It has been quite an eventful week for Team Sky at the 2015 Tour de France. There have been allegations of hacking into the training data of the team amid accusations of doping within the camp while Richie Porte has also claimed to have been punched by a spectator. Then on Saturday’s stage to the airfield above the town of Mende, won by Steve Cummings, a cup of urine was apparently thrown into the face of overall leader Chris Froome during the stage. Froome still leads the race by 3 minutes and 10 seconds from Colombian rider Nairo Quintana but his good riding form during the past two weeks, especially his domination when winning at La Pierre Saint-Martin in the Pyrenees, has tended to arouse suspicion rather than admiration from spectators and media alike.
There can be no doubting than the Team Sky riders have arrived at this year’s Tour de France as a well prepared unit with the sole intention of helping Froome add to his win in 2013 and claim a third success for the team after Sir Bradley Wiggins secured the 2012 crown. Both Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas have been particularly prominent at the front of the peleton as the gradients steepen but their displays have been no fluke.
While Froome recently won the mountainous Criterium du Dauphine, Porte has been one of the most consistent stage racers during the early part of the season whereas Thomas finished second in the Tour de Suisse just prior to this three week race. Much energy has been expended by Team Sky in helping Froome during the first two weeks of the Tour and the question now remains as to whether they can maintain their current standard of performance during four gruelling days in the Alps, with the likelihood of more doubts cast on their preparations.
Yet there are signs that Nairo Quintana is gaining strength as the Tour progresses and he did pose a significant threat to the dominance of Froome during the short steep climb up to the Mende airfield on Saturday. For any rider hoping to overhaul Froome in the overall standings, it appears evident that isolating the Kenyan born cyclist from his team-mates would be considered the best tactic with Movistar and Tinkoff-Saxo yet to fully accomplish that task to date.
Quintana still appears the old rider capable of defeating Froome and he will look at steadily reducing his deficit when the riders tackle three summit finishes this coming week culminating in the legendary Alpe d’Huez on Saturday. The Colombian will probably need the assistance of fellow Movistar rider Alejandro Valverde who occupies fourth place in the overall standings but it will be a difficult task with Froome already showing determination when attacked at both Mende and Plateau de Bielle.
Nairo Quintana will probably be regretting the time lost on the exposed costal roads of northern Netherlands during stage two of the race, but he arguably represents the only realistic challenger to Team Sky’s hopes of winning a third Tour de France in four years.