Tour de France – Stage 18 Wrap-up

Alberto Contador has all but won the 2009 Tour de France with one of the most dominant individual time trial performances by a maillot jaune since his current teammate, Lance Armstrong.

Going into the day, it was assumed that Contador would do well, particularly against the other GC favorites. But winning the stage outright was not entirely expected—certainly not beating the likes of Fabian Cancellara.

It was statement that needed to be made though. With all of the talk surrounding his tactics, his relationship with his teammates, and the pending announcement from his current director and teammate, Contador clearly needed to remind everyone that the Tour de France is indeed a bike race where actions speak louder than words.

The pundits can say what they will, but it cannot be said that Contador is not a worthy champion. And no matter for whom he rides, he will go into the 2010 race as the overwhelming favorite. Furthermore, Contador’s win just might have done his disgruntled teammates a favor. By winning today and padding his already fat lead, Contador has given Armstrong and Kloden the room they need to try and move themselves up the GC and perhaps win the stage—all without doing damage (barring something catastrophic) to Contador’s status atop the podium.

So maybe, just maybe, Johan Bruyneel will buy Alberto a bottle of bubbly tonight since his performance today has given the team an opportunity to ride for the riders it obviously wanted to ride for in the first place.

It’s just too bad that the one who will actually win the Tour wasn’t one of them.

Other thoughts from today’s action:

1. Saturday’s biggest battle will be for 3rd place in Paris. Lance Armstrong, Bradley Wiggins, and Andreas Kloden are separated by a mere 13 seconds. Perhaps Contador will play the role of teammate, working to get one of his colleagues beside him on the top 3 steps? Could Andy Schleck and Wiggins both crack, giving Johan Bruyneel his dream of an Astana 1-2-3?

2. But Armstrong gave Wiggins some bulletin board material, making it quite clear that he doesn’t consider the Brit a threat on Ventoux. I wouldn’t be so sure, Tex. Yeah, you dropped Wiggo yesterday (Stage 17), but that was after a series of tough climbs. Saturday’s pretty much a one-trick pony—similar in structure to Arcalis—and Wiggins will be well-protected by a unified team. Wiggins clearly isn’t afraid to attack and Lance’s comments today will certainly be ringing through his ears. Did Lance speak too soon?

3. Here’s an assignment for you: when was the last time Armstrong didn’t finish in the Top-5 in an ITT? The Top-10? The Top-15? Can we take his claims of victory in the 2010 Tour seriously?

4. Vincenzo Nibali put in a disappointing performance today. He’s done well in ITT’s before; his lackluster effort today (26th, 2:05 behind) was certainly a surprise.

5. Christophe Moreau’s coming-on strong during the final week, finishing 9th today. Look for him to go for glory on Saturday up Ventoux. A win there would be a terrific send-off to retirement and the perfect way to cap a wonderful 3 weeks for France.

What about you? What are your thoughts? Share your comments below.

About Whit

My experiences might easily fit many cycling fans' definitions of “living the dream.” Since getting hooked on the sport watching Lance Armstrong win the 1993 U.S. Pro Championship, I've raced as an amateur on Belgian cobbles, traveled Europe to help build a European pro team, and piloted that team from Malaysia to Mont Ventoux. As a former assistant director sportif with Mercury-Viatel, I've also seen the less dreamy side of the sport – the side rife with broken contracts, infighting, and positive dope tests. These days, I live with my lovely wife in Pennsylvania and share my experiences and views on the sport at Bicycling Magazine, the Embrocation Cycling Journal, and at my own site, Pavé.
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