PARIS, July 01, 2014 (AFP) – Alberto Contador’s return to top form this
year has sparked hopes that the Tour de France yellow jersey battle against
Chris Froome will go down to the wire.
The last two years have seen Team Sky dominate the race with their leader
securing a comfortable victory that almost never looked in doubt.
In 2012 it was Bradley Wiggins who destroyed the field in the timetrials
and was expertly marshalled on the climbs by super-domestique Froome to crush
all opposition hopes of gaining any time at all.
In fact Froome even came second to Wiggins, leading many to believe they
had been short-changed out of a real race as the best two riders were
team-mates, with the one prevented from attacking the other as he was working
With Wiggins absent through injury from last year’s Tour, Froome proved
strongest of the contenders both in the mountains and in the timetrials.
That left Contador well off the pace as only diminutive debutant climbing
specialist Nairo Quintana gave any indication that he could compete for
While he matched Froome in the mountains for the most part, his
timetrialling was far inferior.
But this year Contador, a twice former Tour winner, has largely been the
form rider so far.
He took victory in both the Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour of the Basque
Country while finishing second in the recent Criterium du Dauphine as well as
the tours of the Algarve and Catalunya.
He beat Froome at both Catalunya and the Dauphine and he currently leads
the UCI’s World Tour rankings from Giro d’Italia winner Quintana. Froome is
down in 15th.
Not that too much should be read into that. Froome has won two stage races
himself this year, at the Tour of Oman and Tour of Romandie.
He started the season in good form, winning in Oman before his campaign was
disrupted by injury and illness, seeing him miss the Tirreno-Adriatico and
finish only sixth in Catalunya.
He was riding himself back into form in Romandie, though, beating a solid
field including last year’s Giro winner Vincenzo Nibali, Dauphine champion
Andrew Talansky and world champion Rui Costa.
He might arguably have won the Dauphine for the second year in a row but
for a crash on the sixth of eight stages. While he lost no time on that stage
he was clearly suffering the effects on the last two in the hills, giving up
the ghost on the tough final stage and finishing outside the top 10 overall.
But perhaps more telling is what went on before. He won the opening 10.4km
timetrial, including putting in significant time into Contador and Nibali on
the flat sections — there is a 54km flat timetrial at the Tour this year.
He also won the first mountain stage, resisting Contador’s attempt to
outsprint him to the line.
Both victories were telling. The first because it suggested he could make
some serious time gains on Contador at the Tour’s only timetrial, and the
second because the lighter Spaniard is supposed to have greater acceleration
But what Contador did well was show a determined willingness to attack
Froome and put him under pressure, isolating him from his teammates.
Froome’s main lieutenant Richie Porte was a couple of times unable to keep
up with the pace and his form will be a concern for Sky as he’s also suffered
from illness and injury.
His Tirreno-Adriatico showing was poor and even by the Dauphine he still
had not recovered the sort of form that saw him finish second to Froome in
that race last year.
But Contador will be without his primary domestique at Tinkoff-Saxo as
Czech Roman Kreuziger as been dropped from the team due to a UCI investigation
into irregularities on his biological passport.
When the going gets tough in the Alps and Pyrenees, the chances are both
riders might find themselves isolated form their teammates.
Perhaps, then, the fun can really begin and the world will truly see which
man is the strongest.
Froome remains the mild favourite but Contador has at least proved the Brit
won’t have it all his own way this year.
File Photo: Corvos