When Christian Prudhomme announced the course for the 2012 Tour de France, he underlined it as a rouleur's race, but one, he maintained, offered ample opportunity and variety for those not gifted against the clock to make up their losses with long-range attacks, and mountain raids.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

"The champion who is afraid of time trials will have to make the difference in the mountains," Prudhomme said at the Tour's official route presentation.

In truth, it was a course almost custom-designed for French darling Cadel Evans to repeat his 2011 achievement. Bradley Wiggins' ability was still a big question mark over three weeks and at the Tour, with his 2009 fourth place and Vuelta podium the only major marks of significance ahead of the 2012 season.

More than 100 kilometres of time trialling was an oft-quoted stat, and the effect of which likely to all but decide the yellow jersey come Paris.

The crashes of Ryder Hesjedal, Alejandro Valverde and Robert Gesink on Stage 6 and Andy Schleck at the Dauphine, only served to further crystallise such a feeling.

The extraction of such major opposition from an already restricted contest, only heightened the slanted importance placed by Prudhomme on the Tour's three time trials, and the sense of fait accompli the race was set to deliver.

And although Wiggins in yellow is not Evans, the Tour has so far transpired more or less as predicted - a paradox in a sport that savours chaos and the unknown.

The next two days, while hard, are unlikely to shift the Briton out of that colour. Perhaps the only real challenge will come from within his own team in Chris Froome, but even that seems doubtful.

So is the race as good as done? No, but it's not far off. The Tourmalet and Peyresourde, now Wiggins' main, and only obstacles.

Arguably as early as Stage 7, La Planche des Belles Filles, such a prospect was staring down Tour spectators lining the roads of France, and across the globe tuning in on their television sets.

After Stage 9, in Besancon, such a belief was only reinforced, and although chinks appeared in both Wiggins's armour and Sky's solidarity on Stage 11 to La Toussuire, the end result was the Brit distancing his main rival in Evans.

In a sense, the strength of Sky has nullified much of the battle, not that any criticism should be directed toward it. Edvald Boasson Hagen, Richie Porte, Michael Rogers, Christian Knees, and Bernie Eisel have been magnificent in leaving an imprint on the front of the race, all while being one man down.

They've been tactically astute too, barring an error-marred first week, riding exactly as they've needed to. Their rivals have simply had no answer.

But playing into Sky's hands has been the parcours. The same course that Prudhomme believed would allow, nay encourage long-range moves, has so far failed to do so.

Why? Well in part it's because while Prudhomme's motives were noble, they may well have also been ill-conceived.

Andy Schleck's do-or-die attack on Stage 18 of last year's race was the stuff of legend, and no doubt will long-live in Tour de France folklore, but such moves rarely come off.

Among the day's hypothesised to induce similar displays were last night's run to Foix, and Stage 10 over the Grand Colombier.

While the latter succeeded in baiting Nibali out of the pack briefly, the success of such a move always seemed bound for failure.

Although overshadowed by tacks and nails, Stage 14, like Stage 10's chances of yielding a successful break including a GC rider, were stymied from the outset, with the near 40 kilometres from the summit of the Mur de Peguere and the finish rewarding a reckless rather than a calculated move.

SBS's own Anthony Tan suggested that Prudhomme's course was possibly "anachronisitic to modern day racing", while CyclingNews editor Daniel Benson "doubted whether riding like the days of Bernard Hinault as (Prudhomme had hoped)" would achieve a better outcome for any of the riders in the top 10.

"The Tour holds too much importance for riders now . . . for them to risk even a top-five a top-10 finish," Benson said.

And Frank Schleck questioned just how real the possibilities for a climber are in any case.

"There are only two very hard stages for climbers," Schleck said of the 2012 course to CyclingNews a few days ago.

"In the other stages, we do not know what to do.

"The organisers wanted to make an exciting Tour with earlier attacks but what will happen, what has happened is the opposite."

Evans remarked on Saturday afternoon something in a similar vein.

"These climbs are a long way from the finish and with the defence that Sky do, there's not a lot we can do to combat that.

"It closes the race down a lot."

Not that the blame rests entirely at Prudhomme's feet either.

BMC and Liquigas-Cannondale should accept some responsibility for the slightly deterministic way the Tour is playing out. Neither team has been able to match Sky in man-to-man power. Isolating Wiggins and Froome has been a supremely difficult task because of both team's lack of relative depth.

The most imaginative moves, like Evans linking with Tejay van Garderen on the Col du Glandon, and Nibali linking up with Peter Sagan the day before, were crushed by the diesel of Sky. Both were made when the British team still had surplus domestiques to bring such moves back, but they had to be made then because neither team has the rider resources to do otherwise.

Not that it's been dull. The journey has been thoroughly enjoyable. Does it give reason for a rethink next year? Well, perhaps.