Blel Kadri ushers in a general classification which makes sense

Simon Yates spent a long day in the break, but couldn’t salvage anything for the Brits, fading on the last couple of climbs. The only man to succeed in staying away was Blel Kadri, who won Roma Maxima last year. He pushed on for France to take the stage win. Behind him, the general classification sorted itself out.

The contenders

If you’re new to cycling, few things are more confusing than the general classification in the first week of the Tour de France. Pundits seem to just ignore the hierarchy, inexplicably focusing their attention on riders who are in 36th place.

It’s because of the mountains. If you can’t climb with the best, you can’t win a Grand Tour. There are really only ever a handful of riders in genuine contention, but you can’t see who they are on the leaderboard until after the first mountain stage, which was yesterday. It brought us this top ten, which is much more indicative of who is in the running.

  1. Mr Nibbles (Ita) Astana – 33h48m52s
  2. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana – 1m44s back
  3. Little angry man, Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky – 1m58s
  4. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quick Step – 2m26s
  5. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar – 2m27s
  6. High-vis Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo – 2m34s
  7. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R – 2m39s
  8. World champion, Rui Costa (Por) Lampre – 2m52s
  9. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin – 3m02s
  10. Invisible Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol – 3m02s

The most meaningful part of the stage was arguably the last 50 metres, which is where Alberto Contador opened up a whopping two second gap over the leader, Vincenzo Nibali, to take second place. Contador is widely expected to offer the biggest challenge to Mr Nibbles in the mountains and this tiny moment appeared to indicate that he is the one rider stronger than the Italian.

Nibali disagrees. He says that the short and steep final climb suited Contador better than him and the implication is that on longer steadier climbs, Nibali expects to be as strong, if not stronger than his rival. He also claimed that he ended up in the wrong gear at the finish, which is why the small gap opened up.

Richie Porte was another rider pointing to the length and gradient of that final climb as a reason for not doing better. He finished seven seconds down on Contador, but expects to do better on longer, steadier mountain passes.

At the other extreme, we have Alejandro Valverde. I would expect him to do better on a short climb than a long one and yet he finished 19 seconds behind Contador. He says the rain affects him and that he wasn’t having a good day. We’ll have to see whether that’s true or whether he’s just kidding himself.

Losers

A few major contenders lost quite a bit of time. Andrew Talansky crashed (again) and lost a couple of minutes, while Chris Horner, Haimar Zubeldia and Laurens Ten Dam lost a similar amount of time for reasons of fitness. Those last three were all outsiders really and I think we can count them out now.

The almost wilfully anonymous Jurgen Van Den Broeck had a mixed day. He lost a minute, putting it down to having crashed three stages in a row before yesterday. However, his ghost may be appearing on the 2010 Tour de France podium, depending what they choose to do with the results of that race.

Denis Menchov’s just been done for biological passport irregularities – or ‘wonky blood’ in layman’s terms. He came fourth in 2010, but had been promoted to third after Alberto Contador was stripped of the win two years ago. Van Den Broeck, who actually came fifth, could therefore now have a podium finish in a Grand Tour to his name. This would be a stealthy result even by his lofty standards in anonymity.

Stage nine

Loads of mountains and then a flat finish. Here’s the profile.