Fourteen stages down, seven to go, and we are still no closer to knowing who’s going to win this year’s Tour de France. 1,715 metres above sea level atop the Plateau de Beille, Anthony Tan analyses what didn’t happen.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

Saturday's fourteenth stage almost certainly broke with tradition,
because the previous four times the race has finished on the Plateau de
Beille, the winner has gone on to win the race overall.

To expect
Jelie Vanendert of Omega Pharma-Lotto, our surprise winner, to do that a
week from now would be preposterous – unless the 19 riders that
currently precede him on general classification decide not to start
tomorrow's stage to Montpellier.

Or fall off.

It was only
Schleck the Younger who really stirred the pot on the Plateau. Others,
like his brother Fränk, Ivan Basso (Liquigas), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing)
and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), who finished second, all had a
go.

But no-one really took the bull by the horns and tried one of
those all-or-nothing moves that will either win you the Tour de France,
or see you blow like a Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra trumpet player and
lose all chance of a podium finish in Paris.

Then again, what did you or I expect?

There
are still three high mountain stages to come, the defining ones Stage
18 to Galibier Serre-Chevalier next Thursday and the day after that,
Stage 19 to Alpe d'Huez.

To go for a make-or-break move now, with
the overall classification as it stands, is not necessary. But as the
race inexorably moves towards the French capital, it will become
necessary – especially if someone like the defending champion or one of
the Schleck brothers is to win this year's race, at the expense of
someone like Evans.

"It's at this point in the race that the GC
contenders are pretty evenly matched. So it's really hard to make a big
difference," said Evans after today's stage. "It's a little bit of
conservative racing, but these stages are hard."

* * *

As
I've said before, Evans does not need to do anything till Stage 20, the
Grenoble time trial, which comes the day before the final procession to
Paris.

On both the Pyrenean stages to Luz-Ardiden and Plateau de
Beille, he appeared to toy with his closest rivals, the Brothers Schleck
and Contador, to test their mettle, rather than a full-on assault
designed to gain time or leave them reeling in the hurt locker.

Cadel, so far, has done everything right and nothing wrong.

And
he knows, as do I, that if he were to go into the 42.5 kilometre race
against the clock – a test where he finished in fifth place at the
Critérium du Dauphiné, conceding 1:20 to stage winner and TT specialist
Tony Martin (HTC-High Road) – with the standings as they are now, he
would be wearing the maillot jaune into Paris.

It is as simple as that.

The
not-so-simple part of the French equation is responding to the
inevitable attacks to come from the Schlecks, Contador, and likely Basso
too, next Thursday and Friday. But so far, he hasn't had a problem
doing so.

I'm therefore imbued with confidence aplenty that he
can repeat what he has done in the Pyrenées, and provided he's not
isolated too often, as he was at the 2007 and 2008 Tours de France, the
Grenoble time trial should not pose a hurdle too high. "It's consistency
and being there every day," said Evans, asked what it would take to win
the whole shebang.

If I were his sport director John Lelangue, I
would tell him not to concern himself so much with Basso, Sammy Sanchez
or Damiano Cunego (Lampre), for they are no better climbers than he,
and Evans is the superior time trialist.

So, as we head into the final seven days of La Grande Boucle, if Cadel concentrates on marking three men, rather than six, I believe it would make his job a little easier.

* * *

For
me, aside from this lanky Belgian bloke called Vanendert that no-one
heard of till today, the revelation is Thomas Voeckler (Europcar).

How he continues to climb with the best climbers and retain the race lead, when his physical capability and palmarès suggest otherwise, is almost too perplexing for words.

"What is he on?" Mike Tomalaris, SBS' perennial Tour de France host, asked me after the finish Saturday.

I really don't know, Tomo. But whatever it is, I'm sure the 169 riders sitting beneath him would kill for it.

I also said a top-five finish, should he continue to ride the way he has, is not out of the question for Voeckler.

And
for this plucky 32-year-old from the Bas-Rhin department in Alsace in
north-eastern France, if he were to do that, for him, it would almost be
like winning the Tour de France itself.

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_tan