Chris Froome primed for fifth title and other key questions ahead of the second week of Tour de France

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There has been no shortage of drama in the first week of the Tour de France with sprint battles between young and old, struggles along the cobbles to Roubaix, Chris Froome yet to show his sharpness and Peter Sagan shining in the green jersey once again after two stage wins.

Here, we take a look at five key questions ahead of the second week of the race.

Who is in the battle for the yellow jersey?

Greg van Avermaet is in control of the yellow jersey, holding a 43-second lead over Geraint Thomas, but with the mountain stages of the Tour kicking into gear on Tuesday, the Belgian is likely to drop down the overall classifications.

Philippe Gilbert, Bob Jungels and Alejandro Valverde complete the top five, with defending champion Chris Froome sitting in eighth – 1 minute and 43 seconds behind van Avermaet.

At this early stage of the Tour, the General Classification is misleading with many of the riders set to suffer in the mountains this week, providing an opportunity for the likes of Thomas, Froome, Nairo Quintana, Vincenzo Nibali and Tom Dumoulin to show their true climbing potential.

With Thomas in a great overall position, Team Sky have two GC options as we gear up for a pivotal week of the Tour.

Is Froome primed for a fifth Tour de France title?

Froome is still the overwhelming favourite to lift a fifth title, however we have seen little signs of his sharpness yet on the relatively flat stages of the first week.

A crash on the opening stage in Fontenay-le-Comte could have been a lot worse, but there is no doubt that he will peak in time for the gruelling climbs over the next two weeks.

The 33-year-old is eighth in the GC, but his work really only starts from Tuesday when the Team Sky star tackles the tough route from Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand.

Sagan is the man but who are the new sprinters shining?

Coming into this year’s Tour, Peter Sagan had won the green jersey in five out of the last six Tours – and will most likely seal it for a sixth time later this month.

But Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish – with a mammoth 44 stage wins between them – were also expected to challenge the Slovakian but both have made little impact so far.

In their absence of form, Fernando Gaviria and Dylan Groenewegen have emerged as rising stars – with two stage wins each and the potential to be threats in the years to come.

Colombian Gaviria – at 23 – looks like a real gem to contend at future Grand Tours.

Will we see the cobble stages in future Tours?

A great watch for fans, but not for the peloton. Stage nine to Roubaix served the Tour too much risk of injury for the riders, with the demanding cobble sections of the route causing GC riders to suffer mechanical issues on the surface.

Froome, Thomas, Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran all suffered falls and loss of time during the stage, with GC contender Richie Porte forced to withdraw from the race due to a broken collar bone.

The Tour officials need to realise it’s a three-week, 21-stage race, not a one-stage race that places riders in often chaotic circumstances.

Implementing cobble sections into a stage is a step too far for future Tours, with only 50 per cent of the riders having little to no experience in navigating these dangerous conditions.

A definite review needs to conducted before the 2019 route is confirmed.

Is this the end of Mark Cavendish?

It sounds like a harsh thing to say that we are seeing signs of the demise of a man who has sprinted to 30 Tour de France stage wins.

But in truth, it has been a torrid week for the 33-year-old Manxman. His Dimension Data team isn’t firing and he looks to have lost that old edge we are so used to seeing light up Tour de France sprints.

There was signs of life in his legs in stage seven (10th) and stage eight (eighth) when he challenged for the win but faded in the final metres.

It is clear the ambition is still there, but with only 34 days of racing this year due to injury, his preparation for Le Tour hasn’t been ideal.

Every year he is a year older, so it is unlikely he will beat Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 stage wins with the emergence of younger, quicker riders likes Groenewegen, Gaviria and Caleb Ewan coming through.

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Team Sky could have a real problem if Geraint Thomas takes yellow jersey, says Bradley Wiggins

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Sir Bradley Wiggins has claimed Team Sky will have a “real problem on their hands” if Geraint Thomas takes the yellow jersey in the Tour de France ahead of Chris Froome.

Thomas sits second to Greg Van Avermaet in the general classification after nine stages, 43 seconds off yellow and 59 seconds ahead of Froome as the race heads towards the Alps.

Though Sky have insisted Froome remains the team leader, Thomas has been given licence to race for himself through the first part of the Tour and 2012 winner Wiggins foresees trouble if he remains ahead.

“This is where it gets difficult, as we hit first mountain stage,” the ex-Sky rider said on Eurosport’s The Bradley Wiggins Show. “If Geraint stays where he is and takes the yellow jersey, they’ve got a real problem on their hands.”

Wiggins said that Sir Dave Brailsford would be “in the ears” of both riders telling them they can win the Tour in order to keep them motivated, suggesting the team principal can be “divisive” and “self-serving” at such times.

“Does Dave B come in and do his usual and be quite divisive and get in each other’s ear and kind of keep them both motivated for the same goal and there be a natural selection?

“Dave will certainly be in both of their ears and be telling them they can both win it, as a way of motivating them, as a way of playing these cards deep in to the race and let the natural selections come in to play.”

Wiggins added of Brailsford: “He’s quite self-serving. For him, it’s about the team winning – it’s not about the individuals or the characters. He will always be in those riders’ ears constantly, and he has been up till now as you can see.”

Speaking after a rest day training ride on Monday, Froome and Thomas downplayed the situation.

“I think the race, as always, will decide (leadership),” Froome said. “For us, it’s fantastic to have different cards to play. Movistar have come here with three leading riders (Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde), and with only one GC contender it becomes difficult to cover all three.

“If you look at all the GC riders, ‘G’ is right up there. It’s for other teams to attack us now.”

Thomas added that it was speculative to even discuss it before a single mountain stage.

“I think it’s a bit early to be talking about that,” he said. “Maybe if I’m still right there after Alpe d’Huez (on Thursday), it’s a bit different then. But we haven’t done a proper climb yet. I’m certainly not getting carried away.”

Asked if he had spoken to Froome about it, Thomas said: “We’ve kind of spoken in general about things. And yeah, he’s keen for me to try… If I do have the chance to stay up there, to let me have that, you know? But we’re honest with each other.”

Brailsford was not present at Sky’s media access on Monday.

Riding as his domestique, Froome finished second to Wiggins in 2012, and famously appeared to attack his team leader on La Toussuire on stage 11 before sitting up and waiting for him – a moment interpreted as Froome showing he was strong enough to win on his own.

But Froome rejected any comparison between that race and this.

“He (Thomas) is riding extremely well and, like I said earlier, it just puts us in an even better place,” he said. “It’s a totally different situation (to 2012).”

The Tour will head straight into the mountains after Monday’s rest day, with Tuesday’s stage 10 taking the peloton over four categorised climbs in 158.5km of racing between Annecy and Le Grand-Bornand.

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UAE Team Emirates' stage-by-stage guide to the second week of Tour de France 2018

David Cooper 16/07/2018
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UAE Team Emirates‘ Vegard Stake Laengen analyses the stages that will the peloton will tackle during the second week of the Tour de France.

Stage 10 (Annecy – Le Grand-Bornand)

The first mountain stage of the tour – there is a lot of climbing, but I think someone like Dan Martin could relish that. The last climb, Colombiere, I have done before and it is a really hard one. The final downhill stretch is very technical with lots of twists and turns. The whole day is so hard and I expect there to be no big groups when they start the last climb.

Stage 11 (Albertville – La Rosière)

This is quite a short race, but we could see attacks on the opening climb. Normally when the stage is so short like this, it’s difficult for the breakaway to keep the distance because everyone is going out full gas. It will be an important battleground for the GC guys, but I know that there will be sprinters who will look at this stage and hate it. For them it will be about surviving!

Stage 12 (Bourg-Saint-Maurice Les Arc – Alpe d’Huez)

The Alpe d’Huez is one of the most famous climbs in the Tour de France – but a super hard climb! The stage in general is hard to reserve any energy, with just 20km before the first climb starts. When I look at a stage like this, it could be a good one for the breakaway.

Stage 13 (Bourg d’Oisans – Valence)

We have had a few days in the mountains by this point, so this one is certainly for the sprinters. The teams will group and work together to try and ensure a sprint finish and get the victory. The breakaway might have some opportunities to go, but I can’t look past the sprinters, especially Alexander Kristoff who I think will be so keen to fight for the stage win.

Stage 14 (Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux – Mende)

This route could be a perfect opportunity for the breakaway. If Darwin Atapuma goes with the main group, and can stay with them, we could see a repeat performance of his impressive attempt at victory in last year’s Stage 18.

Stage 15 (Millau – Carcassonne)

It is going to be a tough day at the saddle. The route is up and down, until you come to the finish, where the quicker riders on the downhill could make a break for it. But I know there is a sharp turn going into the final kilometre which could make the race interesting should there be a small group sprinting for the win. Riders will go all out knowing they have a rest day tomorrow.

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