It’s fair to say it has been a hugely entertaining first week at the Tour de France – and it’s likely to get even more exciting this weekend.
This year’s route has so far proved to be a bit of a throwback, with a number of sprint stages punctuated by a summit finish.
Most of the headlines were taken by Peter Sagan who, after winning stage three into Longwy, was disqualified 24 hours later for being adjudged to have elbowed Mark Cavendish during the climax of the race to Vittel.
The incident rather overshadowed the first real stage concerning the general classification hopefuls when Fabio Aru shook off his rivals to win atop Les Planche des Belles Filles.
Despite claiming the 2015 Vuelta a Espana, and twice finishing on the podium in the Giro, the Italian is seen as an underdog at the Tour having only managed 13th on his debut 12 months ago.
Wednesday felt like a watershed moment, though, as he looked untouchable after attacking with two-and-a-half kilometres to go and is now the 15/4 second favourite for the overall title.
A maiden Tour stage win for Aru showed just how strong he is and will certainly have earned plenty of respect from his rivals ahead of this weekend’s trip to the Jura mountains.
Quick-Step Floors’ Dan Martin also looked sharp but for all Aru’s brilliance, Chris Froome’s (20/33 favourite – Tour winner) ride was enough to give him the yellow jersey and his position provides Team Sky with a classic dilemma.
Do they look to protect the maillot jaune by riding at the front of the peloton until Paris? Or do they concede it to someone in the breakaway in the next few days and rely on Froome’s climbing and time-trialling ability to ensure he gets back into yellow before the trip up the Champs Elysees in just over a fortnight.
It certainly sets things up nicely for the weekend, especially as the likes of Trek-Segafredo’s Alberto Contador (28/1 – Tour outright) and Movistar’s Nairo Quintana (18/1 – Tour outright) both looked uneasy on Wednesday and could look to prove a point by going on the attack.
Saturday see the peloton take on a rather lumpy stage, including a category one climb towards the finish, before a bit of a monster on Sunday which, after a few early bumps, sees the peloton ascend three devastating hors categories.
For those not in the know, this means they are “beyond categorization” due to their difficulty.
Despite the presence of the Galibier, the fact Sunday’s stage to Chambery ends 26km after the peak of the Mont du Chat means there is the opportunity to bring any dangerous breakaways back.
Two-time King of the Mountains winner Rafal Majka’s (7/1 – King of the Mountains) GC aspirations may deem him too dangerous to let go on both of these days but look out for Dimension Data’s Steve Cummings who is in blistering form.
Don’t be surprised if some of the contenders have a look though, as a sharp attack, even if unsuccessful, would give their rivals plenty to think about heading into Monday’s rest day.
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