Blazin' Saddles: 10 things we haven't yet seen in the 2016 Tour de France
As the riders take a well-earned rest in Switzerland our cycling guru Felix Lowe looks back at the opening fortnight of the race and works out what the Tour de France has been lacking thus far.
Bern. The beautiful capital of Switzerland and, despite its location, not a place to sit on the fence when it comes to cycling analysis. So it's time to put the cards on the table with a frank assessment of the previous two weeks of racing.
Here are the ten things that we (regrettably or not) have yet to see during the 103rd edition of the Grande Boucle.
A French win (or Spanish and Italian, for that matter)
Whisper it quietly: the host nation are about to experience something that hasn't happened since Lance Armstrong 'won' the so-called Tour of Renewal at the back-end of last century.
Sixteen stages in and still no French win – and it's hard to see where it's going to come from. Thibaut Pinot has gone, Warren Barguil and Pierre Rolland are stuttering in the mountains and Romain Bardet doesn't look capable of riding clear of his GC rivals.
All is not lost – yet. Three years ago it was not until stage 18 when Christophe Riblon broke the deadlock for France on Alpe d'Huez, while in 2011 Rolland left it one stage later to end the barren run on the same legendary climb. The way things are going, however, it may take a surprise win from Bryan Coquard on the Champs-Elysees to save France's blushes.
Still, the host nation is in good company: we have yet to see an Italian or Spanish victory either. Which means we're five days away from an unprecedented event: a Tour bearing no fruit for any of the three traditional hotbeds of cycling.
Oh, and he may not be a nation, but we've yet to see Andre Greipel strike either. Should the German veteran fail to do so, it will mark the first Grand Tour that he has ridden without snaring a win since 2007. Pop that in your pipe and smoke it.
A proper tussle between GC favourites
So far Chris Froome owes his lead on GC not to an outstanding uphill performance but to his ability to steal time on descents, in the crosswinds and during an extremely challenging time trial – not to mention via the jury's rulebook. With the exception of the sodden climb to Arcalis in Andorra, we have not yet seen the GC favourites trade blows. Fabio Aru, Alejandro Valverde and Bardet all tried on the Lacets du Grand Colombier but to very little fanfare.
Alberto Contador's crash on the opening stage not only ended the Spaniard's chances of being a factor in the race, it perhaps denied fans the one rider who could have taken the race to Froome and his seemingly impenetrable Sky team.
Alberto Contador struggling on Stage 9AFP
The real Nairo Quintana
It's OK, everyone kept on saying, Quintana's keeping himself for the Alps and the final week. And look, he's not as far back as last year and so he'll surely mount a serious challenge. Then the Ventoux-ITT double header happened and the diminutive Colombian sunk further behind Froome. He's now almost three minutes down and the signs are not looking good. Twice Quintana attacked in the wooded section of Ventoux and twice he was pegged back – not by Froome, but his minions.
If Movistar and Quintana are keeping their powder dry for the final few days in the shadow of Mont Blanc then they'd better have something special up their sleeves. Sure, they have two men in the top five – but at the rate they're going, neither Quintana nor Valverde will make the podium, let alone challenge Froome.
The big question is whether or not Quintana is suffering from some kind of illness – or if he's simply not as strong as we all thought, and struggling psychologically to boot. So far he's been a shadow of the rider who troubled Froome on Alpe d'Huez last year. He has four days to turn things round before we may have to accept that the real Quintana is indeed the one who's resigned to being eclipsed by the man in yellow.
Chris Froome attacks Nairo Quintana on Mont Ventoux in the Tour de FranceEurosport
Any answer as to who leads BMC
Since Richie Porte punctured early on in the race to lost the best part of two minutes, it has been the Australian – and not Tejay Van Garderen – who has looked the stronger preposition at BMC. Watching Porte and Van Garderen on the sodden ascent to Arcalis was like recalling the time Froome rode away from Bradley Wiggins in the 2012 Tour. On Ventoux, Porte was far stronger yet again.
Although the American came home 18 seconds faster than his team-mate in the time trial to Pont d'Arc, he has been on a downward trajectory which hit its nadir on the Grand Colombier. Now back in the driving seat to the tune of 20 seconds, expect Porte to take over the leadership baton from here on in. Besides Bauke Mollema, he's practically the only rider to match Froome in the mountains so far. The podium is still a feasible target. But then TGV may think the same.
A vintage summit finish
The two major uphill finishes so far have been characterised by apocalyptic hail (Arcalis) and major fan fail (Mont Ventoux) meaning we have yet to witness the kind of mountaintop finish we usually characterise with the Tour.
Indeed, the day that Froome extended his lead on most of his rivals going uphill actually saw the yellow jersey come home two minutes behind having ridden three different bikes in the last kilometre, plus manically jogged for around 50 metres in scenes never-before-seen on the Tour. And all this actually took place emerging from the treeline of Mont Ventoux, some six-odd kilometres from the actual summit.
It's fair to say the 2016 edition has been far from ordinary and routine when it comes to its battlegrounds. With two summit finishes ahead, plus an uphill time trial, some normality should be restored before long.
Thibaut Pinot's new and improved time trialling skills
Much was made of the Frenchman's improvement against the clock but his convenient withdrawal on the morning of the first time trial deprived fans of the chance to see Pinot – a triple ITT winner this year – show off his national time trial champion's tricolor jersey. With the FDJ climber focusing on the 100th edition of the Giro d'Italia next year, his love-hate relationship with the Tour is set to be put on ice for a while longer.
Enough fans self-regulating the behaviour of their peers
After chaotic scenes at Chalet Reynard came to a head with Porte, Froome and Mollema riding into the back of a TV motorbike, much was said about the increasingly hazardous crowds – encapsulated best by the Polish fan doing his utmost to get on TV while the whole charade played out behind his very back.
It was gratifying, then, to see a fan who was running along beside the escapees on the Grand Colombier pulled off the road by another spectator. We need more of this for the morons to finally get it into their heads that what they do is damaging to the sport they proclaim to love.
The end of the polka dot jersey battle
If the yellow and green look largely sewn up then you can at least get excited for the polka dot push. Rafal Majka currently leads with 127 points to Thomas De Gendt's 90 – and freed from any Tinkoff team duties following the withdrawal of Contador, the Pole must be favourite to be crowned king of the mountains for a second time. But De Gendt is a previous winner on the Stelvio and, now, Ventoux; to be discounted at your peril.
What's more, there are still a maximum 175 KOM points up for grabs in the remaining five stages – enough for the likes of Dani Navarro (69), Serge Pauwels (62) or Tom Dumoulin (58) to get back in the hunt.
Jarlinson Pantano and Rafal Majka in stage 15 of the Tour de FranceEurosport
A chink in Peter Sagan's armour
The Slovakian sensation celebrated his 100th stage on the Tour with his third victory of the race and the seventh since making his debut back in 2012. Of those 100 days Sagan has spent 80 days in green while amassing 51 top ten finishes. He is an extraordinary talent and we're just lucky to be living in an era when his craft is on display – because they're going to talk about the current world champion for the years to come.
Chris Froome swimming
Well, he's cycled and he's run – the least he could do now is have a swim. Perhaps he will do so after Wednesday's stage 17: it finishes beside the glistening waters of the Emosson dam. By then he may have his third Tour all but won.