This year’s Tour de France course seems to have been designed to make it difficult for either Wiggins or Froom to win. With just one time trial, there are few other opportunities to take time away from the less powerful bird-like mountain specialists such as Contador and Nibali, the king of descending. Nibali has got some form at time trials, but has also lost up to two minutes in the past.
Looking at the stick-like Froom (pictured right), it seems inevitable, in hindsight, that something would snap. Stage 4, the one with the cobbles, was just waiting to break him. It’s ironic, of course, that he was out of the race before even reaching the cobbles, but then steering round corners in the wet is hard enough with two hands, let alone one. It was the day before, when he injured his left wrist, that did for him. No way was he going to survive the cobbles with one hand only loosely holding the bars. If I’d been him I might have thrown myself off before reaching them, too.
Stage 4 had the same effect as a time trial: creating time gaps that might last till the end of the race, or which will encourage exciting attacks in the mountains. Better than a second time trial, it benefited a different type of rider, making this years TdF course fairer overall than one with two time trials and a team time trial, as races in the past have had.
This year there seem already to have been a good number of flat stages, and the cobbles, and three mountain ranges to come. It’s a good mix.
I thought the opening two days in Yorkshire looked great, whereas London, like all big conurbations, just doesn’t really suit cycling because of all the street furniture, tall buildings etc.. But the crowds were impressive, and good on them for being willing to stand at the side of the road for such a long time. Cycling is a sport that takes some getting into, not as easy to understand as a sport involving just two teams and a couple of goals/baskets. To get that it’s both a team and an individual sport, and that winning a stage is Quite a Big Thing, even if you don’t win the overall race, is one thing. To get that there are different types of specialist rider and that teams work to help their leader or their sprinter at different times is another. Because of the shocking neglect of road racing in Britain over the years (basically, cycling clubs were never allowed to run proper road races and had to confine themselves to time trials and hill climbs), it has taken quite a long time (since the 2008 Olympics) for the British public to start getting road racing.
Anyway, the Nibbler (not his actual nickname, just a gift from me) had a good first week, but no eventual winner wants to be in yellow so soon. Who knows, though? His rivals are literally falling by the wayside, and very few people are left to challenge him.