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Bismarck Froome & Contador, look elsewhere for Maillot Jaune
Posted here JUN 30, sent to subscribers earlier.
Posted by Bryan Geary, @wheelie1977


This time 12 months ago no one would have considered backing against Chris Froome for the Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France even though he had but the bare Grand Tour experience. After a Spring and early Summer campaign which netted wins in Oman, Criterium International, Romandie and finally Criterium du Dauphine, few were surprised at his odds-on tag one week before the Tour start. His backers had an armchair ride from the first real mountain test to Ax 3 Domaines, putting 1 minute 45 into Contador and Quintana with ease, the platform provided for a runaway opening two weeks. Some may have been concerned how he seemed to wilt in the final week as Quintana proved the star climber but with so much in hand, his victory was never really in doubt.

One year on and Froome has questions to answer. Patchy early season form did not deny him a resounding win in Oman but when Contador, Rodriguez and Van Garderen put it to him in Catalunya there were visible difficulties explained away by a back-ache. Some measure of form was noticeable in Romandie where a final time trial win was enough for a GC win but again in the harder Dauphine a crash torpedoed his GC aspirations having failed to dislodge a dogged Contador on the earlier climbing stages.

Froome’s performance after his crash has been put to the side while the TUE issue took centre stage yet and you can point to the fact that he was leading the race having beaten Contador when it mattered. The marked difference to the previous year was the improvement of Contador but the inability to sustain that pace when the opening devastating effort wasn’t enough and others were let off the hook, allowing riders so far beneath his 2013 form like Talansky, Vandenbroeck and a Kelderman, just finished a Giro, stay with him. Visually fantastic spinning crazy gears for 30 seconds but in a 3 week Tour, has he got a full training winter behind him with adequate racing for the difficult final climbing week in the Pyrenees?

For me, the most surprising aspect is the fact he sits a shade above his 2013 mark at Even money (Ladbrokes) in spite of all evidence to others form and his own failures, not to mind the withdrawals from some of the early season targets like Liege Bastogne Liege. Two Pyrenean stages in Week 3 as well as a time trial on the penultimate day make for a finale that might prove a little beyond him, certainly as an Even money shout, looking at how he found Quintana too hot to handle in 2013, backing him at that price woulde seem nonsensical. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a back to back winner of Le Tour; you have to go back to Contador’s 2009/2010 to find the last double up, the 2010 version expunged because of the Spaniard’s doping infraction.

So if not Froome, then who else ?

You could go straight to Alberto Contador and make a case for him. He’s won it before, he’s back in form, matched Froome, won Tirreno, Basque Country, should have won the Dauphine, has a far stronger team than before, (Hernandez, Roche, Rogers are all good domestiques), he looks hungry and his time trialling, the key performance indicator, is back to a competitive level. I nominated him at 18/1 in January speculatively but his current price is very uncompetitive for me to nominate now bearing in mind he’s now down one lieutenant in Romain Kreuziger.

Vincenzo Nibali must be looked at very seriously. It would be unwise to use his performance in the 2012 Tour de France as the only benchmark for this year’s Tour. Nibali lost 3 minutes 54 seconds in time trials to Chris Froome, a year in which Froome was immense; only actually finishing 2 minutes 58 behind Froome overall. This despite his sole efforts alone in the mountains being countered daily by the incredible SKY train, you would have to take it that Nibali was fantastic taking the fight to SKY. It needs to be remembered how bad he was in the Dauphine in the lead up to that 2013 Tour – you wouldn’t say he was that far off form this time around and since 2012 he’s won a Giro and podiumed in a Vuelta. I am almost certain the Pyrennees will suit him to a tee and his final week record is quite good.

Of the trio out top of the market, Nibali makes all the appeal at 12/1 with BET Victor

UPDATE : VINCENZO NIBALI WINS ITALIAN NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

TJ Van Garderen was my tip last year. Following injury in Romandie he was only finding his feet in the Dauphine and was down the field in 13th but I was really happy with that effort. I would have been shocked if he was back to his best so soon after recovery from a hairline fractured hip. Go back to earlier in the year and he was on a par with the best climbers, outperforming everyone bar Froome in Oman and following up with even better form in Catalunya with a fine stage win at altitude ahead of Contador, Froome and co.

Why is he so far down the favourite list again? It is probably fear arising out of how his Tour unravelled when favoured last year, looking a shadow of himself in some of the stages and only briefly offering us glimpses of his brilliance in heartbreaking fashion on Alpe d’Huez. I think he is the real deal, I’m certain he’s good enough and am willing him to a podium place at the expense of some of those more favoured.

Of the outsiders, he stands out at 66/1 with BET Victor & Paddy Power and touches of 75s on BETFAIR.

Advice

1pt e/w Vincenzo Nibali @ 12/1 BET Victor
1pt e/w Tejay Van Garderen @ 66/1 BET Victor
The Outsiders to consider

Alejandro Valverde – His record in the Tour is 3 stage wins and a 6th place GC finish is his highlight. Easy to pass over despite his early season form

Chris Horner – How he managed to win the Vuelta is anyone’s guess but it’s dangerous to assume he’s passed it. The cobbles might tell their story about him.

Bauke Mollema – Was going so well until he cracked (through illness) in the final week – can see the exact same being repeated

Andrew Talansky – The Dauphine was won more by good one-day tactics than star quality and unfortunately he may just not have the touch (yet)

David Navarro – A gutsy climber and can potentially make Top 10 again if others are off form but he’s way behind what’s required for a top finish.

Richie Porte – Annus Horribilis to date ; is he a Plan B - there’s always one poor day in him but he’s good enough if consistent

Jurgen Vandenbroeck – Consistent but unlucky. He has what it takes for Top 6

Rui Costa – He looked a little chunky in Switzerland for a 3 week attempt as team leader. Maybe Top 10 is goal and stage win

Joaquin Rodriguez – Always a danger. If he gets through week 1 and 2, he’s a live contender in Week 3

Thibaut Pinot – What goes up must come down unless you’re Thibaut who would hail a taxi rather than cycle down the descents of the Alps. If he’s scared there, he’ll be petrified by Week 3 in the Pyrenees

Romain Bardet – Improving and a fantastic prospect but maybe just a little short of podium class. Looking at the Young Rider comp for him against Kwiatkowski

Simon Spilak – Everyone says he’s not Tour class. I think he is but must get over the inconsistency on the very hot days in July

Michal Kwiatkowski – He’s just brilliant and now we’ll see how brilliant he is. He can make Top 10 and probably will win Best Young Rider

Mikel Nieve – SKY’s trump card in the mountains – if only he could time trial. Where Porte will fail, Nieve will still be there. SKY sees something in him other than a domestique, I’m certain

Pierre Rolland – the Giro was tough and he’s unraced since. He’ll make a tilt for the Polka Dots but as mentioned yesterday, that’s tough too.

Leo Konig – good, but out of his depth here

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