschool said | June 12th 2013 @ 2:26pm | ! Report

        Do people really enjoy Gabriel Gate’s contribution to the Tour de France? Seriously?

        • Roar Guru

          June 12th 2013 @ 3:05pm
          HardcorePrawn said | June 12th 2013 @ 3:05pm | ! Report

          Sorry Nick, it’s a rare day when we disagree, but I enjoy Gabriel Gate’s segments.

          I like to see a bit of local insight and flavour (no pun intended) prior to the race; Gabriel’s strolls around markets and cafes, before preparing a local dish are great examples of that.
          There was also a stage in last year’s tour where Mike Tomalaris and the rest presented the pre-amble from Brive’s stadium, and discussed how popular rugby is in France’s South-West. Interesting stuff I thought.

          If it’s not at the expense of the actual cycling then I’m all for it.

          • June 12th 2013 @ 4:29pm
            nickoldschool said | June 12th 2013 @ 4:29pm | ! Report

            No worries at all mate!

            Tbh I just feel he is trying too hard to show he is french. I wouldn’t mind the markets, village strolls etc if there was not so much stereotypical ‘frenchness’ in the segment. The ‘bonjour, Bon appetit, a demain ‘ etc are just a bit too much for me. But it’s part of the folklore And TdF experience I guess so all good!

            • Roar Guru

              June 13th 2013 @ 9:49am
              delbeato said | June 13th 2013 @ 9:49am | ! Report

              Gaby is actually my uncle. He is as Aussie as the next bloke in many ways, but he also grew up in France and has built a career on sharing French cuisine and also culture with Aussies. I imagine French people would think we’re ‘stereotypical Aussies’. The French are in general, fiercely proud of their culture. Once you get over the xenophobia that seems to cause many people (not accusing anyone here) to take that as a threat, I find French (and other) cultures quite interesting.

              Anyway, he’ll definitely be back for this year’s Tour. The show has quite a following.

              • June 13th 2013 @ 11:29am
                King Kebab said | June 13th 2013 @ 11:29am | ! Report

                AWESOME! GABRIEL IS A LEGEND!!!!

                (ring ring)

            • June 13th 2013 @ 11:32am
              King Kebab said | June 13th 2013 @ 11:32am | ! Report

              Nick, it IS the tour de france not the tour de Campelltown

              Open your mind to new cultures and creeds

              Love

              Johnny Rainbow

              • June 13th 2013 @ 11:58am
                nickoldschool said | June 13th 2013 @ 11:58am | ! Report

                Delbeato and king kebab,

                I am French myself, born and bred there and spent 27 years of my life in France before moving to oz over a decade ago. It might explain what I said as I obviously see things differently than you do, which is fair enough. I have nothing personally against GG.

                Thanks for the lecture about opening up to new cultures anyway ( and sarcasm kebab!)

              • Roar Guru

                June 13th 2013 @ 1:37pm
                delbeato said | June 13th 2013 @ 1:37pm | ! Report

                Nick – I didn’t mean to lecture you. No one is forced to enjoy his show of course, but he is a genuine authority on what he speaks about – he’s been a qualified French chef from before a lot of today’s celeb chefs were even born. I’m completely biased of course..

              • June 13th 2013 @ 3:51pm
                nickoldschool said | June 13th 2013 @ 3:51pm | ! Report

                no worries delbeato, no harm done! 🙂

                I actually like the fact most aussies enjoy the segment and dont think its ‘too french’. Thing is, every July, I have ppl greating me with ‘bonjour’, “et voila”, “bon appetit’ etc, so it means its working and i completely understand that. The TdF is selling France very well, its a huge PR coup for the country and we all know that.

                Its just that as a french, i sometimes do find that a bit tiring especially after quite a few years in your country. Plus the questions about “did i wear a beret when i was there, do we often eat rabbit, etc”. I just have to admit its a bit too much for me at times. Imagine an aussie show in France and in french with a lot of “crikey, G’day mate’ and other australiana stuff, maybe as an aussie expat you would find that a bit much at times.

                I love the fact GG is showing french villages, the ‘cuisine du terroir’ etc. I just find the accordion and few french expressions a bit too much but its no big deal and again, in any case, its not against GG the man. They have to make the show for the majority of ppl and they do that fine. It just happens than i am from the same minority so i see things differently. I dont think I was being disrespectful anyway so was a bit surprised that a few roarers jumped and had a go, talking about open mindedness and so on. A bit OTT i would say.

                In any case you can tell your uncle he has a passionate fan club!!! phewwww!!!

              • Roar Guru

                June 13th 2013 @ 5:41pm
                delbeato said | June 13th 2013 @ 5:41pm | ! Report

                No worries Nick. I know what you mean, but one thing I’ve noticed is that subtlety is not something which works well on TV. Personally, I can’t stand most presenters on TV, like the carpenter with ADHD on Better Homes and Gardens, or the “shocking reveal” on a building reality show which is just an ordinary, mild bathroom reno with a missing tap handle. But that’s TV – they need to grab your attention.

              • June 13th 2013 @ 10:49pm
                HardcorePrawn said | June 13th 2013 @ 10:49pm | ! Report

                “the carpenter with ADHD”
                I know exactly what you mean!
                😀

          • June 19th 2013 @ 11:08am
            kid said | June 19th 2013 @ 11:08am | ! Report

            +1

        • June 13th 2013 @ 11:29am
          King Kebab said | June 13th 2013 @ 11:29am | ! Report

          Gabriel Gate is awesome

    • June 12th 2013 @ 9:22am
      Chui said | June 12th 2013 @ 9:22am | ! Report

      I was thinking Richie Porte might come closest to Froome now. What a shame he won’t be allowed to challenge him 🙂

      • June 12th 2013 @ 12:55pm
        midfield general said | June 12th 2013 @ 12:55pm | ! Report

        I don’t know if you saw the last stage of Dauphine …Froome was toying with Porte, soft pedalling to wait for Richie while dropping everybody else.

        • June 12th 2013 @ 7:27pm
          Colin N said | June 12th 2013 @ 7:27pm | ! Report

          He wasn’t toying with Porte, he was trying to pace Porte up and get him the stage win, but he didn’t quite have the legs.

          • Roar Guru

            June 13th 2013 @ 9:10am
            Bones506 said | June 13th 2013 @ 9:10am | ! Report

            I agree with Colin N on this. Froome would not toy with Porte.

            he was trying to pace him but Porte had cooked himself in several stages by winding the screws in towards the end that he simply didn’t have the legs.

            Whilst I am not a massive Froome or Wiggins fan I do have a lot of respect for Sky and how they train and race. It is all about the numbers.

            Each SD knows exactly what he can push out and for how long. Even Gerrans has come out and said they are too dialed into the numbers and that was part of his reason for leaving (not just going to an Aussie team).

            Sky ride Tempo and this is all driven off how long a rider can hold a certain W for how long.

            Porte struggled on the last stage of the Dauphine bc he pushed himself over his FTP in prior stages as in a shorter race you can often afford to do that. He will not do that at the TDF as he won’t get the recovery into his legs.

        • June 14th 2013 @ 4:18pm
          Grover said | June 14th 2013 @ 4:18pm | ! Report

          No, Froome wasn’t toying with Porte, I think he was pacing him up the hill, trying to encourage him to the stage win. You don’t “toy” with your team mates.

    • Roar Guru

      June 12th 2013 @ 11:43am
      HardcorePrawn said | June 12th 2013 @ 11:43am | ! Report

      I’m not convinced by Contador’s chances, I can’t help but think that, since his return from suspension, he looks like he doesn’t want to compete.
      It appears to me almost as if he’d rather keep his head down and stay out of the limelight, almost as an act of contrition, or out of embarrassment (despite him always claiming his innocence).

      I thought that again this weekend when he dropped back to help Rogers on the final climb of the last stage of the Criterium du Dauphine. He could have got the stage win himself, and Rogers had (I think) already dropped out of contention for the podium; it may have been instructions from the car for him to help out, but it certainly got me wondering what his motives are.

      • June 12th 2013 @ 1:38pm
        Brendon said | June 12th 2013 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

        Maybe he’s lacking that little bit extra he used to have, perhaps he needs some red meat to get his Clenbuterol levels up, but then again, Froome didn’t snap a chain, so when was Alberto going to attack?

        Also am I the only one wondering how Andy Schleck has gone downhill so badly, does it coincide with his brother Frank being banned? Am I being to suspicious?

        • June 12th 2013 @ 2:39pm
          nickoldschool said | June 12th 2013 @ 2:39pm | ! Report

          No brendon, you’re not alone, and in my case suspicion isn’t only targeted at Andy. Tbh, these days I just try to enjoy cycling without thinking too much as I realised thinking ‘is he clean?’ was ruining it for me. After 15 years of affairs, trials, suspensions etc, I do not fully trust any rider or team but just try to enjoy what’s on the menu. Not always easy tbh.

          Hardcore, I thought the same when I watched Contador: I didn’t understand why he was trying to save an hypothetical podium for Rogers who was clearly having a bad day?! I though Contador was strong enough to go and get a GC podium himself tbh as he wasn’t too far from Rogers and the others, a bit more than a minute maybe? I assume it was a team strategy but it didn’t pay at the end.

        • June 19th 2013 @ 4:11pm
          Stu said | June 19th 2013 @ 4:11pm | ! Report

          To be fair, Andy Schleck did shatter his pelvis last year and by all accounts that’s a bugger of an injury to come back from. And he has struggled with it, massively.

    • June 12th 2013 @ 6:50pm
      Tony Meadows said | June 12th 2013 @ 6:50pm | ! Report

      Not all teams have announced their riders yet so some speculation is in order.
      Subject to selection then I offer three riders who could suprise Froome.
      Firstly FULSANG,he’s showing strong improvement this year and is riding for a strong team,Astana,which will surely have ambitious intentions.
      Second I believe BETANCUR will will threaten anyone in the mountains.Just how good is he already?May be a year too early for him to win but watch him.
      Lastly and mayby he wont even compete but I think URAN could be so close to Froome should he faulter that his oppertunity could……..just could…. present itself ,in which case I believe he is good enough and would sieze his chance.
      Other than these three spéculations I have a strong fancy for Van Garderen to threaten.

      • Columnist

        June 12th 2013 @ 7:57pm
        John Thompson-Mills said | June 12th 2013 @ 7:57pm | ! Report

        I like your thinking Tony. Betancur is one I didn’t mention. Partly because, yes, he is young, so maybe a smoky for the White jersey, IF he hasn’t been too smashed by the Giro. Re Uran, he may have to wait for both Froome and Porte to falter before getting chance. It’s hard to imagine both of them struggling though. As as for Fuglsang, he looks impressive and despite Nibali not riding, Astana could have a few cards to play. Thanks for contributing.

      • Roar Guru

        June 13th 2013 @ 9:03am
        Bones506 said | June 13th 2013 @ 9:03am | ! Report

        SOme good names to throw into the mix. Betancur is probably a year or two off the podium but Fulsang for sure.

        It will take a team effort to knock Sky around.

        I am not writing Contador off. He is a big game day player and whilst hi TT was poor he looked very uncomfortable and was movin around on his rig a lot so I wonder if he was racing on a slightly new set up for the first time.

        I would have Porte up there. The one thing that will impact him is he will be the pace setter on the climbs.

        You will notice that when Rohan Dennis got dropped on he climb the day after he moved into Yellow at Dauphine it was Porte who was winding the screws into everyone with Froome just siting in.

        Sky will follow the same tactic as last year. Out time ito the TT’s and defend their position in the mountains by controllng the tempo at the front of the peleton. As the stage finsihs they simply wind the screws in (Porte and Uran will be the key instiogators) and Froomewill look to push away if and when he can. Froom will not sit in like Wiggins the entire time.

    • Roar Rookie

      June 12th 2013 @ 10:32pm
      Justin Curran said | June 12th 2013 @ 10:32pm | ! Report

      I hear what you’re saying John. This race would be looking a lot more interesting if Nibali and Wiggins were riding. I must say I was kind of looking forward to the Sky soap opera playing out in July but alas, it is not to be. I am also disappointed in Purito’s form. I have been looking forward to Rodriguez racing at the tour, but he looked well off the pace last week, and I fear he doesn’t have the form to be a real threat.

    • Roar Guru

      June 12th 2013 @ 10:37pm
      Tom Fish said | June 12th 2013 @ 10:37pm | ! Report

      I really think Fuglsang would be a good bet for the podium, I think because he hasn’t challenged seriously before in a Grand Tour he won’t be marked as seriously as the others, and the strength of Astana can’t be disputed after their performance at the Giro.

      • June 13th 2013 @ 12:02am
        John thompson-mills said | June 13th 2013 @ 12:02am | ! Report

        Astana were in another league at the giro but what is their best team? they have picked completely different riders for the giro, dauphine and tour de Suisse. Only Tanel kangert raced in the giro & td Suisse. Everyone else has only raced once. Can’t say I know what their best tdf 9 is given nibali won’t be there.

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