It’s just after the rest day (my internet may have been dead on the actual day…), so here’s a few thoughts, illustrated by some graphs as always, about the Tour so far.
If you’ve ever been an insomniac and thus felt the need to look at the many, many graphs I produced that show how the time gains/losses for the top 10s at the Tour have gone, then you may recognise that the 2015 Tour is currently following a “dominant” curve, in that everyone is being pretty much thumped by Chris Froome. This graph shows the time, in seconds, that each rider in the top 10 is off the yellow jersey, and essentially shows that from stage three onwards, Chris Froome has only lost time to three men, and those losses were a mere 10 seconds to Bauke Mollema, who was already over 7 minutes behind at the time, and 28 seconds to Vincenzo Nibali, who was over 8 minutes behind. Alejandro Valverde has pilfered 3 seconds (it doesnt really show up on this scale) in the dash for the line and a 4 second time bonus, so Froome has lost just 45 combined seconds to the other 9 men in the top 10 since stage 3.
Stages 10 and 14 have interestingly been the main stages for time loss for the GC guys, with the stage 12 finish to Plateau de Beille not producing any gaps between the meaningful contenders, perhaps because of the headwind on the climb. Instead, the super steed climb to Mende and the 15.3km, 7.4% ascent of La Pierre Saint Martin have been where most time has been lost.
Quintana in with a chance?
The support for Quintana has increased essentially just because he’s the only man who looks in with a chance of catching Froome, even though he’s over three minutes behind.
Quintana has only actually lost a minute in the mountains however, which was topped up by a slight time bonus and Froome’s one second gap at Mende, but his main loss was on stage two in the rain and wind. With more mountains to come, and thinking back to Froome’s dying off in the third week in 2013, Quintana could still make things interesting, although he’ll need to attack early on the climbs instead of trying from 2-3 km out.
For a while, it looked like we might have a very interesting Green jersey competition on our hands. As this graph shows, Sagan and Greipel were essentially on the same points, intertwined and punching and counter punching as Greipel made best use of the new winning-friendly points competition to counter Sagan’s consistency. For a while, it looked like Sagan would struggle to take a 4th points crown given Greipel would surely have the advantage on the Champs Elysees, but now that Sagan has seemingly gone points mad and smashed his way to three consecutive days of winning the intermediate sprint, he now has a 89 point buffer over Greipel, which means he could choose not to contest both the intermediate and final sprints of the Champs Elysees and he could still win by 19 points in the worst case scenario.
John Degenkolb, Mark Cavendish and Bryan Coquard seem to have been the only other riders contesting the competition, but all are now so far behind Sagan that there is little point wasting their energy before Paris.
The current intermediate sprint format was introduced to help pure sprinters succeed, as Mark Cavendish managed to not wear the green jersey at all in 2008 despite 4 stage wins, then failed to win it in 2009 and 2010 despite adding a further 11 wins to his name. His occasional moans that he shouldn’t have to contest the intermediate sprints were answered in 2011’s “super sprint” format, which seemingly prevented riders topping up their accounts by getting in breaks to take intermediate points by ensuring more riders would be involved.
However, a rider with the power to breakaway on the lumpy days that aren’t pure sprinter friendly has found that they can take a huge 20 points if they do so (although evidently the effort required is monumental), and this has been where Peter Sagan has taken the lead in the points competition in the last few days. Oddly, it was actually benefiting Greipel for the first two weeks, as the above graph, showing just points scored in the intermediate sprint, demonstrates.
Sagan currently has 405 points, of which 169 have been taken at the intermediate sprint (41.7%). Greipel has 316, with 136 of those banked at the intermediates (43%). Greipel has thus actually taken a greater percentage of his points at the intermediate sprints that Sagan, although it’s worth noting that Sagan has taken points at the finish of lumpy stages that Greipel hasn’t contested. Without the intermediates, the scores would still be in the Slovakian’s favour, at 236 v 180.
Time bonuses for the Overall
The return of time bonuses, albeit at 10/6/4 seconds rather than the 20/12/8 they used to be, was a controversial feature for 2015, with people concerned it would overly alter the race. Do they have a point? Well, no, frankly. Of the top 10 riders on GC, just three have taken bonuses worth a combined 26 seconds between them, of which Chris Froome has taken 16. Nairo Quintana got 6 when he finished second to Froome on stage 10, whilst Valverde got 4 for taking third on the Mur de Bretagne.
Given Froome currently leads Quintana by 3’10 (190 seconds), time bonuses make up just 5.26% of his overall lead – nothing to get fussed about. Likewise, Valverde is not yet in danger of making the podium because of his 4 second bonus. With Sky seemingly keen to let breaks go, and the time gaps large enough to render them moot, it looks unlikely that time bonuses will decide the race.
Time bonuses in the first week
Perhaps the real point of reintroducing the bonuses was to liven up the first week of the Tour, which had oft seen the rider who won the opening prologue go on to wear yellow for a week as no one could challenge them. Fabian Cancellara has been the main beneficiary of the lack of time bonuses, so it was perhaps ironic that he then became the first beneficiary of their reintroduction when pipping Mark Cavendish for 3rd on stage 2 gave him the time required to pull on yellow.
If the bonuses had not been introduced, then Tony Martin would have had a much easier (if not quite as dramatic and interesting) journey to the yellow jersey – he would have taken it on stage 2, held it on stage three as Chris Froome’s time bonus wouldn’t have taken him one second above Martin, and then he wouldn’t have needed to attack on stage 4 to take it either. Whether or not he would have still crashed and fractured his collarbone on stage 6 is not for us to know however…
“UK Postal” is how Sky have been termed for their apparently overly “US Postal”-esque riding in the mountains. Whilst I’m convinced that people have mis-remembered how US Postal rode – they certainly weren’t riding on the front everyday and collapsed more often than they should have – it makes sense to have a look and see if Sky were actually all that impressive.
Arguably, the answer from the above graph is no, as it shows the key members of the squad losing rather a lot of time, especially in the first week. However, this was perhaps part of a calculated plan. With the team time trial so late, it made no sense to waste rider’s energy battling for high places when only the top three in the squad counted towards the team classification that would decide the starting order for the TTT. Thus, it seems Sky instructed riders to ease off an roll in so that they would be fresh for stage 9 – which paid off handsomely when they took second place by just 0.6 seconds.
This approach seems to have continued throughout the race, a kind of “no egos” attitude where those supporting Froome don’t care about their own position, and instead are more interested in staying fresh for later in the race. UK Postal? Don’t make me laugh. Sky are just being very clever in their resource management, deploying effort when it is needed and thus when it is most likely to be seen.
Hot off getting two men on the podium for the first time since 1984 (and the first since, er, Richard Virenque in 1997), France obviously had high hopes for the 2015 edition, with their 30 years of hurt possibly coming to an end, or so they though. It has not been their year unfortunately – whilst they do have a solitary countryman in the top 10, Warren Barguil, he is 11’03 behind Chris Froome and is essentially just looking to hold that position. The Bardet/Pinot/Peraud trio have all fallen short, and was surmised on the tactical nightmare that Bardet and Pinot played out in Mende, where their dillydallying over working together allowed Steve Cummings to catch and beat them for a famous win.
Once again, the French are left with youthful discoveries being their best thing to sing about, with Tony Gallopin showing some fight to stay in the top 10 until stage 16. Still, at least they’ve won a stage, which should keep everyone happy for a while.
Last year’s trinity of Vincenzo Nibali, Jean Christophe Peraud and Thibaut Pinot have spent the last twelve months fighting off allegations that they only achieved their hallowed podium placings because of the absence/withdrawal of messrs Contador, Froome and Quintana, and were no doubt looking forward to proving the doubters wrong at this years edition.
It hasn’t gone very well however, as the two French podium contenders have found bad luck, poor positioning, crashes and some eye brow raising tactical naivety have left them without hope of repeating their feat of the previous year. Peraud will now just be happy to finish given he skinned himself earlier in the race, whilst Pinot has apparently turned his attention to the KOM competition, which will be tricky given the double points on summit finishes rule, of which there are 2 (Pra loup isnt really a summit finish…) left out of the 5 remaining stages.
Credit should be given to Vincenzo Nibali however. As a defending champion almost sniffed at by many competitions, he has at least tried his hardest even when the game looked up. Being caught behind a crash cost him the time in Zeeland, and he has been aggressive on the cobbles and on the climbs even when we and he already knew he wasn’t in the Tour winning form of last year. The podium could still be in reach for “The Shark” if he showcases his canny riding style.
A couple of quick focuses on teams here. LottoNL went into this Tour, starting in their home country, with a new kit, a can do attitude, and confidence in its four general classification men. They had all achieved good results in previous grand tours…
Robert Gesink – 5th, 2010 Tour, 6th, 2009/2012 Vuelta
Steven Kruijswijk – 7th, 2015 Giro, 8th, 2011 Giro
Wilco Kelderman – 7th, 2014 Giro
Laurens Ten Dam – 8th, 2012 Vuelta, 9th, 2014 Tour
…and so were keen to flood the top 10 with their men. Unfortunately, all but Robert Gesink have essentially been hemorrhaging time all Tour, starting with a 5 minute loss on stage 2. Gesink is holding the fort admirably in 7th, which for a man with his injury and heart problems is damn impressive, but you cant help feeling they’ll be disappointed in Kelderman and Kruijswijk for their performances, especially as Kelderman has been caught up by Ten Dam, who had a dislocated shoulder.
Why pick on Cannondale Garmin? Well, having not bothered my self with what he thought for a while, after Dan Martin came second on the Mur de Bretange, I thought I’d go and see how Jonathan Vaughters would spin it. However, I found this:
Now, whilst I make no claims at all to be a fan of Mr Vaughters, and have been frank enough about that, I very much doubt he reads this pokey little blog hidden in the dregs of the internet and read by about 10 people, so what could I possibly have done to warrant such an action?
Well, I had a look back at any tweets I’d mentioned him in, and the last ones, in the heady days of 2013, were about Ryder Hesjedal’s belated doping confession, which somewhat went against Garmin’s supposedly open and transparent culture. It was hardly “trolling” or abusive (I mean what’s the point?) but hey, evidently JV can’t handle mild critisism.
I could be cruel and ask what a team that talks itself up as an exciting, attacking and innovative force has actually been doing all race, because you wouldn’t have know they were there if it hadn’t been for Dan Martin, who is reportedly leaving the team, using this punchy style to get them some results. Ryder Hesjedal appears to be suffering from his strong Giro ride, and Talansky is chugging along out of sight in the 12-20th positions.
We’ve yet to see Ramunas Navardauskas do anything, and opportunities are running out for Cannondale to actually do something in the race. Still, as long as Vaughters can sit in an echo chamber of his own making, I’m sure he’ll be pleased.