Wednesday, July 08, 2009

FWIW, my take on Le Tour 2009, up to Stage 4

What did you expect the TTT to do to the GC? We always knew - because this always happens - that the strongest TTT teams - like Astana, Garmin, Columbia and Saxo - would dominate. By definition that means time gains - big ones - for GC riders embedded in these teams. GC riders outside of the top 4 or 5, like Menchov and Evans, would lose time. For both of them it was essential to stay in touch prior to stage 4, and then marshall their teams to defend and preserve. At 39km it wasn't too long, but long enough to put at least a minute into most riders. Alas, punctures and falls can cost you dearly, and losing 2 minutes was always possible. You need 5 good strong finishers, and most teams just don't have that firepower.

The less predictable event was the day before - a canny Columbia up front, driving for a stage win - no, that's not a surprise. What was a mild surprise was no one helping (who actually wanted Cav to win again?). That lack of support led to the big effort when the wind was at its best - or worst - forcing the gap and the break. And Columbia not only secured another win but took time off all the GC riders bar a lucky, informed or just plain experienced Armstrong. It's a split-second decision - shall I chase, or wait for someone else to do the work? Every bike racer knows that one. And most of us (thinking 3 weeks is a long time) would have waited, but Armstrong latched on, taking a leap in time over his GC competitors.

But it is a long race and it's not time to panic. Although the details are a mild suprise, the team directors would have thought it all through beforehand and have a plan. The strong TTT teams would have expected stage 4 to bring them to the top, but they don't want the pressure of defending the yellow jersey just yet. So Armstrong in 2nd is cool, if disappointing for his fans. Contador, Kloden and Leipheimer can just sit there and wait, knowing that they have alittle buffer - and lots of attacking opportunities - in the mountains to come.

Meanwhile Cancellara takes yellow, and the pressure of defence. But he and his team know that time will be lost in the mountains. Their are shake ups on GC to come. For Evans and Menchov in particular they would be disappointed to have lost so much time already - and it will be hard to recover - but they would have known and expected to have lost at least a minute. So they are still running close to plan. They will rise again up the order as the mountains arrive and sort the riders out. The big problem will be recovering the time gaps, rather than the placings. But we always knew that.

If we sort the riders out by colour, but in no particular order, my top 11 on GC are in red and 3 more wildcards are in yellow. I'm sure there will be ups and downs and the odd surprise, but that's my best effort for now.

1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank 10:38:07
2 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana
3 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0:00:19
4 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana 0:00:23
5 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana 0:00:31

6 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream 0:00:38
7 Haimar Zubeldia Aguirre (Spa) Astana 0:00:51
8 Tony Martin (Ger) Team Columbia - HTC 0:00:52
9 David Zabriskie (USA) Garmin - Slipstream 0:01:06
10 David Millar (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream 0:01:07
11 Sergio Miguel Moreira Paulinho (Por) Astana 0:01:16
12 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin - Slipstream
13 Gustav Erik Larsson (Swe) Team Saxo Bank 0:01:22
14 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Team Columbia - HTC 0:01:29
15 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas 0:01:31
16 Michael Rogers (Aus) Team Columbia - HTC 0:01:32
17 George Hincapie (USA) Team Columbia - HTC 0:01:36
18 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Astana
19 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas
20 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:01:41
21 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Slipstream 0:01:46
22 Jens Voigt (Ger) Team Saxo Bank 0:02:03
23 Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor) Team Saxo Bank 0:02:05
24 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team Columbia - HTC 0:02:16
25 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:02:17
26 Brian Vandborg (Den) Liquigas 0:02:25
27 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Team Katusha 0:02:31
28 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas 0:02:32
29 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Cervelo Test Team 0:02:44
30 Nicki Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank
31 Fabio Sabatini (Ita) Liquigas 0:02:50
32 Bert Grabsch (Ger) Team Columbia - HTC 0:02:51
33 Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:02:54
34 Luis Pasamontes Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 0:02:56
35 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto 0:02:59
36 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Team Katusha
37 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team
38 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team Saxo Bank 0:03:00
39 Mikhail Ignatiev (Rus) Team Katusha 0:03:02
40 Oscar Pereiro Sio (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 0:03:03
41 Hayden Roulston (NZl) Cervelo Test Team 0:03:05
42 Rui Alberto Faria da Costa (Por) Caisse d'Epargne 0:03:06
43 Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Cervelo Test Team 0:03:07
44 Volodymir Gustov (Ukr) Cervelo Test Team 0:03:09
45 Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Team Milram 0:03:11
46 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Caisse d'Epargne 0:03:12
47 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:13
48 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:16
49 Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Quick Step 0:03:17
50 José Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
51 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
52 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Team Katusha 0:03:18
53 Luis León Sánchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
54 Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:21
55 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step 0:03:23
56 Juan Jose Oroz Ugalde (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:03:24
57 Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:03:25
58 Brett Lancaster (Aus) Cervelo Test Team 0:03:28
59 Frederik Willems (Bel) Liquigas 0:03:32
60 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Columbia - HTC 0:03:33
61 Stéphane Goubert (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:34
62 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank 0:03:36
63 Chris Anker Sørensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank
64 Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:38
65 Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:42
66 Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:44
67 Hubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:46
68 Nikolai Troussov (Rus) Team Katusha 0:03:47
69 Aleksandr Kuschynski (Blr) Liquigas
70 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:03:48
71 Alexandre Botcharov (Rus) Team Katusha 0:03:51
72 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 0:03:52