Matteo Trentin, an Italian team-mate of Mark Cavendish, won the 14th stage of the Tour de France in Lyon, outwitting his 17 fellow breakaways at the end of the first routine stage of this year’s Tour.
It was hard to tell whether this relatively uneventful stage was a hangover from Friday’s epic to Saint-Amand-Montrond, or because of the peloton’s sense of foreboding ahead of today’s ascent of Mont Ventoux. Perhaps it was a bit of both, but, unlike Friday, there were no more ambushes on Chris Froome by any of his overall rivals, or well-executed strategies by teams to keep the race together for their sprinters.
Instead, it was a classic transitional stage in which the day’s main break, which included Scotland’s David Millar, was permitted to stay away. Yet that makes it sound straightforward for those who were in the break, which it wasn’t, because the first hour was ferocious. They covered 48km as rider after rider attacked, and tried to stay away, until finally the 18-man group stuck.
Millar had a Garmin-Sharp team-mate, the young American Andrew Talansky, for company, and he seemed to decide that Talansky stood a better chance of winning, despite a positive omen: it was a year to the day since Millar won his last stage, on a similar kind of stage from a similar-sized group.
But it was Millar who was one of the first attackers from the group with around 20km still to race, a sure sign he was trying to set up Talansky. His efforts effectively ended his own prospects, and he slid out the back, while Talansky went close in Lyon, finishing third behind Trentin, with the 23-year-old claiming his first professional win and the first of this Tour for the “traditional” cycling countries – France, Spain and the Netherlands have still to get out the blocks.
Behind the break, the peloton was led by Team Sky, for once looking in control after a shaky two weeks. The big test for them lies ahead, with Mont Ventoux today and the Alps still to come, but Sir Dave Brailsford, the team principal, insisted he was not worried.
“There’s no reason to be afraid at all,” said Brailsford. “Chris has already shown he’s climbing really well, he’s in great shape, and we can’t wait to get on to Mont Ventoux. We’re excited about it, and we want to race.”
Froome has never previously raced up Mont Ventoux, though he has recced it this year. “It would be a dream to win on Mont Ventoux,” said Froome. “I’ve been up there and I’m really glad I’ve seen it, it’s a really tough climb, but my priority is the overall classification. It’s definitely more important to keep yellow [than win the stage], but I want to try and build on the advantage I have.”
It sounds like he will attack, which seems a sensible strategy given the weakness of a team that, last year, controlled the Tour for Bradley Wiggins with far more assurance. Already two men down, thanks to the elimination of Vasili Kiryienka and an injury to Edvald Boasson Hagen, Sky face a daunting challenge this week.
The main threat appears to come from Alberto Contador and his Saxo-Tinkoff team. Even if Contador isn’t in the form of old, his team showed on Friday, when they attacked Froome in crosswinds and gained a minute, that they have strength and imagination. They and the Dutch Belkin team, with two riders in the top five, can make life difficult for Froome in a brutal final week that includes four mountain stages and a time trial.