For the GC contender, the opening week of the 2011 Tour has been about one thing – staying up front and out of trouble. So far, writes Anthony Tan from Châteauroux, the majority have been unable to do as such.
By
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

Right now, one could say Team Sky's plans are up in the air.

On
paper, Friday's seventh stage from Le Mans to Châteauroux, the
birthplace of France's most celebrated actor with a nose as crooked as
Stephen Fry's, Gérard Depardieu, was a completely innocuous stage that
had "will finish in bunch sprint" written all over it.

But as the
two previous days had already shown, on-paper prognostics rarely
translate to reality in the opening week of the Tour de France.

A
raft of GC contenders have hit the deck, some harder than others,
including Alberto Contador and Nicki Sørensen (Saxo Bank), Robert Gesink
(Rabobank), Janez Brajkovic, Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner
(RadioShack), and Tom Boonen (Quick Step). Brajkovic and Boonen have
since abandoned; Horner appears likely to.

Out of the top contenders vying for the final maillot jaune
in Paris on July 24, only Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), the Schleck
brothers (Leopard-Trek) and Andreas Klöden (RadioShack) have escaped
unscathed, touch wood.

And in one fell swoop Friday, Bradley
Wiggins' fall with around 40 kilometres to go took Team Sky from a
euphoric high the day before, when Edvald Boasson Hagen won the sixth
stage to Lisieux ahead of Matthew Goss, to a devastating low that
crushed the team's TdF raison d'être to a pulp.

"We were in no
doubt as to the form he was in," Dave Brailsford, Team Sky's principal,
said, who later confirmed his team's leader had broken his left
collarbone.

"Brad was climbing with the best climbers, time
trialling with the best time trialers, and once the race hit the
mountains, we were very confident that he was going to challenge for the
overall."

The person I feel most for is Wiggins, who, as stage
seven winner Mark Cavendish said in his press conference, "was in the
form of his life". Two days before the race started, I asked the
31-year-old to compare his form to his breakthrough Tour in 2009:
'Bradley, are you lighter, fitter or stronger than two years ago – or
all of those things?'

Without sounding arrogant, he told me he was all of those things.

He
said he was a whopping four kilos lighter than 2009, and as his
performance at the Criterium du Dauphiné and national championships
showed, where he won all three (the week before the Tour began, he took
both the British national road race and time trial, which preceded his
overall victory at the Dauphiné), he was fitter also. And judging from
his recent TT performances, Wiggo clearly had lost none of his strength
and prowess in the discipline he's best known for.

Whether he would have stood up to the rigours of this most mountainous Grande Boucle, is a question worth asking.

Last
year on the Tour's second rest day in Pau – the same day Contador was
found to have traces of clenbuterol in his urine – I asked his former
team manager, Jonathan Vaughters, what he thought of Wiggo's chances in
future Tours de France, in light of the disaster that was the 2010 Tour
de France, and which, like this edition, was held on a mountainous parcours.

"I
don't really see any sort massive error that Brad made or anything else
like that – I just think that he performs better when he can sort of
isolate himself a little bit.

"Brad's got one really big bullet.
Some guys have six little bullets – they can go over this climb, this
climb… and they can all do those climbs well. Brad's like one of those
guys like in a Verbier [the Stage 15 finishing climb of the 2009 Tour]
situation – Verbier's a 20-minute climb – and for him to go rrrrupp
for 20 minutes, he's great at that; that's perfect. Verbier and the
[Stage 18] time trial in Annecy, it's ideal, and they'll be another Tour
like that.

"I think there will be a Tour course in the next two
or three years that will suit Brad Wiggins and he'll do a great Tour
again. I doubt have any doubt about that."

Whether or not this parcours
suited Wiggo or not, I would have loved for him to find out, rather
than let fate take its course, as it unfortunately did Friday for the
mercurial talent.

* * *

After Mark Cavendish (HTC-High
Road) won his second stage in Châteauroux, elevating himself from fifth
to third on the points classification and closing the gap to current maillot vert
Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Movistar Team) to 17 points and second-placed
Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) to 6 points, I asked him the
following question: 'What are thoughts on the green jersey competition
so far, and how have the changes this year affected your approach to win
the jersey you covet?'

"This is a question that I've been asked
most since they announced the changes to the green jersey
[competition]," Cavendish began saying.

"I was actually pondering
it yesterday, and came up with the conclusion that the biggest
hindrance to [winning] the green jersey is just the lack of absolute
bunch sprints. The change in the points is kind of indifferent – it's
neither here nor there – it's the lack of absolute bunch sprints that
will hinder my progress.

"Doesn't necessarily make it right or
wrong, but I think it's going to make more of an attacking rider, the
style of a Philippe Gilbert or Rojas… you're going to look at one of
them having the green jersey in Paris.

"But it's not for lack of
trying," added the world's most emotion-charged sprinter. "I'll try and
keep chipping away at points as best I can, and see where it takes me."

I think Cav's playing himself down a little.

There
are still three more sprint stages to go and with 20 points up for
grabs in the intermediates, which he's been doing splendidly in so far,
the Manxman is now within striking distance of taking the jersey he so
desperately wants to wear in Paris. I reckon he's going to do it – and
good luck to him.

As for why his team's owner, Bob Stapleton, is
yet to find a replacement sponsor, he said: "It's incredible we can't
find a new sponsor."

However, if the rumours about Cavendish
joining Team Sky next year are true, and I believe them to be so, then
it's something he need not worry about.

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_tan