With Spaniard Alberto Contador joining defending champion Chris Froome on an ever-growing list of high-profile abandonments from the 2014 Tour de France, those riders who were once classed as also-rans now have the opportunity to win the yellow jersey.
And with Andy Schleck also retiring due to injuries suffered in a crash during Stage 3, the race has lost three of its previous winners.
Wind, rain, high-speed crashes and a broken bike have left the Tour shorn of some its major contenders. As a result, it is more open than expected.
Here we take a look at who could now claim the overall victory in Paris on July 27.
Contenders for Overall Victory
|Favourites to win the 2104 Tour de France|
|Name||Team||Country||Odds to win|
|Tejay Van Garderen||BMC||USA||33/1|
Italian Vincenzo Nibali is the man currently in yellow, with a two-minute, 23-second lead over second-placed Richie Porte. Nibali is the favourite to win the Tour at 1-5, per Oddschecker.com.
Prior to the Grand Depart in Yorkshire, the Astana rider was thought be at a level slightly below Contador and Froome but still likely to finish on the podium.
However, heading into Stage 11 of the Tour, it's the 29-year-old who now stands a class apart from the rest of the field.
The 2013 Giro d'Italia winner decided not to defend his title this year in order to concentrate on the Tour (no rider has won the Giro-Tour double in the same year since Marco Pantani in 1998). That appears now to have been a wise decision.
|General Classification (Yellow Jersey)|
|2||Richie Porte||Team Sky||+2:23|
|7||Tejay van Garderen||BMC||+3:56|
|8||Jean Christophe Peraud||AG2R||+3:57|
The first real test of the general-classification riders came on the mountain-top finish at La Planche des Belles Filles on Stage 10, and Nibali came through it with style.
Not only did he ride away from his GC rivals on the steep climb but also passed Joaquim Rodriguez, who had attacked for the stage win, with 1.2 kilometres to go and took the yellow jersey back from Frenchman Tony Gallopin.
And as Edward Pickering of Cycling Weekly explains, it was not Nibali's first statement of intent on this Tour:
Nibali’s attack on stage two into Sheffield, and his superb, aggressive ride over the cobbles of stage five were heavy, thudding body blows to his rivals’ ambitions. But the attack which took him clear of them with four kilometres to go on La Planche des Belles Filles might turn out to be the knockout blow.
With the Tour still to head into the Alps and the Pyrenees, the race would appear to be Nibali's to lose.
The main threat to Nibali is now expected to come from Australian Richie Porte, who became the de facto leader of Team Sky following Froome's retirement on Stage 5.
Porte is a talented rider who would probably already have been team leader in his own right were he not part of a team with such depth.
He was crucial to Froome's victory in the 2013 Tour as his key domestique in the mountains. The 29-year-old was regularly the last teammate to fall off the pace as the GC riders battled it out.
Porte can climb and only lost 25 seconds to Nibali on Stage 10, per LeTour.com, despite the Astana rider's best effort.
The Sky rider is also stronger than Nibali in the time trial, but there is only one in this year's race. It comes the day before the final stage into Paris, and that could be too late for the Tasmanian.
He needs to prove himself in the mountains before then and must do so with a depleted team—following the loss of Froome and Xabier Zandio—who are having to take up the strain.
As Sky's Geraint Thomas tweeted:
But Porte is in position to capitalise if Nibali has a bad day.
Spaniard Alejandro Valverde is an outsider to get in the act at 18-1, per Oddschecker, but thus far his tactic of sitting deep in the peloton and hiding from view has been the right one.
The 34-year-old now needs to switch his approach and mix it with the GC contenders. If he is in contention toward the end of the decisive mountain stages, he has the ability to hit his rivals with searing attacks and could chip away at the two-minute, 47-second deficit to Nibali.
But he will have to have a good lead before the time trial from Bergerac to Perigueux on Stage 20. The solo race against the clock is certainly not the forte of the Spaniard, who excels at one-day races and classics. He won the Amstel Gold Race earlier this year.
The 2009 Vuelta Espana winner does have a chance to win the Tour, but it is an outside one.
However, with half of the Tour de France still to go and the high mountains looming large on the horizon, this race really is up for grabs.
If it goes to form, then Nibali should claim his first Tour victory, but this year's race has been anything but predictable.
Predicted winner: Vincenzo Nibali
|Points Classification (Green Jersey)|
|7||Greg Van Avermaet||BMC||87|
|Mountain Classification (Polka-Dot Jersey)|
|6||Alessandro De Marchi||Cannondale||17|
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