The Dauphiné was a breakthrough, of sorts, for Julian Alaphilippe and Dan Martin. Both had stage race successes, that's true, but this was new ground they were both breaking. The Tours of Catalunya and California may be prestigious, but they are nothing compared to duking it out with the favourites for the Tour de France, only a month before Le Grande Boucle. So how far can the team mates go? Is a stage win or two all they can hope for, or can they challenge for a high GC position?
Well, to answer that, we first have to split them from a pair into the seperate entities that they are. It would be a waste on Etixx' part to have them both go for GC and not only because that gets into Rabobank territory. So let's assume that it's Martin who does get the nod, avoids the numerous difficulties that have hindered him in the past, such as crashes, illnesses, being caught in crosswinds, and post-rest day bad legs, and leads Etixx-Quickstep into a Tour de France GC challenge. How well can he do?
Well, to find out that, we'll look at his strengths and weaknesses, and the first and foremost of the weaknesses is time-trials. Martin has consistently struggled against the clock, routinely even finishing out of the top hundred in several tests. But while there are two individual time trials in the Tour, Martin need not be ruled out. Just check out the second of them:
Given his ride on Mont Chéry, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to think that Martin will avoid any great losses here. However, it's a very different story for the Tour's first race against the clock, stage 13.
There are seven kilometres at 5%, but this time trial is otherwise a nightmare for Martin. It's flat, it's quite long, and it's going to deal his GC hopes a huge blow. In a test of a similar length, in the 2013 Tour, Martin lost three and a half minutes on Chris Froome, finishing in sixty-second place. If this is replicated, that disadvantages him hugely, especially when you remember who he's racing. I would probably say that all the possible top ten and five contenders for the race are better against the clock. Contador, Van Garderen and Pinot have all won time-trials this year, and Froome, Porte, Aru, Kelderman and even Quintana would expect to put time into Martin.
So how can he limit his losses? Well, for perhaps the first time in his career, perhaps the race's first week can be of advantage to Martin. Garmin were never exactly adept at guiding anyone through the first week (see: 2012) but that is Etixx' speciality. And with stages 2 and 5 being right up the Irishman's alley, he could be near the very top of the GC standings as he gets on his bike for the first mountain stage.
It is the mountains, however, that could cause Martin's demise before he clamers onto his TT bike. He hasn't been consistently good on long climbs, and surely a Pyrenean quartet, or an Andorran odessey could see him off? His Dauphiné was impressive, sure, but does one lap of a velodrome make an hour record? No. Martin won't stick with the favourites. But he could manage a top ten. So what's the verdict?
The verdict is...a top ten. He's definitely capable of it if he avoids losing time when he doesn't have to, and indeed goes for it.
Alaphilippe, despite challenging for GC success in stage races before, strikes me as far less likely to go for a high place in the overall standings. It's hardly likely that Etixx will pit the two against each other. Instead, he looks well suited to keep French interest in the race high by taking a stage win on some day or another. Which one? Well, the possibilities are endless. The guy is almost cyclomnipotent. I think we can expect to see Alaphilippe attacking on mountain stages, on transition stages, on sharp climbs, anywhere. He could even go for polka dots if he wanted. He really could be one of the main animators of the Tour.
So to conclude then, things look quite bright for Etixx going into the season's second Grand Tour, after an unexpectedly good Giro. And that's not even counting a certain Mr. Kittel.