By David Hunter
The 2014 Contador is back to his very best. He has competed in 5 races this season:-
Volta ao Algarve – 2nd
Catalunya – 2nd
Pais Vasco – 1st
Dauphine – 2nd
This has been an amazing start to the season and crucially he has already beaten Froome in Catalunya and the Dauphine. He arrives with a very strong team: Kreuziger, Rogers, Roche, Hernandez and Nicki Sorensen are all expected to feature.
Chris Froome’s season has not gone according to plan. He started off very well in Oman, taking the overall victory, but illness has hampered him throughout the whole season. Despite this he won in Romandie, but not against Contador. At the Dauphine, he gave it his all to break Contador, on stage 2, but he failed. Contador then put him to the sword, on stages 7 and 8. He did crash earlier in the race, that is one reason to explain his poor performance.
Vincenzo Nibali was brilliant in 2013, winning the Giro and taking 2nd place in the Vuelta. He’s had a horrible 2014! 21st in Paris-Nice, a disappointing Classics campaign, 5th in Romandie and 7th in the Dauphine. There will be nowhere to hide, for the Italian, and I have massive doubts about his capability to challenge the big 2.
Alejandro Valverde has been one of the sensations this year. He won 3 stages and the GC in Ruta del Sol, putting Richie Porte firmly in his place. Then came 1 day success in Murcia, Roma Maxima and GP Miguel Indurain. He was 5th in Pais Vasco, due to a dodgy TT, before an excellent Classics campaign: 4th in Amstel, 1st in Fleche and 2nd in LBL. He just claimed 2nd place in Route du Sud. The Spaniard looks in better shape to challenge the big 2, than Nibali. He was 8th last year, due to losing 10 minutes in the crosswinds, and wants to get revenge.
Stage 5 is a massive concern for the GC riders. This should be where Valverde tries to make some serious time on his rivals. Froome will be relying on Geraint Thomas to guide him through the stage and Contador will have Bennati. I expect Valverde to take at least a minute on this stage.
Stage 8 looks like another made for Valverde, finishing on a cat 3 climb. It’s 1.8km at 10.3% and is perfect for his explosive style. He won’t make big time on his rivals, but could walk away with the stage and a handful of seconds.
Stage 10 sees the race return to La Planche des Belles Filles, where Froome won his first tour stage back in 2012. It’s 5.9km at 8.5%, but has a 20% ramp at the end of the climb. This seems perfect for Froome.
Stage 13 sees the first of the proper mountaintop finishes, with a 18.2km climb at 7.3%. The gradient is constantly changing and it will be a very difficult stage for the riders. This should be the first big battle between Froome and Contador, with Contador looking more likely to come out on top.
Stage 14 returns to another climb Chris Froome knows well. He was 2nd here in the 2013 Dauphine, behind De Marchi. It’s 12.6km at 6.9%, so only a cat 1. We could see gaps but more likely the riders will try to keep their powder dry for the final week.
Stage 17 will be a crazy day. It’s only 124.5km but features 3 cat 1 climbs and an HC finish. Expect fireworks from the start and GC riders being isolated. The final climb is 10.2km at 8.3%, it has a very difficult opening and the winner of the race will emerge victorious from the stage.
Stage 18 is just as brutal as 17, featuring the Tourmalet and the finish in Hautacam. The final climb is 13.6km at 7.8%, with many sections over 10%. The race could already be over and this might be a day for the break.
The race for the yellow jersey will probably be over before we reach the 54km ITT on stage 20, but it will help to decide the podium and top 10. A long challenging ITT, if you are tired and losing form, this will be a bad day at the office.
I think that Alberto Contador will take the GC crown. Back to his best, no one can cope with his accelerations. He also has the strongest team, so it could be a long 3 weeks for Team Sky and Chris Froome.
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