It’s been a gritty Tour de France.
They’re always tough, but this tour has seen some of the biggest names in cycling hitting the asphalt. In a tour like this, with a bunch of the biggest riders out, the race is opened up to relative unknowns and other riders that might be able to secure a stage win or two, if not the entire Tour.
Mark Cavendish was an early favourite, and a definite contender for the green sprinter’s jersey, but he crashed out on day one, taking the Australian rider Simon Gerrans with him. Gerrans toughed it out until today, withdrawing reluctantly from the Tour just prior to Stage 17. The man to watch now is Mark Renshaw. Another Australian, he’s often been a strong leadout man for Cavendish, but now has the chance to shine on his own.
The defending champion, Chris Froome, also had to withdraw after coming down in stages 4 and 5. Wrist and hand injuries made bike control impossible. Look out for other Team Sky riders. They’re now racing for pride, and looking to acquit themselves well in the remains of the Tour.
Alberto Contador crashed out in stage 10, after sustaining a break in his tibia. The double Tour de France winner has to be disappointed, but his Tinkoff-Saxo teammate Rafal Maj is now one to keep an eye on.
Now Vincenzo Nibali seems to have sewn up the race. He’s riding for the Astana team and if he keeps up his current performance, he’ll stay in the yellow jersey right through to the final stage of the Tour in Paris. Nibali was born near the Strait of Messina, giving his nickname of the "Shark of the Strait" or simply "The Shark". Nibali won the Giro d’Italia last year and the Vuelta in 2010, so winning the Tour will give him the three biggest races of the cycling calendar.
With three straight days in the Pyrenees coming up, the race is going to be very interesting, even with such a dominant contender.
Bring on the the Avenue des Champs-Élysées!