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Recap: how the Tour de France is shaping up after 15 stages

We examine how the likes of Nicolas Roche and Alberto Contador are performing as the competition enters its final week.

Roche is currently in 18th position overall.
Roche is currently in 18th position overall.

COMING INTO ITS final week, the Tour de France is more finely balanced than it has been for years. The top seven riders overall are separated by only four minutes and each of them are capable of winning the race.

With three major mountains stages and a 42.5km time trial to come, there are still plenty of opportunities for a rider to take this race by the scruff of the neck.

Here’s a few things to keep an eye on over the last six stages on this year’s Tour:

Thomas Voeckler – When Voeckler took the leader’s yellow jersey on the day before the first rest day, nobody would have wagered that he could keep it for this long. Each day in the Pyrenées we waited for him to crack and each day he surprised us all and stayed with the pre-race favourites.

He’s publicly playing down any talk of becoming the first French rider to win the Tour for 26 years, but privately himself and his team will be formulating a game plan to steal the most unlikely of victories. But even if he keeps the lead as far as Alpe d’Huez on Stage 19, he’ll surely capitulate on the slopes of the famous mountain, won’t he?!

The Schleck brothers – Andy and Frank have made a habit of being tactically clueless when the race gets whittled down to a small number of riders on the mountain slopes. If they spent less time craning their necks to turn around and look at each other, and more time committing to an all-out attack, one of them would have won the Tour by now. Their neck muscles must be phenomenal.

The tactic thus far seems to have been for Andy to sit on Alberto Contador while Frank plays around with the other favourites. It was quite clear after the first mountain stage to Luz-Ardiden that Contador didn’t have it in him to attack. But Andy seemed intent on sitting on his wheel anyway instead of attempting to put more time into him.

The Schlecks appear to be the strongest climbers in the race. One of them needs to prove it before the final time trial, or else Cadel Evans, the strongest time trialist at the top of the G.C., will win the Tour.

Alberto Contador – The reigning champion has looked vulnerable. After crashing a number of times in the opening week, he’s lost about two minutes to both Schlecks and he also now has a dicky knee.

He has clearly been fatigued by a gruelling Giro d’Italia back in May and he’s not the same rider who dominated that race. In fact, Contador is the only rider in the top 30 in the Tour general classification who rode this year’s Giro.

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He says his knee and his form is improving day by day. If this is the case, we might see him attack in the Alps. The Schlecks should be cursing themselves that they couldn’t distance him further already in the Pyrenées, as he was clearly struggling and more vulnerable than he has ever been before.

(The Tour is entering into its final week – AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

Samuel Sanchez – On the two mountain top finishes so far in the race, when Sanchez attacked, none of the others seemed too bothered about chasing him down. He won one of the stages and finished second in the other, but more importantly he gained 1’20″ over the two days.

Sanchez finished fourth last year and is currently in sixth place overall. If Sanchez attacks in the Alps this week, he must be brought under control. He is one more climber for the Schlecks to worry about and yet another reason why the Schlecks should be disappointed with their lack of time gained in the Pyrenées.

Nicolas Roche – The only Irish cyclist in the race was aiming for a top 10 finish. He finished in 15th place last year and as many of his direct rivals have succumbed to crashes in this year’s Tour, a high placing seemed more and more possible.

But a bad day on Stage 14 has seen Roche’s hopes disappear as he now sits in 18th overall, almost five minutes off the top 10. His own team-mate Jean-Christophe Peraud is now two and a half minutes ahead of him in 12th place.

Roche admitted in his daily column in the Independent that he no longer has his sights set on the G.C. He now plans on going stage-hunting, which many would argue is where his strengths lie anyway. The two best opportunities for Roche to get away in a breakaway and go for a stage win are coming up straight away on Stage 16 and Stage 17.

The two days contain big mountains but they also have descents to the finish line where a rider with a decent finishing sprint could win from a small group. If Roche had decided to go after stage wins instead of a G.C. place before this Tour began, these two stages would have big red circles around them.

He’ll certainly be looking to go on the attack, which for Irish cycling fans, is probably more exciting than watching him grind his way to 10th overall anyway.

Read more: Sprint finish: everything you need to know after stage 15>

About the author:

Cillian Kelly  / Twitter: @irishpeloton

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