By David Hunter
A week has passed since the Giro and now it’s just 4 weeks until the Tour de France. This represents a last “hit-out” for many of the top contenders for Le Tour.
The organisers have decided to rip up the rulebook and completely change the route of the course. The reason, is that the race usually resembles a mini-TDF and as the TDF doesn’t have an ITT, the have decided to follow suit.
We have 8 stages: 1 TTT and 7 other road stages. The road stages are very challenging and only really affords one opportunity for the sprinters. This is a race for the rolleurs and GC contenders.
Stage 1 might only be 131.5km but the Giro has shown, how exciting short stages can be. The rides face a circuit in Albertville, featuring the 1.2km climb of Cote du Villard, at 8.7%. This climb is completed 6 times and will test the legs of the riders. Coming in the opening stage, it will be very interesting to see who wants to control the race.
Stage 2 is a more traditional stage, with a cat 1 and cat 2 climb. The Col du Chat starts immediately and is 2.8km at 6.8%. This will make it a challenge to enter the morning break. The Col de Cuvery is 8.7km at 6.7%. This is a proper test of the climbing legs but as it crests with 100km to go, there is every chance for the sprinters to rejoin the peloton. It really depends on how hard the GC teams want it to be.
Stage 3 features the demanding TTT. Not being the first stage is a novelty and it will be interesting to see what affect this has on the race. The profile is meant to try and mirror the TTT coming up in the tour, but it’s not as hard. On a bad day, it’s possible to lose over 1 minute, a disaster for your GC hopes.
Stage 4 is one for the sprinters. The climbs are nothing special, the final cat 4 climb is 1.3km at 6.7%. Cresting with 12.5km remaining, this should be a bunch sprint. With few sprinters here, it does give a big chance to Nacer Bouhanni.
Stage 5 marks the start of the GC battle. Another short stage, at 161km, but full of climbing. The stage ends with an interesting pair of climbs.
The cat 1, Col d’Allos, is 14km at 5.5%. The opening half is fairly easy but the last half is very challenging. The riders then descend for 16km and hit the final climb of the day. Pra-Loup, is 6km at 5.9%. It should end in an uphill sprint, with both Valverde and Rodriguez, particularly looking forward to this day. The final kilometre of the climb is at 7%. This stage is exactly the same as stage 17 of the Tour.
Stage 6, goes down as “interesting”. The cat 1 climb is little earlier to have a significant impact on the stage, despite being 13.8km long at 5.4%. It is long but the gradient is very consistent and I would be very surprised to see any GC riders getting into trouble. The stage ends with a cat 3 climb, 2.2km at 6.2%.
The final climb is very steep, especially at the kilometre to go sign, where it goes beyond 10%. This is another stage for the Spanish pair, Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde. A win by anyone else, would be a massive surprise.
Stage 7 is one of those, increasing popular, crazy days. Just 155km but 4 cat 1 climbs and a cat 3. Like in 2014, anything can happen during these stages, particularly if we have an attacking race. The end of the race is incredible.
2.7km at 11.2%, 1km of flat, 1km of descent, 1km of 2%, then 7km at 7.7%. The climb to Mont Blanc, gets harder until the end, finishing on 10%. We will see some serious time gaps and the winner of the stage, will probably take the GC.
The final stage is another short one, at 156.5km. It does feature 6 climbs, but is much easier than the previous day. The stage finishes with 8.4km at 5.7%. The cat 2 climb, Lacets de Montvernier, is important for the TDF riders. It features close to the end of stage 18 of the Tour. It’s 3.4km at 8.2%. The placement of the climb means it’s not important, in this race, but the TDF riders will be very interested.
This climbing just isn’t hard enough to see any big gaps and whoever is defending the yellow jersey, should be able to do so. We might even see the break taking this stage.
The start list is very impressive and filled with quality riders. Here are the key riders from each team:-
Cofidis – No GC rider, all about Bouhanni.
MTN – Meintjes, J. J Van Rensburg, Cummings.
AG2R – Peraud, Bardet.
Movistar – Valverde, Intxausti.
Astana – Nibali.
Jumbo – Kelderman.
Trek – Mollema.
Katusha – Rodriguez.
Europcar – Rolland.
BMC – Van Garderen.
Etixx – Alaphilippe.
FDJ – Elissonde, maybe Jeannesson.
IAM – Frank.
Lampre – Rui Costa, Valls.
Lotto – Wellens, Gallopin.
Orica – Adam and Simon Yates.
Cannondale – Talanksy, Dan Martin.
Giant – No GC riders.
Sky – Froome.
Tinkoff – Kiserlovski.
Bora – Nerz, Mendes.
The lack of an ITT, is music to the ears of a number of riders. This race will be settled by climbing ability, but a strong TTT will help.
Most cycling fans will be eagerly anticipating the Froome/Nibali battle. We don’t get too many opportunities to see these two go head-to-head, so this should be special.
So far, in 2015, Froome and Nibali have competed once, in Romandie. Froome was 3rd and Nibali 10th. In 2014, Froome beat Nibali in Oman, Romandie and the Dauphine. He crashed out of the tour, denying us the chance to see if he could have challenged Nibali.
In 2013, Froome beat Nibali in Oman, but Nibali struck back in Tirreno. That is the only time, Nibali has beaten the Englishman in a big stage race, in the last couple of years. He doesn’t usually cope well with Froome’s attacks in the mountains. Remember back to 2012 and Froome destroying him in the tour, whilst working for Wiggins. If Nibali is scared of any rider, Froome would certainly be that man.
2015 started well for Chris Froome. He broke Contador in Andalucia. At that point, all was good for him. Since then, he’s had some illness and a crash. He wasn’t competitive in Catalunya and finished a respectable 3rd in Romandie. However, he needs a big result here. Froome needs to remind everyone that he can challenge Contador for the TDF, especially after Contador won the Giro. Surprisingly, the lack of a long ITT is actually good news. Froome has not looked himself, since the Vuelta, in this discipline. I’m not sure if he’s decided to focus fully on his climbing, due to a similar lack of an ITT in the tour.
Vincenzo Nibali is a funny one. He was out of this world, in the 2014 tour. Before then and since then, nothing! His best result of the season, was 9th in the Queen stage of Romandie. Hardly anything to write home about. 2014 was also poor, but he, at least, finished 5th in Romandie. He then went on to finish 7th in the Dauphine, before his all conquering Tour. Given the recent success of Astana, I think he’ll be ready to deliver a big performance, but you just never know with him.
Battling out the stages with them, will be the normal crew: Valverde, Rodriguez, Van Garderen, Talanksy, Mollema and Dan Martin. Both Spaniards will be happy to see no ITT, something that really increases their chances of winning the overall title. Both are capable of winning a couple of stages and with that comes bonus seconds. Valverde loves this race and has an amazing record here, taking wins in 2008 and 2009. He might be a little rusty, as he hasn’t raced since his brilliant Ardennes campaign: 2 wins and a 2nd place. He is riding the tour for Quintana(I’ll believe it when I see it) and wants to peak for the Vuelta. You can never write him off, as he is always on form, no matter the month or race.
On the other hand, Joaquim Rodriguez, can be a little disappointed with his Ardennes. He was fresh from a great win in Pais Vasco, but only managed 4th and 3rd. This was a surprise, considering his form, but he will be motivated to succeed here. Like Valverde, quite a few stages suit and Katusha always seem capable of a good TTT. Rodriguez is another one to watch in this race.
The Americans are back! Andrew Talanksy, took a quite incredible win, in 2014. He benefited from a Contador/Froome battle to take a landmark win, in his career. This season hasn’t been great, but he did win the American ITT title, last week. His form is picking up but should still be a little off what is required, to defend his title.
Despite winning a stage in Catalunya, Van Garderen, has not had a great season. Another who has been misfortunate, he needs to show some positive signs, before the tour. His team should deliver a very strong TTT and put him in a commanding position, maybe even yellow. That will allow him to defend in the mountains and he’ll be disappointed to not finish on the podium.
Mr. Unlucky himself is here, in Dan Martin. I’m not sure what he’s done wrong, but he certainly gets more than his fair share of bad luck! Another season hampered by crashes, he’ll be hoping for a good week. Now 28, he should be hitting his peak, but he needs to avoid crashes. A strong performance is needed, in the lead-up to the tour.
The race is not just about the old guns, as we have plenty of young talent looking to make a mark. In particular: Meintjes, Bardet, Kelderman and Wellens should all go well. Again, the lack of an ITT will help.
As usual, we have some riders who come here after the Giro. Last year, Wilco Kelderman was 7th in the Giro and 4th in the Dauphine. Just back from altitude training, it would be a surprise to see him match that result, this year. Beñat Intxausti, is looking to continue his good Giro form. He won a stage and was 3rd in the KOM competition, in the Giro, and has a great chance of doing well here.
Most of the GC riders have been spending time at altitude. When returning to racing, you can never be sure, how your body will react. They will be happy the big stages are later in the week. Thus allowing time to ride into some form. Looking through the start list, the strength of the teams is variable.
Team Sky are missing some of their Tour riders. To support Froome, they have: Roche, Poels, Boswell, Deignan, Rowe, Stannard and Kennaugh. This doesn’t look as strong as in previous years but Roche, Poels and Froome have been training together and I would expect to see the three of them at a very high level. Their TTT will certainly miss Thomas and Porte. I don’t see this squad taking that stage.
The TTT will have an impact on the race, but I don’t think it will be decisive. Movistar are bring both Dowsett and Castroviejo, who should help them take time on most teams. Astana and Katusha are consistent in this discipline, but both BMC and Orica will expect to fight for the win and some important GC seconds.
Orica have the Yates twins. Both are incredible talents and after been well looked after, in 2014, I expect big things in 2015. They can play the classic 1-2 and should be able to claim a high finish, on GC. A strong TTT, might even see one of them in yellow.
Chris Froome is here to win. He needs a big performance and the lack of a Quintana or Contador, opens the door to him. Nibali is here but he is very inconsistent, pre-TDF. Froome to take a comfortable win.
Follow us on @CiclismoInter
Join us on facebook: Ciclismo Internacional
Copyright © 2015 Ciclismo Internacional. All Rights Reserved