The First week of the tour has been completed and despite not being spectacular it was far from the worst opening week in history. The flat “sprint” stages are often mind-numbing for all but the last kilometer. This year again has seen calls for stages to be shortened to make for more exciting racing. However being somewhat a traditionalist this is the tour. Cutting the sprint stages down completely to a race off the team bus and across the car park doesn’t add much of the tour element to the Tour De France. The reduced length on such stages denying possible impacts of crosswinds, the ability of commentators to fill hours of airtime with nonsense and the classic small breaks of French teams sending out their riders on a hiding to nothing. One thing that did add excitement to the first week was the amount of crashes. Although the cause of this small level of excitement probably isn’t something that should be celebrated. It has made for some interesting time gaps and is part and parcel of bike racing. From Chris Froomes attempt at cyclocross on stage 1 unwisely trying to muscle in on Marcel Kittel to the crash fest that was Sundays Roubaix stage. The almost constant touching of wheels left nearly every GC contender with at least road rash if not some lost time to match. The departure of Porte was a massive blow to the race. The one credible and dangerous threat to team Sky made it a double crashing out for the second year in a row. Next year he may want to find a kit manufacturer who do cotton wool jerseys…
The highlight of the week came on Sunday. John Degenkolb snatching victory in Roubaix was something special. After the long come back from a career-threatening injury it was a more than deserving win and a great way to end the first week.
Week 2 saw the start of the serious climbing and the start of the GC battle. The Team Sky grand plan probably went along the lines of Thomas to take yellow on stage 10. Then concede it on Alpe D`huez to Froome followed by the traditional Sky domination to Paris. Although things didn’t turn out to be so predictable. Julian Alaphilippe came up with a great solo attack on day 10 to win his first Tour de France stage, but perhaps the greatest achievement of the day was Greg Van avermaet keeping Yellow. Although it was to be short-lived. Thomas made a smart move, his hard attack on the last climb before Froome had a chance to show his hand worked perfectly. Taking the stage along with the Yellow Jersey. While Froome was left behind trying his hardest to not seem so urgent in the pursuit of his teammate.
That being said it’s understandable for Froome to want to chase Geraint down. The fear of a 5th Tour win disappearing up the road must be a devastating feeling. Maybe he could have claimed he was unable to hear the team radio calls from the car over all the boos directed towards them from the crowd. One rather stupid fan even seemed to go in for a full-on push to take Froome out. The riders deserve respect and perhaps the Tour should sacrifice a small part of the atmosphere for rider safety. Avoiding incidents such as the unfortunate fate of Nibali. Squeezed between a motorbike and the spectators his handlebars got caught, ending up with him on the deck. Unbelievably he somehow still managed to get back on his bike with a fractured vertebra. Catch the leaders and finish the stage before abandoning.
Rewinding back to the abuse Team Sky have received on the road, which has been a hot topic of this years Tour. It has been difficult to ignore and also difficult to decide if its merited. Sky have not helped themselves and Brailsford has only sought to throw petrol on the fire. Blaming French culture, comparing the head of the UCI to a small town French mayor and insulting the whole of France. Dave somehow expects the boos and abuse to stop? Sky has not been without shortfalls or dramas from the past 12 months and perhaps a more diplomatic approach from Brailsford would have helped the situation.
Froome was also busy doing some PR work claiming him and Thomas are in a Dream situation. Although being over a minute behind a teammate when your the leading man I’m sure the words could hardly be heard through his gritted teeth. A further flashpoint of the week was Sky losing a man. Now if other teams can’t wear you down or disrupt the Sky train. There is another way, with Gianni Moscon in the team you could always test his rather short fuse. That’s exactly what happened at the start of Stage 15. One poorly timed and poorly executed punch towards another rider. Moscon who is developing quite a rap sheet in his brief time in the pro peloton was sent packing by the officials. The following stages of the week saw the peloton spend most the day riding slowly. Allowing big breaks up the road they may as well swapped the bikes four touring bikes and a picnic only really riding in the final few Kms with Sky and Thomas always in control.