I don’t know about you, but I certainly underestimated today’s stage. I had heard from several sources that the final climb wasn’t all too difficult, and with the Tour’s first high mountain stage tomorrow, I thought we might see a large group or breakaway fighting out the finish—the kind of day perfectly suited for someone like Edvald Boasson Hagen. Oops!
Instead, we saw Sylvain Chavanel take his second stage of the race (under anything but neutral circumstances), while the favorites rode tempo to the line—a mere warm-up for the fireworks we’re expecting tomorrow.
1. Sylvain Chavanel has certainly turned his season around after a lackluster and crash-filled spring. Chavanel’s second win of the race put him back in yellow, after losing his first yellow jersey on Stage 3’s cobbles (I won’t say he was “robbed” of more days in yellow because mechanicals, flats, and falls are a fact of life—no matter how unjust they seem). With 2 stages, two yellow jersey’s, and legions of French fans, it will be tough for at least one or two French outfits to offer Chavanel some serious money this off-season. His potential departure could spell doom for Patrick Lefevere, who might be losing much of his core for the classics squad with Stijn Devolder rumored to be leaving as well.
2. And speaking of Quick Step, the team might consider changing its name to “Marche Rapide” thanks to the efforts of Frenchmen Chavanel and Jerome Pineau. Pineau went on the attack today to consolidate his lead in the King of the Mountains competition—his next closest competitor is now his yellow teammate. Tomorrow’s stage begins with two Cat. 4 climbs—look for Pineau to do everything he can to give himself a buffer before the “real” climbing begins.
3. The day’s other big stories were the performances of Astana and Radio Shack. At one point in the stage, Astana had three men in front, setting a relatively stiff tempo that seemed to put all of Radio Shack’s men except Armstrong and Leipheimer into difficulty. Luckily, as the climb progressed, more and more of Radio Shack’s key men crept back to the main group—except for Andreas Kloden who lost over two minutes. And by the way, look for Janez Brajkovic to be Armstrong’s best friend in the mountains this Tour—something tells me he has more to offer than Kloden, Leipheimer, and Horner.
4. While some have been quick to question Radio Shack’s strength, I think more needs to be asked of Astana’s tactics. Why drive the group on such a minor mountain stage? Why tire domestiques when a much bigger days looms tomorrow? The ability of several riders to bridge back to the group shows they were not dropped due to lack of fitness, but simply due to the change in tempo. As is often the case on the first day in the mountains, the legs of several men seem to suffer from the culture shock of riding in the hills. We saw that today as several favorites took some time to regain their climbing rhythm.
If Contador finds himself isolated tomorrow—or worse, outnumbered by Radio Shack—he might have today’s effort to blame for it. In the end, the biggest beneficiary might just be Andy Schleck and Saxo Bank—a team that would love to be able to sit back and ride wheels while Radio Shack and Astana trade blows.
5. Did you notice Jurgen Van den Broeck riding 3rd-wheel for much of the climb to the Station des Rousses? Impressive to say the least. Cadel Evans and the Liquigas boys look fresh and ready as well. And how about Garmin’s Ryder Hesjedal—is he this year’s Bradley Wiggins? And look out, but Rabobank has three men ready to challenge with Denis Menchov, Juan Manual Garate, and Robert Gesink.
In other words, all the favorites seem poised for tomorrow’s ride to Morzine Avoriaz—the race’s first Cat. 1 ascent and our first chance to see the true GC contenders come to the fore.
In the meantime, here’s my latest “Virtual” General Classification:
1. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 33:03:48
2. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin – Transitions +0:00:08
3. Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank +0:00:30
4. Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana +0:00:52
5. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana +0:01:01
6. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto +0:01:03
7. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale s.t.
8. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank +0:01:10
9. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team +0:01:10
10. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas-Doimo +0:01:45
11. Luis León Sánchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne +0:01:46
12. Lance Armstrong (USA) Team Radioshack +0:01:51
13. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team Radioshack s.t.
14. Juan Manuel Gárate Cepa (Spa) Rabobank +0:02:19
15. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team Radioshack +0:02:21
16. Michael Rogers (Aus) Team HTC – Columbia s.t.
17. Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi +0:02:25
18. Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Française des Jeux +0:02:33
19. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank +0:02:37
20. Christopher Horner (USA) Team Radioshack +0:02:38
21. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo Test Team +0:02:40
22. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo +0:02:41
23. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha +0:02:54
24. Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Team Milram +0:03:54
25. Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team Radioshack +0:04:35
Thanks for reading—share your comments and insights below. (And feel free to check my math.)