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Tour takes its toil with Contador latest withdrawal

Miles Crosby | July 15, 2014

Following two thrilling days in Yorkshire, where 2.5m people lined the roads of ‘God’s own county’ to watch the Tour de France, the race headed to London for a final British stop-off before crossing the channel back to continental Europe.

With Mark Cavendish out of the race, all eyes were on German star Marcel Kittel to take sprint in front of Buckingham Palace. He did not disappoint, winning his second stage in three days. Italian Vincenzo Nibali had took the Yellow Jersey with a brilliantly timed attack in Sheffield the day before, and held onto the overall lead.

Having left the Uk, Kittel struck again in the first day on French soil by winning the sprint for the fourth stage of the race. Away from the sprinters, however, there was ominous news when Britain’s Chris Froome, the overall favourite for the race at the time, crashed and sprained his wrist. Froome managed to remount his bike and finish the stage, but it was a moment of weakness from the defending champion.

Moving forward to stage five, and the riders had to negotiate the brutal cobbled roads of Belgium and northern France. In wet weather, the cobblestones become treacherously slippery, as Froome was to find out when he crashed twice and landed on his injured wrist, fracturing it and having to abandon the race. Nibali once again produced an exceptional ride, cycling away with two others (including stage winner Lars Boom) and gaining two minutes over Spaniard Alberto Contador, his nearest rival with Froome gone.

Stages six and seven were days for the sprinters, with André ‘The Gorilla’ Greipel and Matteo Trentin taking the victories. Despite not yet winning a stage, Peter Sagan came second in stage seven to complete an entire week without finishing outside the top five. This remarkable achievement means he has a huge lead in the sprinters Green Jersey classification, and is the overwhelming odds-on favourite at 1/66.

Stage eight was the first day of significant climbing in The Tour, and all eyes would be on the favourites. With Froome out, Britain’s Team Sky looked to Australian Richie Porte to lead the squad. Porte produced a solid performance in the 2010 Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy), but has never had the experience of riding for a Grand Tour victory. Niabli, Contador and Porte all marked each other, while Blel Kadri rode away for the stage victory but had no impact on the overall standings.

German Tony Martin, the world time trial champion, produced a stunning ride on stage nine to win by almost three minutes after cycling nearly 59 km (37 miles) on this own. Martin was too far down the overall standings to move into the lead, however, and the focus would now be on the first true mountain stage of The Tour the following day.

Stage ten did not disappoint. Nibali took a convincing victory to further extend his lead over his rivals. Contador, the man expected to be Nibali’s biggest challenger, sensationally crashed out of the race, fracturing his shin. He heroically remounted his bike and continued until the pain and pleas of the team doctor forced him to abandon. Porte finished the day in second place overall, although he lost nearly half a minute to Nibali.

So a third of the way into The Tour, at the first rest day, Nibali is in convincing control of the race and is the odds on favourite to win at 1/5. He is hard to bet against at this point, being almost two and half minutes ahead of Porte with the tough mountains still to come and looking imperious. Porte is 6/1 to take the overall victory, but lacks the experience and the climbing ability of Nibali. Two favourites have already crashed out, however, and there is still a long fortnight of racing left.