Welcome to the 12th annual Tour day Schmalz, a regretfully flippantly named event that is essentially an excuse for me to write fifth grade level insults about hard working professional bike racers as they try to succeed in the biggest event their sport has to offer. This isn’t fair of course, but right now the President’s son-in-law is in charge of the world, so all current concepts of fairness are out the window.
On the goldilocks scale, this year’s course is neither too time-trially nor too hilly, it’s just right for… Well, not really anyone who’s here this year. I guess it would be OK for Nibali, but he dedicated his season to hoping that a bunch of faster guys would drop out of the Giro. (That didn’t work out by the way, Dumoulin crushed everyone’s dreams at the Giro while also stopping to take a dump on the course—you have no idea how happy it makes me that Dumoulin’s Dump is an actual thing—I can’t imagine anything I’ve enjoyed more in the past 12 years.) This year’s Tour doesn’t have the “This course is custom made for _________.” stink to it, which is a relief, as it makes for lazy commenting about the race, and while we’re speaking of lazy commenting about the race…
Yes, he hasn’t won any races yet this year. And yes, he looked like he brought his D game to the Dauphine (each year he’s won the Tour, he’s also won the Dauphine; this year he finished behind Dan Martin! Dan Martin! Let that sink in.) but Chris Froome has a few things going for him. First, besides Alberto Contador (who I will deal with later), he is the only guy starting this race who has won the Tour. He knows how to handle the race. He knows what to expect. He won’t panic when Pinot tries to jump away with 10k of the climb left, well, no one panics at that, but you get the picture.
He also has the biggest, most well organized and vaguely shadiest team supporting him. And do not try to claim that Sky is un-shady. They’ve danced on the edge of “marginal WTFs” for years now. Froome seems to be clear of the worst stuff from Sky so far, but look for him to lose his “Roadside Dumoulin” during a rest day press conference soon. In summation, his team is the Death Star, but they really know how to win the Tour.
The biggest question before this year’s Tour is “what’s up with Froome?” Is he sick? Is he getting old? Did he get a faulty fecal transplant? (All this Dumoulin Dump talk has really opened the fecal floodgates.) I have no idea, but there’s no reason to not think Froome and Sky will get it together for the Tour because they always have.
Which brings us to Richie Porte, who shares the co-runner up contender spot with Nairo Quintana. The sport of cycling is so distorted by the lens of the Tour de France that people simply do not give a crap about guys who win one week races. Richie Porte, Tejay van Garderen, Andrew Talansky, Simon Spilak, these are all very good racers who get labeled as less then elite because they don’t win Grand Tours, and I’m here to pile on and say that I don’t think any of these guys will win the Tour. They may sneak out a Vuelta win, but the Tour? Most probably not.
And who cares? Winning the Tour isn’t the only measure of a racer’s worth, but it is almost July, so we have to evaluate their chances. Simply put, Porte is better at being bad at the Tour then Froome is. Froome has had bad moments, but Porte’s bad moments have out shined his. Somewhere in the mountains after the first week, we usually see Porte have his bad day. Just a climb or a stage where he drops a minute or so. And then he starts racing to safeguard third place. Porte is a one week badass, but when the outer limits of the Tour come around he loses the race by a thin fraction. This must frustrate the Dumoulin’s Dump (or DD, which I’m going to start using to save time) out of him.
If I were Nairo Quintana, I’d be looking into whether Team Movistar was trying to kill me. Nairo has started the last three Grand Tours. In a row. This Tour will be his fourth Grand Tour in two years. Movistar is treating Nairo like a rental car, and to add insult to injury, what do they do? They give Valverde the Giro off so he can be rested for the Tour. Valverde?! Really? For “support”? Valverde is the wingman who feels it’s his duty to tell any potential hook ups at the bar that you have herpes, but don’t have any flare-ups at the moment.
There is no way that Valverde’s presence doesn’t cause Quintana additional stress. And it would show on Quintana’s face, but you literally have to boil Nairo before he shows any facial expressions. I have a soft spot for Nairo, he has to attack and get all of his time in the mountains because his ITTs take the shape of a mushroom cloud. He’s fun to watch, but he seemed off in the Giro. I hope he’s rested for the Tour, because a Nairo win would be a nail biter.
At this point, Alberto is like a guy with a terrible comb over. He insists on maintaining the look despite protestations from his family, friends and his barber, but he just keeps forcing that wisp of hair over his bald head. Every day we expect him to look in the mirror and see that it isn’t working anymore, but Alberto hasn’t yet looked I the mirror and said, “DD, who do I think I’m fooling?”
Alberto, you’ve won a lot of races. This Tour will not turn out well for you. Shave that head and let your dome shine!
Bardet and Pinot
Roman Bardet and Thibaut Pinot are two young-ish French racers who are can finish on the podium in Grand Tours. (Bardet finished second last year, did you remember that? Don’t worry, almost no one does.) I am lumping them together here because they will only be contending for the win if something calamitous happens. For some reason, by the time the race hits the mountains, Pinot has found a way to lose a minute already, and Bardet is an attacker in the mountains, which there aren’t a lot of in the Tour this year. They are French though, and will continue to race for French teams until they are sporting Alberto style comb overs.
The Tour is not the Vuelta
As much as I love the many faces of Fabio Aru, the pluck of Esteban Chaves, the gawky style of Dan Martin and the moxie of Andrew Talansky, none of these guys have a shot at winning the Tour without a major crash or a tainted buffet taking out the contenders. Maybe they can get some family members to cough on the Sky food pellets (or whatever they feed those guys), but the success these guys have had in other Grand Tours will just not transfer over to the Tour. Also, there is no Santa, the tooth fairy is your mom or dad and your cover band is terrible, please stop posting your gigs on Facebook, we’re only clicking “maybe” to make you feel better.
There’s a lot of sprinting opportunities at this year’s Tour, which means there will be lots of opportunities for GC riders fearful of losing precious seconds to have their teams work like mad to shove them into situations where they will serve as road furniture for the riders who can win these stages. There will be blood, mark my words. We cannot predict which tickets will be punched, but they will inevitably be punched. That’s how the Tour works.
That said, there’s a fun bunch of sprinters this year. Demaré looks to be the top French sprinter, ahead of Bouhanni, whose milkshake he just drank at the French Championships. Greipel will win a stage, because he always does. Kittel will really want a win in Germany, as will Degenkolb, but he will not win there, his best chances are in the later hilly stage finishes. Cavendish will be there, but he’s been sick and has had next to no racing this year. Cobrelli, Matthews and Albasini will be in the mix in the hilly stages, but this looks to be the year of the Sagan.
He’ll be close in the pure sprint stages and there’s plenty of other stages that end on hills (not mountains) that really suit his skills. It’s almost certain that he will win another green jersey, and the only thing that could stop him would be getting a GC contender stuck in his spokes in an early stage.
As long as we’re talking in race competitions, I should mention the polka dot jersey, also known as the jersey of diminished GC expectations. Pierre Rolland should stand on the ramp of the prologue for five minutes before starting the stage so he can pursue the polka for jersey without worries of being chased by the GC contender’s teams. Think about it, Pierre, lose that time right away and you can ride like a maniac for the rest of the race. It’s a win-win!
Final programming note
For those of you who don’t know, I do most of my Tour commentary on the NYVC twitter account, so head on over there and see if I’m available to watch the races.