On a day when many of us were expecting fireworks during Stage 8 of the Tour de France, we got them—and how! With most of the race’s favorites still in contention, we seem poised for more aggressive racing when the Alps continue on Tuesday. As for Lance Armstrong, a new era seems set to begin as the Tour’s mist decorated contender now becomes Radio Shack’s most decorated domestique. Here’s a brief rundown of the day’s big winners and losers:
1. Andy Schleck was the big winner today, as he took his first Tour stage to bring himself within 20 seconds of the yellow jersey. Perhaps more importantly, Schleck rode confidently without his brother Frank and now holds a 41-second lead over Alberto Contador—his biggest rival and the Tour’s odds-on favorite. And while 41-seconds is nothing for a talent like Contador, for Schleck to have regained the time he lost—and then some—in the Tour’s Rotterdam Prologue gives him a mental boost heading into the Tour’s second week. Every little bit helps!
2. Cadel Evans and his BMC were the day’s second big winners, as they took the yellow jersey to cap a solid effort by the team throughout the week. For Evans, today was a far cry from last year’s Tour. The rainbow jersey—on his shoulders at least—is apparently more of a blessing than a curse. Better still, for a man often plagued by mental breakdowns following bouts with bad luck, Cadel shook-off a crash early in the stage, riding confidently into yellow with the reminders of his crash still easy to see.
3. And despite losing ten seconds to Andy Schleck at the end of the stage, Alberto Contador has to be mentioned among the day’s winners. Contador’s team rode valiantly in support of its leader, dropping the Spaniard’s nemesis, Lance Armstrong on the Col de Ramaz. Better still, Contador’s teammate, Alexandre Vinokourov lost some time as well today, all but assuring his allegiance to his Spanish captain. And finally, by not taking the yellow jersey Sunday, Contador’s team can ride pressure-free over the next two Alpine days, an added benefit certain to reap dividends later.
4. But aside from Schleck, Evans, Contador, and their respective teams, the biggest winners today might just be the sport’s fans. For many who watched it live, Stage 8 was quite possibly the most exciting—and historic—day of racing they have ever seen. Better still, almost all of the overall contenders and pre-race favorites are stacked at the top of the general classification, bunched within about three minutes of one another. With several selective stages remaining and many teams still in the mix, expect aggressive racing. Enjoy!
1. It goes without saying that Lance Armstrong was the day’s biggest loser, suffering from what can only be described as an incredible amount of bad luck—and bad legs—on his way to losing almost 12 minutes on the day and slipping to 39th overall. For Lance’s supporters, it was an unthinkable moment of weakness from a seemingly invincible hero. But for many of the sport’s more veteran fans, it’s latest version of a spectacle they’ve seen before—the collapse of a Tour de France champion.
I remember being glued to the TV, watching as Miguel Indurain cracked on the climb to Les Arcs in Stage 7 of the 1996 Tour. For me, it was the beginning of the end of an era, as Indurain—the only Tour champion I had ever really known—would retire by the end of year. But for a rider who came to be known for his indomitability—even when finishing third last year—Armstrong’s performance today eerily surreal, as if we were literally watching the very public decline of a man whose best days have passed. While many did not consider Lance a true contender for this year’s title, I think it’s safe to say no one expected a collapse as monumental as today’s. This is uncharted territory for Lance, his team, and his fans—what happens next is anyone’s guess.
2. Other “losers” today included Garmin’s Ryder Hesjedal and Sky’s Bradley Wiggins, as both showed cracks in their armor on the climb to Morzine Avoriaz. At the end, time gaps of 1’14” and 1’45” aren’t catastrophic—they might have had trouble adjusting the race’s first major climbs and could easily recover over tomorrow’s rest day—but they don’t bode well with so many riders still in the running.
3. France was another of the day’s losers, as Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel lost his yellow jersey—again—after spending only one day wearing it—again. Perhaps more importantly, France’s best hope for a top-10 result in Paris, Christophe Le Mevel, lost 6’30”—effectively ending his GC hopes. At the end of the day, France’s best-placed rider on the GC is Cofidis’ Damien Moinard; he’s in 22nd place, 6’19” behind Evans.
And there you have it—the winners and losers following what can only be described as an epic (yes, I said it) day of racing. But with still two more weeks left to race, it’s possible some of these men can reverse their fortunes—no matter how unlikely it may seem.