The Tour is the Tour, but less than a week in, La Grande Boucle is led by a time trial specialist after back-to-back engagements with challenges more commonly associated with the Spring Classics.
Tony Martin (for it is he) finally donned the yellow jersey after winning on a cobbled route into Cambrai. It says much for this 102nd edition that a three-time world ITT champion has claimed the race lead by besting the pavé specialists on their home, umm, cobbles, rather than securing the maillot jaune by winning the opening stage time trial.
Truly, it is a Tour with something for everyone, and all the better for it. The tedious courses of increasingly distant memory – a flat opening week for the sprinters, followed by a GC-shaking time trial, followed by sojourns in the Pyrenees and the Alps, before a penultimate stage time trial – are, happily, behind us.
Former world hour record holder Rohan Dennis wins the opening stage time trial. Good. André Greipel upsets the Cavendish-will-win-in-Kittel’s-absence form book in a sprint finish to win a far from uncomplicated flat stage. Good.
Chris Froome, a rider not often associated with the Ardennes, goes wheel-to-wheel with Joaquim Rodriguez on the Mur de Huy, rather than saving his legs for engagements in the high mountains, but it is the man with previous on this terrain who emerges triumphant. Also good.
And a cobbled stage largely predicted as a survival exercise for the men with pretentions to overall victory turns out to be a dog fight between two of the GC’s Fab Four. Chapeau, Vincenzo. Well done, Chris. Drinks all round.
The only black mark against the first week was the awful crash on stage three and the subsequent withdrawal of yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara. Spartacus, not shy in calling for neutralization (as recently as stage five of the Tour of Qatar) was its beneficiary, if a man suffering fractured vertebrae might be described as such.
Still, the show must go on. The yellow jersey has had two new owners since Cancellara’s departure, and with a closely packed GC and an ascent of the Mur de Bretagne looming, may yet have another before the first week is out.
The Tour is the Tour, but the opening four stages have been unlike most. We’ll take another 17 in the same, wildly differing vein. Vive the topsy turvy Tour. Now if Greipel can only win on Pra Loup…
STAT’S THE WAY, UH HUH UH HUH
190 – riders left in the peloton at the start of stage five (eight retirements since the Grand Départ)
189 – riders left in the peloton by kilometre 12 of stage five (a hospital pass for Nacer Bouhanni)
5, 3,1 – Tony Martin’s count down to yellow
Regrets, he’s had a few…
But then again…