As the Tour de France 2015 swings into view once again on 4 July, our cycle blogger takes a look at the contenders for the general classification.
For those unfamiliar with stage racing, a little explanation is in order. The general classification is the competition for the quickest time to complete the course, and is rewarded in the Tour de France by the iconic malliot jaune. That is, the rider who spends the least time on the road covering the requisite kilometres is the winner, with the relative time gaps determining the other placings.
What makes a good GC rider?
The nature of the “GC” is that flat stages, where the peloton largely stays together, generally have little effect, since most riders finish with the same time. By contrast, on mountainous stages, the peloton invariably becomes more strung-out and the time gaps become larger.
GC contenders, then, are usually among the best climbers. Nevertheless, Bradley Wiggins proved in 2012 that a great time-trialist with a strong team can reach the top step on the podium. But the tactic is difficult to pull off: gaining time on rivals in the time trials, and using teammates to keep a high tempo in the mountains in order to prevent attacks from better climbers.
Crashes & Punctures
The event that can throw all this theory into disarray is a crash or a mechanical failure, especially if it occurs near the end of the stage when the peloton’s speed is high, and the unfortunate rider is unable to catch his competitors before the finish line.
In order to avoid such events having a disproportionate effect on the overall standings, the UCI have ruled that any rider suffering a crash or mechanical failure within the last 3 kilometres receives the same time as the peloton. However, both Richie Porte and Alberto Contador still lost time in crashes at the recent Giro d’Italia.
Despite his crash on stage 13, Alberto Contador took the GC victory at the Giro d’Italia in May. His performance was undeniably dominant, being ahead by some 5 minutes at one point, and finishing over 2 minutes ahead of the field. Nonetheless, El Pistolero failed to win a stage outright, perhaps saving some of his energy for the upcoming Tour.
Nairo Quintana, who was the 2014 Giro winner, has set his sights on the Tour de France this year. His climb up the Stelvio last year was memerising (if controversial) and, having finished first in the Tirreno-Adriatico earlier this year, the diminutive Columbian will be aiming to improve on his second place in the 2013 Tour.
It was Chris Froome that beat Quintana to victory at the 2013 Tour de France, and the Kenyan-born Brit will be leading Team Sky in this year’s edition. Froome is looking strong once again: he won the 5-day Tour of Andalucia in February ahead of Contador, and most recently took victory in the Criterium du Dauphine.
Vincenzo Nibali won his maiden Grand Tour in 2010 and is the defending Tour de France champion, having particularly impressed on the cobbles last time around. The current Italian road champion will be looking to defend his title come 4 July.
Osbornes cycle injuries will be posting regular updates throughout the Tour de France 2015 so keep us bookmarked for the latest news.