Well, we knew it would be intriguing. And we pretty much knew it would look something like this: a two-track battle between the all-round specialists and the fast finishers. Who it favors is debatable, but we also knew things would be unlike past years, and that is surely something we can all agree on. A few overall notes of interest, then a power poll...
- There are only four guys in contention, truly, but I don't feel as sure about that as usual. In past years Romain Feillu's 68 point deficit would mean he was out of contention, come what may. Now it merely means he's out of contention because he's not fast enough. Andre Greipel, a full 89 points back, is more likely to win than Feillu. And he might, or may come close at least, because there are so damn many points left.
- The other big thing is guys missing sprints entirely. Also usually fatal, but only if one or more of the contenders is making it to the front every sprint day. In this crash-fest, everyone has had their share of woes.
- The intermediate sprints are real. Breaks usually take the top few spots, but we are seeing sprints for the leftovers every day, involving the big names. So, win. Chapeau Prudhomme.
OK, the poll... a la flippe!
Some parameters first... This is both a poll on where things stand and where I predict they're going. I may like X better but if he's 45 points back, that's a problem. And I respect the standings, but sticking to them alone is boring. Coming up:
- Only two more absolute sprinter stages, 15 and 21.
- Two other rated-sprinter stages, 10 and 11, which might not work out as planned.
- Three middle-mountain stages, two of which (tomorrow and Stage 16 to Gap) should be in play.
- Nine intermediate sprints (4 sprint stages, 3 mid-mtn, and two high mountain stages where the line is early) which should feature the full field on 2-4 occasions and a reduced field on 5-7 stages. If it's a 5-4 breakdown in favor of reduced fields, that's insignificant. But if it's 7-2, advantage all-rounders.
1. Philippe Gilbert, Omega Pharma (156 points)
Troubling that the Belgian press is mostly concerned about whether or not OPL are still functioning as a team, but Gilbert made nice with the Gorilla today, helping him in the finale. Anyway, with only two more Greipel stages, Gilbert likely resumes his chase for green and gets the lion's share of opportunities. As hard as it is to pick between the competing approaches to winning... if they get real and give up on beating Cav so Gilbert can sprint and pad his points resume with top fives on the easy days, then I don't have to choose. Phast Phil can climb and sprint, so the competition is his to lose.
2. Mark Cavendish, HTC (150)
Hm, tough call between him and JJ here. The current spread represents one more Cav win with JJ 3rd or 4th, so it isn't much. It also represents less than one day when Cav missed out on a sprint and JJ didn't. The Manx Missile is the most dependable finisher, seems to have adjusted to the intermediate sprints, and has the best teamwork in front of him. So I'll go with that.
3. JJ Rojas Gil, Movistar (167)
Consistency is very nice, which is why Rojas is in green today. But what's more likely, that he wins a stage, or that he continues to get points every day, or that he -- like everyone else -- gets in a bind and misses points? If the latter happens even once, I think Cav gets him.
4. Thor Hushovd, Garmin-Cervelo (130)
I originally pinpointed tomorrow as Thor's big day, likening it to the Barcelona stage of 2009. We shall see, but until that day is over I am not buying his "I'm not into green" thing.
5. Cadel Evans, BMC (98)
Hm, 98 points for a climber? If they used the same points scale in the mountains (45 to the winner), Evans would have a real chance at this. Hell, he does anyway.
6. Tyler Farrar, Garmin-Cervelo (76)
Unlike Thor, I do get what they're doing with Tyler. Face it, Thor is gone after this year, so the strategy of splitting points -- a sure-fire loser -- is a temporary headache. But Farrar was never likely for green this year, not til he bagged a stage or three. Next year we may see what he can do as a points contender... provided he works on consistent positioning too.
7. Andre Greipel, Omega Pharma (78)
Like Farrar, the Gorilla is really just a stage-hunter. It's his first Tour, you don't win green til you've been round the country a few times.
8. Romain Feillu, Vacansoleil (99)
The Pinball Wizard has made a bit more of an impact than he -- or at least his rivals -- might prefer. Let's hope it doesn't get worse.
9. Edvald Boasson Hagen, Sky (51)
Time to make lemonade, Sky. Show them who's Boss.
10. Denis Galimzyanov, Katusha (55)
Do we know yet why he got relegated today? Not that my Editors' League team will ever be relevant, but still.
Photo by Bryn Lennon, Getty Images Sport