Monday, July 10, 2006

Le Tour - Rest Day 1

Let's review the GC and see what may unfold over the remaining 2 weeks.

We have Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile in the yellow. He is a proven GC rider and real TT specialist. T-Mobile could protect him in the mountains, or use him to take the heat off Rogers (currently 3rd, 1m 08s back) and Kloden (6th, 1m 50s back). They could also send Kessler (11th), Sinkewitz (4th, 1m 45s down) or Mazzoleni (14th) up the road to force the other teams to chase and wear themselves down before launching Kloden or Rogers. Talk about options! They have climbing ace Guerini up their sleeves as well. Even if all they do is minimise their losses they would expect to take time back in the next TT. Unless they totally fall apart T-Mobile look to have enough cards in their pack to keep their hopes alive right through to Paris.

Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak is just 1.00m off Gonchar (or Honchar, if you like). So he will have to attack and make it stick to gain time. The pressure is on him to make his move and control the counterattacks. He does look strong, however. His nearest teammate is Axel Merckx, a long way back (4m 46s) but capable of a long break in the mountains or as loyal support to Landis. He will be at Landis' side when the decisive climbs arrive and will protect him for as long as he can, bridging gaps and bringing back attacks.

3rd and 4th placed riders are Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile at 1.08 and Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger) T-Mobile at 1.45. Rogers especially is a threat. If Gonchar falters, Rogers will be there to support or to chase. 5th placed Marcus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner is with Andreas Kloden (Ger) T-Mobile at 1m 50. Fothen won't expect to stay in this company for long, however Kloden is a proven performer at Le Tour and has realistic expectations of a podium place in Paris. Whilst he'll protect Gonchar for now, he and Rogers are the real GC men for T-Mobile and either of them may shine in the coming days.

Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears sits with Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto at 1m 52 back. Cadel can expect to play a role in the mountains, and he is within striking distance of the leaders. Evans will have Aerts to assist him, but Karpets may struggle alone. David Zabriskie (USA) Team CSC remais a contender at 1m 53s but again has few supporters left. Similarly Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 2m is a contender but may find himself outnumbered when the counter attacks start.

After which we find Matthias Kessler (Ger) T-Mobile in his team support role, ready to steal stages when required. 12th place Christophe Moreau (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance is at 2m 07s and probably a forlorn hope for Top 10 now. He must make a strong showing in the next week if he is to make up the gap. He does have workers around him, so it's possible. Amazingly the first Discovery rider is Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) at 2m 10s. Savoldelli shouldn't be discounted. He will climb up the rankings - literally - over the first few mountain stages and can rely on a strong team.

Then we have Eddy Mazzoleni (Ita) T-Mobile , Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner, Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC and George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel in quick succession. It is hard now to see Hincapie make up over 2 minutes on the likes of Rogers, Kloden and Evans. If any team can do it, though, it's Discovery. On paper they are laced with talent - and climbing talent at that. They will make up time and they will attack - they must. But can George actually put time into the leaders like Armstrong used to? It looks unlikely. He may fall into a support role for Savoldelli, or whoever turns out to be the best placed. Teammate Jaroslav Popovyvch (Ukr) Discovery Channel is at 3m 27s, with José Luis Rubiera (Spa) Discovery Channel at 3m 34s. Azevedo is back further. They can do something. They must do it soon.

There are some very fine climbers back further who will play a role as well. Only time will tell who will attack and how the leaders will respond. One big move could claim back minutes and move a rider from 30th to 10th. We can only hope. Enjoy the rest day.

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