In the early hours tomorrow morning, the final Grand Tour of the cycling season begins with the 76th Vuelta a España and the battle for the maillot rojo (red jersey).
Je ne sais qoui is a French term that is generally used to define a certain undefinable quality that makes something or someone special, unique, pleasing or interesting.
In plain French it translates as ‘I don’t know what,’ and it might be time we started to use it in this sense when we talk about the French teams and riders at the Tour de France, perhaps in the sense of ‘I don’t know what the **** is wrong with French cycling.’
Of the four men who have won the Tour 5 times, two are French, Jaques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault. Of the nations that have won the Tour, the French top the list with 36 General Classification wins spread among 21 riders. These numbers far exceed those of the second nation, Belgium, which has 18 wins shared among 10 riders.
However, since Hinault won the Tour with his brilliant La Vie Claire team in 1985, no Frenchman has stood on top of the podium since. Jean-Francois Bernard was heralded as Hinault’s successor and he did have a decent career with 52 victories and a third place at the 1987 Tour, but he never hit the heights he was expected to.
In many ways, Bernard is typical of French riders ever since Hinault. Lots of talent, lots of support, and eventually just not good enough.
France will have five teams at this year’s Tour, with Cofidis, Europcar, FDJ, Bretagne-Seche and Ag2R, yet none will be taking a bonafide GC rider to the party. Cofidis have Dani Navarro and Europcar have perhaps the best French hope in Pierre Roland, but both will be better bets for a stage win or a KOM win.
Stage wins on the flatter terrain will be harder to come by as Nacer Bouhanni isn’t selected for the team (reports state he’s leaving at the end of the year), so one has to wonder what the French will come away with. Another disappointing Tour de France looks on the cards for the host nation.
Kreuziger’s blood troubles a negative for Contador
Timing, they say, is everything, and Christopher Froome and Dave Brailsford will probably be in agreement with that.
As news broke that Tinkoff-Saxo’s Roman Kreuziger has been placed under investigation by the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CAFD) after they say they found anomalies in his biological passport between 2011 and 2012 and that Kreuziger had been pulled from the Tour team, the Sky men must have cast a knowing look towards one another.
You can read anywhere the ins and outs of Kreuziger’s case to date, but where I think he must be commended – and indeed his team, and I never thought I’d say that of a team run by Tinkoff and Riis – is that (as far as we know) the decision to pull the rider from the Tour until the case has been concluded came from them.
The cynical among us might claim that the decision was made because either there’s more information to come out soon that might make things worse for the rider, or because if he were to compete and aid Contador in his bid to win, the Spaniard’s victory would then be tainted.
Perhaps though he and his team are doing the right thing and wish not to drag the cycling through the mud anymore than it already has been. That would obviously be a first in the history of the sport, but you never know.
We can dream. A bit.
One thing is certain, Alberto Contador’s challenge has taken a blow. Rafal Majka will replace Kreuziger but he might not be fresh after riding the Giro, where he managed a very decent sixth on the GC, nor does he have Kreuziger’s experience.
The team management might have messed up in the first place in not selecting Majka for the Tour instead of the Giro. The young rider may have ridden well there but with Team Sky capable of turning up with such a strong team, any rider hoping to take on Froome surely should be arriving with the strongest team they can muster.
Majka was initially not happy about the news though, saying he had not recovered from the Giro and going so far as to question whether the team has any concern for his health. He changed his tune later though, but his initial reaction might be close to a truth or two.
For Tinkoff, this Tour is huge. He wants the win.
Froome will kick Conty’s backside in the TT
How can I be so sure?
Have a look at the Froome/contador head to head in time trials over the past two years.
So far it is 5-0 to Froome.
In the 2013 Tirreno-Adriatico, Froome beat Contador by 15 seconds over 9.2 kilometres.
In that year’s Criterium Dauphine, a 32.5km TT, Froome beat the Spaniard by 2 minutes 45 seconds.
On Stage 11’stime trialin the 2013 Tour de France, Contador ceded 2 minutes 3 seconds to Froome over 33km, then on Stage 17 lost 9 seconds over 32 km.
Finally, this year at the Criterium du Dauphine, Froome beat Contador by 8 seconds over 10.4km.
Add all this up and Froome is 5 minutes 20 seconds faster over 107.9km, making him 3 seconds faster over one kilometre.
Fascinating stuff, which all means that on the Stage 20, which is 54km, Contador will, on past evidence, be looking at losing over a minute to the Briton.
Contador will know this and will have to put time into Froome wherever he can. He’ll need a minute thirty to make the GC win a possibility, somewhere around or over two to make it a formality.
Otherwise, the yellow jersey will be Froome’s.