Here’s what we saw:
1. Lots of tired legs today, even after – or maybe because of – yesterday’s rest day. A large break was allowed to form early, and stayed out for the stage.
2. The race for white jersey for the Tour’s best young rider is starting to be defined. Sky gamely chased down a break containing FdJ’s Arnold Jeannesson in order to defend Rigoberto Uran’s hold on white.
3. Jeremy Roy’s at it again, after several brave tries already. Give this man a hearty chapeau!
4. Seeing Thor Hushovd ride so well and so aggressively while wearing the Rainbow Stripes brings tears to our eyes. Hushovd really serves his title righteously. Notably, he seems to have given up on Green aspirations and didn’t contest any of the intermediate sprints. Why bother contending if not to win, lest the leash be shortened for breakaways and potential stage wins? Numbers played to Garmin-Cervelo’s advantage once again, and to Hushovd and Ryder Hesjedal’s credit they played aggressively, and won. He’s indicated that he might be happier somewhere other than Garmin-Cervelo in 2012 – and he’s doing a hell of a job showing himself around.
5. The race for GC has seen significant re-shuffling. Contador’s confident attack – squeezing on the tight inside of a switchback – was a complete surprise on what many thought was a sleepy day for GC contenders. A bigger surprise was the slow reaction from many GC contenders. Tommy Voeckler responded first, along with Cadel Evans and Sammy Sanchez. Voeckler paid for this effort, as did both Andy and Frank Schleck, who had faltered. In response, Evans and Sanchez were more than happy to help twist the knife and push the pace towards the finale, knowing that the descent favors a smaller group than a larger one. Gonzalez de Galdeano had warned that an angry Contador is not a good adversary to have to contend with. Today we saw that indeed this is true.
6. Cadel Evans finally rides like a man who believes in himself. His late attack that gapped Spaniards Sammy Sanchez and Alberto Contador was unthinkable to many a year ago. It didn’t amount to more than the few seconds he earned, but it must have been a tremendous boost in confidence.
7. Will Team Leopard-Trek re-think or finally decide their strategy? Frank is sitting at 1:49, just seconds off Cadel Evans, while Andy is at 3:03. Is Frank the leader starting from today?
8. Early on in the stage, many riders were attempting to sneak their way into the day’s breakaway, most notably Jose Joaquin Rojas, second place in the Points Classification, and Nicolas Roche, 18th on GC but with eyes for a top-10 finish. Rojas would have liked the intermediate points, but he still managed to scoop up a few remaining points at the finish, sprinting against Philippe Gilbert.
9. Among the North Americans, Ryder Hesjedal was the man of the stage, playing a great teammate to Hushovd’s strengths and controlling the break. The North American GC hope Tom Danielson came home a minute behind the first batch of GC contenders to maintain his top ten GC standing. Overall, a great day for Garmin-Cervelo.
10. The splitting of the GC standings suggests that there are two distinct sets of contenders. In the first, we have Voeckler, Evans, and F. Schleck all within a small time spread. In the second, we have A. Schleck, S. Sanchez, Contador, Basso, and Cunego. Does this suggest that the latter group are playing to defend their top-ten standings, while the former group are fighting for podium placings or outright victory? If so, the dynamics of the Alpine stages will be decidedly different from what we have seen so far, when more than a small handful of riders still had sights on the top rungs of of the General Classification.
11. The GC shortlist may require the addition of Tommy Voeckler. Names such as Sammy Sanchez, Juan Antonio Flecha, Bjarne Riis, and even Lance Armstrong have mentioned him as a true contender, and their pick for the overall this year. The perception of him as a non-GC threat allowed him to gain some time in Stage 9, and he’s done an admirable job holding his own against the other top contenders. Can he manage to hang on in the Alps? Will the 1’45” lead he holds now over Cadel Evans be enough for him in the Stage 20 TT in Grenoble be enough? Voeckler gives himself a 0% chance of winning, a comment repeated in publications spanning multiple languages, but what is the chance that he will ride the TT in yellow? Do you rate his chances higher? Let us know in the comments below.