We’re entering the final countdown for the Tour now, with the warm-up races (Dauphine, Swiss, Slovenian and, um, Sud) and the National championships in the books. Cyclists who have scattered to their homelands, rather in the manner of Joseph returning to Bethlehem, are gathering together again. Soigneurs are desperately printing the new national champ jerseys, on top of all their other tasks. The caravans are being built and the mountains of freebies piled up. So, in the calm before the storm, what does the cycling fan need to think about?
The most up-to-date lists, for my money, are those on PCS (look for the green tick for confirmed teams) and the truly obsessed will be on twitter looking for tiny nuggets of information. In truth, most of the teams that matter have announced their main riders and, unless we see an untimely injury or illness, we have a fair idea of who’ll turn up.
- Team Sky have named a team that excludes Wout Poels, who is short of race time and will presumably be aimed at the Vuelta (transfer rumours abound, too). Stannard also misses out, with Knees, Kiryenka and Rowe to shepherd Frome through the flat bits, and Henao, Nieve, Thomas, Kwiatkowski and Landa to provide the train.
- Aru has now been committed for the race by Astana. I don’t know how much doubt there really was, but a good Dauphine and a National Championship win have put any questions over his form aside. He’ll expect to lead a side that includes Fuglsang and Cataldo as the main helpers in a team that lacks depth.
- It is now official that Tom Dumoulin will be taking a holiday. Following his Giro crash Kelderman will be aimed at the Vuelta, with Dumoulin. This means that Warren Barguil appears to be Team Sunweb’s best hope for GC, a role he wouldn’t have expected based on last year’s performance.
Any other announcements that've caught your eye?
Since we last podcafsted, the Tour de Suisse has wrapped up, with Simon Spilak taking the overall win, beating Damiano Caruso by 48 seconds with Kruijswijk rounding out the podium. As we said throughout the buildup, this probably isn’t a race that tells us much about the Tour, particularly as four of the top five won’t suit up (Caruso goes, and will be a valued lieutenant in Porte’s bid for yellow). Ion Izagirre caught the eye with a second place in the Queen stage, looking good in the high mountains. He’s climbing well and his performances in the TT and Road Spanish Champs confirm he’s in good form as he leads a GT squad for the first time. As I’ve said, the parcours suits and I wouldn’t sleep on his chances of a top five.
I’ve gone through the results of the Ster ZLM and the Route de la Sud, because someone had to. Honestly, I see nothing in either race that alters our perception of the Tour in GC terms, but ZLM at least confirmed that Kittel and Groenewegen are in good form coming into a sprint-heavy Tour. It’ll be a braver man than me that predicts Greipel will go winless in a GT, but he looked a touch below his best and a lot of sprinters will take the start in Dusseldorf.
Rafal Majka won the Tour of Slovenia, from Visconti and Haig. He’ll face much tougher competition in the Tour but there was one mountaintop finish and he won it. As with Izagirre, Majka is a rider who will enjoy the parcours in this Tour and looks in solid form. He could go well. In the sprints, Cavendish looks like he’s got a lot of additional speed to find before he can compete with the best, but will be encouraged by his time back on the road having missed everything since Milan-San Remo with illness. Still, if he can’t beat Sam Bennett, it will take a big step forward for him to beat Sagan, Kristoff, Degenkolb, Kittel, Groenewegen, Greipel, Demare, Matthews, Bouhanni and McLay*.
My suspicion is that there is pretty weak correlation between performance in the Nats and performance in the Tour. Certainly, if you’re a fan of someone who underperformed, I wouldn’t worry too much. Porte’s Nats, of course, were back in January, whilst Froome hasn’t competed in the British champs since the 2010 TT event. He was second, sandwiched between Wiggins and Thomas in an all-Sky podium. Which is fascinating but hardly germane. However, there are a few performances worth noting:
- Fabio Aru won in Italy, holding off an elite chasing group (albeit one that wasn’t working together particularly effectively) to win for the first time. If you are looking for patterns, Nibali turned a previously winless 2014 around with a Nats win in Italy and then a Tour victory.
- Arnaud Demare outsprinted Nacer Bouhanni in one of the better competitions of the weekend. He’ll be as happy with his form as anyone turning up in Dusseldorf, I suspect, as he's winning regularly and looking impressive doing it. Bouhanni hasn't won since he crashed on the seafront in Yorkshire, but looks to be back to form.
- They don’t give out trade team awards for the Nats (obviously) but BMC had a great week that will be encouraging for Porte. Caruso was 4th in a loaded Italian field, in Switzerland Kung won the TT and was second in the road (to Dillier, who is a teammate but won’t be in the Tour) and Roche was the only one who got near Mullen in the Irish TT (which, admittedly, is not a deep field). Given the quality of support at Sky and Movistar, welcome signs of strength indeed.
That is pretty well it. For the riders, their sponsors, and the Directeurs Sportives, this is a week where no news is good news. Stay healthy, stay fit, stay out of the press, and get to Dusseldorf ready for three weeks of activity.
*Hush. I still believe in Danny McL.