Going into today’s Stage 20, the names Fignon and Lemond were on everyone’s mind, as people pondered whether Leopard-Trek’s Andy Schleck would fall, Fignon style, to BMC’s Cadel Evans by the scantest of margins in this final individual time trial. As predicted, Schleck did lose the yellow jersey to Evans, but not by the handful of seconds many expected. Rather, Evans recorded the time trial of his life, finishing second to TT wunderkind Tony Martin of HTC-HighRoad by a mere 7 seconds. While Schleck performed as well as we’ve come to expect–finishing 2:38 behind Martin–it was not enough to defeat the powerful Australian. He ended the day in second-place on GC, 1:34 behind the man who will be wearing the maillot jaune in Paris, Cadel Evans.
Here’s what we noticed:
1) The White Jersey Race: Europcar’s Pierre Rolland successfully held on to his lead in the Young Rider’s classification. Up against Estonian time trial Champion Rein Taaramäe, just a scant 1:33 off of Rolland’s time before the start of the stage, it wasn’t a given that Rolland would be able to hold him off. While Taaramäe bettered Rolland by 48 seconds in the time trial, it wasn’t enough to unseat him, making Rolland the first winner of the White Jersey since Benoît Salmon in 1999. Are we looking at a future French GC contender?
2) Mishaps abound: While none of the GC favorites were affected by mechanicals during today’s time trial, there were a number that affected race favorites. Philippe Gilbert nearly rode off the ramp at the start house, and then came close to crashing when his chain slipped. Edvald Boassen Hagen ended up making a number of bike changes, at least the first of which was caused by a broken crank arm. In spite of his difficulties, he ended up finishing the stage in 12th position, + 2:10 off the blistering time set by Tony Martin, who also had his own difficulties when he nearly collided with a Team Sky car. When you win the stage, you’re allowed to be so singularly focused as to miss a 2,000 pound impediment in front of you.
Did we mention Alberto Contador unclipped in the start house? Seems the official holding his saddle may have been taken by surprise at Contador’s sudden burst of power, and held on for a second too long. Fortunately, it didn’t seem to affect him either, and he notched the third best time of the day.
3) While the lack of time trial skills possessed by the Andy Schleck isn’t news, the utter predictability of his ride might be. Most pundits felt that the former time trial Champion of Luxembourg (World Tour rider population: 4) had the potential to lose 2-3 minutes to Evans, but tempered all such comments with the caveat that the yellow jersey unlocks heretofore unknown strength in its wearer, as demonstrated by Thomas Voeckler during this tour. Andy, having never reconned the time trial, rode in the team car during Fabian Cancellara’s turn on the course, taking the opportunity to hear sage advice from World Champ as to how to ride – possibly the reason Cancellara rode such a mundane TT himself. In spite of this, Andy lost a fairly predictible 2:31 to Evans. Maybe riding the course beforehand would have been a wise idea, though it doesn’t seem likely to have helped with such a severe differential in times.
4) In the countries from which we watched today’s coverage (US for Jeremy, Ireland for Ciaran), both sets of commentators claimed that the rolling terrain of the time trial was to the advantage of the Schleck brothers. We’re pretty sure the Schleck’s don’t excel in the rollers, but require long climbs to use their legs to their advantage. Seems like pretty elementary commentary on the part of people who get paid to know better – or who at least have a staff who’s paid to know better.
5) While everyone was rushing to compare the Evans/Schleck battle to Lemond’s 1989 win over Laurent Fignon by a scant 8 seconds, we noted two things: first, the last time a Tour was won in the final time trial was not 1989, but 1990*, when Greg Lemond won the tour in a stage 20 time trial over then yellow Claudio Chiapucci, beating him by 2:21 and relegating ‘El Diablo’ to second place. The second thing we noticed is that, much like Schleck, Chiappucci never managed to climb to the top step of the Paris podium, going on to place third the following year, and 2nd in 1992. Fortunately for Andy, he will get another opportunity next year to better his finish.
With tomorrow a mere formality, Cadel Evans is poised to wear yellow into Paris. Many had discounted his chances going in to this Tour, given his relatively dismal showing the last two editions as well as the perceived superiority of Contador and the Schleck’s. Clearly they were wrong.
While the yellow and white jerseys contests are largely over, the race for the green jersey still hasn’t ended. HTC’s Mark Cavendish holds a 15 point lead over Movistar’s JJ Rojas. Such a close race will see both trying to maximize their share of the intermediate points available (20 to the winner), and tip the odds in their favor before the final sprint, where 45 points will go to the first over the line. It should make for an exciting finish to one of the best Tours in recent history!
* To paraphrase Joe Martin: Yeah, yeah, yeah, Floyd Landis, Le Creusot – Montceau-les-Mines, 2006.