Vincenzo Nibali loses a little more time ahead of The Big Mountain Sort-Out

The team time trial was an intriguing prospect, but it didn’t amount to an awful lot in the end. BMC won it and it increasingly seems like their leader – the American, Tejay Van Garderen – has become the fifth member of the big four.

My maths is less-than-excellent, but there are only two ways I can see this happening. Either the big four becomes a big five or one of the initial big four is demoted. As things stand, reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali is fifth of the big four.

Nibbles lost time again yesterday – although this doesn’t say as much about his form as it does about Astana’s fifth-fastest rider, because that’s when the clock stops on a team time trial. I didn’t see who that was. Let’s say it was Tanel Kangert because I like his name. Astana finished a not-debilitating-but-still-noteworthy 35 seconds behind BMC. By way of contrast, Chris Froome’s Team Sky were just one second down; Nairo Quintana’s Movistar were four seconds down; and Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo were 28 seconds down.

But that’s it for first week traps and pitfalls. The race now reverts to something rather more familiar with the next stage hitting the Pyrenees. Brace yourselves for The Big Mountain Sort-Out.

Rest day

But not before there’s a rest day. Stage 10 is on Tuesday. The riders cover 143.5km of the same sort of terrain they’ve been tackling all week and then suddenly it’s a hors categorie summit finish.

If you’ve not been following cycling long, hors categorie literally means ‘beyond categorisation’. The final climb to La Pierre-Saint-Martin is 15.3km at 7.4%. This is a strikingly difficult climb to tackle when the riders have been skittering about on the flat for a week or more. It will require different muscles, different psychology, different tactics and different team-mates.

It will also bring a bit of clarity to the top ten.

The Big Mountain Sort-Out

A quick lesson in following Grand Tours. Until they’ve hit the mountains, the top ten is always a bit wonky. To make sense of the overall standings, you have to mentally strip away all of the riders who aren’t good in the mountains. This year’s race features rather more mountain climbing than normal and all of it is still to come.

Here’s the current top ten.

  1. Chris Froome, Team Sky – 31h34m12s
  2. Tejay Van Garderen, BMC – 12s behind
  3. Greg Van Avermaet, BMC – 27s
  4. Peter Sagan, Tinkoff-Saxo – 38s
  5. Alberto Contador, Tinkoff-Saxo – 1m03s
  6. Rigoberto Uran, Etixx – Quick-Step – 1m18s
  7. Alejandro Valverde, Movistar – 1m50s
  8. Geraint Thomas, Team Sky – 1m52s
  9. Nairo Quintana, Movistar 1m59s
  10. Zdenek Stybar, Etixx – Quick-Step – 1m59s

Of those, Greg Van Avermaet, Peter Sagan and Zdenek Stybar will disappear as soon as the route tilts uphill for more than 2km (so on Tuesday). Geraint Thomas may also drop out, depending on how much he has to sacrifice himself to support Chris Froome.

Vincenzo Nibali should then appear. He is currently 2m22s back in 13th place.