Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Goodbye to the Alps

The 2009 Tour De France said good bye to the Alps with and epic stage from Bourg-Sainte-Maurice to Le Grande-Bornand that featured FOUR (count'em FOUR) Category 1 climbs and a pretty nasty Cat 2 climbed sandwiched in between. This was the day that the climbers had to make their move to take back some time from the Astana duo of Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong who sat in the top two places overall. The day began with a large breakaway of 13 going clear almost immediately on the first climb. This group held until Thor Hushovd (who also happens to be on my VS Fantasy Team) came across and went clear on the second climb of the day. Hushovd would stay clear and pick up points on the two sprint lines to all but secure the Green Jersey. The real battle of the GC men didn't start until the 3rd Category 1 climb (Col de Romme) when Carlos Sastre launched an attack that had a small gap but was quickly nailed back by Lance. On the slopes of the Col de Columbiere Andy Schleck launched an attack that dropped everyone except Contador, Andreas Kloden and his brother Frank. The Schlecks traded pulls at the front trying to put time into the second group on the road which was made up of Lance, Brad Wiggins, Vincente Nibali, and Christian Vande Velde . Vande Velde gets the teammate of the day award for burying himself to keep Wiggins in contact with Armstrong and Nibali. Meanwhile at the front of the race Contador launched another inexplicable attack and succeeded in dropping only Kloden from the group. Continuing with the attacking theme Armstrong put the hammer down on Wiggins and Nibali after Vande Velde ran out of gas with about 5k to go to the summit. There was really no way that Lance was going to be able to bridge over to the leading group as he did yesterday, but it was important not to lose too much time to the Schlecks before tomorrows ITT. The Schlecks and Contador finished in the same time so there was no time gained or lost between them, however Armstrong and Nibali (who came back on the descent) were able to catch Kloden and actually pass him for 4th and 5th place. Wiggins was 3:07 back of the stage winners so the Schlecks will have a bit of breathing room for the Time Trial tomorrow.

The way I see things there are six riders fighting for the three podium positions: Contador, Armstrong, A. Schleck, F.Schleck, Kloden, and Wiggins. Sastre, Evans, Menchov and any other rider mentioned as a pre race "favorite" are done. At the end of today the standings look like this:

1) Contador
2) A. Schleck @ 2:26
3) F.Schleck @ 3:25
4) L. Armstrong @ 3:55
5) A. Kloden @ 4:44
6) B. Wiggins @ 4:53

After the TT tomorrow I expect them to look like this:
1) Contador
2) Armstrong
3) Kloden
4) A. Schleck
5) Wiggins
6) Nibali

I don't expect Frank Schleck to be in the Top 10 after the TT tomorrow. The time gaps are 1:31 from Armstrong to A. Schleck in 2nd position and :30 seconds to Frank Schleck in 3rd so I can't see where either of them can hold Lance off. The gaps to Kloden are a bit bigger (2:18 to Andy and 1:17 to Frank) but very doable for a TT rider like Kloden. Wiggins is the X factor here and one would expect him to crush everyone except for Cancellara, Contador and possibly Armstrong and Kloden. It will be interesting to see how much time he makes up on the Schlecks and what position he is in for the Mount Ventoux showdown on Saturday.

The route is doing exactly as the Tour organizers intended and keeping the question in doubt until the next to last day on the Ventoux. I still would like to see more mountain top finishes in the future and one more ITT in the second week.

1 comment:

peachy said...

I agree that having only one ITT was regrettable (I can't really consider the extended prologue equivalent to a second one.) But at least this one's going to have serious drama - though having Ventoux afterwards takes off a little of the do-or-die edge for guys like the Schlecks. On the other hand, it might add some for a guy like Wiggins.

Have to agree about Contador - he's a tremendous rider, but he seems to lack a finely tuned tactical sense. (The answer to every question is 'Attack!') I also wonder if he has the temperament to lead a team... for all the talk about Armstrong shoving his way into Contador's team, it's the Spaniard who seems to have been in the minority in the various internal kerfuffles.