It has been an eventful start for the 2014 Tour de France. Despite over enthusiastic crowds and the selfie phenomenon threatening to upend numerous cyclists, overall the British depart was a flying success.
Even Mother Nature played her part with magnificent sunshine contrasting the sodden conditions later on when the Tour reached France. An the public interest in the race confirmed how popular the sport has become in Britain lately.
However things didn’t go quite as smooth for British participants this year. Mark Cavendish’s fall at the death of stage 1, scuppered the much anticipated home win in front of the Royals. Instead it was a charismatic German, Marcel Kittel who stole the honours.
The Giant-Shimano cyclist went on to win the third and fourth stages, continuing his excellent form from the Giro earlier this year. But Kittel’s latest displays confirm beyond debate his status as the fastest man in the peloton, at the expense of Cavendish, the unfortunate elder statesman.
While defending champion Chris Froome didn’t fare much better. Despite making a declaration of intent in the first stage by finishing sixth, Froome crashed on the fourth stage, grazing his hip and damaging his wrist.
He was patched up however the fifth stage proved a poor day for a bruised cyclist to shelter and recover in the peloton. The peloton passed through the World War One battlefields of Northern France and Belgium and was the first of three stages to commemorate the centenary of the Great War.
And with 15 km of cobbled roads and torrential rain it proved a trying afternoon. Belkin’s brilliantly named Lars Boom eventually persevered to take the stage win however Froome was forced to abandon outright after a further fall.
Elsewhere, Vincenzo Nibali maintained his grip over the maillot jaune by finishing third, just nineteen seconds adrift. And the following day Lotto-Belisol’s Andre Greipel snatched stage 6 from Arras to Reims with Nibali again fortifying his hold on the yellow jersey, finishing in the main group alongside fellow GC contender Alberto Contador.
The Spaniard is now 2 minutes, 37 seconds back from Nibali and he also lost his trusted lieutenant Jesus Hernandez on Thursday, after another fall. However Contador’s fortunes will undoubtedly improve once the peloton gains altitude in the coming weeks, releasing his inner mountain goat.
For Froome however, the much talked of two-in-a-row is over and Richie Porte will lead Team Sky in the Kenyan’s absence. Questions will undoubtedly be asked of David Brailsford’s decision to omit Bradley Wiggins from the Team Sky line-up.
Wiggins and Froome’s fraught relationship is public knowledge. However it was suggested that the 2012 winner could be included as a Plan B. But with Froome now out and no Plan B, the media’s fascination with Sky’s warring former champions is set to continue.
Alan Casey, Pundit Arena.