Fat Betancur and fit Contador

Have you ever had two books on the go? A friend of mine was once reading two books from the same series at the same time – one at work and one at home. He’d started the seventh book in the series and quite liked it, so he then started the first one.

I feel a bit like this about Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico this year. When everything hinges on one particular stage, you can pretty much ignore the rest of the race, but this year it seems like there’s been meaningful racing every single day in both France and Italy. It’s hard to stay on top of it all. Then, to compound things, I took a rest day from the website yesterday, meaning I’ve now got to try and summarise four different stages. When the joy has come from revelling in the complexities, this seems a misguided undertaking.

Nevertheless…

Paris-Nice stages six and seven

Carlos Betancur followed his stage five win by also winning atop le Mur de Fayence. Like most of the Columbians in the peloton, he always looks good on the steep stuff and he managed to win despite being three or four kilograms over his ideal racing weight. That’s according to his directeur sportif, Julien Jurdie, who added: “il est trop gourmand,” to emphasise his point – ‘he is too greedy’.

That second win gave him the overall lead and he retained it yesterday on another uphill (but not in the least bit mountainous) finish. Ahead of today’s final stage, Betancur leads world champion, Rui Costa, by 14 seconds with Zdenek Stybar looking somewhat incongruous in third at 26 seconds. Remember, I’ve suggested/demanded you keep your eye on Stybar in the cobbled classics. He’s not really thought of as being a man for this sort of race, but if the climbs aren’t troubling him, he must be in form.

If you’re wondering what’s happened to Geraint Thomas, he ploughed into a roadside barrier late on yesterday. I’ve read that he hasn’t broken his collarbone but that he is out of the race. Either of those facts could be exactly wrong, but the crash did lead to him finishing seven minutes down, so he ain’t winning owt either way.

Tirreno-Adriatico stages three and four

Stage three was an uphill sprint, so Peter Sagan won. However, Michal Kwiatkowski – who recently beat Sagan in Strade Bianche – finished close behind and so took the race lead off his team-mate, Mark Cavendish, who was never likely to challenge on an incline.

Stage four finished with a major climb and suddenly the season went all Grand Tour on us. Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana and Richie Porte appeared to be the main protagonists, but the most impressive ride came from Contador’s team-mate, Roman Kreuziger, who flatly refused to change down a gear while racing ahead of the leading group.

Kreuziger actually looked a stronger rider than Contador in last year’s Tour de France and I was thinking the same again when he started zig-zagging across the road and gesturing for the Spaniard to attack – kind of a ‘get as far as me and I’ll charitably drag you to the finish’ kind of thing. Contador refused, so I assumed he was knackered. A minute later, with Kreuziger back in the group, Contador races off for the win, with Quintana the only man even half following him.

This was an impressive win considering the field is so good that I routinely forget riders are actually in the race (Vuelta winner, Chris Horner, finished ninth and I swear to God I did not hear his name mentioned once). I’m officially expecting more from Contador this year, although he’s actually still only second in this race because Kwiatkowski willed himself to a damage-limiting seventh place.

What’s next?

The last stage of Paris-Nice follows the template set for this year’s race by bobbling around in the hills, steadily reducing the field, so that the strongest riders can then try all sorts in the closing kilometres. Bonus seconds could conceivably decide the general classification.

Stage five of Tirreno-Adriatico goes up the steepest road in Italy. 610m at 22% and 30% in the middle. Engage the granny gear!