Differing fortunes have befallen each of the 'Fab Four' contenders in the first week of the 2015 Tour de France, but it is Team Sky's Chris Froome who is sitting pretty in the yellow jersey. He's also sounding like he's ready for a scrap, warning his rivals that he's got more form to come.
"I really couldn't be in a better position as we are right now on the first rest day," Froome said during the race's first rest day. "I think I'm in quite a different position to how I was two years ago (on the way to overall victory).
"I did feel as if once I'd got past the halfway mark in the 2013 Tour I was just hanging on to the finish, whereas this year, I feel as if I've come in a lot fresher, more mentally prepared.
"I feel as if I'm getting stronger in this year's race."
Keep calm and pedal on
On the flip side, Vincenzo Nibali was the big loser from the first nine days, losing more than two minutes on race leader Froome. This is a deficit that could be difficult to make up in the high mountains
“I’m in good form, but not every year is the same. The only thing to do is keep calm and pedal,” Nibali said. “I’ve had some highs and lows. On the Mur de Bretagne, I had a bad day. It was a very difficult finish. But Alberto (Contador) had the same thing on the Mur de Huy."
The Astana leader also remarked that the true test of everyone's form will come on the ascent of La Pierre-Saint Martin on Stage 10.
“We’ve not seen anything yet in the mountains, but we’ll certainly know more after [Tuesday’s finish at] La Pierre-Saint Martin,” Nibali said.
Quintana's happy hunting ground?
Nairo Quintana looks to be the man to watch over the next few days after Movistar's strong team time trial performance. He currently sits 1min 59sec behind Froome, a gap he can feasibly make up if he takes a flyer in the high peaks.
“Froome is physically very strong, but I’m also in good form, and we’re going to try to do all we can to make up the difference,” said the Movistar team leader. “Up until now, he’s gained small victories, but on short climbs that require a lot of strength, which have nothing to do with climbs that are coming.”
“I always enjoy the big climbs,” he added, smiling.
Contador and van Garderen: the dark horses?
The fourth big hitter, Alberto Contador, remains a mystery. He has remained largely anonymous in the first week, presumably saving his legs for the mountains after winning this year's Giro d"italia only two months ago. His press conference was also overshadowed by the news that team-mate and key mountain lieutenant, Ivan Basso, is leaving the Tour after being dignosed with testicular cancer. This left little opportunity for the assembled media to quiz Contador on his form.
Last but not least, BMC Racing's Tejay van Garderen faces the biggest test of his career as the race hits the high mountains. He is currently Froome's closest rival, only 12 seconds back on the general classification.
“If I’m realistic, in the Pyrénées, I’m going to need to follow the guys who are important and take the opportunity if it’s there, but really use it as an opportunity to let other guys wear themselves down,” van Garderen said. “I think my strength is going to be in my consistency, rather than my ability to fly up the climb and leave everyone in my dust.”
Van Garderen also enjoyed speculation that the 'Fab Four' should open its membership to five in acknowledgement of his newfound contender status
“Well, the Backstreet Boys, they had five guys,” he laughed.