Only minutes after the dominant display of climbing from Chris Froome on Mont Ventoux the Saxo-Tinkoff directeur sportif Fabrizio Guidi stated that the winner of the 100th Tour de France had yet to be decided.
“There are still opportunities in this race and we're highly motivated,” said the Italian. “Froome shouldn't rest assure of the overall win just yet.”
Many other have seen the performances of the yellow jersey in stage 15 and felt demoralised. Nairo Quintana, for example, was closest to the stage winner on Mont Ventoux but he shook his head at the very sight of Froome riding the trainer after winning the stage, increasing his advantage on second overall (Bauke Mollema), and collecting his eighth yellow jersey. “I'm exhausted,” said the Colombian, “and all I want to do is rest.”
The stage to Gap after the second rest day of Le Tour 2013 is relatively short and takes the peloton over undulating terrain that won't allow anyone in the peloton an easy ride – especially considering the fighting words spoken by Guidi.
Froome is in control of the yellow jersey and his team is formidable but it is also down to seven men, while others are injured. Geraint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh showed that they are managing their woes and they rode strongly in stage 15 when it would become a battle of leader against leader... with Sky delivering the knock-out blow courtesy of strategic, clever riding – and plenty of power from last year's runner-up.
Whether or not the “opportunities” Guidi talks about are in stage 16 or when the Tour arrives in the Alps, we're not sure but one thing is certain: his team has the strength and numbers to do some damage. They showed that on the flat stage to Tours when they used wind and cunning to take time out of the yellow jersey's advantage.
And, of course, the formidable Belkin trio of Bauke Mollema, Laurens Ten Dam and Robert Gesink will be aware that chances still exist to find a weakness in Froome who has been strong in every race he's contested in the past 18 months. Fatigue is a factor and although there is a day of rest before the race to Gap on Tuesday there are varying degrees of motivation. After two weeks of racing, not everyone can function to the best of their ability and reputations, as we've learned, mean little in a race when former champions have faltered while a new breed of stars emerge.
Perhaps stage 16 will be a chance for an opportunist to chase some glory but the very fact that Saxo-Tinkoff, Belkin and Movistar are still showing fighting spirit in the quest for a place on the podium – preferably the top step – the greater likelihood is that we'll see the GC men in another battle on the road to Gap.