Analysis behind the headlines at the Tour de France.

Words by Edward Pickering and Lionel Birnie in Redon

Monday July 4, 2011

It’s all about the momentum
Cadel Evans has it. So do the Schlecks. Jurgen Van den Broeck had it for a day, but lost it a bit yesterday. And Alberto Contador doesn’t have it at all. The importance of momentum in the Tour de France can’t be underestimated.

When Cycle Sport interviewed Bradley Wiggins for the July edition of the magazine, the Brit talked at length about the difference between the way the 2009 and 2010 Tours worked out.

There were multiple explanations for the comparative failure in 2010 – failure to organise his training, and a failure to take full responsibility for team leadership were big factors. But he also told us about the importance of momentum at the Tour.

In 2009, Wiggins did an excellent time trial in Monaco, then Garmin were second in the team time trial, before he rode up to Arcalis in the Pyrenees in the front group. He told us that the momentum gained on these three days carried him all the way to the Alps in a high overall position, and psychologically strengthened him to hold on to fourth place through some tough mountain stages, all the way to Paris.

Last year, he did a bad Prologue in Rotterdam and did OK on the cobbled stage to Arenberg, before getting dropped on the first Alpine stage to Avoriaz. The momentum wasn’t there.

While many pundits have predicted that the Alps will be crucial, and that the Tour really starts at Luz Ardiden, that’s not to say that the opening week won’t be crucial in its own way. It’s littered with potential pitfalls, and the riders who avoid them all could gain the necessary momentum to gain a significant advantage on their rivals.

The GC of favourites
With 198 riders still in the Tour, it’s difficult to know how the most important riders are doing, when they are separated from each other by several dozen obscure French riders and some extremely difficult-to-pronounce eastern Europeans. Here’s Cycle Sport’s guide to the GC of favourites

1 Cadel Evans
2 Frank Schleck at 3sec
3 Andy Schleck st
4 Bradley Wiggins st
5 Andreas Klöden at 9sec
6 Chris Horner st
7 Levi Leipheimer st
8 Janez Brajkovic st
9 Robert Gesink at 11sec
10 Jurgen Van den Broeck at 38sec
11 Ivan Basso at 56sec
12 Ryder Hesjedal at 1-13
13 Alberto Contador at 1-41
14 Christian Vande Velde at 1-48
15 Roman Kreuziger at 2-20
16 Samuel Sanchez at 2-35

Riders who we’ll start incorporating into our GC of favourites if they persist in hanging around the head of the race:

Jakob Fuglsang at 3sec
Tony Martin at 4sec
Peter Velits at 4sec
Tejay Van Garderen at 4sec

Gilbert for the green
The Belgian champ got it all wrong. Dying his hair blond might be a great source of gossip for conspiracy theorists, and it almost goes well with the yellow jersey.

But shouldn’t the stage one winner be lining himself up for a crack at the green jersey? Given the distance by which he’s been winning uphill finishes this year, and the fact that tomorrow is his birthday, there’s not a bookmaker on Earth who’d give you decent odds on him winning in Mur de Bretagne. (Paddy Power have him at 4/7 with Evans worth an each way at 9-1). The finish at Super Besse is right up Gilbert’s street, and there’s a two kilometre climb before the finish in Lisieux. He’d have to get over a couple of big climbs beforehand, but St Flour also has a kilometre of climbing to the line.

Add in a couple of the bonus sprints which come after climbs (Gilbert’s actually a decent sprinter on the flat as well – he picked up a cheeky seven points in today’s intermediate sprint), and he could carry green all the way to Paris. We’d have to put up with the sight of him dying his hair green for the final stage, but it would be a grand irony if Christian Prudhomme had tweaked the points classification to favour the sprinters, and it went to a Classics specialist like Gilbert.

A first for the Tour?

Thor Hushovd wore the king of the mountains jersey (well, skinsuit) in Sunday’s time trial despite not having scored a point in the competition.

The Tour de France has reshaped the competition this year, seemingly in an attempt to entice the leading general classification riders to target it. The fourth-category climbs offer up a particularly miserly one point to the first rider over the top.

Saturday’s Mont des Alouettes was the only categorised climb and Philippe Gilbert, the stage winner at the top, took the point. That left the organisers with a bit of a conundrum for Sunday’s team time trial.

There was no one to wear the polka-dot jersey. Presumably it would not have pleased Carrefour, the supermarket chain that sponsors the competition, if their jersey and logo had been absent from Sunday’s stage.

With stage one runner-up Cadel Evans ‘borrowing’ the green jersey from Gilbert for the day, ASO decided to give Hushovd, who was third on stage one, the polka dots.

Which makes us ask the question: Is Hushovd the first rider to wear the polka-dot jersey without having scored a single point in the competition? Evans repeated the feat today when he wore the jersey from Olonne-sur-Mer to Redon.

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  • Beth

    You said that Gilbert picked up 7 points at the intermediate sprint: since Hushovd and Cavendish have been stripped off their points, do those points get reapportioned to the guys behind them. BTW, I’m pretty sure it’s “riders WHOM”(direct object of the verb incorporating). Also BTW, I have been following your predictions from the magazine as the race progresses. Mr. Pickering and Mr. McGrath are doing very very well.