With 5 tough climbs this was one long hard ride. Everyone expected a sorting-out. Everyone expected Landis and Evans to shine; some had discounted Leipheimer already. Menchov was a contender but not highly touted. Rogers and Kloden were expected to put the bunch to the test with strong support from a highly-fancied team. And we all expected ag2r to defend the yellow and if pressured, crumble. Meanwhile Discovery loomed as a dark horse with many options.
Well we were all right and all wrong. The yellow was defended, and defended well - but was lost by seconds. Instead Landis is in yellow after a powerful display, with Menchov winning the stage after a surprising and emphatic display of teamwork: 3 Rabo riders remained in the break when it mattered and they disposed of T-Mobile quicker and more easily than expected. T-Mobile had tried to set the agenda earlier on teh previous climb but only succeeded in dislodging the yellow. The remaining riders were to play their cards on the final climb.
Thus it was that the Rabobank train of Rasmussen, Boogerd and Menchov drove the bunch to destruction and spat the likes of Cunego, Simoni and Rogers out the back. And then - biggest surprise - Kloden succumbed. Which left a rejuvenated Leipheimer to fight it out with Landis and Menchov to the finish. Sastre and Evans coming in seconds later.
And Discovery lost, big time. We have a new world order here.
We have 24 riders inside of 10 minutes. 11 inside of 10 minutes. Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak leads with yesterday's leader Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance just 8 secs adrift. He won't come back, surely? Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank is next at 1m 01secs, then Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto at 1.17 and Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC at 1.52. It's still early - many mountains and a lot of opportunity awaits - but surely now the winner in Paris will come from Landis, Menchov, Evans or Sastre?
Back further with more work to do now is Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile at 2.29 and Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile at 3.22. Mercado is next, then Moreau, Fothen, Zubeldia, Sinkewitz and finally in 13th place Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner at 5.39. These riders are still in contention but will find it hard to dislodge Landis and Menchov in particular. They have to attack, and do it when they are in a strong position and the others at their weakest. They must isolate Landis, Menchov, Sastre and Evans and put them to the test.
Long way to go - and easier said than done. Look for Leipheimer to make big gains as he aims for a top 5 position. Expect Evans to play a waiting game and attack in the Alps. Expect Landis to cover the moves and lay on a big TT before Paris. If Rabo's men recover from today's effort then Menchov looks the goods as well.