Tour de France 2013: Catching Up With Le Tour

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While I absolutely loved my time in Australia the trip also coincided with the Tour de France, one of my favorite annual events. While the sports-mad Aussies do follow the race, it doesn’t come on the telly until 10:00 PM each night, which meant that on the few days that I actually had access to watch it, I was practically ready to crash just as the race was starting to get rolling. Still, I did my best to keep up with what was happening and stay informed of the standings whenever I could. It seems I missed a lot of action but not necessarily a lot of intrigue.

As expected, pre-race favorite Chris Froome has taken a commanding leading in the race and continues to fend off all challengers in the mountains. The Team Sky rider threw down the gauntlet in the first stage of the Pyrenees and hasn’t let up much since, although Alberto Contador did take advantage of an opportunity to get himself back onto the podium when winds split the peloton in a stage last week. Still, the Spanish rider currently sits in third place, 4:25 off the pace set by Froome but just 11 seconds behind Bauke Mollema of Team Belkin who is currently in third.

After a rest day yesterday the riders returned to the roads today for their first taste of the Alps. It was 168 km (104.38 mile) slog from Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap that featured plenty of climbing, even if they weren’t the really big mountains that are yet to come. The course featured a Category 3 climb and two Category 2 climbers, but finished with a fast descent to the finish line. It was a day made for a breakaway and a rather large contingent of riders did leave the peloton behind to make a move for the stage win. Ultimately that went to Rui Costa of Movistar, who rode to the finish alone, 42 seconds ahead of his closest rivals.

That sets the stage for tomorrows second individual time trial that will like allow Froome to extend his lead even further. He has been dominant on the climbing stages thus far and looked great in the first ITT last week. Tomorrow’s course will run from Embrun to Chorges and is just 32 km (19.88 miles) in length but features two Cat. 2 climbs, which will be a good challenge for the riders to ascend completely on their own. Considering how the first two weeks have gone, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see  Froome win this stage in convincing fashion.

With just a few more days to go until the riders turn to Paris, this race is all but over. Personally, barring any type of catastrophe, I feel like Froome has this completely locked up. Make no mistake, there are some tough stages yet to come, but it’ll take a herculean effort on someone’s part to try to close any gaps with the leader. Thursday stage, which features two climbs of the infamous Alpe d’Huez, would be the one to make a move, but it’ll be tough to shake Froome who hasn’t looked vulnerable in the mountains this year or last.

In addition to wearing the Yellow Jersey, Froome also has the Polka Dot Jersey that goes to the best climber in the Tour. Cannondale’s Peter Sagan has a commanding lead in the race for the Green Jersey that goes to the top sprinters. With not many sprint points left to be claimed, he is in front of Mark Cavendish by 99 points. They will likely battle it out in Paris on Sunday, where Cav has been all but unbeatable the past few years. The White Jersey for the Tour’s best young rider is worn by Rojas Quintana of Movistar who is having an excellent race thus far and is sitting in 6th place heading into the  final days.

The next few days of the race should be exciting ones, even if it feels like this one has all but been decided. Thursday’s showdown in the Alps should be terrific and now that I’m home to watch it all unfold, I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Kraig Becker