Things have a funny way of working themselves out, don’t they? As expected, the Tour’s trip over the pave of Belgium and Northern France produced the most dramatic and chaotic Tour de France stage since…yesterday. Let’s take a look:
1. We begin with Saxo Bank. Hopefully, any lingering conspiracy theories as to the team’s tactics yesterday have now been put to rest—clearly there can be no one questioning Fabian Cancellara’s willingness and ability to race aggressively after today’s performance. Cancellara took the race by the throat when it hit Secteur 4 at Sars-et-Rosieres and never looked back, leaving several contenders in his wake—but taking Andy Schleck with him.
While Cancellara reclaimed the yellow jersey and Andy Schleck jumped back up the GC, Saxo Bank might have lost the war with the crash and withdrawl of Frank Schleck, Andy’s brother and lieutenant. When the race hits the mountains, Frank’s presence will be dearly missed, especially as many of Scjhelck’s main competitors have teams built for uphill depth. It’s time for Jakob Fuglsang to earn that big contract he’s been talking about.
Worse still, Saxo Bank now has the burden of the yellow jersey, and with several flat days before the race hits the Alps, they will be the first team looked upon to control the race. If they’re smart, they lose that jersey—and soon. You made your point, Spartacus, now get back to the matter at hand—there’s still a Tour to win.
2. And for those of you who felt the world was an unjust place after Stage 2, Thor Hushovd got his stage win (on the pave) and the green jersey to boot. While there’s still a lot of racing left, Thor’s already built a solid lead in the green jersey competition—look for him to keep his jersey to Paris.
3. As for the rest, Cadel Evans rode brilliantly today, coming in with the leaders to vault himself up to third-place on GC. With a nice cushion over his rivals and several days to recover before the Alps, does Evans have something special up his rainbow sleeve?
4. Alexandre Vinokourov and Alberto Contador also rode brilliantly today. Contador was especially deft at riding the cobbles, looking smooth and confident whenever the camera caught him—far from what many of use expected before the day began. As for the Vino riding away from his “captain” at the line? Well, Contador seems to have flatted while Vino was driving the group. I’ll give Vino the benefit of the doubt—this time—for he might not have known his teammate was losing air.
5. How about Jurgen Van den Broeck? After a solid ride with the second group of favorites today, he’s now comfortably sitting in ninth-place overall, tied on time with Nicholas Roche. Will these two youngsters give their nations reason to cheer over the coming weeks?
6. Rabobank’s Denis Menchov is quietly creeping up the GC, finishing with the second group, 53-seconds behind the leaders. He and Bradley Wiggins rode themselves up to 13th and 14th place overall. Funny what a day can do in the Tour.
7. As for Lance Armstrong, his run of Tour luck seems to have run its course. He flatted at the worst possible time, losing 2:08 on the day. He now sits 18th on GC—over a minute behind Andy Schleck and 50-seconds behind rival Contador. On a day when many of us felt Lance would gain time on his younger, fitter rivals, this does not bode well for the veteran’s chances.
8. Other “losers” on the road to Arenberg? Samuel Sanchez finished with Armstrong’s group, while Ivan Basso, Micheal Rogers, Robert Gesink, Carlos Sastre, Levi Leipheimer, and Tony Martin all finished with next bunch at 2:25. For these men, the Tour is far from lost, but they didn’t do themselves any favors. Basso put him himself in a especially precarious position, as his co-captain Roman Kreuziger finished two groups ahead and now sits 16th overall—almost a minute ahead of his teammate.
By the end of the day, the “Virtual* GC” looks like this:
1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank 14:54:00**
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:39
3. Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:01:09
4. Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana 0:01:31
5. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0:01:40
6. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:01:42
7. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale
8. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 0:01:49
9. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team
10. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas-Doimo 0:02:24
11. Luis León Sánchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 0:02:25
12. Lance Armstrong (USA) Team Radioshack 0:02:30
13. Tony Martin (Ger) Team HTC – Columbia
14. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team Radioshack 0:02:53
15. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Team Saxo Bank 0:02:58
16. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team Radioshack 0:03:00
17. Michael Rogers (Aus) Team HTC – Columbia
18. Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team Radioshack 0:03:01
19. Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi 0:03:04
20. Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Team Katusha
21. Maxime Monfort (Bel) Team HTC – Columbia 0:03:06
22. Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Française des Jeux 0:03:12
23. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank 0:03:16
24. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo Test Team 0:03:19
25. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 0:03:20
*These are riders who are generally considered to be the top-GC men for their respective teams.
**Cancellara’s not a GC-contender, but the math’s easier with him in the ranking.
Overall, these are time gaps we might usually expect to see after our first foray in the mountains, or maybe after a long individual time trial—not after the third road stage of the Tour.
And by the way, I’d like to point-out that all seems back to where it would have been had yesterday’s events gone the way so many think they should have: Cancellara’s in yellow, Hushovd has a Viking’s grip on the green jersey, and one of the Schleck’s is out of the race.
Like the dust, sweat, and blood from a long day on the pavé, things always seem to have a way of coming-out in the wash.
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