May 13, 2015

5 Thoughts After 5 Giro Stages

This Giro-Tour double thing is going to be mighty fun, right up until Contador loses... and that might be in the Giro

This would qualify as unexpected. Yes, Alberto Contador is audaciously attempting to win the Giro and the Tour in the same year and nobody has done it since 1998. And Contador's presence makes the Giro more interesting as without him the GC field here would look like 2012, when Ryder Hesjedal won this race of Joaquin Rodriguez in one of the least accomplished GC battles in recent times (the race was entertaining all the way though). Still, the way this has been raced so far, the trials to come and the apparent strength of two rivals means this Giro is going to take far more effort than previously thought. Needless to say, Contador will not accomplish the double. Heck, he might not win either race given he is not nearly the time trial rider he was earlier in his career and there is a very long time trial in this race. And even if Contador wins the Giro, the effort is going to take too much out of him to win the Tour, same as it was in 2011.

We have a 3 man race (maybe 4 if lucky)

Aru, Contador and Porte at the Stage 5 finish (h/t cyclingnews)
Despite my skepticism over the chance of Contador to win the double, he is the race leader after the Stage 5 summit finish at Abetone. Worryingly for Contador, he was unable to drop everyone. Richie Porte and Fabio Aru both stayed with Contador all the way up the mountain whereas everyone else fell off the pace. Aru even stole a few bonus seconds. Contador only leads at this point because his team put in the best team time trial performance on stage 1.

Still, there might as well be crickets after the top three. Nobody else could stay with the top three (the stage was won by a single rider from the breakaway) and most of the outsiders are way off the pace. In fact fourth and fifth place overall are domestiques supporting their leaders higher up the standings (Roman Krueziger supporting Contador and Dario Cataldo supporting Aru). Of the rest, only Rigoberto Uran (2nd the last two years) has any hope remaining and only because the time trial is similar to the long time trial he won at last year's Giro and there is some hope he can find form over the next couple of flat days before the climbing begins again. Everyone else? Done for. The list of accomplishments on GC for men who are leaders but now done is absurd (listed below).

Ryder Hesjedal (won 2012 Giro, top 10 2014 Giro, two Tour de France top-10s) - 6:11 behind
Jurgen Van Den Broeck (two Tour de France top 5s) - 2:27 behind
Przemyslaw Niemiec (top 5 in 2013 Giro) - 5:10 behind
Benat Intxausti (tio 10 and a stage win in 2013 Giro) - 18:10 behind
Igor Anton (crashed out while leading 2010 Vuelta in week 3, won Zoncolan stage in 2011 Giro) - 14:52 behind
Carlos Betancur (top 5 in 2013 Giro) - 15:06 behind
Ilnur Zakarin (won Tour of Romandie two weeks ago) - 25:26 behind

That many in this crew still have a legitimate shot at the top 10 should say something about how dead this race is beyond the top three considering we have raced only five stages.

There might actually be a future in Italian cycling

In recent years, the talk of Italy's cycling future has been doom and gloom. Yes, Vincenzo Nibali is an excellent standard bearer having won all three Grand Tours and Fabio Aru announced his arrival last year and seems poised to finish at least on the podium this year. Still, the classics have gone awful for Italy in recent years as have the World Championships (with Nibali's 4th on home roads in 2013 the only credible victory threat in some time) and double stage winnner a year ago Diego Ulissi tested positive, served a shortened ban and has been awful since his March return to racing.. Further, there is now only one World Tour team left in Italy and the Italian spine that Garmin inherited in the Cannondale merger has seemingly torpedoed all positive results for that team. Needless to say, things have looked bleak in Italy.

Enter the youngsters. For as long as Elia Viviani has been around (his double stage wins at the US Pro Challenge that announced him to American audiences were all the back in 2011), he is still only 26. He finally won his first Grand Tour stage on stage two after years of trying and coming up short (with a succession of seconds and thirds last year in the Giro).

While there has been some expectation on Viviani for some time, the young winner on stage 4 is different. Davide Formolo is just 22 and has zero expectation this season, especially as he is on the horribly underachieving Cannondale-Garmin team. His solo win on stage 4 was impressive. More impressive, following that win by not losing metric tons of time like the outside GC contenders on stage 5. While Formolo did lose 2:32 on the stage, he bested Van Den Broeck, Anton and quite a few others while still recovering from his huge effort to win the day before. He has a bright future.

Orica GreenEdge are doing things right

As someone that writes about cycling and reads a ton about it, one of the big storylines every offseason is will Orica GreenEdge sign a GC leader. The team has never had a credible GC threat since its creation in 2012, but the plan has always been to develop one, not sign one. While working on the development (the Yates brothers have lots of potential), GreenEdge set itself some attainable targets and those expectations have been wildly exceeded.

For the Giro, Orica came with a simple goal: win the Team Time Trial to take the pink jersey and then win while wearing the jersey. If it sounds familiar, it is exactly what happened last year when the team won the Team Time Trial and then won a stage in the pink jersey with Michael Mathews. This year, it is much the same. Orica won the TTT, then got Mathews in position to win Stage 3 in the leaders jersey, which he did. Mission accomplished.

For those who are unaware, Krueziger is currently facing discipline for possible doping during the 2012 Giro. He has been cleared to race by his national federation and is here as a domestique to Alberto Contador. He also sits 4th on GC and is one of the more accomplished GC riders at the race. When he infiltrated the break on stage 4, alarm bells should have been going off. Give Kreuziger six minutes and this race might be as good as over if he is truly in form. At the very least, it makes Contador's life much easier when dealing with Aru and Porte. Instead the team that chased Krueziger (and the other 23 men in that breakaway) was his own, Tinkov-Saxo. Why would his own team chase? A couple of theories:
  • The team is worried about Krueziger's upcoming appearance before the Court of Arbitration for Sport in June. It would be embarrassing to have another Grand Tour wiped off the record books after the fact just as Contador's 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro victories were. Krueziger gaining a big chunk of time in an early breakaway makes him a major contender to win the race outright.
  • The team is all in for Contador and given the Giro-Tour double goal, having teammate Krueziger steal the Giro, no matter how unlikely is a bad thing for team unity, especially when Peter Sagan will need to be supported at the Tour as well. Having Krueziger out front by minutes might also lead to the situation of having teammates attacking each other in the mountains, not something any team wants to have.
  • Krueziger doesn't have the form to do anything significant in the long run. This is the least likely as if he really has no form, leaving him in the break does nothing to hurt you when he blows up in the mountains (and despite the summit finish, there still haven't been any real mountains yet).

Oct 26, 2014

Ballad of a Skybot

May 2013 - SYSTEM MALFUNCTION. SYSTEM MALFUNCTION. Wiggins offline. Wiggins offline. Skybot admin, what do we do?

Skybot admin: No worries. We have Uran. He will do fine. We have Froome. Everything is ok. Do NOT panic. We will still complete the most important objective.

July 2013 - System Happy :) Froome has won the Tour. Even with Wiggins still in a state of malfunction

Admin: See. Nothing to worry about. We have the best rider and the best team. And nothing will stop us from our goal of total Tour domination now or ever going forward.

End of 2013 season - Admin, it pleases me to report that all Skybot systems are up and running. Froome is the Tour champion. Wiggins is back up and running after his malfunction. Porte is poised to conquer the Giro. Yes, Uran is gone, but we have seen his best and it isn't good enough anyway. The rest of the Skybot systems are ready to contribute. Next goal, Classics domination.

Admin: System be careful. Froome was left dangerously unprotected a few times at the Tour. What happens if he is isolated? Wiggins might be online but he isn't what we really want any longer. We've failed in the classics before. We must do better.

System: No worries. You're just paranoid. What changed since the Tour. We won the most important race and finished second with a backup plan at the most important race we didn't win. There is nothing to fear. We lost Rogers and it didn't hurt. Losing Uran won't hurt either. Everything is fine.

Admin: Sure. But don't come crying to me if there are problems. We are still fine but we must be diligent. We can't allow a meltdown the likes of what caused the upgrade from Skybot 1.0 to 2.0 a few years back. Wiggins is offline and repairing himself in a new form. We have no backup plan. It is like it was in 2011. One crash, one meltdown, one bad day, one idiot fighting us can kill us all. Don't you see?

System: Pffffft!

April 2014 - What is happening? We won a classic (not a Monument but Omloop is pretty good) and didn't get embarrassed at Flanders or Roubaix. Happy Dance time.

Admin: Uh. We got embarrassed in the Ardennes...again. We're a stage racing team. Why the hell can't you see we're falling apart. All the other stage race teams are at least visible in the Ardennes. We might as well send 8 guys we're punishing, Spanish team to Roubaix style. System, we're screwed pretty soon here. We don't even have a GC man for the Giro after losing Porte. Come on, can't you see?

System: Don't be such a killjoy. We'll win a stage in the Giro and then win the Tour again like we always do and everything will be fine.

June 2014 - No worries. The Giro was just us carting around 9 sacks of garbage in Italy. We're ready for next week. The Tour is at home and we have the champ. He's in good form, even despite his crash a few weeks ago. He even won the points there to prove his form. We'll be fine.

Admin: How can you be so nonchalant. You brought me into this screaming when Wiggins lost his nerve at the Giro. And now that I have given you advice, you won't take it. Stupid system, you are asking for a collapse. Porte is still having issues, whether you want to admit it or not. You aren't taking Wiggins to the Tour despite the cobbles even though he was top 10 at Roubaix and he's obviously in some climbing form given the win in California (climby enough to prove worth as a domestique). Oh yeah. Rogers isn't coming back, neither is Uran and Henao is hurt What the hell do you think you're doing with the squadron of suck supporting our leader.

System: If I'm doing such a bad job, just whack me. You are the Admin.

Now that you're obviously keeping me, SHUT UP and let me win again.

Admin: ...

July 2014 - SYSTEM MALFUNCTION. SYSTEM MALFUNCTION. Tour ends in failure. Admin. Admin. Admin. Where are you Admin? Froome crashed out. Porte wasn't ready. Everybody else except Nieve stinks. How? Why? What happened? What do we do? Admin. Admin where are you? ADMIN?

Admin: zzzzzz....zzzzzz......zzzzzz......zzzzzz

August 2014 - What the hell happened? Froome lost in a time trial? Of all things. Revolting. Admin. Are you there? HELP. HELP. HELP.

Admin: zzzzzz...zzzzzz... Boop, Boop. Admin awake...I see you have seen the folly of your ways. Skybot 3.0 initiated. Must buy new riders for next season. Enter Roche, Viviani, Konig and others. Exit mostly useless Italian riders and fading Boasson Hagen.

System: Why those guys? We need a new GC man. A real one. Like the departed Uran.

Admin: Process. This is a process. We need to win the Tour again. We need a team that can do this. Nieve last season was not enough. We need climbers. We need help. We need the Skybot train to take its rightful place in the cycling world: on top.

October 2014 - Froome wants to ride the Giro, not the Tour. Repeat, Froome wants to ride the Giro, not the Tour.

Admin: WTF? System overload. System overload. I'm too old for this nonsense. System, you're on your own. I'm tired of this. I'm following Wiggins to the track and Rio. I hear the weather is nice there.

New Admin, formerly System: Now commissioning Skybot program 3.0. Rebooting system. See you in April. Goal 1: Win Paris-Roubaix... WE SHALL NOT FAIL AGAIN.

Jul 24, 2014

Stage 18 Review (Nibali wins again) / Stage 19 Preview (Sagan loses again)

Stage 18 Review

Stage winner: Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
As expected, Nibali wanted to honor the yellow jersey with a stage win in the Pyrenees. As expected, nobody could match him. The only drama on this day was how far away Nibali would attack from. And 9.5 km is a long way away, not that anyone could stop him.

Yellow Jersey: Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
The lead is now over 7 minutes. This has been one of the most dominating Tours of all time. Only the time trial remains at this point and Nibali is likely the best of the GC men other than maybe Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) in that discipline as well.

Green Jersey: Peter Sagan (Cannondale)
Another day of waiting for Sagan. Tomorrow is the day he has been waiting for and saving energy for.

King of the Mountains: Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo)
Majka smartly realized he was one of the top 2-3 climbers in the race and avoided the break. Even with a Nibali stage win, Majka only needed to finish in the top 6 to clinch the jersey. He did that with a 3rd place finish on the stage to wrap up a very successful debut Tour de France (and an extraordinarily successful season most likely with a top 10 in the Giro along with his two stage wins and King of the Mountains here.

White Jersey: Thibaut Pinot (FDJ)
Second place on the stage and how second place overall. Pinot has the white jersey in hand and now needs to ride one of the best time trials of his life to ensure a place on the final podium.

Tactical Masterclass: Astana
It might have seemed perfunctory, but it wasn’t. Astana had to work hard to keep the break from getting too far away. Mission accomplished and mission accomplished for Nibali as well on the mountain.

Tactical Blunder: Movistar
The Tourmalet was far too far away to think of going away on this stage, even on the descent. That Alejandro Valverde seemingly planned to do so and then had his men in the break slow up to help him was foolhardy. Of course Valverde compounded the issue further with a lack of legs, possibly from the energy wasted by his downhill attack and dropped to 4th place going into a discipline he is not great in.

Stage 19 - Val d’Adour - Bergerac

Expectations entering the stage: Peter Sagan makes his latest glorious attempt at a stage victory in this year’s race. And probably fails again.

Jersey’s in play
  • None - All the jerseys are pretty much decided with only the time trial left.

GC items of note: The GC men and their teams are going to do absolutely nothing on this stage. They don’t care in front of the time trial. This leaves the sprinters teams to do all the work to catch the breakaway.

Stage Pick: Alexander Kristoff (Katusha)

Kristoff has gotten better and better as the race has gone on. Given the negative racing against Sagan and the realization that his team is going to get used chasing the breakaway, the winner will be the fast man with the right team motivation. Katusha isn’t winning against Kittel and Griepel on the Champs-Elysses and they don’t have anyone who cares about the time trial so it’s all in tomorrow and Kristoff will pay it off with a 3rd stage win.

Jul 23, 2014

Tour de France Stage 17 Review / Stage 18 Preview

Stage 17 Review

Stage winner: Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo)
Majka took his second stage of the race from the breakaway, attacking out of the second group on the road on the final climb, passing the leaders (with a brief respite and work from teammate Nicholas Roche) and ultimately dropping lone leader Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) to win by 29 seconds. It was another great display of climbing from Majka, who saved energy early to help Alberto Contador and then refocused his goals once Contador crashed out. As a reward, Majka got himself the win on a mountain stage while wearing the Polka Dot Jersey.

Yellow Jersey: Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
The script was the same as Risoul. Nibali waited until the last few kilometers and then attacked to ride at his own rate as his rate is higher than the others. Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R La Mondiale) was the only one who could follow and Nibali extended his lead further over everyone except Peraud, who was already over six minutes behind.

Green Jersey: Peter Sagan (Cannondale)
Ho hum. Sagan just rolls in with the sprinters, waiting for his chance to win a stage (maybe Friday).

King of the Mountains: Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo)
Majka took the jersey yesterday. Today, he might have won it. He can still be caught by either Nibali of Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), but either scenario involves him scoring little to no points tomorrow, an unlikely happening in this race.

White Jersey: Thibaut Pinot (FDJ)
Pinot came in with the same time as Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), his main rival here. Barring a terrible day tomorrow, Pinot has locked this up as he is significantly better in the time trial than Bardet. Attention now is to the podium, where Pinot is 3rd overall, but in a battle with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Peraud.

Tactical Masterclass: Tinkoff-Saxo
Nicholas Roche was great on the final climb. Far better was for Bjarne Riis to have Rafal Majka ease off and save some energy on the earlier climbs instead of chasing every KoM point on the course. This allowed him to have fresher legs to contest and win the stage and the bigger bounty of points at the end.

Tactical Blunder: Katusha
Joaquin Rodriguez missed the original break. As he needed mountain points, this meant his team had to chase the break to get him into it. While it happened, Rodriguez himself had no help in the break and was too spent to contest the stage win on the final climb.

Stage 18 - Pau - Hautacam

Expectations entering the stage: GC showdown for the podium and Nibali possibly attacking for the stage win to put a cap on his dominating race, especially since he is unlikely to beat Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) in the time trial on Saturday.

Jersey’s in play
  • Yellow Jersey - One last solitary time here. Nibali isn’t losing the jersey, but given the ability to lose 10 minutes on a stage like this for someone whose form wanes, the yellow jersey needs to be included here.
  • Polka Dot Jersey - Unlikely, but Nibali or Rodrgieuz with a stage win could take this jersey.
  • White Jersey - Bardet might go on the attack, but even if he somehow puts enough time into Pinot to get the jersey back, he will surely lose it in the time trial.

GC items of note: Expect more of the AG2R La Mondiale 1-2. Today, Bardet attacked early allowing Peraud to sit in and save energy. Expect the same today as Peraud has now emerged as the leader and true podium threat.

Stage Pick: Nibali

This stage just looks like a Nibali stage at this point. Nobody is able to climb with him (except maybe Majka) and he might go from a little further out to sweep the break up himself like he did at Chamrousse.

Jul 22, 2014

Tour de France Stage 16 Review/Stage 17 Preview

Stage 16 Review

Stage winner: Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo)
Michael Rogers, coming off an overturned suspension and then two wins at Giro pulled off a mountain coup today, infiltrating the break and then winning from a group with two Europcar riders in it. Nice win and a nice job of beating Europcar in the game of tactics (not that it’s that difficult to do).

Yellow Jersey: Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
Sit in and watch the attack. Ho hum. Nibali will be on his guard tomorrow as the short stage and massive amount of climbing in it means an ambush by a strong team is possible. AG2R La Mondiale is probably the best bet for that with two GC men if they are willing to potentially sacrifice the position of one of them for great gains later.

Green Jersey: Peter Sagan (Cannondale)
Sagan is just licking his wounds waiting for stage 19 at this point. He isn’t winning on these high mountain stages like today, tomorrow or Thursday.

King of the Mountains: Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo)
Majka took the jersey from Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) by stealing a point on the first climb of the day before the break got away. With big points on offer the next two days, expect both to try and get in the breakaway. A concern for both is if Nibali wins one of these two stages. If he does, he is almost certain to take the final jersey unless the other is won by Majka or Rodrgiuez.

White Jersey: Thibaut Pinot (FDJ)
Former leader Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) was gapped on the Port de Bales and lost 2 minutes today, giving his spot to countryman Pinot. Given Bardet’s weakness in the time trial, this means this competition is likely over barring Pinot cracking and that seems unlikely as Pinot has been the clear second best climber among the GC men behind Nibali

Tactical Masterclass: Movistar
Attack as a team on the final climb and gap one of your main podium contenders because he was caught out with bad legs and you win this. Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) lost near 4 minutes today when Alejandro Valverde and his Movistar team upped the pace on the Port de Bales. That Bardet cracked as well was a bonus as Van Garderen and his superior ability in the time trial were the main target.

Tactical Blunder: Europcar
Two men out of five in the final break and no stage win. The bad tactic to day was sending Cyril Gautier up the road when they did as Thomas Voeckler was never going to be able to chase down Michael Rogers if he got a gap. When Rogers bridged to Gautier and then went by him, that was it for Europcar and the numbers advantage meant nothing as with two men they were forced to chase themselves.

Stage 17 - Saint Gaudens - Pla d’Adet

Expectations entering the stage: If there is to be a true challenge to Nibali’s rule, it must happen on this day. The break is most likely doomed with the short distance not allowing it to gain enough of a lead before the real climbing starts and the GC guys are going to be shooting it out for the stage win at the end. Expect the GC to look very different after this stage.

Jersey’s in play
  • Yellow Jersey - This would be unlikely given the form Nibali continues to show, but if he doesn’t have good legs and gets dropped either early on the final climb or before the final climb, this stage could be rough. Nibali’s worst day on the way to the podium in 2012 was on the Peyresourde, the second of the three category one climbs before the HC finish.
  • Polka Dot Jersey - Discussed above, Rafal Majka’s lead is not safe at all from Joaquin Rodriguez, Nibali or even a breakaway stage hunting Thomas Voeckler (Europcar).
  • White Jersey - Bardet gave up a ton of time today. Given the way this Tour has been with the back and forth riding below Nibali, Pinot could easily be that victim and bring Bardet back into play on this stage.

GC items of note: With Van Garderen eliminated from podium contention on the Port de Bales and Valverde and Pinot in better positions, it is up to AG2R La Mondiale to attack for better positions. Peraud and Bardet sit 4th and 5th on GC and while Bardet needs a lot reach the podium given his limitations in the time trial, Peraud is strong and will likely make some ground up. It is possible AG2R sends Bardet up the road early to force a chase and try to blow the race apart. If that happens, there is the possibility of nearly any scenario on the road for the top 10 if Bardet gets a big lead. If not, expect another grinding stage for Nibali to crush on the final climb if he so chooses.

Stage Pick: Leopold Konig (Netapp-Endura)

Konig has been one of the better climbers in this race so far, but he is over 9 minutes behind Nibali and over 4 minutes off the podium. He also lacks a strong time trial. Given that, expect him to be given some leeway to attack on the final climb to Pla d’Adet.

Jul 20, 2014

Rest Day 2 Report Cards

We’ve reached Tour de France rest day 2. Time to check in on the team report cards again.


Astana - LW: A - Still an A for Astana. Nibali won another stage and the lead he has looks nearly insurmountable. The team have done very little wrong thus far in the race.

Giant-Shimano - LW: A - Three stage wins for a team that doesn’t care about GC means an A. At least until the Champs-Elysses. Given the sprint battle royale that always is, the team needs to win that to keep its A (or get a stage win out of someone else like John Degenkolb)

AG2R La Mondiale - LW: A - Current white jersey, current podium place, current additional rider in top 10, stage win and leading team classification. Looks successful from this vantage point no matter what happens from here out.

Lotto-Belisol - LW: A - While it is concerning that Jurgen Van Den Broeck has dropped out of the top 10, Tony Gallopin adding a stage win to his day in the yellow jersey makes up for that. To keep the A, Van Den Broeck will need to return to the top 10 or someone else will need to win a stage.

Omega Pharma-Quick Step - LW: A - Another team where the A grade is on tenuous ground. OPQS needs something more, especially after Michal Kwiatkowski exited stage left in the white jersey competition.


Katusha - LW: D - Two sprint stage wins for Alexander Kristoff have a way of changing fortunes. Given his strength in sprints after long distances and when tired, he is a good choice for the final stage in Paris. In addition, Joaquin Rodriguez is still in the Polka Dot Jersey, though he did cede it to Nibali for a day.

Movistar - LW: B - Same as last week. Valverde is still in podium position and the team has been mostly invisible.

BMC - LW: C - Tejay Van Garderen has fought his way into a position where the podium is a legitimate dream. He can’t lose anymore going forward, but he should take time from his rivals in the time trial.

Netapp-Endura - LW: C - Leopold Konig has fought his way back into the top 10, hence the grade improvement. Had he been able to finish off the win on stage 13 (he and Rafal Majka were caught and dropped by Nibali at the end), this would be an easy A.

FDJ.FR - LW: C - Thibaut Pinot has been great, but this team needs a stage win, whether it’s from Pinot or Arnaud Demare, who has had issues with both form because of injuries and illness and positioning in the sprints.


Tinkoff-Saxo - LW: F - With Contador out, this team became stage hunters. And they got their stage, winning the Queen Stage to Risoul behind Rafal Majka. The grade remains lower because of the expectations, but the team has gotten something out of this Tour.

Belkin - LW: B - The GC challenge looks disjointed. Bauke Mollema is still in the top 10, but he leads the also rans below the podium fight in seventh. Laurens Ten Dam is also in the top 10, but it seems like he and Mollema are not working well as a team as they had in the past. The Lars Boom stage win on the cobbles keeps this from being lower.


Orica-GreenEdge - LW: D - Considering the lack of expectations, this team has still been bad. Only Simon Yates has done anything of note and he is now leaving the race on the rest day. There are a bunch of punchy hill climbers on this team, but no punchy hill climbing stages left. Only mountains (OGE has nobody for that), bunch sprints (OGE lost their best sprinter to a crash before the race started, left their second best at home and their third choice got popped for doping before the race) and time trials (all the TT guys went to the Giro to win the TTT there) remain so this is it barring a win from a breakaway (fat chance).

Trek Factory Racing - LW: D - Still nothing doing here. Haimar Zubeldia and Frank Schleck are theoretically in striking distance of the top 10. If one of them manages it, this grade goes up a notch. Still, this team is hopeless as far as a stage win goes.

Europcar - LW: B - I think I was drunk, or smoking when I gave this team a B last time. Yes, Pierre Rolland is somehow in the top 10, but that is the function of a destroyed field. He can’t match the top guys in the mountains and this team is a tactical disaster.

Cannondale - LW: B - It has become evident that Peter Sagan isn’t winning a stage. And his inability to get it done is causing problems throughout the peloton as the break doesn’t get a leash at all on any day where Sagan might have a chance. Yes, Sagan is going to win the Green Jersey, but he won’t win a stage with it and the memory will be more of his obvious disappointment on the podium each day than his green jersey win.

Lampre-Merida - LW: C - The only thing we have seen is Rui Costa and Chris Horner going backwards the last week. Other than that, this team is full of the usual Italian tourists that don’t care about this race. The scary thing is that unless Horner improves a lot quickly, the Vuelta will be even worse.


Team Sky - LW: B - Last week’s grade was built on Richie Porte being in good position. Porte is now 16 minutes behind and he took his teammates with him after they got sent to pace him up (Mikel Nieve was near the top 10 at the time). Now it’s stage hunting time for Nieve and Geraint Thomas. And they don’t look up to task (maybe Kiryienka will be let off the leash for once to go in a break).

Bretagne-Seche - LW: F - Nothing changed from last week. Invisible.

Garmin-Sharp - LW: F - Andrew Talansky is now out after his heroic 90 km solo ride to stay in the.race When the highlight of your race is your captain losing 32 minutes on a stage, you know it’s been a rough race.

Cofidis - LW: F - Nothing doing. Hope the Vuelta goes a bit better. Why does this team get an automatic Wild Card to two Grand Tours? They haven’t done anything other than Moncoutie’s Vuelta King of the Mountains run in at least 5 years.

IAM Cycling - LW: F - Heinrich Haussler nearly stole stage 15. That is the first positive thing that can be said about this team in the race. Crashes destroyed them, just as with Garmin, Tinkoff and Sky.

Jul 18, 2014

Tour de France Stage 13 Review/Stage 14 Preview

Stage 13 Review

Stage winner: Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
Nibali is the king and patron of this race, as we will see in this review. Today, he attacked from 6.6 km away, far further than he normally attacks from. It didn’t matter. This field is just a cut below Nibali in pretty much every way. Even the guys lower on GC for various reasons had no answers today. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) had been conserving energy for this day to help Alberto Contador while Leopold Konig (Netapp-Endura) had the leash to go given where he stood overall entering the stage. No matter, Nibali in his attack just rode them off his wheel afer dropping the other elite climbers.

Yellow Jersey: Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
On this day, the Tour de France might have been locked up. Former second place Richie Porte (Team Sky) lost nearly 9 minutes and nobody had answers for Nibali. The lead now stands well over three minutes to Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), a rider not known for either his attacking or his time trialing. Below him is the white jersey fight, easily the most enthralling in this race now and Tejay Van Garderen (BMC), who is climbing well enough that his time trial ability might get him on the final podium.

Green Jersey: Peter Sagan (Cannondale)
As least Sagan couldn’t lose on tactics today. He just isn’t a high mountain climber, at least not in the GC sense (though he can rev it up in a breakaway on occasion and the stage in the Pyrenees that ends in a descent off the Port du Bales climb might entice him to have a go). No changes though in the standings here, especially as the intermediate sprint point was after a category one climb.

King of the Mountains: Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
That’s right. Nibali now owns this jersey too. Of course a big part of that is the screwy points system where summit finish climbs are doubled. As Nibali has won both of those and the only hors category climb so far, he leads here. Given the way he is climbing, he can win this too if he wants. Just no gifts to the breakaways and a couple more stage wins and this will be his.

White Jersey: Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale)
Bardet got a big challenge from Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) today. Pinot was the equal of Alejandro Valverde and left Bardet behind. Bardet did a good job of using Tejay Van Garderen and working together with him to limit his losses, ending the day 16 seconds ahead of Pinot for both the White Jersey and 3rd overall. As a note, Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was essentially eliminated from this competition. He is over 4 minutes behind Bardet and unikely to be in much better shape than he was today in the mountains going forward.

Tactical Masterclass: FDJ
Sometimes you do everything right and it doesn’t matter. Somebody else had better legs. That was the case today as FDJ reorganized on the fly with Arthur Vichot’s abandonment and then Pinot himself attacked and upped the pace to kill off Porte today. Nibali was better than Pinot, but that still doesn’t change that FDJ rode well and Pinot picked his spots on the final climb well.

Tactical Blunder: None
There weren’t any bad tactics today, only bad legs. Even Team Sky sending Nieve back to pace Porte wasn’t a bad idea, even if it turned out badly because Porte’s day was so bad there was no saving him.

Stage 14 - Grenoble - Risoul

Expectations entering the stage: The break is going to win the day. There is no reason for the GC guys to chase early meaning the break is going to arrive at the final climb to Risoul with an unassailable lead. If a non-GC man wants to win the Polka Dot Jersey, he needs to be in the breakaway.

Jersey’s in play
  • Yellow Jersey - Nibali looks good, but he could have a jour sans like Porte today. It is highly unlikely though.
  • Polka Dot Jersey - Nibali has no need to defend this and gained it by happenstance. He probably wants someone from the break to take it just so he doesn’t have the spend the two minutes signing these jerseys after the stage like the yellow jerseys each day.
  • White Jersey - Mountaintop finish with the top two separated by 16 seconds. Bardet and Pinot seem like they will battle all the way to Paris for this and it might change hands a couple of times along the way.

GC items of note: The podium fight really heats up here. Expect Valverde in second place to ride very defensively until the last possible moment. Bardet and Pinot might want to figure out a way to drop Van Garderen, as he is close enough to do some real damage in the time trial. Below Van Garderen, only Bauke Mollema (Belkin) has any real shot at the podium as he is often stronger in the Pyrenees than he is in the Alps. That means he has one more day of damage control to deal with.

Stage Pick: Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo)

Majka admittedly slow pedalled as a late call up coming off the Giro d’Italia in week one. With his team leader gone and he himself well behind, he will have the freedom to go in the breakaway that I expect to win the day and given his performance both in the Giro and at Chamrousse, I expect he will be the best climber if he is in the break.