Tag Archives: Froome

When Froome comes to Melbourne…

Chris Froome is coming to Melbourne to race at the Jayco Herald-Sun Tour.

This is massive news for the race, and for the profile of cycling in the Australian media. It’s a promoter’s dream, the reigning Tour de France champion, in a humble Victorian stage race!

The Jayco Herald-Sun Tour is the oldest, but least prestigious (according to the UCI) of the three big races in Australian cycling’s summer.

It starts on February 3rd, just a couple of days after the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (January 31) which itself follows the Tour Down Under (January 19-24).

Froome’s Team Sky will be racing both the Tour Down Under and the Cadel race but the the Tour champ will sit them out, saving himself until the last.

But why would the Tour de France champion travel halfway across the world to roll around with a bunch of Continental teams, in a (relatively) lowly race?

Don’t get me wrong, the Jayco Herald-Sun Tour (or just the Sun Tour, if you’ve been around a while) is an important race on the Australian cycling calendar, and it has a great history going all the way back to 1952.

2015 winner Cameron Meyer (OGE) in the Prologue
2015 winner Cameron Meyer (OGE) in the Prologue

History aside, in the present day it’s a UCI 2.1 race plonked at the very beginning of the UCI road season. A useful shop window for up-and-coming local riders like Nathan Haas or Calvin Watson, whose victories in 2011 and 2013 provided a springboard into the World Tour. An ideal chance for local riders to test themselves against a smattering of internationals.

But the Tour de France champion? Surely he’s above all this? Wouldn’t the Tour Down Under be a better race?

Not necessarily. Froome generally likes to show good early-season form at the Tour of Oman, which he has won twice, and which comes just two weeks after the Sun Tour, but four weeks after the Tour Down Under. Four weeks’ gap is too big to provide a proper tune-up for Oman.

The Tour Down Under also brings an undeniably higher intensity than the Sun Tour, and more international scrutiny. Far better to ease back into racing, away from the attention of the global cycling press (most of whom will be in the Middle East covering the Dubai Tour in the first week of February).

The prologue, which starts in Federation Square and finishes at Southbank, returns in 2016.
The prologue, which starts in Federation Square and finishes at Southbank, returns in 2016.

The race route for the Sun Tour will present enough challenges, particularly Stages 1 and 2 which both roll through the beautiful hills around Warburton (the area will be very familiar to any Melburnian rider worth their salt); and Stage 4 with its three climbs of Arthur’s Seat. And yet the stages are short, by World Tour standards.

The warm weather will be a much better preparation than training in Europe, the scenery and food will be a highlight, and with Team Sky likely to spend half the year at altitude in the bored seclusion of Tenerife, I’m sure he’s in no rush to go there.

Team Sky will have no Australian riders on its squad for the first time in its history, but a visit from Froome will more than satisfy the local branches of the team’s sponsors. Jaguar dealers around the country will already be shaving down in preparation.

Chuck in a couple of weeks seeing the sights, training in the hills around Adelaide, perhaps a trip to the Victorian Alps for a look at our best climbs, and it’s easy to see how a visit to the Jayco Herald-Sun Tour strikes a perfect balance between training camp, easing into early-season racing, and pleasing the team’s backers and fans.

The bigger picture is that cycling, our humble little sport, now has a fighting chance of holding its own in the nation’s sports bulletins and newspapers for a solid three-week block at the height of summer.

This is great news for sponsors, TV broadcasters, team owners, racers and even your average recreational rider who just wishes more people understood.

It means casual fans who watch the Tour but not much else will come down after work in Melbourne’s CBD to watch the prologue, see one of their heroes up close, and see some great bike racing in person. They might even make the trip down to Arthur’s Seat for the finale, to see him climbing and soak up the atmosphere with the local cognoscenti.

With Team Sky racing, it won't be a toss-up between Aussie cycling's two biggest teams, Orica-GreenEdge and Drapac.
With Team Sky racing, it won’t be a toss-up between Aussie cycling’s two biggest teams, Orica-GreenEdge and Drapac.

It means that every NRS rider with ambitions of making the leap to the pro peloton will be licking his lips at the prospect. If Froome sometimes rides like a man fighting an octopus, wouldn’t you love a chance to be the octopus?

It’s fantastic news all round. The race director, John Trevorrow, must be pinching himself.

Should we expect Froome to arrive in top form and blow everyone away? I wouldn’t count on it, he’s obviously got much bigger octopuses to fight, but just having such a global superstar on the start list is one of the best things ever to happen to the Jayco Herald-Sun Tour.

Don’t miss it.

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Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 15

Well, that escalated.

5. Bling is back

No win, but he was back mixing it up in the finish of a stage that never really suited him. Bling doesn’t love the bunch sprints, and he had to freelance it through a tricky run in. He was nearly put into the barriers by a pair of Cofidis riders and lost position, then had to brake into the final corner and slipped further back. That’s OK.

At least he’s feeling good enough to be involved in the race again.

4. Rohan’s shorts

BMC’s dual stage-winner Rohan ‘Drop Bear’ Dennis was wearing special black knicks because he has saddle sores and he needed more, or different, padding.

HOW MANY TIMES DID WE NEED TO HEAR ABOUT IT?

3. Sagan watch: yet another top five

He’s racking them up faster than Paolini at a discotheque.

I wonder if he’s considered not getting in the break every single day, and saving some energy for the sprint at the end. You know, the one that matters. He may not have.

2. Greipel wins again, is clearly the fastest sprinter in the race

That’s three to Greipel, one to Cavendish, and donuts for all the other big sprinters.

Seems pretty clear cut that he’s the fastest when it’s flat.

Cavendish is apparently sick, and was shelled out the back very early today. Will he make it through the Alps?

1. Froome goes the media

This is a story that’s arguably bigger than the actual race. Chris Froome has gone in hard at the media, blaming ‘certain sections’ (mostly the French) for deliberately stirring the pot and inciting people to do stupid things like punch Richie Porte or throw piss at Froome himself.

French ex-TV commentator Laurent Jalabert seems to have been singled out by the English press, for comments he made about Froome:

Let’s take a moment to talk about Jalabert, a sprinter from the mid-1990’s who somehow also managed to win the King of the Mountains jersey twice AND the Vuelta a Espana (where he won all three jerseys in 1995).

Jaja‘s urine from the notorious 1998 ‘Festina Tour’ tested positive for EPO (shock!) but he has never admitted to knowingly doping, despite defying his natural physiology to prosper as a climber in the EPO-soaked 1990’s. I distinctly remember watching those Tours and hearing Phil Liggett express his amazement (yes, I know!) that Jalabert was climbing so well.

The idea that Jalabert of all people could lecture anyone about doping is laughable.

But so is the idea that by voicing his own doubts about Froome he is responsible for the actions of idiots, or that it’s unreasonable to question dominant performances given the context of two decades of false denials and omerta.

I can understand Froome is annoyed, indignant even. It is completely unacceptable to abuse or assault riders. And some of the loudest media voices making veiled accusations are the exact people whose own cheating led the punters to doubt his integrity in the first place. The injustice of it all!

But let’s all take a few deep breaths and try to maintain some perspective. We remember how we got here, right? Doubt is part and parcel now.

Especially when the competition has been crushed by the first stage of the Pyrenees, leaving the media without anything much to talk about.

Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 10

Wowoweewaaah.

5. Nibali: cooked

Stick a fork in him, he’s done. Fish and chips.

4: Contador: cooked

He’s more legs of mutton than legs of a Tour winner. Eaten for dinner (slow-roasted with Italian seasoning).

3. Tejay: cooked.

First really hard day and he’s already been steamed up. Maybe they’re not legs, they’re hot dogs.

2. Nairo: prepare the tablecloth

He’s not done yet, but the waiters are getting the table ready.

1. Froome: answers critics by doing thing that encourages critics.

Sky train right on schedule.

“Now we’re cooking with gas!”

Gritty racing pleases at the Vuelta

It seems like it happens every year. The Vuelta a Espana shows up as the whole cycling world is staggering out of its post-Tour de France comedown, slightly tattered and battered and swearing that next time it won’t get so carried away.

Suddenly the Vuelta arrives like a tour bus full of university students on their summer break, promising cheap thrills and another chance to get lucky. Wearily, we all agree to climb aboard, and before we know it we’re swept away by the heat, the drama and the sheer bloody charisma of the whole thing.

It’s happening again, the last few days of this Spanish adventure have risen several notches in intensity, as the tried and tested Vuelta method for excitement has properly kicked in.

Image: Andy Schumacher (https://www.flickr.com/photos/andyschumacher/14879733437/)
Image: Andy Schumacher (https://www.flickr.com/photos/andyschumacher/14879733437/)

That method is: (relatively) short stages with several short climbs, on very steep gradients, with summit finishes. Add time bonuses. Sit back and watch the GC contenders try to knock each other out at speeds just above walking pace. Repeat.

It’s working a treat. Even Nairo Quintana’s absence (spectacular crash in the time trial, wasn’t it?) hasn’t damaged the race too badly. The Tour de France crashes that removed Alberto Contador and Chris Froome from July’s reckoning have brought the pair back to the field, and less than 90 seconds separates the top 4.

Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez, still two of the punchiest riders in the pro peloton, have gone at it with gusto, and Astana’s Fabio Aru, revelation of the Giro d’Italia, is showing that his effort in Italy was no fluke.

Stages 14 and 15 were magnificent: Froome pinching seconds from Contador and Rodriguez on stage 14, while Valverde suffered and dropped 30 seconds. The favour was returned on stage 15, as Valverde pounced to grab second on the stage, a fistful of seconds, and some bonus time.

Whenever you put Contador, Valverde and Rodriguez in a Vuelta together, you can expect a ripper of a contest, and this year is living up.

Valverde has bounced back from a disappointing Tour, and Rodriguez’ recovery from an injury-marred start to this season is finally picking up pace.

Beyond the top four, the supporting cast has animated the race wonderfully: Aru, Dan Martin, Rigoberto Uran, Warren Barguil are all there and firing.

The nature of the climbs in the Vuelta means they are raced differently than in the Tour. The climbs are shorter, the gradients are much steeper, and the much-derided tactic of sending a train of domestiques to the front to ride at threshold power until everyone pops is nowhere near as powerful.

Put simply, these are climbs that suit proper climbers, not diesel engines with a month of altitude training under their belts.

The upshot is that most days finish with a select group of elite climbers who proceed to attack each other one after the other until the finish. It’s great racing. You can almost see the lactic acid burning holes in everyone’s quads, it’s that intense.

Stage 15 was one of the best days of racing you will see this season. Australian Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge) was in a two-man break with eventual stage winner Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre), with several minutes’ lead being chewed up at a rapid rate by the chasing group of GC favourites.

With a couple of kilometres to the summit, and a last-minute catch looking likely, Niemiec (a wily veteran at 34) attacked, dropped Meyer and floored it.

Behind him Contador, Valverde, Barguil and Rodriguez traded attacks, shelling Froome out the back.

Niemiec’ eventual victory – by just 5 seconds – was a real thriller, as was the painful battle behind him.

It was an encouraging ride from Meyer, who will be hoping it earns him a place in the Australian team for the World Championships. I would take him – he’s a valuable support rider for the more fancied leaders. He got just as close to succeeding as his compatriot Adam Hansen did the previous day.

Froome has been forced to show huge amounts of grit in this Vuelta. He is clearly lacking some top-end fitness, shown by his inability to match the acceleration of his Spanish rivals, but seems to be improving as the Vuelta progresses.

Where the Spaniards stand out of the saddle and attack in bursts, Froome prefers to sit and spin a high cadence and constant power output, staring intently at his stem (OK, at his power meter), gradually dragging himself back to the leaders.

So far it has worked at keeping him in the race, but when he’s at his peak Froome uses the technique to go off the front, not to cling on at the back.

On stage 14 it worked beautifully, and he was able to sprint past to claim a moral victory on the line. On stage 15, he was unable to reel the three amigos back in time.

For his part, Contador has looked just as almost-there. He leads the race after stage 16, which he won handsomely, but has by no means dominated. His attacks are short, and he looks like a man who is giving everything. It’s been a flinty performance, more than anything else.

Stage 16, a monster stage with four Cat.1 climbs and Cat.2, has probably decided the outcome of the race. Contador’s victory shows he is the strongest man in the race, even if he is slightly off his best.

With only one mountainous day remaining, stage 20, it’s hard to see Contador dropping the 1:36 he holds over Valverde.

Still, only 3 seconds separates Valverde from Froome – close enough for the Sky leader to feel confident in the final ‘epilogue’ time trial on Sunday.

Valverde needs to find more time, whether he does it in the mountains on Saturday, or by trying to crack Froome in the winds beforehand.

Whatever the result, we’ve already been treated to another good Vuelta. It’s not as slick as its French cousin, but the racing is gritty and tough, in close and tight. Keep watching.

 A version of this article appeared on The Roar.

 

Talansky, Contador and the Crack of Froome

What an explosion of colour and movement the Dauphine turned out to be! Andrew Talansky’s smash and grab mission to steal the overall victory sent expectations flying like a watermelon truck in a car chase scene.

Embed from Getty Images
High drama indeed, and one of the best stages of any race in recent memory. But does it signify much for the Tour de France?

I don’t think there are any Earth-shattering revelations to be found: the list of main Tour favourites stays the same (with some shuffling).

However, there are serious tactical implications that emerge from this race. Some chinks emerged in the armour of Team Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo, and that’s great news for a Tour that should be less predictable than the two previous editions.

Talansky has long been tipped by the US cycling press as a future star, and at 25 he has already had some good results in Europe: overall podiums at the Tours of Romandie and Paris-Nice, and top ten’s on GC at the Vuelta a Espana and Tour de France.

But it’s too easy to remember the tactical blunder in stage 5 of the 2013 Paris-Nice, when Talansky, riding in yellow, defended his jersey aggressively, only to crack and hand Richie Porte the stage and overall victory.

Still a promising result, it nevertheless fueled the perception that the Miami native has a vice: over-confidence.

Talansky’s natural aggression paid off at the Dauphine though, producing a final-stage ride that could scarcely have been more audacious if he’d performed it in the nude while whistling the theme to the Great Escape.

Not only did he pinch the overall victory from the two men widely assumed to have the race stitched up, he also knocked off most of the next tier of contenders.

But how the hell was a breakaway that included Talansky, Tejay van Garderen, Jurgen van den Broeck, Vincenzo Nibali, Ryder Hesjedal, J-C Peraud, Thomas Voeckler, Romain Bardet, Adam Yates, Mikel Nieve, Richie Porte and Wilco Kelderman ever allowed to go away in the first place?

That’s not a breakaway, it’s a list of guys most likely to finish top ten in any contemporary Grand Tour. You don’t simply sit back and let them blow up the race, because with that much firepower it was always going to be nearly impossible to bring them back on the day’s final climbs.

Race leader Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo Bank team had the responsibility to control the race, and they failed dismally.

This left Contador completely isolated and forced to chase down the most powerful breakaway since the Kit Kat was invented.

Perhaps this was a cunning plan to force Contador into the most extreme pre-Tour training possible – a 15km solo effort up two Cat 1 climbs trying desperately to defend a slipping yellow jersey.

If that was the plan, it could be euphemistically described as ‘brave’.

More likely, the team just had a shocker, dropped its bundle and left its leader cursing a missed opportunity to pump up his palmares and his confidence before the Big One in a few weeks’ time.

That said, even while the Dauphine slipped away Contador’s ride was super impressive. If he had started the climb to Courchevel level with his rivals, he would’ve won handsomely. His form is ominous. He will have better team support at the Tour.

Embed from Getty Images

Meanwhile at Team Sky, what were we witnessing with The Crack of Froome?

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that Froome rides like a man fighting an octopus. This week, the octopus won.

After a perfect start to the Dauphine, the rest of the week has been a shocker for poor old Froome-dog. An inflated controversy about an asthma inhaler; a crash; cracking on stage 7; cracking even harder on stage 8; and allegations of irregularities with his therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for the corticosteroid prednisolone (bizarrely reported as ‘penisolone’ through some outlets – stop sniggering, up the back) which the UCI is desperately trying to quash.

I don’t think any of that matters. Froome only cracked because he crashed. That’s not a lack of form, it’s just dumb luck.

The rest is a sideshow if he’s got medical clearance from the UCI.

There’s been some comments that Team Sky wasn’t up to the job when it mattered in the Dauphine. I disagree.

In stage 8 the team was still supporting Froome in numbers: eventual stage-winner Mikel Nieve and Richie Porte were both in the important break (Porte ultimately dropped back to support Froome), and David Lopez, Vasil Kiryienka and Geraint Thomas were with him until it was clear that all was lost.

The team was unable to respond to Contador’s counter-attack because Froome himself was suffering and a harder tempo would have cracked him even faster.

It’s true that Team Sky is not invincible: they are vulnerable to coordinated attacks from multiple teams.

It’s especially true when everyone else wants to take Sky down, and that’s the price of two years of domination.

The Dauphine showed that Tinkoff-Saxo, Movistar, Garmin-Sharp, AG2R and Astana are all more than happy to put aside their differences and bury the hatchet, if it means putting it in Team Sky’s back.

So what does this all mean for the boys in black and blue?

I think Team Sky needs to adapt. They don’t have the strength to boss the race on their own terms anymore. A more canny approach is needed. Let other teams control the race. Save energy until it matters. Don’t give them an excuse to gang up on you.

I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom. Froome looked in great nick until his crash, and has plenty of time to recover before the Tour. Porte improved through the week, Kiryienka was typically indefatigable, David Lopez and Geraint Thomas also proved themselves more than useful controlling the race for long periods.

Mikel Nieve provides a huge boost to Sky in the mountains. The former Euskaltel climber has finished in the top ten overall in the Vuelta and the Giro, and has won stages of each. He will take an enormous amount of pressure off Porte.

The ‘Schrödinger’s Wiggins’ theorising will continue, but Dave Brailsford must now be giving some serious thought to bringing his former star back into the fold.

Hell, if there’s trouble on the team bus, I’m sure someone can drive Sir Wiggo around in one of their sponsor’s cars.

Froome and Contador: a class above at the Dauphine?

Chris Froome’s authoritative stamp on the first two stages of the Criterium du Dauphine shows the defending champion’s form is excellent, but Alberto Contador is right there with him.

It makes for an intriguing race in its own right, but with the Tour de France looming the stakes are considerably higher.

Last week I woke up one morning and realised with horror that it’s already June and the year is half over and “Oh my god, the Dauphine is starting!”

The tête-à-tête-à-tête between Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali, the three big favourites for July’s main event, is the first time this season they have all raced together, providing a popular core narrative for the race.

All three big favourites have been training on the same roads in Tenerife, and no doubt there’s been a bit of cloak and dagger funny business as the rivals try to observe each other’s times on the slopes of Mt Teide.

The secondary cast of Tour de France aspirants racing this week includes Tejay van Garderen, Andrew Talansky, Jurgen Van Den Broeck and Michal Kwiatkowski. Wilco Keldermann and Ryder Hesjedal are both racing in the aftermath of a tough Giro, where each seemed to be getting stronger in the third week.

Most are within reach of the leaders after two stages, but there will be some stern faces at BMC after their designated Tour leader Tejay van Garderen dropped 2:38 on Monday.

Nevertheless, it was always difficult to go past the trio of Froome, Contador and Nibali for favouritism this week.

Nibali has been the least impressive of the three; still yet to win a race in 2014 and with a string of mediocre results, he has the most to prove at the Dauphine. Has the birth of his first child earlier this year been too much of a distraction?

Nibali doesn’t need to win the Dauphine to settle the nerves, but he needs to show his team that his best form is within reach for July. Unfortunately losing 27 seconds to Froome on the Col du Béal doesn’t spell out the most ideal scenario for the popular Italian.

The resurgence of Contador has had tongues wagging: he’s already won Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Basque Country (Vuelta Ciclista a Pais Vasco); and taken second overall at the Tour of Catalunya and Volta ao Algarve.

In other words, Contador has raced in four stage races this season and never finished worse than second overall, including defeating Froome in Catalunya. His time trialling seems back to its best, and his confidence and strength on long climbs seem much improved over the 2013 version of ‘el Pistolero’.

Contador was the only rider able to withstand Froome’s pace on the Col du Béal.

As for Froome, his form has been very good this season, despite a back injury that kept him out of Tirreno-Adriatico and a chest infection that forced him to withdraw from Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

He won the Tour of Romandie a month ago, defeating Nibali in the process. The last three winners of Romandie (Cadel Evans, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Froome) have gone on to win the Tour de France.

Unfortunately, instead of letting his legs do the talking, it’s been disappointing to see Froome getting involved in the unedifying public stoush with Wiggins over Tour de France selection, which continues to build pressure within Team Sky.

Froome has seemed more than happy to kick the feud along with some choice words about Wiggins in his recently released ghost-written autobiography, sections of which were published in major British newspapers to generate maximum attention. That’s a fair tactic to generate sales, but it doesn’t create an ideal team atmosphere.

Wiggins responded with a self-defeating round of “pity me” interviews with that most influential of cycling newspapers, L’Equipe, suggesting that he would love to ride the Tour but Froome doesn’t want him.

Relations have become so fraught that Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford was forced to publicly remind everyone that he’s in charge of picking the Tour team. It’s a huge distraction.

It’s now difficult to see how the surly Sir could possibly stay at Sky beyond this season: the team bus is clearly not big enough for both egos.

It’s a huge personal shame for Wiggins that he won’t be riding the Tour, particularly as he’s done as much as anybody else to bring the race to England this year.

But this very public slanging match is doing damage to the team and its brand. Neutral fans are turned off by the petty squabbling. I find it hard to warm to Froome at the best of times, but having a crack at a teammate, in print, is poor form no matter who started it.

On the bike, for all its stars and individual performances, cycling remains a sport where teamwork is essential, and disunity often means defeat.

For all the team strife, Froome’s still stomping the pedals. Apparently he recently destroyed his personal best on the Col de la Madone, famously a key benchmark for Lance Armstrong.

Crushing everyone in the prologue was a jutted chin more than anything else, but Monday’s HC-rated Col du Béal was the real thing.

The Dauphine has two more summit finishes, and won’t be decided until Sunday’s 8km climb to Courchevel, but already it seems like Froome and Contador are a class above.

 A version of this article first appeared on The Roar.

Image credit: Presse Sports/B.Papon via www.letour.com/

Who’s afraid of Christopher Froome?

After his overall win in the Tour of Oman, dancing away from his rivals on the slopes of Green Mountain, it’s clear that Chris Froome isn’t suffering any hangovers from his massive 2013 campaign.

Everyone should be afraid.

A burst of high-cadence acceleration was all it took to blow away Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and former Team Sky lieutenant Rigoberto Uran (OPQS).

As for Vincenzo Nibali, a man who many consider Froome’s most serious rival for the Tour de France, he was never truly in the hunt. With his wife at home about to give birth to their first child, it’s understandable if Nibali’s head wasn’t fully in the game in Oman.

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Robert Gesink (Belkin), and Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) were all thereabouts, but had no answer to Froome’s attack.

Winning the Tour of Oman is an early psychological blow

After stage five, Froome gave his perspective on his performance to Cycling Central:

“From a personal perspective I wanted to see where I was, where my condition was, and I think today I got the answer I wanted.

Winning here is always more psychological than anything else. At this point it’s still too early to say anything in terms of build-up to the Tour de France, but it’s definitely good to have it in there.”

As he says, it’s far too early to draw too many conclusions about the form of other riders, but what the Tour of Oman shows is that Froome definitely hasn’t spent his winter wining and dining at gala dinners.

It shows that Froome still has the hunger that seemed to desert Sir Bradley Wiggins after his own magical 2012 season (remember a clearly overweight Wiggins struggling to find form and condition leading into last year’s Giro).

Smashing his rivals so early in the season is such a psychological victory because everyone can see that, barring accident or injury, there will be no slackening off from the man who dominated every stage race he entered last year.

The effects of this can be seen already in the list of GC riders shifting their sights to the Giro d’Italia. It’s almost an admission that Froome can’t be beaten in the Tour this year, so let’s aim for the next biggest prize.

It’s a coup for the Italian race, which begins in Ireland on May 9th.You could even argue that the list of GC contenders for the Giro looks better than for the Tour.

In fact I will.

The best GC riders, Froome excepted, are not riding the Tour de France this year.

Joaquim Rodriguez, Cadel Evans, Rigoberto Uran, Nairo Quintana, and Froome’s teammate Richie Porte are all aiming squarely for the Giro. All except Uran targeted the Tour in 2013.

That’s some serious talent on display in May.

In July, Froome’s main rivals will be Nibali, Alberto Contador, Rui Costa, Tejay van Garderen, Robert Gesink, and Alejandro Valverde.

Nibali is one of my favourites, but he’ll have to overcome the disruption of new fatherhood, as well as Team Sky.

Contador has looked past his best for two years, but he took his first win in over a year in stage 4 of the Volta ao Algarve this week. Hey, that’s better than nothing, but he didn’t beat anyone as good as the riders Froome just thrashed. I’ll need to see a lot more before I rate Contador as a serious GC threat again.

Valverde is a similar story: he defeated Richie Porte on home turf in the Ruta del Sol this week, cleaning up three stage wins in the process. But he’ll be 34 by the time the Tour begins, and he’s never made the podium there. Many astute observers don’t think he’s even the best GC rider in his team. Yes, he’s still deadly in stages that suit him, but can he go three weeks without a bad day in the high mountains?

Costa is all class, but his best results have come in single-day races and as a stage winner. His highest grand tour GC finish to date is 18th, at the Tour in 2012. He’s unproven as a grand tour GC contender, despite very strong performances in shorter stage races like the Tour de Suisse.

Gesink and van Garderen are well known for their buckets of potential without ever really looking like winning a grand tour.

As the season progresses we’ll have a better idea of who is really in form and who’s playing catch-up.

But for my money, there are more genuine GC riders aiming for the Giro than I can remember.

Why would the Giro, a great race but undeniably less prestigious than its French cousin, attract a more competitive field than the Tour?

I reckon they think Froome can’t be beaten.

This article was first published on The Roar.