Tour de France 2015: Five things we've learnt in the 2015 Tour so far

 

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Froome has gone from Big Four to the one to beat

Barring his unremarkable opening time trial, Chris Froome has been firing on all cylinders. The Sky rider made it into stage two’s crucial first split, which allowed him to distance two of the Tour’s four pre-race favourites, Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana, by nearly 90 seconds.

He then put 18 seconds into arch rival Alberto Contador on the Mur de Huy climb on Monday, and was clearly the strongest on the stage over the dreaded farmland cobbles of northern France, too.

In a week, Froome has mutated from one of the Big Four contenders to standout favourite – for a second Tour in three years. What’s more, the mountains, where he has always shone, haven’t even started.

Van Garderen can profit from big names’ slide

With only Froome 100 per cent on track of the big pre-race favourites, there is plenty of room for new challengers to muscle their way into contention. Like the American Tejay van Garderen, for example, who ran Froome closest in the Critérium du Dauphiné last month and finished fifth in the 2012 Tour de France and again last year. Van Garderen is just 13 seconds off the Briton.

Today’s uphill finish at Mûr-de-Bretagne will suit the lanky 26-year-old, but his real chance to make it into yellow will come in tomorrow’s team time trial, where his BMC squad will be favourites.

 

French cycling renaissance may have been exaggerated

With Frenchmen finishing second, third and sixth overall last year, it looked as if the home nation’s long wait for Tour success was finally over. L’Equipe even ran an article the day after the 2014 race ended headlined “Their Tour is coming soon” –  a play on words, “tour” in French also meaning “turn”.

However, after crashes, injuries, and missing some key breaks, the closest of France’s top finishers in 2014, Jean-Christophe Péraud, is now more than two minutes down and the rest are even further off the radar. Injuries have seen France’s top sprinter, Nacer Bouhanni, head for home, too. Only Tony Gallopin, who briefly wore the yellow jersey at an early stage last year and now lies fourth, and a Tour debutant, promising Breton climber Warren Barguil (10th), remain well placed.

Contador’s double ambition is looking less and less likely

After winning the Giro d’Italia in May and with seven Grand Tours in his palmares, back in Utrecht Alberto Contador’s chances of becoming the first rider since 1998 to take the Giro and Tour in the same year looked good.

However, although his Tinkoff-Saxo team – far from his strongest suit in the Giro – is clearly in cracking shape, Contador has shed time on Froome on three out of four key stages so far. A 36-second deficit is not disastrous – yet – but it doesn’t look promising for the Spaniard.

Quintana may already have slipped too far behind

The young Colombian lost almost two minutes to Froome and Contador after getting dropped from stage two’s mass breakaway.

Unless his Movistar squad turn things around fast in the team time trial tomorrow, or Quintana really goes on the attack in the mountains, even a repeat of his 2013 podium finish could be difficult for the climber. The after-effects of Thursday’s crash outside Le Havre, in which he injured his arm, have yet to be fully known too.

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