1. The 2010 CritÃ©rium du DauphinÃ© concluded yesterday with Slovenain Janez Brajkovic taking Radio Shackâ€™s first big win of the seasonâ€”and perhaps more importantly, he did it by beating Astanaâ€™s Alberto Contador. Although Brajkovicâ€™s been a professional for 5 seasons, heâ€™s only 26-years oldâ€”his best years are clearly still ahead of him. He won the race in textbook fashion: a top-5 prologue followed by a win in the ITT and a successful defense of the leaderâ€™s jersey in the mountains. Lance must be proud.
Hereâ€™s my question: does Armstrong have cause to worry that his younger teammate might steal his thunder come July?
2. As for Contador, heâ€™s right on schedule for a successful defense of his Tour title next month. Some are trying to cast doubt on the Spaniardâ€™s fitness, but I think heâ€™s right where he needs to be in order to peak for the Tourâ€™s second and third weeks. Better still, his team seems to be rising to the occasion as well. At times during several of the raceâ€™s tougher moments, Contador had two or three teammates with him compared to Brajkovicâ€™s one or two. With another two or three weeks of good hard training and some time to grow more accustomed to his new TT bike, Contador should be fine in July.
3. While it might be a bit early to say so, Iâ€™m starting to think Tejay Van Garderen is the USAâ€™s next great stage race hopeâ€”and not in a Tom Danielson kind of way either. Van Garderenâ€™s proven himself as an amateur in Europe, and finished 2nd in another important French stage race last season, the Tour de lâ€™Avenir. Van Garderen seems unfazed when racing in a country where just about every GC leaderâ€™s jersey is yellow. With a terrific organization backing him, look for Van Garderen to steadily progress through the ranksâ€”heâ€™ll get his first shot at a Grand Tour in this autumnâ€™s Tour of Spain.
4. Belgian Jurgen Vandenbroeck took a solid 4th-place, making him Belgiumâ€™s first legitimate top-10 contender in the Tour de France sinceâ€¦
VDBk rode with a confidence that speaks volumes about his ability to lead his Omega Pharma-Lotto team; on Alpe dâ€™Huez he even attackedâ€”something we havenâ€™t seen from a Belgian grand tour favorite sinceâ€¦
5. As for Rabobankâ€™s Denis Menchovâ€”his Alpe dâ€™Huez performance notwithstandingâ€”I think itâ€™s safe to put him back on the list of favorites for Julyâ€”unless thereâ€™s rain during the Prologue.
6. Other impressive rides were registered by youngsters Romain Sicard, Branislav Samoilau, and Thibault Pinot from Euskaltel, Quick Step, and FDJ, respectively. None of the three is likely to be riding the Tour this summer, but their performances bode well for the future.
7. Itâ€™s too bad that Heinrich Haussler and Edvald Boasson Hagen had to wait until Sunday to win their first major races of the seasonâ€”itâ€™s good to have them back.
8. In other news, itâ€™s looking like the organizers of the Tour de Suisse gave Fabian Cancellara quite a gift in creating this yearâ€™s parcours. Todayâ€™s Stage 3 was effectively the only â€œsummitâ€ finish of the weeklong Tourâ€”if you consider a 2-kilometer climb with an 11% grade climb to the finish. The eventâ€™s Queen Stage is Thursdayâ€™s Stage 6, a 213-kilometer slugfest featuring one first category and two hors categorie ascents. But donâ€™t get your hopes upâ€”the stage finishes after about 15 kilometers of descending following the HC climb of the Albulapass. The stage will test Cancellaraâ€™s climbing legs, but with the strongest team in the race and a long-ish ITT on the final day, it might be hard for the competition to deny him another win in his home tour.
That said, my pick for the overall titleâ€”Tony Martinâ€”just took the leaderâ€™s jersey today. If he can gain more time between now and Sundayâ€™s ITT, heâ€™s the one rider capable of limiting his losses enough to unseat Cancellara from his throne.
9. In terms of the Tour de France, several men bear watching in Switzerland this week. For instance, Stage 1 gave us our latest chance to see if Lance Armstrong is ready to challenge the favorites at this yearâ€™s Tour. If Saturdayâ€™s 7.6 kilometer ITT is any indicator, the answer is â€œnoâ€. Lance finished 44thâ€”almost half a minute down. Even Andy Schleck beat him.
And yes, thereâ€™s a difference between saying Contadorâ€™s defeat is nothing to get worked-up about while stating that Armstrongâ€™s is cause for concern. Contador is at about 90% of his top fitness, I reckonâ€”the difference might have been enough for him to win the DauphinÃ©â€™s long ITT or perhaps drop the rest on Alpe dâ€™Huez. Had Armstrong finished a few seconds off the pace Saturday, we would consider him on-track for the Tour as well. But he didnâ€™t. No matter how you slice it, losing 29 seconds over 7.6 kilometers is just not something we have come to expect from a Tour contender at this point in the seasonâ€”especially one known for his time trialing. In Lanceâ€™s defense, there was rain, and several other favorites recorded poor times including David Zabriskie, Luis Leon Sanchez, and Christian Vande Velde.
10. Last but not least, what do you make of todayâ€™s announcement of the teams invited to the Vuelta? Is Radio Shack starting to feel the fallout from Landisgate? And what does Vacansoleil have to do to earn an invitation to a grand tour?
11. In closing, Iâ€™ll leave you with this. (Warning: itâ€™s graphic.) Thoughts?
Have a great dayâ€”and share your comments below. What did you take away from the DauphinÃ©? What do you think about this weekâ€™s Tour de Suisse?