After four stages of predictably unpredictable racing and four different overall leaders, Utrecht’s Grand Depart already feels a long time ago. A surprise winner in Saturday’s Prologue, three fiercely competitive road stages and (unfortunately) a couple of horrendous crashes have provided the usual captivating entertainment as this year’s Tour takes shape.
Luke McLaughlin takes a look at the winners, losers (and one invisible man) so far, with 17 long stages still to race before the 2015 Tour winner is crowned in Paris…
The 2013 champion has looked in complete control. At the climax of Stage 3, he showed rival Alberto Contador a clean pair of cleats on the Mur de Huy, winning valuable seconds along with the psychological boost of the yellow jersey. On the cobbles of Stage 4 on Tuesday, Froome rode confidently and even aggressively, attacking from the lead group inside the last 10km. Froome said he wanted to set the record straight on the cobbled stage and he did exactly that, barring one small wobble. Froome and his boss Dave Brailsford know there are plenty of challenges between here and Paris, but he’s enjoyed a brilliant start, nose ring and all.
‘Der Panzerwagen’ has endured the most topsy-turvy race of any rider in the peloton: but it all came good on Tuesday. The World Champion time-triallist struggled slightly in the Utrecht heat in the prologue and was surprisingly beaten into second place by Rohan Dennis. On Sunday’s Stage 2, Fabian Cancellara’s determination saw him pip Mark Cavendish for third and steal a yellow jersey which could so easily have been Martin’s. But the German’s typically brilliant solo attack grabbed a stage win in Cambrai – cue emotional celebrations from the Etixx-Quick-Step faithful for a very popular winner.
Tejay van Garderen
In football-ese they say a referee is having a good game if you don’t notice him. The same could be said of a General Classification contender during the first week of the Tour. Van Garderen has quietly gone about his business and is well placed in third overall, 25 seconds behind the current race leader Tony Martin and 13 behind previous (and surely future) yellow jersey wearer, Chris Froome. Froome beat the American at last month’s Critérium du Dauphiné, and will expect to beat him again here, but Van Garderen looks more than capable of stepping onto the podium in Paris.
Like Tony Martin, ‘Spartacus’ could be filed under either Winner or Loser. Cancellara was forced out of the race - in what might be his last Tour de France - after breaking two vertebrae in his back on Stage 3. The day before he’d sneaked into the race lead to secure his 29th day in the yellow jersey by capitalising when a beaten Mark Cavendish sat up on the final straight. The Swiss rider has spent more time in the maillot jaune without winning the Tour than any other rider. If the 2015 Tour turns out to be his last, it’s a terrible shame that injury cut it short. But how appropriate that he should bow out wearing the iconic yellow jersey.
The Française des Jeux rider finished third last year and remains one of the young riders that French cycling fans hope and pray can become the first home winner of the world-famous race since Bernard Hinault in 1985. His overall hopes appeared to unravel dramatically on the cobbles of Stage 4 as he was dogged by mechanical problems and he had a very visible meltdown. The 25-year-old had already lost 1’28” on the crosswinds of Stage 2, and 1’30” on the finish at Mur de Huy, and his woes on the cobbles seemed to be the final straw. He clearly felt his hopes of a podium had gone up in smoke but there is plenty of time for him to fight back, especially in the mountain stages.
The young French sprinter had been in very promising form this season. Cofidis were shaping up well and were prepared to battle the likes of Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel and Alexander Kristoff on the flat stages. A heavy crash at the French National Championships a week before the Tour began put his involvement in doubt, though. He made it to the start line, but crashed early on Stage 5 and abandoned the race. At the time of writing the 24-year-old has been taken to hospital for X-rays with worries about his ribs and hip. All being well, the talented sprinter will have plenty of opportunities to put things right at the Tour de France in the coming years.
… and The Invisible Man
What is there to say about the Norwegian sprinter? As far as the 2015 Tour goes, not much. His form leading up to the race was jaw-droppingly good, with 18 race wins in all in 2015, but things haven’t worked out for the Team Katusha man - at least not yet. If he and his team can get his positioning right, he certainly has the speed to trouble anyone sprinter in the race. Perhaps Stage 5 will be when he reveals himself at last.