5. Flower power
One of the things I really love to see in cycling is the World Champion’s jersey getting involved in the action. Michal Kwiatkowski is doing a better job of being seen, being involved, just making stuff happen than most of his recent predecessors in the rainbow stripes. He’s always buzzing around his teammates, riding in support despite his status, and he loves to throw down an aggressive attack himself. He is a real all-rounder and climbs surprisingly well for a guy with his build.
In stage 12 he was in the big break, then attacked with Sep Vanmarcke (who must’ve been wondering what the hell he was doing attacking on the side of a Pyrenean mountain instead of smashing over his preferred Flanders cobbles). Vanmarcke inevitably cracked, and ‘Flower Man’ Kwiatkowski spent a long time solo, trying to win on the Plateau de Beille.
Doomed, but awesome.
4. Rolling the dice
A mixed bunch in what was actually a pretty powerful break. Your usual opportunists (Chavanel, Coppel, Barta), your sadistic classics guys (Kwiatkowski, Vanmarcke) and a few decent climbers (Sicard, Navarro, Fuglsang, Meintjes).
Even some guys-who-were-talked-about-as-possible-contenders-but-have-lost-heaps-of-time-already in the break today (Rodriguez, Bardet).
The GC guys were happy to let them all have a go. Good on ’em. It’s nice to get some TV time.
3. Attack, attack, attack!
Meanwhile, with the break disintegrating up the road, there was a flurry of attacks on the middle slopes of the Plateau de Beille as all of Team Sky’s rivals tried to discomfort Chris Froome.
Contador, Nibali and Valverde all had a go (Contador’s attack coming just moments after the Sherliggetts had pointed out how rubbish he looked). All were closed down rapidly by Richie Porte, riding a pretty fierce tempo.
Porte eventually cracked, and immediately Nairo Quintana was off the front, this time forcing Froome to chase while Geraint Thomas worked his way back into contact.
It was pretty thrilling to watch, but Sky had an answer to every challenge. Still, another week of constant attacks from every direction and we might see Porte and Thomas worn out a bit earlier and opportunity might – MIGHT – open up. Clearly everyone knows this. They just have to keep Sky working like dogs, which is easier said than done.
Valverde is now so important to Movistar’s chances with Quintana. Because he is too dangerous to let go, he’s the perfect first punch in the team’s left-right combination. The received wisdom about too many leaders causing disharmony doesn’t seem to be a problem for the Spanish squad. They’ve turned it into a strength.
A few days ago I said that losing time could actually be good news for J. Rodriguez, because it meant he would be given latitude to chase more stage wins.
He may have missed his chance to win a Grand Tour, but Purito is still a wonderful climber, and once it was clear the break was staying away it was his to lose. What a magnificent painface he has, too.
Two stage wins at the halfway mark of the Tour. Not bad for an old fella.
I don’t think Froome was having a good day. It didn’t matter though, because he’s got the strongest teammates in Porte and Thomas, he’s clearly at least as strong as Quintana, and stronger than the flickering Nibali and over-cooked Contador. Tejay van Garderen is hanging in there, but he lacks the dangerous acceleration of the others and I get the sense that he’s riding for a podium place – he won’t risk everything for the win.
With the Pyrenees over, Froome would have to crash, get sick, or suffer an absolutely catastrophic bonk to lose this Tour.
Valverde can snipe seconds at the finish all he wants, but it’s not going to make a scintilla of difference overall unless Froome can be isolated early and worked over by Movistar, Tinkoff-Saxo, Astana and BMC pooling their resources against a common enemy.
Hey, it might happen.