MOIRANS-EN-MONTAGNE, France (AFP) — An anti-climactic feeling is settling over the Tour de France as the world’s greatest bike race heads for Switzerland on Monday.
The anticipated battle between reigning champion Chris Froome and his arch rival Nairo Quintana has been something of a damp squib so far.
Froome took control of the race with a daring solo escape on a descent on stage 7 and since then has been extending his lead, most notably in a strong time trial performance last Friday.
The Sky rider has a 1:47 advantage over second-placed Bauke Mollema (Trek – Segafredo), but perhaps more significantly, he leads fourth-placed Quintana (Quintana) by 2:59.
The diminutive Colombian has been a disappointment at this Tour, failing to shine in the numerous mountain stages so far.
Widely regarded as the best climber in the world, Quintana has failed to put in a single attack of note and even struggled on last Thursday’s climb up Mont Ventoux, losing time to Froome, Mollema, and Australia’s Richie Porte (BMC Racing).
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Movistar and even Froome insist that Quintana’s imminent counterattack will begin in the Alps.
But there has been a worrying trend for those seeking drama and excitement in this race, and that’s been the outright domination of Sky.
Third-placed Briton Adam Yates of Orica – BikeExchange says attacking the Sky-led peloton, particularly in the mountains, is an exercise in futility.
“With Sky riding such a hard tempo, there’s not much you can do,” he said. “As soon as there’s an attack, they gain a few seconds and then start going backwards.”
Yates, currently first in the best young rider classification, says the only way to make an impression would be to try something audacious.
“Maybe you have to attack earlier or get in the breakaway because Sky are looking untouchable,” Yates added.
Quintana’s Spanish teammate Alejandro Valverde claims Movistar will go on the attack following Tuesday’s rest day, admitting they could do nothing on Sunday’s tough stage with six categorized climbs.
“We’re going to try to do our best in the coming week. We’re definitely going to try something,” he said after the 15th stage.
“I think people are expecting more fire and fight from us. We will fight in the coming stages.”
Monday’s 16th stage will suit either a breakaway or, if their teams are determined enough to reel in the escapees, a sprint finish.
The 207-kilometer course from Moirans-en-Montagne to Berne, Switzerland is bumpy without any difficult climbs. But the incline on the sprint finish could favor a specialist puncheur rather than a pure sprinter.
Following Tuesday’s rest day, the key period begins with four mountainous stages, including an uphill 17km time trial.
If the race doesn’t explode into life then, it never will.