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Tour de France analysis: Week 1 winners & losers

After an opening week – well, nine days – which has seen more than its fair share of thrills and spills, 180 of the 198 riders who started this year’s Tour de France will be enjoying their first rest day today. For some it will be an opportunity to give tired legs a rest; for others it will be a much-needed chance to heal after a particularly high number of accidents in the first nine stages. It has been a good start to the race for certain individuals and teams. Conversely, there are some who must be wondering how they have offended the gods of cycling to have so much misfortune heaped upon them. Here are my thoughts on the winners and losers from the first week of the Tour.

Week 1 winners

1. Europcar

Voeckler ended week one in the coveted yellow jersey

It should not be forgotten that the team formerly known as Bbox Bouygues Telecom was on the verge of going out of existence last year before Europcar stepped in at the eleventh hour to rescue the squad. Despite some disappointing results in the opening stages which took place in the team’s home region of the Vendée, their riders have featured in a number of breakaways and late attacks – frequently thanks to Thomas Voeckler, the French nation’s darling – giving their sponsor’s name all-important airtime.

A year’s worth of sponsorship paid off handsomely in Saint-Flour yesterday as Voeckler reclaimed the yellow jersey he had worn with distinction for ten days in 2004. With two flat stages to follow immediately after the rest day, Voeckler is likely to retain the maillot jaune deep into next week. The entire team could abandon the moment Voeckler loses the overall lead, and this Tour would still be a resounding success for a squad much loved by many neutrals.

Gilbert has worn all three major jerseys during a successful first week

2. Philippe Gilbert

The undisputed king of the classics has rarely been far from the front in this opening week. The first yellow jersey of the race after winning stage one (his first Tour win), he has also finished second (twice), fourth and fifth since, worn both the green and polka dot jerseys, and is now targeting the green jersey competition which he currently leads by 45 points after making big gains during the weekend’s two stages in the Massif Central.

He will struggle to defend that lead all the way to Paris, particularly if Mark Cavendish continues the form which has already propelled him to two wins, but even if he fails in this respect he has already more than made his mark on this Tour by animating the race with with his swashbuckling attacks on the uphill finishes which have been the signature of this year’s race so far.

Hushovd proved to be a worthy wearer of the yellow jersey for seven days

3. Garmin-Cervélo

For three years, Garmin teams have flattered to deceive at the Tour. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. All that changed, however, when the team broke its duck by winning the team time trial on stage two, which put Thor Hushovd in the yellow jersey. Tyler Farrar won in Redon the following day to break his personal Tour hoodoo, and Hushovd defended his meagre one-second lead with pride and determination, clinging on in uphill finishes where he had no right to be mixing it with the big overall contenders. Only yesterday – hampered by delays caused by a major mid-stage crash – did he finally relinquish the lead after a full week in yellow.

The team still has two riders handily placed in the top 20 overall: Tom Danielson (on his Tour debut) and the injury-prone Christian Vande Velde, so often the unluckiest man in the peloton, who has so far managed to avoid the kind of race-ending crashes which have accounted for several other contenders and have long been his trademark.

Breakaway specialist Hoogerland currently holds the polka dot jersey

4. Vacansoleil-DCM

For a team competing in their first Tour de France, the Dutch team have punched well above their weight. Before this year sprinter Romain Feillu had accumulated just three third places in three previous Tours with Agritubel. Already he has a second and two fourths to his name and sits a useful sixth in the green jersey competition, ahead of more illustrious names such as André Greipel, Tyler Farrar and Alessandro Petacchi. Lieuwe Westra was prominent in the lead group on the opening stage, and breakaway specialist Johnny Hoogerland has probably spent more time in front of the camera lens than any other rider.

Hoogerland claimed the polka dot jersey on stage nine, but will go down in cycling folklore as the rider who was thrown into a barbed wire fence after an incident with an official car (see below), got up, rode the final 40km to the finish with blood pouring out of cuts on his legs which required 33 stitches, and then gave the most phlegmatic interview you will ever see from a sportsman who has just escaped serious injury.

5. TV audiences

This has been the best and most varied opening week of the Tour in recent memory. A well-planned route including several interesting climbs and flat stages with tricky uphill finals has resulted in eight different winners in nine stages, several nail-biting finishes, welcome unpredictability and lots of drama (although we could do without incidents such as the Hoogerland/Flecha crash yesterday). We have had sprint victories and wins for climbers, puncheurs and new names, and even two successful breakaways.

Going into the rest day, we also have an intriguing tactical situation where defending champion Alberto Contador is on the back foot and will need to go on the attack if he wants to win his fourth Tour. Best of all, we have not yet had so much as a whiff of a doping scandal. For the millions watching at home on TV (or those lucky enough to be at the side of the road), it really doesn’t get much better than this.

Week 1 losers

Wiggins was one of a surprisingly large number of GC contenders to crash out

1. Crashed contenders

There has been an unusually high number of retirements – 18 to date – but even more notable has been the loss of several prominent general classification contenders. Janez Brajkovič departed after a crash on stage five, while RadioShack teammate Chris Horner and Sky’s Bradley Wiggins succumbed to injuries sustained in the same crash two days later. (Horner finished the stage with concussion and a broken nose, was barely aware of his surroundings afterwards, and unsurprisingly was pulled out of the race the following morning.)

And then yesterday Alexandre Vinokourov and Jurgen Van Den Broeck were caught up in the same incident on a fast descent and were immediately eliminated. All five riders were realistic contenders for a top ten finish – both Wiggins and Van Den Broeck were top five prospects.

Klöden is the only RadioShack leader still in contention

2. RadioShack

RadioShack must be wondering what kind of bad karma they have brought upon themselves given their catalogue of misfortune so far. Having started the Tour with four GC contenders – Brajkovič , Horner, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden – they have already lost two. Leipheimer is 36th, already nearly five minutes down on many of the yellow jersey favourites, after a string of crashes and unfortunately timed mechanical issues.

Which leaves only Klöden, who remains handily in touch in eighth but has now been stripped of his two of his most capable teammates. And even he managed to lose eight unnecessary seconds at yesterday’s finish by being caught on the wrong side of a small split in the favourites’ group. Nonetheless, he remains just 17 seconds behind Cadel Evans, the best placed of the major contenders.

Contador's luck and form have both appeared lacking so far

3. Alberto Contador

If RadioShack’s karma is bad, then three-time champion Alberto Contador‘s is arguably even worse. He unexpectedly lost over a minute on stage one after being one of the few contenders caught on the wrong side of a crash. And although he was expected to lose time in the team time trial that followed, he would not have anticipated finishing the first weekend the best part of two minutes adrift of most of his rivals.

He struggled on the Mûr-de-Bretagne and was edged out for the stage win by Cadel Evans, and then looked even more vulnerable when he was outpaced by Evans again at Super-Besse on Saturday. Add to that a sore and inflamed right knee, a legacy of three crashes, the last of which pitched him into a barrier after tangling with Vladimir Karpets, and the Spaniard must be questioning his decision to squeeze in the Tour between his Giro d’Italia win and his upcoming doping hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. His situation is by no means lost yet, but equally his current form and fortune are far from inspiring.

Boonen's Tour came to a premature end (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

4. Quick Step

There was a time not so long ago when Quick Step were one of the major forces in the peloton, with Tom Boonen a six-time sprint winner and the winner of the green jersey in 2007, and Sylvain Chavanel a double stage victor and yellow jersey as recently as last year. But Boonen has already abandoned – yet another crash victim – Chavanel has also been struggling with knocks, and there is little obvious stage-winning potential elsewhere in a team which is increasingly looking like one of the peloton’s poor relations.

All this, of course, comes in a year which has been overshadowed by Wouter Weylandt‘s untimely death in a crash at the Giro. Rumours of a merger with Omega Pharma-Lotto to form a Belgian super-team continue to circulate – a union in which the greater strength clearly resides with Omega Pharma. If this is to be the last season for Quick Step in its current form, they are going out with more of a whimper than a bang.

Petacchi has barely featured all week

5. Alessandro Petacchi

The defending green jersey from last year’s race has had an anonymous Tour thus far. He is currently languishing in a lowly 16th place in the points classification with a meagre 47 points, 170 behind leader Philippe Gilbert, and with a single second-placed finish to his name.

It is hard to escape the notion that the 37-year old is now entering the twilight of a long and successful career in which he has won a total of 48 stages at the three Grand Tours (including six in France) and has taken the points competition at all three. At this Tour he has been surpassed not just by the likes of Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar, but also by a new generation of sprinters such as Denis Galimzyanov, Edvald Boasson Hagen and José Joaquín Rojas.

Links: Tour de France official websiteSteephill.tv

Race analysis

Is the new green jersey points system working?

Stage recaps

Stage 1: Gilbert climbs to victory as Contador faces uphill battle

Stage 2: Hushovd takes yellow as Evans misses out by one second

Stage 3: Farrar’s green jersey challenge is born on the 4th of July

Stage 4: Evans wins slug-fest but Hushovd clings on to yellow

Stage 5: Cannonball Cav conquers crash carnage

Stage 6: Boasson Hagen wins battle of the strong men

Stage 7: Cavendish wins again as the Sky falls in for Wiggins

Stage 8: Costa’s winning break as Contador continues to look vulnerable

Stage 9: Voeckler leads Tour of attrition as peloton licks its wounds

Tour de France preview

The Tour in numbers

Teams and sponsors (part 1)

Teams and sponsors (part 2)

Official Tour teaser video

Ten riders to watch

Six key stages

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

23 Responses to Tour de France analysis: Week 1 winners & losers

  1. gchutrau says:

    You missed Cadel Evans very well positioned to take over the tour.

    🙂

    • gchutrau says:

      BTW, awesome posts! Thank you!

    • Tim says:

      Thanks. Glad you enjoyed them.

      To explain my thinking, I did consider Cadel, who is handily placed (and who I have a financial interest in, having placed an each way bet on him). For me, he may well turn out to be the biggest winner of all, but right now I had him down as about where he would have expected to be – i.e. roughly level with the other GC contenders – but with the bonus of Contador’s losses. In fact, with the exception of Contador and the crash retirements, all the GC contenders are pretty much where I would expect them to be, give or take a few seconds either way.

      The same goes for Mark Cavendish. As the only multiple stage winner, he has been one of the stars of the opening week – but then most people would have expected nothing less from him, so I left him out of the list of “winners” for the same reason.

      Still, it’s all part of the fun of the debate, isn’t it?

  2. Tim says:

    I spoke too soon. L’Equipe are reporting that Katusha’s Kolobnev has tested positive for a masking agent. Rats.

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