Todayâ€™s 218-kilometer Stage 7 from Le Mans to Chateauroux was expected to be relatively straightforward compared to what weâ€™ve seen so far in the first week of the 2011 Tour de France. And while the stage result was what many were expecting, what happened on the way certainly was not. Hereâ€™s a quick rundown of what we saw:
1. Correct me if Iâ€™m wrong, but didnâ€™t Marc Madiot once say that he likes to hold his riders back from breakaway during the Tourâ€™s first week, keeping them fresh for second and third? With not one but two men in todayâ€™s long move, Madiot seems to have reconsidered his strategy. While you canâ€™t fault the boys for trying, you have to wonder if the team will have any legs left after the race hits the Pyrenees.
2. Tom Boonen abandoned the race today due to the injuries he sustained from a crash during Stage 5. First, give Boonen credit for signing a new contract before the race. If hadnâ€™t, such a disastrous Tour might have done to his asking price.
3. Quick Stepâ€™s entire tour is currently in jeopardy, with the loss of Boonen and the flagging fortunes of French Champion Sylvain Chavanel. Â Chavanel appears visibly uncomfortable due to his dislocated shoulder, and while heâ€™s making every effort to stay in the race, its clear heâ€™s in significantly pain. Â Can he hold in there long enough to attempt to save the tour for Quick Step in week two or three? Â If he does abandon, will someone like Niki Terpstra be able to avoid another photographer-on-motorcycle attack to salvage their tour?
But the dayâ€™s biggest disaster struck the peloton later as a massive pile-up with 40km ruined the Tour de France of several major contenders.
By the time the dust settled, Bradley Wiggins had abandoned the race with a broken collarbone, and almost half of the race–including Radio Shackâ€™s Levi Leipheimer–lost over 3 minutes after being held up by the melee. Even worse for the The Shack, Chris Horner was the dayâ€™s last rider to finish and was later diagnosed with a concussion and broken nose, two injuries that could force the American GC-hope to abandon the Tour as well. Then again, even if he remains, his GC hopes are effectively finished.
As it stands, hereâ€™s the virtual GC heading intoâ€™s tomorrowâ€™s summit finish to Super Besse:
|1.||Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team||0:00:01|
|2.||FrÃ¤nk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek||0:00:04|
|3.||Andreas KlÃ¶den (Ger) Team RadioShack||0:00:10|
|4.||Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek|
|5.||Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team||0:00:20|
|6.||Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Pro Team Astana||0:00:32|
|7.||Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||0:00:39|
|8.||Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale||0:01:03|
|9.||Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale||0:01:12|
|10.||Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard||0:01:42|
|11.||Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo||0:01:57|
|12.||Christian Vande Velde (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo|
|13.||Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi||0:02:36|
|14.||Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Team Garmin-Cervelo||0:04:28|
|15.||Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team RadioShack||0:04:29|
|16.||Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Pro Team Astana||0:05:35|
|17.||Christopher Horner (USA) Team RadioShack||0:12:59|
As incredible as it sounds, some fairly large time gaps already exist. That said, donâ€™t expect fireworks tomorrow. Super-Besse failed to provide major time gaps in 2008, when Stefen Shumaker lost the yellow jersey after crashing in the final sprint. That said, the run-in this year is different, with the Cat. 2 Col de la Croix Saint-Robert coming right before the final climb. I expect weâ€™ll see a group of about 20-30 riders hit the line together, with Frank Schleck taking the stage and Cadel Evans the yellow jersey.
Who do you think will win tomorrow? Â Will the fortunes of Quick Step improve? Â Has Radio Shack finally been whittled down to one general contention rider? Â Let us know in a comment below!