Tour de France 2014: What to watch for in the final week

With the Alps out of the way, the action now shifts to the Pyrenees Mountains for the last week of the Tour de France. After all the crashes and drama through the first two weeks of the Tour the last 7 stages could put a damper on what has been an unpredictable race so far.

I mean it’s a foregone conclusion that Italian Vincenzo Nibali is going to win the race overall with a 4 minute and 37 second lead over 2nd place Alejandro Valverde who uncharacteristically struggled to get up the Montee de Risoul today. The sprint competition for the green jersey is essentially locked up too with Peter Sagan holding a 170 point lead over Bryan Coquard.

So, why watch the rest of the Tour with the yellow and green jerseys basically already won?

First off, anything can happen. All it takes is a touch of wheel and the whole race is turned upside down. Secondly, while winning the Tour de France should obviously get all the headlines there are still other battles that shouldn’t be overlooked. Here are 5 of them to watch for in the final week of racing.

The Battle for Stage Wins

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Tony Martin celebrating his stage 9 victory after being in the morning breakaway all day.

Breakaways always succeed in the last week of grand tours because fatigue and tactics start to settle in. Looking back at the past 3 editions of the Tour de France, during the final 7 stages of each year the breakaway has picked up 3 stage wins. That’s over a 50 percent success rate when considering stage 21 is always a victory lap around Paris and an individual time trial is thrown into the mix as well during the final week.

Rafal Majka also proved today that Vincenzo Nibali doesn’t mind giving away the stage wins at this point in the race. Nibali already has 3 stage wins to his name, so to an extent all he cares about now is getting that yellow jersey onto the Champs-Elysees.

The Battle for Best Team

The team competition at the Tour de France is always overlooked for the individual classification. However, this year we have history in the making as Pro Tour team AG2R – La Mondiale is looking to become the first French team to win the team competition since Cofidis did it in 1998. The 16-year drought is longest ever for the teams based out of France.

After an impressive showing on stage 14, AG2R holds a lead of over 12 minutes on Belkin Pro Cycling. Their climbers Romain Bardet and Jean-Christophe Peraud did everything in their power to gain today, even a sneaky downhill attack. However, the team competition stops the clock each day when the team’s 3rd rider cross the finish line. This will allow Belkin to make up the time lost rather quickly if they play their cards right and get men into those successful breakaways mentioned above.

The Battle for White

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Romain Bardet is turning a lot of heads with his performance so far at the Tour.

Put into consideration that Belkin might also get lucky and watch AG2R give up on winning the team competition in order to put all the energy behind Romain Bardet winning the white jersey for best overall rider under 25 years of age. Bardet still holds a very slim 16 second gap to French challenger Thibaut Pinot after a thrilling back-and-forth battle between the two on the Montee de Risoul.

The winner of the white jersey is poised for a podium finish in Paris with one of them becoming the next French winner of the jersey since Pierre Roland in 2011.

The Battle for Polka-Dots

Like the youth competition, the king of the mountain competition is also going to go down to the wire. Joaquim Rodriguez, Rafal Majka, and Vincenzo Nibali are all separated by 2 points with 15 categorized climbs remaining.

Each of them has had a very different approach in getting to this point. Rodriguez targeted the competition for about a week now. Majka came on strong during the last two stages. While Nibali collected a majority of his point by placing well on the final climbs.

Which strategy is going to pay off in the end?

The Battle for Paris

Reaching the finish line at the Tour de France is an achievement by itself. The race started with 198 cyclists and after two weeks we are down to 171. All the tired souls constantly getting tossed from the back of the peloton during the climbs keep on pushing on for one reason: they want to finish what they started.

These men are the forgotten ones as the cameras past them by as they get dropped on the slopes. They are the truly the unsung heroes of the Tour de France. They have made it this far, only 7 more stages to go to make their dreams become reality.

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