Sunday, July 08, 2007

Le Tour de France 2007 - the prologue

OK, it's finally on. Le Tour 2007. I'm sure there are some jokers in the pack that will remain hidden until weeks 2 and 3 but for now who's looking good on day one, the prologue?

The winner was prologue and TT specialist and current World TT champ Fabian Cancellara with a 13 second gap on overall contender Andreas Kloden. It's hard to imagine Kloden making that time up when the first week is pretty much dominated by the sprinters. He may nibble away at the lead with time bonuses, however. George Hincapie was next and will have the same problem as Kloden. Converted trackie Bradley Wiggins has some hope of chasing yellow but is also largely out of it now - just too far back. After Wiggins we have Gusev, Karpets and, back 30 seconds, Kloden's team-mate and contender Alexandre Vinokourov.

Vino is well placed to grab yellow in the Alps during week 2, if he wants it, but may sit back and wait for the Pyrenees. He will rise up the GC as the TT specialists fall back during weeks 1 and 2, so there's no panic. Dekker, Quinziato and first Frenchman BenoƮt Vaugrenard may have some hope if an escape takes them away in week 2. Vaugrenard may have July 14th in mind...

Zabriskie disappointed, and will have to hang on grimly from here. Then comes Gutierrez, a similarly disappointing David Millar (to be fair the prologue doesn't suit him as much as a longer TT), a surprising Mikel Astarloza - well positioned to climb up the GC in weeks 2 and 3 - and Alberto Contador. Similarly, Contador has a good platform for a GC assault when we get to the pointy bits. Then comes Velasco, Kashechkin and finally first Aussie and noted climber and longer-TT specialist Cadel Evans, back just 36 seconds. Evans is also well poised to climb up the GC in week 2 and perhaps make a play for the lead in the Pyrenees. He likes the HC climbs - the tougher the better - and may well give the likes of Vino and Kloden some hurry-up in week 3.

Also within a minute of the lead are Bonnet and Chavanel, so expect some July 14th fireworks from those two Frenchmen. Next is multiple World TT Champ and 2nd Aussie, Michael Rogers, followed by last year's 2nd place getter, maybe even 1st if Landis loses his title, Oscar Pereiro. Oscar won't be given the gift he got last year but it's good to see him so high up and ahead of several contenders. He has a point to prove. Both he and Rogers will rise up GC in week 2.

Notably we have climber and rapid descender Paolo Savoldelli at 39 secs, and contender Levi Leipheimer uncomfortably well behind the likes of Kloden and Vino, and with a smaller gap to Evans, Rogers and Pereiro. He'd like to be closer, I'm sure, but it's a long race and anything can happen. He looks top 10 at this stage.

Denis Menchov will be looking to improve as well at 40 secs back. After whom comes the first sprinter and former Green-jersey winner, Thor Hushovd at 41 secs. Too far back to take yellow, surely? If he wins every sprint in Week 1 he'll do it, but that's a big ask. He'll stand a great chance fo taking green again if he's consistent. Pozzato is close behind and interestingly placed, then Markus Fothen and contender Alejandro Valverde. Surely Valverde will need wings to make it past Kloden, Evans et al? He is supported by Pereiro, of course, or is he supporting Oscar?

Sprinter Daniele Bennati will have the same issues as Hushovd but is better placed than the electrifying Tom Boonen. Tom has something to prove, though, and will be looking to seize the day - or days - in the coming week. He'll be fired up. Petacchi's lead-out man and next Aussie Brett Lancaster was slightly disappointing in 42nd place - but presumably will be leading Zabel out in Petacchi's absence.

There are climbers and escape artists galore within a minute of the lead, of which any of them could mount a raid in weeks 2 or 3 and take yellow. Schleck, Popovych, Mayo and Zubeldia stand out but Merckx and Vasseur will have a go for sure. Chris Horner had a good ride too and can be expected to support Cadel Evans strongly in the mountains.

McEwen is just over the minute mark and really couldn't expect to grab yellow, but will look to get wins and be consistently placed in the green jersey comp. Freire is slightly ahead of him on GC and will be chasing the same goal, as will Hushovd and Boonen.

So a few surprises, but no suprise in Cancellara taking out the day's prize. He will be looking to keep yellow during week 1 by staying on the sprinters' collective wheel... before Kloden, Vino, Evans, Rogers, Leipheimer and Valverde take it up on the climbs.. with Pereiro looking to prove himself a worthy "winner" too it should be an interesting and wide-open race with some intriguing tactics developing in week 2.