By David Hunter
The build-up to the Tour de France, starts here!
The 2014 route is harder than 2013 and suits climbers more than the TT riders. We have a short(10km) ITT to open the race and then straight to a mountaintop finish in stage 2. Stage 3 should see a sprint finish before the riders head to Gap in stage 4. Many of you will still remember the brilliant victory here in the 2013 TDF by Rui Costa. The stage invites a breakaway. Stage 5 is a very lumpy day, where a hard man sprinter, stands a good chance, just like in stage 6. The race finishes with two more mountaintop finishes, in stages 7 and 8.
The battle for the GC should be very tasty. Contador and Froome come to battle and both will be wanting to land a psychological blow, before the TDF. Froome is defending champion and Team Sky have two consecutive Dauphiné/TDF doubles. Can they make it 3?
They have faced each other once this season, in Catalunya. The Kenyan was getting over a sore back and finished 6th with Contador 2nd. Both have just finished altitude training and it should be a battle between the best two riders in the world.
There is a long list of other GC riders here: Nibali, Peraud, Kelderman, Van Garderen, Talansky, Spilak, Van den Broeck, Intxausti, Kwiatkowski, Navarro and Konig.
As the ITT is only 10km the GC will be decided by climbing ability. Most of these riders arrive from altitude training but Kelderman comes from the Giro. This means he has plenty racing in his legs but it will be difficult both physically and mentally for him to threaten the podium.
Nibali has been disappointing, so far this season. From a confidence point of view, he needs to show signs of improvement before the TDF.
Spilak and Peraud have been very consistent in 2014 and will threaten the podium. They have some competition from within their own teams though. Spilak has the presence of Moreno and Peraud has Bardet. It will be interesting to see how each team play their cards.
The Americans: Van Garderen and Talansky, have been inconsistent. What will we get from them?
Kwiatkowski is an interesting one. He started the season on fire! He won Volta Algarve and Strade Bianchi, before finishing 2nd in Pais Vasco. In the Ardennes Classics he was 5th in Amstel Gold and 3rd in both Flèche and LBL. He then won the prologue in Romandie, before abandoning the race after stage 3. His next focus is the tour de France and this is a very important race for him. He has struggled on long climbs, but needs to improve if he wants to break into the tour top 10. It will be very interesting to see how he copes in the mountains, especially as he’ll take time from the GC riders in the prologue.
Van den Broeck is still struggling to find his old self, but we should see good things from Navarro, Intxausti and Konig.
For the sprint stages we have Demare, Gallopin, Boeckmans, Meersman, Hushovd, Howard, Arndt, Cimolai, Impey, Van Rensburg, Martinez, Nizzolo and Simon. Not a stellar field of sprinters, as there are some sprinter friendly races happening now, and in the near future. Any sprints promise to be messy affairs and we could see a few surprise results.
It all depends on how the riders react to their return from altitude training. Contador has been the best rider this season, but Froome is Froome! Both come off a long block of training, so it will be very interesting to see how they react. I’ll go for Contador, as he needs to show the world he is capable of defeating Froome.
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