Five months have passed since Rohan Dennis abandoned the Tour de France in mysterious circumstances, climbing off the bike seemingly without cause during stage 12, the day before the race’s major time trial.
If, as numerous commentators say, the real Tour starts tonight, then I shudder to think at what’s about to happen.
Are we about to see more horrific crashes or just even more dramatic racing?
Thirteen riders failed to make it through to the first rest day, three of them from Orica-GreenEDGE.
And if you’ve ever seen a crash more spectacularly bad than the Stage 3, 76km/h mash-up that ended Fabian Cancellara’s Tour, I’d like to know about it.
The Tour resumes tonight and Stage 10 finds the peloton 800 kilometres south of where the Teams Time Trial ended in Plumelec.
This is the first of three days in the Pyrenees, three days of summit finishes.
Tonight it’s 167 kilometres from Tarbes to La Pierre-Saint-Martin with a 15.3-kilometre schlep at 7.4 per cent to end the stage.
Tomorrow the Tourmalet is on the menu before the final climb up Cauterets (6.4km at 5%) and on Thursday, Plateau de Beille (15.8km at 7.9%).
The race could look completely different by then.
Recent history suggests that Chris Froome, barring illness or an accident, is unlikely to lose his race lead between now and Paris.
Last year, Vincenzo Nibali kept the maillot jaune for all but one day after claiming it on Stage 2. In 2013, Chris Froome was unchallenged after Stage 8, and in 2012, Bradley Wiggins held Yellow from Stage 7.
But that doesn’t mean Froome won’t be challenged.
Despite a poor first nine days, the defending champion Vincenzo Nibali says he’s relatively unconcerned at his 2:22 deficit.
“I don’t think I’ve found the right form just yet but I’m still confident for what might happen now,” he said.
“Now the Tour of the climbers starts and I’m confident.”
Nairo Quintana is next ‘worst’ placed, trailing Froome by 1:59, but he feels there’s plenty of time to make up the difference.
“It’s clear that we (Froome, Nibali, Contador and Quintana) are four favourites, but I knew Froome would be very strong as he’s been demonstrating. I think he is the strongest right now,” Quintana said.
“I hope that little by little we can recover that time. Today we’ve picked up a bit on some rivals. In the mountains, we have to try to make up some more.”
Alberto Contador doesn’t look at his best either and may never reach his peak in this Tour after what he expended at the Giro.
“We’ll see how everyone is in the mountains. I believe that a lot is still to happen in this Tour and everybody will have bad days. Hopefully we will have none,” he said.
That leaves the man no one really considered, Tejay van Garderen, who demands some attention and some respect.
Van Garderen is just 12 seconds in arrears and was flying under the radar as much as possible until the Team Time Trial. Not now though.
As we saw with Cadel Evans in 2011, BMC has been tactically flawless and the team oozes quiet confidence.
And not having yellow allows them to keep going as they have been. That said, Van Garderen was disappointed at not claiming yellow after Stage 9.
“It’s all about momentum. I think we gained a lot of momentum in this first week,” he said.
“In a perfect world we would’ve taken the stage and the yellow jersey but we’ll take the stage.”
Surely though, with so much of the race left, the pressure of defending it is best left to someone else.
It’s just a matter of Van Garderen not letting Froome out of his sight, which he managed pretty well, but not enough to stop Froome winning the Dauphine.
Of the rest, the best placed is someone who Tour TV commentator Paul Sherwen has talked up on a regular basis.
Sherwen is closely watching Rigoberto Uran, and given how well Etixx-Quickstep have done thus far, then why not give him an outside chance? Like BMC, and not discounting the demise of Tony Martin, they’ve had a great week.
With two consecutive second places at the Giro (2013-2014), Uran knows what’s needed to succeed at Grand Tour level. He sits in sixth sport at 1:18 but does the Colombian have enough riders to support him in the high mountains?
A couple of days ago I wrote about how well Andre Greipel was doing in the green jersey competition, albeit with only a slender lead over three-consecutive-time winner Peter Sagan.
Well Sagan is back in the jersey, just three points ahead of Greipel with Mark Cavendish another 51 points adrift.
Given how few chances there remain for sprinters, Sagan deserves to be favourite, but Greipel has had a good taste of green now and won’t just roll over because the roads are about to get a little steep. The intermediate sprints will be fascinating.
Richie Porte finally confirmed what even he said is the worst kept secret in cycling, by announcing his departure from Sky at the end of the season. The experts will have you believe Porte is headed for BMC, but unless a deal is already sealed, how can it be that cut and dried?
Could BMC not be the best move for Porte?
If Van Garderen was to reach the Tour podium, or even win the race, it would only confirm his role as team leader. If so, how would Porte joining them be any different to staying at Sky under Froome?
Clearly Orica-GreenEDGE doesn’t have a Grand Tour GC rider, but that goes for a number of teams. Richie knows what he has to do to help Froome win his second Tour, but Porte also knows that the better he does the better his bargaining power.
But regardless of what happens between now and Paris, the race will be as much remembered for the terrible diagnosis confronting Tinkoff Saxo veteran Ivan Basso, who left the Tour overnight to fight testicular cancer.
Best of luck, Ivan, the cycling world is thinking of you.