I’m not the most plugged-in person here at the Cafe come Tour Time [insert complaints about children and the non-stop celebrations of the end of the school year]. I’m also on vacation, which is a mixed bag when it comes to thinking straight. In theory it’s a good thing. In theory...
Which makes me the perfect person to write a Tour power poll. Power Polls are the greatest device ever invented by and/or for blogging, because you can define them any way you want, even though it sounds like a definitive ranking of the “best teams.” At the Tour, “best” is too complicated a matter for people to agree on, since it could mean either the maillot jaune (boring) or most influential overall. It can also mean in absolute or relative terms, the latter being relative to either other teams or to their own expectations. Or our expectations for them. Have I completely undermined the concept yet? Good! Let’s get started.
Here’s my post-stage 3 ranking based heavily on who’s there, what the Tour should do to them, and a sprinkle of how’s it going so far.
Where They At? In Yellow, with their GC leader Tejay van Gar... uh Richie Porte in decent enough shape. TTT win doubles as a morale booster too.
What comes next? Ah, not their favorite question. But Porte is upright for now and the team is solid. And now I will wander off into pure, nonsensical conjecture: I think they are going to race like a team with no fear. By now, the week(s) in which cycling settles its accounts for the following year, the hope of a miracle sponsor is slipping away and reality is settling in. Long-time leader Andy Rihs passed away earlier in the year, so the sense of finality is no joke (as is the motivation to win in his honor). And because I’ve read a lot of samurai manga, I know that a team that lives with death in its heart is a dangerous one. Porte isn’t about to win the Tour, but he hasn’t lost it either, and anything is possible.
Theme Song: I’m going all Bard today. Nothing but Dylan. And this one’s easy: Like a Rolling Stone. When you’ve got no sponsor, you’ve got nothing to lose. This could become a challenge, since his songs are mostly better suited to a list of teams who excel in misery, deception, foolishness and lost love. I’ll take my shot but you can suggest alternates.
Where They At? All over the GC. They nailed the TTT more or less, and their leader didn’t ship the better part of a minute in a crash, so unless you take Jungels or Tejay seriously, they have the pole position with Dumoulin at 11”.
What comes next? Hanging on for dear life? Terrorizing everyone just by hanging around? Sitting off the back muttering darkly about the stupid Giro? Anyone’s guess.
Theme Song: Buckets of Rain, about as positive and light-hearted a message as you’ll get from a Dylan song. Ya do what ya must do, and you do it well.
3. Quick Step
Where They At? Oh, just circling the maillot jaune like a pack of hungry sharks. Green too.
What comes next? Sometimes the best defense is a good offense, and in that sense Bob Jungels can feel the pressure lifting off his shoulders every time the Wolf Pack score another stage win. Fernando Gaviria is in top sprinting form — more on that in a moment — and looming Sunday is the Roubaix stage, which they have about a million percent chance of winning (I have Terpstra in the pool).
But the big story is Gaviria. I’ll get to green next, but Gaviria has made Lefevre look like a genius (again) for cutting ties with Marcel Kittel, who he signed when he cut ties with Mark Cavendish. It’s not rocket science and I’m sure every manager knows this, but the equivalent of Ben Simmons or Jayson Tatum on a rookie contract is buying a sprinter who’s about to explode on his first or second big pro deal. Quick Step’s ability to land these guys leaves the competition signing Kittel or Cav at top dollar, and hoping for a repeat of past performance. I’d guess it’s a matter of both team pedigree and prioritizing sprinters ahead of GC stars.
Theme Song: Tangled Up in Blue — Yeah, the color, but really this is a song about people soldiering on, together and separately, in seeming perpetual motion, with a heavy dose of fate and love. It isn’t a perfect dream, but sometimes the best result isn’t what you imagined.
Where They At? Sagan’s Rainbow is currently hidden behind a green tunic, though by the time you read this that may no longer be true. Rafal Majka is in pretty good shape all things considered, 50 seconds behind and trailing only Uran and Doom among the big names.
What comes next? I’m not too high on Majka apart from an insurgent podium challenge. Guys who’ve won the Giro or Vuelta have a hard enough time winning the Tour, and he hasn’t managed better than third in Spain.
But the real story is one of the best green jersey competitions we’ve had in a few years, and about as charismatic a two-man duel as we’ve seen in forever. Gaviria looks like the top sprinter and Sagan is Sagan. Usually that means Sagan leads a Slaughter (insider FSA DS humor) when the road goes up, but are we sure Gaviria can’t follow? Stage 5 is happening as I type, and this will be one of the better tests. If yes, Sagan is in trouble. Which is not a sentence I type very often. [Update: Sagan is not in trouble. Yet.]
Theme Song: Visions of Johanna. Wikipedia cribs a description from somewhere of the two lovers, the carnal Louise and the almost-mythical Johanna, which is pretty much how I view Peter Sagan and the GC ambitions of Rafal Majka.
5. EF Education First-Drapac
Where They At? Thriving in the stealth position, but for how long? Is it so hard to say that Rigoberto Uran came in second last year and is good at everything and is sitting pretty behind only Doom for big names? Is the double Uran the issue? If he wins the Tour does he get a third Uran? I vote yes. Emphatically.
What comes next? Literally anyone’s guess, although Uran’s ability to finish second in a grand tour is well-established. Rolland and Clarke should be useful in the mountains for a while, and the rouleur squad is decent enough. Are the perpetual underdogs really underdogs when their last result was second only to the guy who maybe just burnt half his matches at the Giro?
Theme Song: Desolation Row. It’s a never-ending cast of characters at Project Argyle, and it never ceases to be entertaining.
Where They At? Rallying around GC leader Geraint Thomas. Entering each town to a hail of cheers for their other guy FrOOOOOOOOOOme.
What comes next? Feeding off the negativity, or being fed to it. I’ve declared a few times that I wouldn’t bet a dime of Andrew’s money against Froome, let alone my own. But who are we kidding? They are the strongest team and then some, and might even be the most interesting if Bernal gets let off the leash in the mountains. Only Froome’s bad opening stage and the general mood of disapproval has them down a few places. And I get bored ranking Sky #1.
Theme Song: Masters of War. The shot across the bow of the power structure. That’s what’s happening now in cycling, as fans and some rivals try to take down the Sky Machine. Personally I see some other sides to them besides the Froome/Brailsford Stem-Staring Axis of Marginal Gains, but the popular narrative is pretty one-sided for now.
Where They At? Struggling. Is that a good thing? Sometimes being admonished by your team leader, as happened when Vincenzo Nibali crossed the line in the TTT and immediately began pointing out how few riders they finished with, after spending good coin on guys like Haussler and Koren for just this stage. But Nibs himself went well, and really just gave back the time he’d earned by being smart on stage 1.
What comes next? Cobbles, and then we’ll recalculate his chances. I’m not going to go and assume that the stage where he won the 2014 Tour will repeat itself on Sunday. Lots of riders learned that day about both Nibali’s ability on the cobbles and their own. But he is strong on the cobbles. I do expect him to have people on the defensive, if he doesn’t have any bad luck. Honestly, I can’t rule him out for the win, not by any means. Unlike some of the other guys I’ve already mentioned, Nibali has won before. A lot.
Theme Song: Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts. The latter being the wily character who maybe isn’t a hero but neither Lily, Big Jim or anyone else can stop him.
Where They At? The real stealth team, insofar as they’re in good shape and nobody is talking about them. Jakob Fuglsang is slightly ahead of the stage 1 crash crowd, albeit with a crash of his own in the books.
What comes next? Uh, there’s a good reason nobody’s talking about Jakob Fuglsang and his GC aspirations. But Astana have an array of aspirations, with Michael Valgren being a top favorite for Sunday if he’s sent off to win and Magnus Cort Nielsen a late-Tour sprint hope (when the green battle has been settled and Kittel has given up). I dunno, someone has to be here and this was a better pick when LuLu Sanchez was still around.
Theme Song: Honey Just Allow Me One More Chance. The team that won’t quit, Forever on the ropes, they somehow soldier on, and not nowhere either.
Where They At? Right where we expected them to be, licking their wounds. Nairo Quintana can’t be blamed for his wheels imploding, unless you think he could have made it to the 3km mark on stage 1 rather than shipping 1.15. Landa and Valverde hung on to their non-crashing advantage thanks to a decent TTT and are still ahead of Froome. So yeah, it’s a fucking mess.
What comes next? Um, Landa winning the Tour? So many wild cards. And not just the “ha ha, right” types. Personally I’d have preferred a “Quintana had a good first week” intrigue or “Quintana survived the cobbles” version, since we haven’t seen that film before. Valverde is almost certain to be their top-placed guy by the first rest day, which is ... not good news for the team. But it’s early and they are still loaded.
Theme Song: Most Likely Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine. A song about a guy who is tired of guessing at the status of his relationship and thinks maybe he should move on. Nailed it.
Where They At? Bardet is upright and still among the Skybots. He’s fallen behind a few rivals, so not an ideal scenario. But we are talking seconds.
What comes next? Hm... Naesen and Gallopin should help hold things together Sunday, and they have a nicely rounded squad with Latour, Dillier, Frank, etc. Of the riders lying in wait, Bardet has the best-founded position. But there won’t be much more to say about them until we see how he’s going next week.
Theme Song: Highway 61 Revisited. For the team haunted by the road that runs on the outskirts of their hometown. Can anything good happen there? Is their relationship to that road just too complicated?
11. UAE Emirates
Where They At? Well I bet on Dan Martin getting a big result here when I spent 24 points on him for the Eagles of Ellezelles, so him dropping a few seconds to Froome shouldn’t change my mind, right? Honestly, they survived the TTT, if you call giving back the accidental stage 1 advantage surviving. It’s better than I expected.
What comes next? Kristoff will be called upon to shepherd the skinny Irish guy around Greater Lille, a sentence that doesn’t fill me with much optimism. But Martin’s last two Tours were marked improvements and he has both the veteran chops and a team at his disposal. Again, I wouldn’t bet any of Andrew’s money on him, but I might bet some of Conor’s.
Theme Song: Ballad of a Thin Man. Do UAE know what they’re doing at the Tour de France? Maybe, which undermines the metaphor here, but if nothing else Dan Martin is pretty skinny.
Where They At? In perfect position, with Warren Barguil only 1.46 back, respectable enough but not so close to the lead as to stop them from dropping four minutes Sunday so they can go KOM points- and stage-hunting.
What comes next? Kevin Ledanois is hanging around the KOM comp for now, maybe a placeholder for Barguil. The whole subject is way too premature. Whatever, it’s the team of Barguil and the best is yet to come.
Theme Song: One More Cup of Coffee. A ballad of lonely, complicated beauty. Your loyalty is not to me but to the climbs above...
13. Mitchelton - Scott
Where They At? Adam Yates is bunched in with Froome, although he hit the deck on stage 2.
What comes next? Probably the best team in which I have no confidence. Two years ago Yates was fourth, so there’s a case to be made for taking him seriously, but someone else will have to make it. Still, is this a colorful Tour or what?
Theme Song: Queen Jane Approximately. The fragile hero waiting to be undone by a cynical world. Sounds like a direct hit.
14. LottoNL- Jumbo
Where They At? Hm, quietly plugging along, which is not necessarily a good thing in week 1 when your best rider might be Dylan Groenewegen. Both Kruijswijk and dark horse Roglic are together a few seconds adrift of Froome.
What comes next? Wout!! Well maybe, but it does seem like it’s coming together. Wout Van Aert, the biggest thing since un-sliced bread (he’s bigger than sliced bread), is contemplating a buyout from his Verandas Willems deal so he can get to the World Tour a year sooner, which he is clearly ready for. Yumbo want to open stores around Belgium. This is as good a match as you’ll find. As to the 2018 Tour, yeah right. But Roglic could be interesting maybe.
Theme Song: Boots of Spanish Leather. The ultimate song of ambivalence versus longing, of dreams forever sailing over the horizon, leaving behind only offers of consolation. I’m pretty sure Wout is the boots.
Where They At? In the mix, well represented in the breaks, blah blah blah.
What comes next? A mysteriously coordinated GC attack featuring both Richie Porte and Bauke Mollema? Porte is joining the Trekkers next year, but for now they can pin their faint hopes on Mollema. And stage wins.
Theme Song: Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream. It’ll be ridiculous but all work out more or less in the end.