As Eurosport’s main man Carlton Kirby prepared for his three week stint commentating on the Tour de France, he interrupted his packing to give us a few last minute tips on what to expect. It’s shaping up to be an unpredictable one with a route that is a little lighter on the climbs than in recent years and the main contenders showing variable form. Here are some of Carlton’s thoughts.
By this point in the season Chris Froome would normally have had five or so wins under his belt to boost his confidence but he’s had absolutely none so far this year. Carlton says, “He’s misfiring at the moment and doesn’t have the form of last year but he will bring it back, you can be sure of that!” With his brutal ambition, bags of experience and a hardened lieutenant in Geraint Thomas you can’t rule him out. “He may have the looks of a choirboy but he has the mind of an assassin.” That’s why the bookies still have him down as the favourite with some only offering a measly 6/5.
In contrast, Richie Porte has secured six high profile victories, most notably winning the Criterium Dauphine, often seen as a good indication of TdF form. He climbs and time trials as well as anyone else and at 32 years old, this could be his last shot. But Carlton remains skeptical. He’s never got on to the podium of a Grand Tour before. “The trouble for Porte is that he doesn’t have the back up in his team that he needs. And BMC often get their timing and strategy all wrong. They can be awful. I see them winning a few stages here, but I don’t really rate Porte as an overall winner.” You can still get 2/1 odds on him winning the whole thing.
Nairo Quintana set out this year to achieve the Giro/Tour double and failed at the first hurdle. He also lost a few fans over the Dumoulin ‘poogate’ scandal on the Stelvio. “He’s not really firing on all cyclinders. I think Quintana’s on a losing wicket with his team as well.” His grudging thanks to his teammates at Movistar haven’t helped - some say they’re beginning to resent him. It seems the bookies agree with 7/1 odds.
Meanwhile the man the boys in M really adore is the veteran, Valverde, who has been on stonking form this season. A man who never trains, only races, he has cunning, passion and tactical nous that make him the most feared rider to find yourself in the last kilometer with. You can still get him at 25/1 to win the whole caboodle. That’s a good bet! You can also put your house on him finishing in the top ten.
“Fabio Aru may have the face that broke 1000 mirrors,” says Carlton, “but he put on a good show at the Dauphine.” He climbed impressively on Mont du Chat which also features in the Tour and launched an aggressive attack on the Col de la Colombiere. He missed the Giro because of a crash before it began and had to withdraw. “He’s never going to win a beauty contest but he’s angry and has something to prove.” He shares leadership of Astana with Fuglsang, the Dane, and it will be interesting see that tussle as they each vie for top spot. You can get 37/1 on Fuglsang while Ladbrokes have Aru at 33-1 for an outright win. Either one worth a flutter!
With Contador looking like a spent force and Bardet unable to pull off an effective time trial that’s all the favourites for the GC accounted for. The sprints could be interesting but it’s sure to be a fight between Cavendish, Kittel and Greipel. Although might we see Degenkolb snatch his first Tour de France stage?
But it’s looking at some of the outsiders that has got Carlton really thinking. There are two dark horses that could surprise everyone.
Pierre Roger Latour (what a name for a cyclist!) may have the most ungainly cycling style but Carlton reckons he’s one to watch out for. “He’s the ugliest guy to look at on a bike,” he says. “You can practically hear the organ grinder in the background because he’s like a chimp all over the thing. He’s messy but he’s powerful and he’s just won the French Time Trial Championship…He’s got a whiff of the badger about him and I mean that in the best possible way – I think he could be the new Hinault.”
This is his first Tour de France though and he will be expected to help out his leader, Roman Bardet who would be a popular home grown winner. Will AG2R La Mondiale be prepared to let the new young talent off the leash? Last year’s stage victory at the Vuelta when he beat Darwin Atapuma to the finish on the Alto de Aitana was an indication of what he can do when he’s given a free hand by his team. Let’s hope for more of the same. At 300/1 for an outright win he’s worth sticking a fiver on. More serious betters may be tempted by 6/1 for a top ten finish.
The other interesting one is Jon Izaguirre who is 150/1 to win the Maillot Jaune. Carlton says, “Now he’s at Bahrain Merida he no longer has to play the super domestique role of supporting Valverde and Quintana that he had at Movistar. Another national TT champion, he’s been on stellar form and this year’s parcours which is less mountainous than in more recent years could well suit him.”
Thanks Carlton. Some excellent insider knowledge as ever. Needless to say we can’t wait for it all to start in Dusseldorf on Saturday. And just to get you in the mood we’ll close with a few classic Kirbyisms. Check out @saidcarlton on Twitter for a daily dose of genius and sublime musings from cycling’s best commentator.
"Contador keeps flicking the elbow out like a dodgy dad dance."
"Not too hot, not too cold, just like the three bears porridge."
"It twists and turns like an angry serpent and someone might just get bitten."
"There are flags everywhere and gauntlets all over the road."
"There’s a sausage shop up that incline there...if you’re that way inclined."
"He’s got the die in his cup and he’s shaking it."
"Go, go Gogl! You can see the T-shirts now!"
"Shaken, but how stirred he is is anybody’s guess."
"Movistar, the men with the big green ‘M’ which, when they’re in a line like this, says ‘MMMMM’.”
"It’s Chris Froome that will be in the Colombian sandwich.”
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