Rest Day Predictions

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When somebody who looks perfectly capable of attacking & doesn’t attack, it either means they’re not interested, or they have a serious plan. I’m putting my thoughts for a thrilling final week of the Tour out there. As far as predictions go, I’ve got past history of being very wrong, so don’t place any bets based on this.

WeeQ

I’m more convinced than ever that Nairo Quintana is going to win this Tour now. He’s had ample opportunity to have a go, but has refrained. We’ll not see anything happen on GC until Thursday, when the big gaps start to appear among the top 20. Even on Ventoux, I’m still convinced Quintana won’t have an all out attack, he’ll maybe try a probing attack to see how Froome is feeling. After last year, he knows that rather than wasting energy when Froome is still fresh in the first 2 weeks, he can instead take possibly minutes in the finalé of a 3 week Tour.

The day after Ventoux, we have an undulating 37.5km time trial, if things are going to Movistar’s plans, Nairo will lose no more than 30 seconds here, likely less, his time trialling has improved alongside his other abilities.

The Final Week

We get more mountains on Sunday preceding the final week, which could be animated, not by Movistar, but by Sky, if the time gap in the TT is less than expected (which I think is likely), we’ll see panic mode. This plays into the Colombians hands, wearing out his rival team & isolating his main challenger for the final climb of Lacets du Grand Colombier.

WedsStageProfile

Looking at the profiles, Wednesday looks to be the springboard for a Quintana time grab. The final 30km include the Col da la Forclaz (no, not that one, we’re in Switzerland) & a summit finish at Finhaut-Emosson (note final kilo at 12.3%, at over 1900m). The Movistar pace on the penultimate climb could reduce Froome’s domestiques to 1 or 2, then we encounter an ever steepening 10km climb to the Emosson Dam. If there ever was an uncontrollable summit finish, this is it, with two climbs in succession to split teams & leave is with a battle of the leaders. Looking at Quintana’s confidence, it looks like he’d relish the chance of a man to man battle with Froome, to me it would seem they might not be alone, Dan Martin might quite like this stage finish too. I suspect after this stage the overall time gap between 1st & 2nd overall will be very close.

Thursdays mountain TT is made for Quintana, expect the jersey to change hands here.

Friday & Saturday are more of the same, big mountain stages, with Quintana taking control of the GC. He left it until the final mountain stage last year, this year I predict he’ll choose the 3 final mountain stages & the time trial. Not the gamble everybody seems to be suggesting he’s taking by leaving it until the end, there are plenty of opportunities.

The Rest Of Them

Unless one of them have a really bad day, I expect Froome & Quintana to have a 4 or 5 minute gap to the fight for the last place on the podium. It looks likely that the most risk averse of the other likely podium contenders will be Porte. He’s more likely to hang on, not attempt to win a stage & result in a high overall place from being dropped last by Froome & Quintana. On the other hand, Dan Martin may lose loads of time trying to win, but I suspect he can make the top 5 this year. The other top 5 in Bardet, who could make the podium if he did a ‘Porte’, but is also likely to try & win a stage himself. Adam Yates is riding superbly, but probably still a bit early in his career for him not to suffer from a bad day, he’ll have other chances for a podium in this race. I’m putting Kreuzeger in 6th, which will be some achievement, after all his team have gone home & Oleg hires a Megabus for the final stages. Funnily enough, Oleg is exactly the kind of person you expect to meet on a Megabus. Place your bets, or don’t, it’s up to you.

My top 10:

  1. Quintana
  2. Froome
  3. Porte
  4. Bardet
  5. D.Martin
  6. Kreuziger
  7. Yates
  8. Van Garderen
  9. Mollema
  10. Meintjes

Sky Plus

Much has been made of teams like Movistar adopting or imitating Sky’s detailed approach to tackling stage racing which has proved so successful to them recently. With riders like Alex Dowsett now successfuly migrated & fully absorbed in Movistar, disclosing many of the Sky methods, can we also presume that they’ll not take the Sky format as an absolutely precise model, especially if they are missing one or two elements. Perhaps they’ve thought up their own improvements to the Sky template for success, perhaps they’ve got Sky plus?

Quintana

While I agree with the thoughts on the latest Velocast podcast regarding the sensible approach to rider development & looking after young riders, there’s also another possibility with the on/off nature of Quintana’s race programme. The addition that Movistar could introduce to the Sky model, could be an element of tactical deception.

Sky are famous for stating a race plan, then carrying out that plan with no intention of masking exactly what they’re up to. This has been a bit hit & miss, especially in the classics, where holding your cards close to your chest is much more vital than the out & out power to weight/aerodynamic calculations necessary to win grand tours in the mountains & time trials. But these entirely unhidden team driven tactics do get the results required, if not the fans approval or the spectacle of mano-mano battles we have seen in the past. Could teams like Movistar, while adopting the Sky approach to training & equipment, improve on the formula by introducing some additional psychological tactics which Sky have not yet included, both on & off the bike.

Quintana renewed his contract for an additional two years after the Tour of Britain, taking him up to the end of 2015, where he would be free to move to another team. The latest reports suggest that he will contest the Vuelta this year, most likely skipping the Giro & definitely not starting the Tour de France. This would leave him only one guaranteed attempt at the Tour with Movistar. I find it hard to believe that in these corporate times, that a team would be happy to let a genuine Tour contender not start, to allow him to develop properly in less high-profile races, potentially having more success for another team.

I wouldn’t rule out the reported information from Movistar regarding his programme for 2014, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Nairo didn’t start the Giro, but arrived as a ‘last minute decision’ in storming form for a Tour de France assault. Leaving everything for the Vuelta is also a gamble, banking everything on staying healthy & injury free until the end of the season.

I think we’ll see something else. I think we’ll see Froome training to deal with less capable Movistar potential captains, Sky selecting a team for that purpose & seeing Quintana deal a psychological blow to them in the days before the Tour starts. I’ve been very wrong before, but corporate sponsors demand a return on their investment, allowing a rider to mature & reap the rewards under another corporations sponsorship isn’t going to go down too well at the board table or sponsorship renewal meeting. We’ll probably not know until Yorkshire, Nairo liked the UK climbs, he may be back for some more.

Pure Colombian?

Cycling’s hierarchy is rapidly changing, the names of the winners are changing, powerful teams are now also-ran’s, what’s changed in pro cycling, and why? I brushed on the topic of the Colombians returning to cycling in blog in January HERE, it seems to be coming true.

Pais Vasco

Nairo Quintana, the diminutive Colombian climbing specialist has just taken overall victory in the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco for his Movistar team, he took victory in a time trial won by Tony Martin, so we’re not talking a pure climbers test here, this guy won this race in a fine fashion. In yesterday’s GC, he was trailing one of Sky’s Colombians, Sergio Henao by 6 seconds, with Sky’s early season sensation Richie Porte at 10 seconds. Everybody expected Porte to overhaul them both and take the overall, but it didn’t pan out that way today.

During this race, we’ve seen some stunning performances from the South American’s, they’ve been making a huge impact on the race, possibly Sky’s better Colombian, Rigoberto Uran wasn’t even here, so this Sky pairing could prove to be incredibly strong as they mature. But don’t forget stage 3 where Hanao just outsprinted Ag2r’s Colombian Carlos Betancur, then Quintana’s stage 4 victory, these guys are really going to liven up racing this year, nobody really knows what they’re capable of yet. If Pais Vasco is anything to go by, we can assume the high altitude dwellers are going to make things trickier for the Europeans in 2013.

Where have they been?

It’s been a few years since we’ve seen this volume of talented Colombians performing in the European peloton. We can’t discount the effect that EPO has had on pro riders over the last 20 years, anybody watching racing pre 1990 will remember there were Colombians romping up the climbs, gangling over their bikes, falling on descents, but their natural talent in haematocrit resulted in some epic climbing memories on the Tour de France col’s. From 1990 onwards, we no longer saw riders like Lucho Herrera & Fabio Parra attacked the climbs Grand Tours in the mountains, winning stages, taking mountains jerseys placing in the top 10 on GC. Something had changed.

With no test for EPO at that time, the UCI implemented a cap on blood haematocrit of 50% (red blood cell percentage) “for health reasons”, this was to avoid riders becoming dangerous to themselves more than anything else. If a riders blood got too thick then it put excessive strain on their heart, there were reports of riders dying in their sleep & having to take a large quantity of aspirin every night in order to thin their blood to avoid dying (extreme stuff, but almost common place in the pro peloton). For the Colombians, and other riders whose family came from a high altitude & already possessed a high haematocrit (often a few points over 50%), they had to get special dispensation from the UCI as otherwise they would trigger the 2 week ‘health’ break from racing. Whether or not the Colombians intended doping with EPO, they were never going to be capable of it due to the 50% rule, but even if they did, we now know that EPO benefits the less well endowed in the red blood cell department. So lowland riders of European descent with around 38% natural hct (like Armstrong), could boost their levels by a huge amount, while those with a natural high level (some of the riders who would previously have been considered the Grand Tour talents) couldn’t use EPO or gained little or no benefit from it. It’s highly likely that we lost some of the best riders during that period, they may not have even made the pro ranks.

So with hindsight, it’s no wonder that the Colombians disappeared (Santiago Botero was a different case). We keep hearing pro’s saying that things are different now, we don’t know how different things are, but we do know that there is a test for EPO & the introduction of the bio-passport has allowed the Colombians to compete on a more level playing field. They’re now back with a vengeance as Pais Vasco has shown, I’m not saying they’re all squeaky clean, but the nature of the massive gains from blood vector doping means that those who didn’t benefit are now back performing, which tells you something about the overall state of pro cycling, it is ‘cleaner’.

Who are the Colombians now?

We have several talented Colombians already on World Tour teams. As a nation they are 6th overall in the current UCI World-Tour rankings, one place behind Great Britain.

  • Sergio Henao : Sky
  • Rigoberto Uran : Sky
  • Carlos Betancur : Ag2r
  • Jose Serpa : Lampre-Merida
  • Winner Anacona : Lampre-Merida
  • Nairo Quintana : Movistar
  • Argiro Ospina : Movistar
  • Cayetano Sarmiento : Cannondale

There is also a Colombia Pro-Continental team operating in Europe, they are one step down from the World-Tour but have been getting wild cards for some of the major races, like Milan-SanRemo & the Giro d’Italia. You can see more info HERE.

Keep an eye on the names above, you’re going to see a lot more of them over the next few years.