Sunday, 7 July 2013

Tour de France Stage 9: Mission Impossible?

Yesterdays stage saw a perfect display from team Sky as Chris Froome romped away in the Pyrenees after a carefully controlled stage leaving all of his riders for dead by well over a minute and a half. We knew todays tough stage could provide a few fireworks but right from the word go we saw a collaboration of sorts between the big names in an attempt to blow Sky out of the water and dislodge Froome - it made for one of the most entertaining Tour stages in recent years but with Froome clinging on right to the very end was this a case of mission impossible? Or even mission failure?...

The plan was to go hard from the start and try to isolate Chris Froome - when Peter Kennaugh took a tumble down the mountainside it was game on and slowly the Sky riders dropped off - EBH, Kiryienka, Thomas, Lopez, Siutsou all went out the back far earlier on than expected until Froome was left just in the company of Richie Porte with Movistar driving a killer pace on the front. The Boom. Porte had cracked - the man placed second on GC who put in such an unbelievable performance yesterday would roll in over 16 minutes behind his team leader.

Things were looking up for Movistar and Saxobank but they still had one big problem. Chris Froome. How to shake him? It was all going to come down to the final climb as the other favourites looked set to land Froome with as many blows as possible but in the end Contador once again didn't have the legs and Froome clawed his way back on to everything Nairo Quintana could throw at him. The descent produced little in the way of attacks and come the finish line the favourites all rode in together. A long hard day on the front for Movistar looked to have proved fruitless.

BUT. There were some positives to be taken today for those looking to take Froome out of the yellow jersey. Porte obviously looked cooked - this could be costly come the Alps and much of this may lie at the door of his own Team leader - did Froome ride so hard yesterday that he burnt the rest of his team off? It's possible. The mountain domestiques don't seem at their best this year - while Peter Kennaugh has stepped up and proven he has what it takes in the high mountains, Lopez, Siutsou and Boasson Hagen have looked out of sorts but none of these issues equate to Sky's biggest problem: Vasil Kiryienka missed the time cut today - Sky's Robocop super strong domestique cracked big time and as a result will no longer be riding the Tour de France - Sky are one man down but come the Alps missing the likes of Kiryienka might equate to three men, he's simply that big a deal to Sky's success and if nothing else came of Movistars pace setting today then to a degree it has still had some big success.

Today's stage made the race exciting once again just as we were ready to call time on it yesterday - a stage like this serves to remind us that it isn't over until it's over and things can, and will go wrong. A few quick notes: It was great to see Dan Martin win today's stage in such style, he's really coming into his own and maturing into an incredible rider. Andy Schleck has been at the sharp end of the racing in the Pyrenees - whatever you think of him, bicycle racing has missed him and it's great to see him riding into some real form for perhaps the first time in 18 months.

We have a relatively flat week ahead providing some welcome relief and recovery time for everyone but especially Sky. The TT on Wednesday will no doubt provide another GC shake-up but I'm not calling time on this race just yet. After yesterdays stage I was worried the race would fizzle out just as it had in 2012 but things are becoming interesting again and shaping up well for the Alps - there are a few riders who look a little off the pace that have no doubt timed their form for the final week and we could still see some huge firework displays from Contador, Valverde and Rodriguez as the Spaniards ride into form and take It to the Brit...

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