After two days in the mountains and the first time trial, this Tour is finally taking shape, and it’s looking like it’s going to be Bradley Wiggins’ race to lose. He’s often said how Miguel Indurain was his hero, and watching the Spaniard’s performances in the 90s were his inspiration to become a cyclist, and this was an Indurain style performance. He used the time trials to assert his superiority and demoralise his opponents, and that was exactly what Wiggins did yesterday. I’d expected that he’d gain time on all his rivals, but that it was likely to be a Cancellara stage win because of the exertions the leaders had put in over the last couple of days. I was close, but with today being a rest day, the favourites obviously decided to throw everything in and use the chance to recover afterwards.
There’s very little to say about Wiggins’ and Froome’s performance that isn’t just a list of superlatives, though Froome’s time yesterday is confirmation that his Vuelta performance last year wasn’t a fluke. There’s lots of speculation about how he could attack Wiggins and maybe win the Tour for himself, but I strongly doubt that will happen. Cycling’s a team game, and he knew what position he’d be in when he renewed his Sky contract last year after the Vuelta. Given how organised and fond of plans Dave Brailsford and British Cycling are, I suspect the plan is for Wiggins this year, and then Froome takes over as team leader from next season. I think Froome’s capable of winning multiple Grand Tours in his career, perhaps even starting with this year’s Vuelta.
Some of the real interest comes from looking at the performances behind them, and I think the rider in the best position to challenge the Sky duo after yesterday isn’t Evans, but rather Vincenzo Nibali. I think he’s the bigger threat in the mountains, as he’s got a stronger team and is more able to launch the longer attacks that could eat up significant time. While a lot of people have focused on his descending skills and the possibility of gaining time there, it’s going to need major attacks to not just take back the current time difference, but build a cushion that can survive the final time trial. Sky will be closely watching for any Liquigas riders trying to get up the road on mountain stages, where they could provide support for a Nibali break.
The other possibility is the challengers uniting to try and wear down Sky together with Van Den Broeck, Evans, Nibali and the assorted RadioShack riders taking it in turns to attack and seeing who can get away. This is why Sky will be trying to keep the pace high so no one will have the energy to get away.
It’s a rest day today, so no stage preview, but if you want some cycling action, the Tour of Poland begins today. Like the Tour de France, it’s a UCI World Tour event, and helps to show what’s involved in running a leading professional team. Not only do you have to be able to compete in France for three weeks, you have to have a fully resourced and equipped team of eight riders ready to race somewhere else. The teams want the UCI points available in this race for their rankings, and a lot of the riders will be using this for Olympic preparation. Riders who are ‘missing’ from the Tour this year are likely riding in Poland instead, with some big names on the start list – Tom Boonen, Roman Kreuziger and Thor Hushovd are all there.
As for the Tour de France riders, they won’t be putting their feet up today. There’s no racing for them today, but they’ll be doing plenty of recovery riding to stop them seizing up before racing starts again tomorrow, and the leaders will have a lot of media work to do as well. Riders with spare time and only a few months available on their contracts may well spend a lot of their time casually bumping into other team managers if they haven’t got a slot for next year sorted out.