2nd Race Update
By: Richard O'Hagen
The Tour de France is at the halfway point, with the riders heading south for the Alps and a grueling final week. Can Chris Froome stay in the lead all the way to Paris?
This has, without doubt, been the Tour of surprises and none more so than last weekend, when Team Sky’s Chris Froome unexpectedly took command of the race during the short Pyrenees section and opened up a healthy lead over all of his rivals.
Despite his strong showing in support of Bradley Wiggins last year, there were plenty who doubted whether Froome had the necessary experience to win from the front of the world’s premier cycle race. We will see if that is the case over the coming ten days or so, but one thing is for sure and that is that by moving ahead so swiftly and with such assurance he and his team caught every other rider (and some sportsbook betting markets) on the hop.
There is an old saw in cycle racing that it is fatal to take the yellow jersey too soon in any big race. Eventually the pressure of trying to keep their leader in front wears down a team and opens up the way for contenders. For this reason alone, most seasoned observers expected Froome to make his move when the race hit the Alps this weekend, not last. To see him in yellow so soon does bring with it the risk of failure through fatigue, and indeed one of his team has already been ‘timed out’ after falling behind on a mountain stage. For Team Sky, it is a case of trying to hold what they have and trying to take advantage of Froome’s superior climbing ability over what is one of the most fearsome final weeks ever seen on Le Tour. He’s now an astonishing 1/6 to win overall in the betting odds, even with half the race to go. Keep your money and see what happens in the coming days, because this race isn’t over yet.
The one betting advantage to the last week of the race being so hilly is that it means that the green jersey classification, the points race for sprinters, will be all but over this week. Sprinters need long flat finishes, or at least sections which are long and flat during the race (in which they score points for the order in which they pass checkpoints), and there are almost none of these in the coming weeks. The jersey has been all but won by Cannondale’s Peter Sagan, who has outsprinted and outthought his rivals over the first two weeks. Those rivals, of course, include Mark Cavendish and his Omega-Pharma-QuickStep team. We mentioned last week that Cavendish’s new team didn’t seem to be able to get him into position to win stages and so it has proven, with the Manxman adding only one stage win to his 24 overall this year.
The team, however, do have an incentive to race well as Michal Kwiatkowski remains in with a shout of taking the young rider classification. He currently stands second behind Nairo Quintana of Movistar. Quintana is a best price 2/13 with Bwin, which makes the Pole the far more attractive option at 11/2 (Coral), especially when you consider that only 23 seconds separate the two of them.
The most open category at the moment would seem to be the King of the Mountains, the red polka-dotted jersey that is the mark of the true hard men of the tour. Pierre Roland of Europcar still leads and is 8/13 favorite in most places, but Quintana, a good climber, is there at 5/1 with Paddy Power and Froome could even be a contender here if he has to largely go it alone through the Alps. He is certainly the best climber of the leading riders and at 8/1 almost across the board he is, for once, a decent outside bet and a fair sports pick.
Race Predictions Update
By: Richard O'Hagen
The Tour de France’s first visit to Corsica could scarcely have been stranger. First there was the near fiasco of the opening stage, when the finish line almost had to be moved because a team bus became wedged under the finish bridge. Then there was the huge crash just before the end itself, which almost certainly ended Mark Cavendish’s chances of wearing the yellow jersey on this Tour as he was held up by the debris from it. Finally, there was the revelation that Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas had not only suffered a fractured pelvis in that crash, but that he was was going to continue in the race! Even by professional cycling standards, that is a whole new level of crazy.
The opening stages of the Tour haven’t really revealed a lot so far. None of the favorites has been in contention for a stage win, but at the same time none of them have really dropped off the pace -with one notable exception- thus leaving both the race and the sports book betting markets wide open.
That exception is Cavendish. The Manxman left Team Sky after last year’s Tour because he felt that their focus on winning the race itself was detracting from his attempts to accumulate stage wins and the green points jersey. What is already becoming clear, though, is that his new team mates at the snappily named Omega Pharma-Quick Step team at the current time lack the ability to get him into position to challenge for those stage wins. Moreover, the positioning of Cavendish as the lead rider on most stages means that it is hard for the team to change tactics, as Orica Greenedge did on stage three when, after twice unsuccessfully trying to lead out Daryl Impey for the stage win, they switched and had Impey lead Simon Gerrans to victory.
Don’t be fooled by Cavendish’s lowly position in the overall standings, as his lack of climbing skill will always count against him in this race. His price to win that green jersey has slipped to betting odds of 13/2 with Bet365 and with Peter Sagan now the hot favorite at 1/4 this might be a market best avoided for now.
Another worry for Cavendish has to be that his team might start to switch their emphasis altogether. At the present time they also have the leader of the young rider category in Michal Kwiatkowski and if Cavendish can’t compete they may well focus their attentions on him. It might therefore be worthwhile having a small amount of money on him at the 25/1 that BetVictor are offering on him to win this, especially as none of his rivals ride for teams who are likely to give them that sort of attention later in the race.
One man who does look to be in supreme form is the leader of the King of the Mountains category. Pierre Rolland came from nowhere to take the points on the final climb of stage three, blasting past his rival Simon Clarke in the final kilometer and looking like a man with the energy to ride another hill or two if he needed to. Whether he can keep that up throughout the entire Tour is a big question, but as he is 7/4 now in most markets it would be sensible to back him now.
All of which leaves the big prize, the yellow jersey. As indicated above, no-one has really shown their hand yet among the front runners, which means that pre-race favorite Chris Froome is still odds on, best priced at 7/10 with BetVictor. However. this is where that Thomas injury becomes relevant. Thomas was the key domestique in the Team Sky lineup, Froome’s right hand man. Game though he may be in carrying on, and although all teams work on the basis that they will lose at least one domestique during the race at some point, the experience of the double Olympic gold medallist will be sorely missed and that impact could come very early, with the team time trial this week and Thomas almost certainly a non-factor in that.
Former winner Alberto Contador remains in contention, and at 3/1 betting odds with Paddy Power is a good insurance bet; but, the man to watch for your sports picks is still Cadel Evans. The Australian, another former winner, was plagued by a virus last year and had a poor Tour, but he’s been riding strongly this time around, has been with the peloton at every finish and almost managed to slip away to win the third stage. At 28/1 with Sportingbet he cannot be ignored in this market.
By: Richard O'Hagen
On Saturday afternoon over 130 riders will set out on the opening stage of the 100th Tour de France. For the first time, the event is starting with three days on the island of Corsica, before crossing to the mainland for a further 16 days of racing over the course of the following 18 days.
Defending champion Sir Bradley Wiggins is, of course, absent. Having lost the leadership of Team Sky to Chris Froome, he was then forced to withdraw, the injuries he picked up during the Giro d’Italia having left him insufficient training time for what looks to be an especially tough Tour this year. Even the traditional gentle prologue is gone, with Saturday’s ride of 213km being one of the longer stages of the whole event.
Absent Wiggins, who might win this great event? Well, Froome, runner up in 2012, remains the hot favorite at most sportsbooks. Remarkably, the best price you will get on him is 8/11 with BetFred. He was frustrated last year at having to support Wiggins, especially in the mountain stages where he was clearly the better rider. This year the route definitely suits him better, with more climbing and fewer time trials, but he could miss having an experienced hand like Wiggins alongside him.
Froome also faces a threat that was not around last year, in the shape of Alberto Contador. He has returned strongly from the doping ban which forced him to miss 2012 and looks like the man who could challenge Team Sky almost single-handedly. Totesport have him at 3/1 and whilst not generous those odds do reflect his continued standing in the sport.
Outsiders to watch will be Tejay van Garderen and Cadel Evans, both widely available at 33/1. Those look like long betting odds, but remember that both Froome and Contador are unusually short prices, which pushes even this pair, who came 5th and 7th respectively last year, to a longer price. Van Garderen took the white jersey for best young rider in that race and should threaten this year, whilst Evans looks like being back to his best form after a virus scuppered his chances in 2012. The only downside to backing them is that they race for the same team and, if they don’t pull together like Wiggins and Froome did, they could hurt each other more than anyone else in the race.
The points classification for sprinters looks to be a two man race between Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan. Cavendish left Team Sky as he felt his chances of winning this were being hindered by their plans for Wiggins and Froome, and the best price you’ll get on him is 6/5 with Bet365. Sagan is the even money favorite, though, and it will take something for Cavenish’s new team to even drag him through the mountains the way that Team Sky did last year. If these two spend too much time racing one another, though, Andre Greipel could slip in and steal the category from them, at around 16/1.
One final name to watch is Nairo Quintana. The young Colombian is very highly rated and a brilliant climber. He’s 11/1 with Bet365 to take the King of the Mountains and 2/1 with Bwin to win the young rider title, which could leave you with a very tasty double indeed should you decide to back him with your sports picks.