The shape of things to come?

Froome__bert

TDF Top 3? – Froome leads Contador and Rodriguez 

Picture from Cycling Weekly http://www.cyclingweekly.co.uk/

The 27 second margin that Chris Froome maintained over Alberto Contatdor to win the Tour of Oman seems somewhat insignificant in isolation. Froome’s performances as the race entered the final 3 days showed some real swagger in contrast to his typically understated post race interviews.

Peter Sagan had dominated the first half of the race claiming the leaders jersey after a stage 2 win and stage 3 was deja vu with some commentators wondering if Sagan could hold on as the peleton headed into the mountains on day 4.

The climb to the Green Mountain with its summit finish on Thursday felt like the first time this season when grand tour riders featured with Froome, Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez and Vincenzo Nibali in contention as the stage neared the finish.

At times it looked like Froome had blown. Froome’s preferred seated climbing style can often make it appear that he is struggling in comparison to the way Contador dances on the pedals. It was a true game of cat and mouse towards the end with the big guns zig zagging towards the summit almost at right angles to the climb.

It was significant that Froome had the legs to ride away from Contador at the end of the stage to finish 2nd to Rodriguez and claim the red leaders jersey from Sagan. Sagan looked more laboured on the ascent than expected and abandoned overnight.

Stage 5 was equally dramatic with Froome, Contador and Rodriguez fighting it out over the climbs followed by a chasing group led by Cadel Evans. As an appetiser for the season ahead the body language of Froome and Contador in particular was striking with a definite suggestion of some ‘afters’. As Carlton Kirby said on the Eurosport feed; it was a shame the effects mike couldn’t pick up what was said.

Froome went for the line 2k out. Too soon! Contador and Rodriguez caught him with 1k to go and it was as you were. At the line it was Froome by inches, centimetres even.

Saxo Bank have been gracious in defeat praising Froome’s victory. Sky looked like the better team over the race. It could be significant that Michael Rogers wasn’t racing for Saxo as Contador seemed to lack support over the entire length of a stage. Richie Porte was tireless supporting Froome up the climbs on stages 4 and 5.

It probably is too early to see the result as an indicator for how the Tour de France will go in July but it does look like there’s some real friction between Froome and Contador which should make for a more interesting race than last year.

Contador’s victory in the Vuelta owed as much to Froome’s fatigue and psychologically winning his first stage race is the perfect start to 2013.

As for Sagan he’s clearly a strong rider over classics style stages and possibly a contender for this seasons stage races. I predict some interesting head to heads with Mark Cavendish for the points jersey at the Tour this year.

A final observation on Oman. The landscape. It was just like seeing the roads on something like Gran Turismo. Years ago when processors were about a quarter as powerful as the one that currently sits in your phone driving games on a PC or console were typical in sharing roads that cut through between cliffs, city blocks and / or lines of trees. They could never render detail quick enough for anything else.

The strands of perfect blacktop that climb through and around the mountains in Oman had me back in front of my Playstation trying to beat my record for Ridge Racer. Anyone else remember that?

The unluckiest man in cycling?

Ben_swift

Unlucky? – Ben Swift

Picture from http://www.britishcycling.org.uk

Ben Swift tumbled out of the Trofeo Alcudia yesterday descending the Coll d’Honor. Swift had a decent showing with consecutive top 10 finishes in the Challenge Mallorca to date and to crash out on the last day seems typical of his luck in the last 12 months.

Swift was Sky’s go to sprinter at last years Vuelta a Espana and while the team were primarily focused on Chris Froome for the GC there was a lead out of sorts for Swift including Ian Stannard.

While Swift often appeared well placed in the run up to the red kite he often appeared to have go too early, particularly when teammates had ridden hard to get him into a decent position. This was probably as frustrating for him as there were other stages where he was simply outgunned by the other teams, notably Argos Shimano.

John Degenkolb who vies with Marcel Kittell as top sprinter for Argos was the sprint story of the Vuelta with five wins. Certainly Degenkolb made it look easy dominating the early flat stages and taking the final stage win around the streets of Madrid. Swift’s best result was 2nd on stage 18.

Arguably Sky’s front line sprinter now that Mark Cavendish has gone to Omerga Pharma it will be interesting to see what races Swift is entered into this year. It’s hard to imagine that Sky will have much interest in the sprints on any of the grand tours with the possible exception of the Vuelta. The teams emphasis is very much on the Giro and the Tour with a ramped up effort being made for the spring classics also.

Swift obtained the points jersey at last years Tour of Poland along with two stage wins. The result illustrated his strength against the world tour teams second string outfits but it remains to be seen if he has the firepower and Sky the motivation to win in the biggest events.