Moirans-en-Montagne (France) (AFP) – A feeling of anti-climax is settling over the Tour de France as the world’s greatest bike race heads for Switzerland on Monday.
The anticipated battle between reigning champion Chris Froome and his arch rival Nairo Quintana has been something of a damp squib so far.
Froome took control of the race with a daring solo escape on a descent on stage 7 and since then has been eking out his lead, most notably in a strong time-trial performance last Friday.
He has a 1min 47sec advantage over second-placed Bauke Mollema but perhaps more significantly, leads fourth-placed Quintana by 2:59.
The diminutive Colombian has been a disappointment this year, failing to shine in the numerous mountain stages so far.
Widely regarded as the best climber in the world, Quintana has failed to put in a single attack of note and even struggled on last Thursday’s climb up Mont Ventoux, losing time to Froome, Mollema and Australia’s Richie Porte.
His Movistar team and even Froome insist that the imminent counter-attack will begin in the Alps.
But there has been a worrying trend for those seeking drama and excitement in this race, and that’s been the outright domination of Froome’s Sky team.
Third-placed Briton Adam Yates says attacking the Sky-led peloton, particularly in the mountains, is an excercise in futility.
“With Sky riding such a hard tempo there’s not much you can do,” he said.
“As soon as there’s an attack, they (the attackers) gain a few seconds and then start going backwards.”
Yates, currently the highest-placed young rider, says the only way to make an impression would be to try something audacious.
“Maybe you have to attack earlier or get in the breakaway because Sky are looking untouchable,” he added.
Quintana’s Spanish team-mate Alejandro Valverde claims Movistar will go on the attack following Tuesday’s rest day, although he admitted they could do nothing on Sunday’s tough stage with six categorised climbs.
“We’re going to try to do our best in the coming week. We’re definitely going to try something,” he said after the 15th stage.
“I think people are expecting more fire and fight from us. We will fight in the coming stages but not today (Sunday).”
Monday’s 16th stage will suit either a breakaway or, if their teams are determined enough to reel in the escapees, a sprint finish.
The 207km course from Moirans-en-Montagne to Berne in Switzerland is bumpy without having any difficult climbs.
But the incline on the sprint finish could favour a specialist ‘puncher’ rather than a pure out-and-out sprinter.
Following Tuesday’s rest day, the key period begins with four mountainous stages, including an uphill 17km time-trial, back-to-back.
If the race doesn’t explode into life then, it never will.