Monday, 1 July 2013

Tour de France 2013 : Stage 4 Preview

THE opening three stages have all been concerned with one thing, stage victories.

However Stage Four will change all that with the focus switching to the general classification (GC).

The Team Time Trial (TTT) sees each team set off at three minute intervals in a battle against the clock. At the time of writing all teams bar Astana still have their full compliment of nine riders, which is just as well.

The finishing time is taken on the fifth member of the team who crosses the line. This means individual specialists can't just ride off into the sunset and must work together to ensure that at least five men make it to the finish together.

This year's test takes place around the streets of Nice. At 25km it is shorter than previous editions but will be fast. Speeds up to 55kph (that's 34mph) are expected and the result will certainly alter the look of GC and will almost certainly result in a change of leader.

Due to the lack of a prologue this year and the fact the previous stages have all resulted in big bunch finishes, there are still 71 riders within one second of our race leader Jan Bakelants.

Radioshack have a strong team, including Swiss master Fabian Cancellara, but it is unlikely that they will come out on top here. Instead the honour of stage win and new race leader should be fought out between three teams.

Team Sky began the Tour as favourites for this stage, even without Sir Bradley in their ranks. But the injury picked up by Geraint Thomas does throw a spanner in the works somewhat. G crashed on day one and although initial x-rays couldn't find a break, a CT scan has since revealed a small fracture to the pelvis. He has been earmarked as a major aid to Chris Froome's ambitions later in the race never mind for his ability against the clock.

However Sky still have Froome himself, Richie Porte, Ian Stannard, and Edvald Boasson Hagen, all of whom are accomplished time trialers in their own right. The team itself is incredibly well drilled as you would expect. It benefits from the same coaching set-up that has seen Great Britain dominate the Team Pursuit in recent years.

If they do come out on top here the yellow jersey will go onto the shoulders of Boasson Hagen. And while it would be a big ask for the team to control the race all the way to Paris from here they are certainly capable of doing so. Whether they want to is another matter. They may be content to hand the jersey over to someone else, as long as that person is not a threat to Froome overall.

Omega Pharma Quickstep are possibly their biggest challengers. In Tony Martin they have the world champion at the individual discipline although his crash on stage one has left him a very battered and bruised man. Suffering from concussion, a lung contusion, soft tissue damage on his knee, hip and back and a 5cm deep cut on his elbow, a lot will depend on how he is feeling. It is almost certain that he will not be at 100% although he was at the sharp end of things into Calvi.

They do have other strong men though apart from Martin. They prove this time and time again in powering Mark Cavendish to the line. Sylvain Chavanel's name keeps popping up in these previews for a reason. He is a strong rider and as he has shown over the course of the last couple of days he certainly has the form at the minute.

If OPQS win they would have Michael Kwiatkowski in the Malliot Jaune. The young Pole is spoken as a future winner of a Grand Tour and will relish any time in yellow although he may have designs on the white jersey for best young rider.

The expectation to do all of the work to defend the jersey will not be something that will phase them either. They are pretty much expected to do the majority of work on any flat stage in order to supply Mark Cavendish with more stage win opportunities and with the upcoming stages mostly sprint days they would have been on the front anyway.

Movistar are the third potential winners of the stage. They will hope that Alejandro Valverde can keep up with the likes of Jonathan Castroviejo and Rui Costa.

Elsewhere the likes of Garmin, Orica GreenEdge & BMC have a chance of sneaking onto the top step. Victory for any of these three would see David Millar, Simon Gerrans or Cadel Evans step into the yellow jersey.

The big loser here could Alberto Contador. His Saxo Tinkoff squad aren't bad against the clock but they will finish behind the teams of his rivals. And while time losses here will only be seconds they will still be enough to force him into attacking a bit more than he wanted in the mountains.

Either way the Tour won't be won or lost here. But it will put a marker down for what could happen over the next few weeks.

And the way the last three days have gone, that could be anything!

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