Richie Porte has closed the gap on misfiring Alberto Contador ahead of Giro d'Italia battle
And Geraint Thomas is the clear Tour of Flanders favourite
Last Updated: 01/04/15 6:05pm
There are intriguing rivalries and storylines developing throughout cycling at the moment but the one that is starting to become most interesting is Alberto Contador v Richie Porte at the Giro d’Italia.
On January 1 this year most people would have said Contador is the clear favourite for the Giro and Porte is racing for second, but that is changing now.
Porte is enjoying an outstanding season and defeated Contador on the way to winning the Volta a Catalunya last week, cementing his place at the top of the UCI WorldTour rider rankings in the process.
Contador, on the other hand, has shown glimpses of form this season but something is missing. Something isn’t quite right.
He definitely wanted to win on the summit finish on stage four in Catalunya – we saw that by the way he went on the attack with a couple of kilometres to go – but Porte managed to catch back up and then dropped him in the final few hundred metres to gain a handful of seconds that ultimately won him the race.
One side of me was saying, ‘Don’t read anything into this because it’s still March’, but the other side was saying, ‘Contador is not as strong or consistent as he usually is and should be at this stage of the season’.
If he was consistently finishing slightly down each day, that wouldn’t concern me because you could conclude that he is slowly building his form for May, when the Giro takes place. But the fact he is going on these attacks and they are not really dropping anyone – it was the same at Tirreno-Adriatico, don’t forget – suggests to me that he is misfiring.
When a full-strength Contador attacks, everyone else gets blown off the road and it's then a fight for the scraps, but that isn’t happening.
Does that then mean Porte can win the Giro? He has barely put a foot wrong this season and form suggests he can, plus he is a much more mature and experienced rider now and seems to have a lot of belief to go with the powerful team he has around him.
But the Giro is a very different race to Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya. Once you get up to the Alps, the wintry conditions can be brutal and can throw form out of the window. And Porte still tends to have one bad day in grand tours, which is a hurdle he must overcome because if it happens again, it will cost him the race.
We have still got five weeks to go until the Giro starts and much can change in that time, but right now, I’m struggling to split Porte and Contador.
I can’t say the same for the contenders at the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, because in my eyes Geraint Thomas in now the clear favourite following his magnificent win at E3 Harelbeke and almost-as-impressive third at Gent-Wevelgem last week.
He has to be favourite. Even a blind man would put him up there. He is in the form of his life and I cannot envisage a scenario in which he isn’t in the final reckoning at the Tour of Flanders.
He has beaten all of his major rivals in one way or another over the last few weeks so I don’t see how they can drop him when the leading group that will contest the finish is formed.
The big question is whether he can then covert that into victory, because as we saw at the end of Gent-Wevelgem, he is going to be very heavily marked indeed.
People will have seen the way in which he rode away from Peter Sagan and Zdenek Stybar at E3 Harelbeke and will know that they cannot afford to give him an inch.
What could therefore be crucial is having team-mates with him in that final group who can go on the attack and force Thomas’ rivals to chase, thereby drawing the sting out of their legs, or alternatively chase down attacks and save Thomas the effort.
If he does win, it will be one of the best British wins of all time. No question. The Tour of Flanders might not be as well known to the wider British audience as races such as the Tour de France or even Paris-Roubaix, but it is just as prestigious and worthy of acclaim.