Our honored leader and generalissimo Chris has a case of the grumpies after today's stage. "There aren't enough real finishing climbs for Quintana to mount a serious challenge to Froome! " "Stages finishing on little 6% climbs and downhills are never going to upset the GC status quo!" he rages. To which I just replied "Don't hate the game, hate the players" (see what I did there?). And here's why:
Halfway into today's stage we saw a potentially explosive moment. The pace had been hard from the start, people were suffering and shooting out the back even on relatively minor climbs. No3 in the race, Tejay van Garderen, had just DNFed and the contender teams all had strategic pawns in the break up ahead. This is when Tinkoff tries to throw the race into anarchy, attacking with Rogers and Contador. The chase and the increase in pace immediately blows the race up and behind only the very strongest remain in the chase group. With only two riders there to help right away, Thomas and König, Froome is actually under pressure. Or is he?
Not really because what happens is that Movistar instantly sense the danger and go to the front to help neutralize Contador who of course is a threat to the podium places of their two captains. Valverde closes down Contador, everyone then resigns themselves to a stalemate and the gap to the breakaway balloons out to ten minutes from the 2-3 minutes it was at the tie of Contadors attack. After this the race is fairly uneventful among the podium contenders, while the GC contenders below lose a little more time. All fairly predictable.
Now what might have been if Movistar was more focused on winning with Nairo rather than playing it safe and hoping to place two riders on the podium in Paris? Daniel Friebe on the Cycling Podcast noted that Froome, with a strong confidence, is actually employing a bit of a dangerous strategy. He's not really prepared to let anyone go and he and Sky are closing down gaps on all the Bigs which could turn out to be a costly cockiness. Let's pay with the idea that Movistar instead leave Sky to contain Contador. When they had done that it would be the perfect opportunity to hit them with a Valverde attack for them to work with and then maybe a Quintana attack upon that. . Yes Sky had people up front who could come to the rescue and/or maybe Froome had the legs to control everything on his own but the point is they aren't even willing to try. Not even when Tinkoff and Contador have done the groundwork and opened the prceedings. It's a perfectly understandable strategy by Movistar but for the race was a bit of a shame, the pieces were in place for a drama but not everyone wanted to play.
It probably doesn't help that Contador and Valverde have their own little rivalry going on. Clearly for Valverde a place on the podium in the TdF (he doesn't have tons of those) with Conta languishing further down in the listings is a huge feather in his cap. And with Froome looking the way he does, going after more seems a bit futile but still..... I feel like opportunities are being squandered here. Am I right? Or am I just cooking up some scenario that would never work anyway? Are Movistar actually the smartest guys in the race right now?