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LYON, France (VN) — Everyone is scratching their heads about how to beat Chris Froome (Sky).
Despite being isolated in last Sunday’s climbing stage across the Pyrénées, Froome stood tall. And after shedding more than a minute in Friday’s high-wind shootout, Froome remained unperturbed.
With Mont Ventoux waiting like an executioner this Sunday, Froome looks comfortable and sounds even more confident.
“I have seen it, and I am glad I have, because [Ventoux] is a very, very tough climb,” Froome said Saturday. “My focus is to keep yellow, and if possible, to build on the advantage I have. It will be interesting, because a lot of guys can try to win the stage tomorrow.”
Without question, going into Ventoux, the weakest link in Froome’s apparently impenetrable armor is his team.
Workhorses Edvald Boasson Hagen and Vasili Kiryienka are both gone. Geraint Thomas is racing on a cracked pelvis, and the others, even ever-steady Richie Porte, have been all over the map.
Stacked near the top of the GC are several teams with two cards to play. Belkin has Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam, second and fifth. Saxo-Tinkoff rides into Ventoux with Alberto Contador in third and Roman Kreuziger in third and fourth. Garmin-Sharp remains just outside the top 10, with Daniel Martin and Andrew Talansky in 11th and 12th.
Numbers could make the difference against Froome. If everyone gangs up on Sky, they could collectively defrock him of the yellow tunic.
There is always talk of alliances. Could Sunday’s assault of Mont Ventoux see the emergence of a true, inter-team alliance against one lone enemy?
No way, says just about everyone with something to gain.
“Alliances are a myth,” said Saxo-Tinkoff sport director Philippe Mauduit. “There are too many commercial interests, too much at stake, to make some sort of plan between the teams.”
Mauduit said it’s impossible in modern cycling to forge alliances between squads against one rider.
For example, Belkin would never arrange beforehand to work with Saxo so that Contador could win the yellow jersey at their expense.
“We have to respect our sponsor. We have to respect our colors. It’s out of the question that we could talk with another team to make an alliance,” Mauduit said. “We like trying to create opportunities for our leaders. But that is something you see on the road, not something you plan before.”
Alliances happen, but only on the road. That’s what happened Friday.
Belkin and Omega Pharma-Quick Step were railing the pace to split the group, first to catch out podium danger man Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and some of the sprinters.
Later in the race, Saxo piled on when they saw that Froome looked vulnerable in the crosswinds.
As a consequence, all three squads got something for their troubles: Mark Cavendish won the stage, Mollema moved into second, and Contador revived his GC hopes.
Mauduit said temporary alliances could quickly form once riders start to attack, especially in the mountains.
“Then there is a race. Once the race begins, it can happen that Alberto, for example, they can be in a breakaway with Joaquim Rodríguez [Katusha], then they would ride together because they would have a common interest,” Mauduit said. “If some alliances are made during the race, then the race would decide it, not something that is pre-arranged.”
There have been stories of teams ganging up on certain riders. Perhaps the most infamous was during the 1985 Vuelta a España, when the Spanish teams rode against Scot Robert Millar to derail his chances of taking the win.
Riders in this Tour also say that pre-arranged alliances are all but impossible to hatch, but it’s quite something else once the legs start spinning down the road.
Contador, who moved up to third at 2:45 back thanks to Friday’s stage, hopes to find some friends on the road Sunday to try to attack Froome.
“Everyone will make their race, even though there could be circumstances where there are mutual benefits and riders can work together, but I don’t see pre-arranged alliances,” Contador said. “I think it’s going to be a fast stage, because everyone will be trying to get into the breakaway, and everyone will be trying to win the stage.”
One team that lost its main GC option was Movistar, who shifts its focus from Valverde to Tour rookie Nairo Quintana after Valverde lost 10 minutes in Friday’s echelons.
“We do not start a race of thinking of working with other teams, but during the race, there can be common interests,” Quintana said. “What’s most important is to have the legs.”
So far, it’s been Froome that’s had the best legs.
Team Sky is wary of the danger presented by the allure and prestige of Mont Ventoux. Riders will be attacking to win the stage as well as take it to Froome if he shows a sliver of weakness.
The grinding final climb up Ventoux favors a scenario with a GC rider linking up with a stage-hunter who presents no danger on yellow. Froome will be under the gun to mark moves when they come.
“There will be a lot of races within the race. It’s really going to be interesting to see what happens on the road,” Froome said. “There are all kinds of motives and reasons for people to do certain things on the climb. It’s quite hard to say beforehand, but it’s going to be exciting either way.”
With that kind of talk, Froome’s rivals must have a sinking feeling that they are going to be on the receiving end of another drubbing.
If Froome is as strong as he has been, alliances won’t make a bit of difference.