Riders spent today's rest day sleeping in, spinning out their legs, dealing with the press corps, and trying to relax before a hectic final five days in le Tour. Cycling fans, on the other hand, peered at the route, read story after story, and wondered what would fill their mornings/afternoons with no hours of bike racing to watch. No doubt many have started thinking about the final five days and the story lines that may prevail - or those that we hope will prevail.
The final week of the tour seems predictable - Bradley Wiggins has a seemingly unassailable lead in the overall classification (save, perhaps, from his own teammate Chris Froome). Even the predictable weeks have their own storylines, though. And really, sometimes these stories are better than the major ones. Hypotheticals, a surprising result... these are some of the things that make racing unpredictable and worth watching. So here are three of my predictions for the final week of le Tour.
1. The Wiggins-Froome rivalry heats up
Bradley Wiggins is leading the Tour de France, and Chris Froome thinks he could be. Make no mistake, Froome has avowed to work for Wiggins for the remainder of the tour, especially since he lost 1.25 on Stage 1 due to a flat tire in the final 5km. He acknowledges the hierarchy and the position Wiggins is in as most likely winner of this year's race. So, if we aren't likely to see a Hinault-Lemond style battle, why do I think a rivalry will intensify? And why does it matter?
Both Wiggins and Froome are contractually obligated to ride for Team Sky next year. Froome had a number of attractive offers on the table following his breakthrough second place performance at the Vuelta last year but decided to ride for Sky for three more seasons. If Froome has a better day than Wiggins in the Pyrenees - on Stage 16 or 17 - it will be only strengthen his belief that he is the stronger rider on Sky. What are the odds of this? I rate them as pretty high. And the more days we have where Froome is stronger, the more complicated the situation within Sky gets. Who will play leader at next year's Tour? And the shorter stage races where Wiggins has dominated this year? I predict some polemica, starting this week...
2. Nibali will be missing Sammy Sanchez
Vincenzo Nibali must be frustrated by now. He has attacked and attacked and attacked Wiggins and, as of yet, has only taken a handful of seconds out of his lead. Who do I blame? The crash that sent Samuel Sanchez (Euskatel - Euskadi) home with injuries early in the tour. Sanchez is a renown descender and likely would have joined Nibali in his downhill escapades on Stage 10. Sanchez's company would have been most welcome for Nibali, who lamented after the stage that he had hoped Cadel Evans - another excellent descender - would join him in his attack.
Tomorrow's stage climbs over four mountains - the HC Col d'Aubisque and Col du Tourmalet followed by the Category 1 climbs of the Col d'Aspin and Col du Peyresourde. Big mountains. But no summit finish greets our riders; instead, the final climb summits 16km from the finish, making it close enough to try an attack over the top, or even on the way down. The descent? It is plenty twisty. I almost got dizzy watching footage of the descent. Tomorrow's stage is also one of the last chances for Nibali to gain time on Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome; the summit finish on Thursday is likely too easy to pry open large time gaps. So, expect Nibali to attack and be sad sad sad that Sammy isn't there to help him on the flattish final 2km to the line.
3. Tyler Farrar finally gets the monkey of his back on the Champs Élsées.
It's been a long time coming, no? Farrar, former Giro, Vuelta, and Tour stage winner, has yet to reach a podium on a stage of this year's tour. Really, it's surprising he is even in the race given all the bad luck he's had. Crash after crash after crash has hurt the American sprinter, who has an almost uncontested lead in the unofficial "lanterne rouge" competition for the rider furthest back on GC.
Added motivation for Farrar surely comes from the impending Olympics; the road race is a mere six days after the Tour finishes. As leader of the American Olympic team for the road race, Farrar will be desperate to prove he is still worth the dedication of his teammates and to reassure himself of his chances. Farrar mixed it up - at last! - in the bunch sprint for 7th behind the breakaway yesterday, finishing second behind André Greipel. He won't win on the Champs - not with Mark Cavendish within a 100 kilometers of Paris - but he'll be close.
This is what I will be looking for over the final five days of racing. What about you? Tell us!