Four things we learned from the Tour de France warmup races

The proverbial shouting matches are over before the Tour de France and now it’s time for that annoying wait before the action kicks off on stage one.

General classification contenders were the main focus at the Criterium du Dauphine and Route du Sud, while the green jersey contenders opted for the Tour de Suisse and the ZLM Toer.

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Here are a few things we picked up from the various races with just under two weeks until the Tour de France kicks off in Utrecht.

The contenders are on form

Chris Froome wins Stage 7 of the 2015 Dauphine-LIbere (Watson)

Chris Froome wins Stage 7 of the 2015 Dauphine-LIbere (Watson)

Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali took on the Criterium du Dauphiné while Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador tackled the Route du Sud.

All four looked pretty decent, to be fair, with Froome and Contador winning their respective race, while Nibali wore yellow for a stage in the Dauphiné and Quintana finished second overall in the Pyrenees.

Of the four, Nibali looked the most fallible, losing time one stage, regaining it the next, and then losing it all again the following day.

The Italian will have to be on better form in a couple of weeks when the Tour hits the mountains, but remember, he didn’t set the world alight before last year’s win either.

The opening time trial is set to be a thriller

Fabian Cancellara in action during the Stage Nine ITTof the 2015 Tour de Suisse (Watson)

Fabian Cancellara in action during the Stage Nine ITTof the 2015 Tour de Suisse (Watson)

It’s too long to be classed as a prologue, but the opening 13.8km time trial isn’t long enough for any of the contenders to lose serious time.

What it does promise, however, is a great battle between the time trial specialists – many of whom showed their form in recent weeks.

The premier battle came in Bern on stage nine of the Tour de Suisse on Sunday, where big hitters Tom Dumoulin and Fabian Cancellara faced off over 38.4km.

Cancellara sat in the leaders hotseat for most of the afternoon after blitzing round the course in 48.55 minutes, only to see Dumoulin smash the time by 19 seconds.

The Dutchman will be one of the favourites to take the first yellow jersey in his home nation, but it won’t be an easy ride over the short course.

>>> Your guide to the 2015 Tour de France in Utrecht (video)

Cancellara is a famed prologue specialist, taking the yellow jersey on each of the last four occasions that the Tour has started with a short test against the clock (2012, 2010, 2009 and 2007).

If he wins in Utrecht, Cancellara has the all-round skillset to keep the jersey up the Mur de Huy and over the cobbles and deep into the first week – and haven worn yellow for 28 times in his career, who would bet against him?

Elsewhere Tony Martin didn’t get the chance to show where his form is at individually, with the Dauphiné only featuring a team time trial. But the German won his last TT at the Tour de Romandie and as a three-time world champion he can never be written off.

A wildcard? Geraint Thomas is no slouch, but would Team Sky want him to win and then have the pressure of defending the yellow jersey so early in the race?

Peter Sagan could have competition for the green jersey

Alexander Kristoff wins stage seven of the 2015 Tour de Suisse (Watson)

Alexander Kristoff wins stage seven of the 2015 Tour de Suisse (Watson)

For the last three years no-one has got even close to stopping Peter Sagan in the green jersey competition, such is his relentless accumulation of points over the three weeks.

Even though he didn’t win a stage last year he still won the green jersey with a 150-point gap on second-place Alexander Kristoff.

But the Tour-minator has looked a little rusty at points this season, especially in the cobbled classics, and has not been winning as regularly as he, or his team manager, would have liked.

Who can challenge him, though? Sagan excels at picking up intermediate sprint points on hilly stages when the pure sprinters can’t keep up and then sealing a solid top-10 finish to further inflate his tally.

This new breed of sprinter has come to the fore early this season, with John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff showing they’re more than just fast men.

Both won cobbled classics (Kristoff in Flanders, Degenkolb in Roubaix) while they’ve also won the hilly Milan-San Remo in the past two years.

Kristoff came second to Sagan last year but has the remarkable form of the spring behind him. The Norwegian has 17 wins to his name already, to Sagan’s five.

Degenkolb has always been in support of Kittel at the Tour in recent years, given the odd chance to ride for himself. But with his fellow German’s poor start to the season, Degenkolb could be thrust into the spotlight.

Then there’s Michael Matthews, who did so well at the Giro d’Italia in May and won a stage in Switzerland last week. It’ll be a good competition to keep your eye on.

You can’t discount Pinot or van Garderen

Tejay Van Garderen in action during Stage 8 of the 2015 Dauphine Libere. (Watson)

Tejay Van Garderen in action during Stage 8 of the 2015 Dauphine Libere. (Watson)

All the talk has been of the ‘Big Four’, but Thibaut Pinot and Tejay van Garderen both showed they shouldn’t be overlooked in the yellow jersey conversations.

Pinot is determined to prove that last year’s third place finish in the Tour wasn’t a fluke and he remains France’s best chance of winning its home race.

Van Garderen, meanwhile, wants to show that he’s better than his 2014 showing. Fifth place is nothing to be sneezed at, but finishing 11 minutes down in a reduced field is not the stuff of champions.

Both excelled in many senses at their preferred warmup race – van Garderen won the TTT and finished second in the Dauphiné, while Pinot won the queen stage and finished fourth in Switzerland.

Van Garderen’s biggest strength at the Tour could come in the stage nine TTT, with BMC likely to send a strong team to support their hopeful. FDJ have not shown much aptitude against the clock, but Pinot has the skill to make up time in the mountains if presented with the opportunity.

Cycling Weekly looks at the contenders for the 2015 Tour de France