When viewing the remaining stages, with Vincenzo Nibali’s lead in mind, it seems like the yellow jersey battle is over – it is. The impending battle which will draw the gaze away from the rider and his shoulders’ draped with gold is the melee for second and third upon that podium come Paris. Less than 4 minutes separates second place Alejandro Valverde to seventh man down Bauke Mollema; with the ruthlessly steep Pyrenees and a 54km individual time trial from Bergerac to Périgueux remaining, expect a foreign looking general classification by July 27th.
Who To Watch and Why:
Alejandro Valverde is performing far beyond the level expected for a man of his age and this may well be the last chance to stand next to number one, with Froome and Contador now absent heading into the last week. The man knows the upcoming Pyrenees oh to well and will use this to his advantage, to both gain a gap between the two hounding Frenchmen of Bardet and Pinot, as well as closing the gap to Nibali. As the reigning Spanish Time Trial Champion, Valverde will endeavour to put himself into a comfortable position at the end of the penultimate day’s race against the clock; a guaranteed podium with Nibali in spitting distance is the goal.
Romain Bardet currently finds himself as the highest placed Frenchman at their home tour, but this could alter drastically in the last week. He is far from cementing his place upon the podium and lacks anything resembling form when it comes to beating the clock; he has to hurl himself up the remaining climbs if he wishes to have a hope of staying third by the end of it all. However, at 23 years of age, his best years are far ahead of him and any pressure is exaggerated by national pride rather than last gasp career hope.
Thibaut Pinot has re-emerged as the French climbing superstar which was expected of him so early on in his career with great effect this year. Aggressive going up and happy to retaliate his fellow country-mans attempts to expose his descending weaknesses going down, Pinot seems more well-rounded this year than ever before. Still extremely young to be worrying about winning the Tour overall, the memory of securing a top ten placing in his debut a couple of years ago will still be fresh in his mind. On that occasion it was achieved via the final time trial; with a surprising 9th place TT performance in this year’s Tour de Romandie, do not be surprised if he manages to hold his podium place with a solid race against time once more.
Tejay Van Garderen holds the greatest chance of emerging from the chasing pack to finish this year upon the podium. Having stayed in contact with the pure climbers to consolidate his podium hopes, he now needs to have the protection of his BMC team, as Bardet and Pinot are expected to put in huge digs against him in the final mountain stages. Van Garderen has great form in the time trials, and the 54km penultimate day’s test could see him overturn a deficit of several minutes from Romain Bardet. If all goes well in the Pyrenees he could be set to achieve his last gasp charge for the top 3 placings.
Jéan-Christophe Peraud is the last rider with a feasible chance of taking third in the final week’s racing, but that would mean taking it from his team-mate Bardet. The two AG2R riders are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their career prospects; one is impressing at a young age with plenty of time left to win Le Tour and the other is 37 years old with this year being an unexpected burst of form. Peraud was once the unexpected winner of the national time trial title, but it is hard to see him putting in anything but a modest time if he was to aim for the podium. In reality it is more likely that he will be used to help Bardet gain further time on the chasing pack within the general classification.
Best of The Rest:
The likes of Bauke Mollema, Leopold Konig, Laurens Ten Dam and Pierre Rolland find themselves too heavily distanced to concern themselves with the podium; instead looking to secure their top 10 placings in the final week. Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Haimar Zubeldia, Rui Costa and Frank Schleck are likely to jostle for the last top 10 spot, so expect to see them maintain a presence in the selective groups as they endure the harshly steep slopes of the Pyrenees. Further down we find riders such as Richie Porte, Michal Kwiatkowski, Geraint Thomas, Michael Rogers, Nicolas Roche and many more who see their goals greatly altered since the start of this year’s tour. Those who are without a GC leader and with no hope of a top 10 shall be tempted to launch attacks in the name of a stage win in order to save their tour.