German time trial specialist Tony Martin now leads the Tour de France after four days of fairly intensive riding for the peleton in which one or two of the pre-race favourites fared better than others. Martin managed to escape from the leading group of riders with just a few kilometres remaining in Tuesday’s difficult stage from Seraing to Cambrai as he claimed the 10 second bonus for the victory, but for Chris Froome occupying second position in the overall classification, the opening exchanges of the Tour have proved to be more than satisfactory.
Helped by his fellow Team Sky members Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas, Froome finished second on the third stage of the Tour on Monday which finished on the notoriously short but steep Mur de Hoy hill, and he was beaten only by Spanish rider Joaquim Rodriguez, who excels on such terrain. More importantly for Froome were the time losses suffered by his expected rivals Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana. All three riders were unable to cope with the initial accelerations by Team Sky and although the time margins were measured in seconds, those performances may offer early indications as to which of the favourites appear to be showing the better form.
Tuesday’s demanding stage was a repeat of a similar day last year when Froome abandoned the race with injury after several crashes on the notorious cobble stretches of Northern France. Nibali tried to repeat his tactics of escaping the peloton on the difficult terrain but fairly strong headwinds thwarted his attempts and there were few incidents of note to worry the pre-favourites other than leading Frenchman Thibaut Pinot suffering two mechanical failures which have ended any hopes of him winning the 2015 Tour.
The leading riders may now be hoping for one or two days of more sedate riding as they contemplate their hopes for the mountain stages beginning next week. Froome will now hope to defend or even extend his 36 second advantage over Contador whose form on the steep Mur de Hoy raised questions marks as to the level of recovery from his Giro D’Italia exploits.
For Nibali and Quintana, the Pyrenees and Alps are more suited to their style of riding with long punishing gradients, but their deficits of almost two minutes to Froome will be no easy task in overhauling with the Team Sky rider probably prepared just to follow any of their anticipated attacks.
There is also the possibility that American Tejay van Garderen may emerge as a serious contender to claim the yellow jersey. He was fifth in the 2014 Tour de France and second in this year’s Criterium du Dauphine, with his third position in the current general classification at just 13 seconds behind Froome suggesting that he could be a live outsider.
Yet it is still early days in the 2015 Tour De France and much could still happen before the mountain stages begin, as the riders travel west facing the expected forceful headwinds.