Monday, July 12, 2010

Le Tour 2010 - Stage 8 - Surprises abound! Armstrong hits the ground, doesn't bounce. Evans bounces, Schleck pounces.

What would you say about Paris in 2 weeks time, all things being equal from here? Schleck 1st, followed by Contador and Evans? Too early to be sure about Contador? Thinking that Evans will bleed time on key stages but gain it back on the long TT? Concerned about someone else falling, or a joker in the GC pack, perhaps 1 or even 2 minutes back, biding their time?

It feels more like the '80s again. At least in the warm, fuzzy glow of hindsight, anyway. I mean before it got a bit too predictable, with the strongest TT rider (usually someone called Indurain or, later, Armstrong) claiming the overall win in Paris. Again. And again. Usually achieved more by 'best average performance' than by bold and exciting moves, too. Yes, OK, there were some classic attacking performances in the past 25 years or so, but how many tours were won more by grinding obsessives rather than mercurial pirates? (Let's leave the pharmaceuticals out of it for the moment and just consider the drama.)

Whether the peleton has become "cleaner" or not is debatable, but we are - arguably - seeing more variation and a greater degree of suspense over the whole 3 weeks. (Yes, it is just week one but you know what I mean.) Whilst we may recognise Contador as king we also harbour doubts - we see a chink in the armour. And can Schleck keep it up? Is Sastre planning a big attack later in the tour? Will Evans keep close enough in the mountains to win it back in the TT? What of Menchov, Rogers and Basso? We can see a competition every day.

And there are so many possibilities. Whilst we can write Armstrong off overall he may well turn super-domestique for Leipheimer. Sastre and Menchov may save it all up for week 3. Evans and Basso may limit their losses. Wiggins may strike back. Even more likely, though, is that Contador may have just had his 'one bad day' and will come back fighting.

It's all possible, rather than predictable.

Tour De France: Stage 8, Route Maps & Results |
"I've got to get my head around the position that I'm in now," said Schleck, with a rest day ahead of him tomorrow. "There are still a lot of very hard days, but I am pretty relaxed for the moment. I've done my thing, and I hope I can do a great race and I hope I don't have a bad day."

Ten seconds behind, the group was led in by another of the day's aggressors, Robert Gesink (Rabobank), with Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) fourth and Contador fifth. Sixth, though, was the day's other big winner, Cadel Evans (BMC), who survived an early fall to claim the yellow jersey.

Evans now leads the general classification ahead of Schleck by 20 seconds, with Contador up to third, 1:01 behind the Australian.

Many will expect the overall winner to come from this trio, meaning, inevitably, that one of the day's big stories was the end of Armstrong's challenge - indeed, the definitive end of the Armstrong era.
Schleck Gives Warning Of Things To Come |
“I really felt good. My legs were turning well, and the team was great. On the last climb I had no problem. I thought about attacking earlier but I have a plan for this Tour and I’m going to stick to it. Pressure motivates me. I’m here for a goal, to win in Paris, but if I can win a stage, I’ll take it,” he said at the finish.
Vinokourov Fills Domestique's Shoes |
Vinokourov didn't expect Armstrong to disappear so quickly from the top positions of the classification. "I think he suffered in the heat," said the Astana star. "He also crashed quite a bit as well. Now he's out of contention for sure. We'll see - day after day - how we can get rid of our other adversaries."

Saxo Bank's Andy Schleck, who won the day's stage, isn't a major concern for Vinokourov. "He hasn't taken much time on Alberto, I'm not worried," he said.
Evans Gives BMC Its First Yellow Jersey |
Evans played a somewhat cagey game, aware that his team will shoulder the responsibility of controlling the race before the Pyrenees start. "We'll wait for stages after tomorrow, but I'm happy it's a rest day. We'll think about it and come up with plan but the Pyrenees are very hard, Andy (Schleck) is going well, (Alberto) Contador and Astana (are) really strong, so we'll have to see and decide how to approach the mountains."
Wiggins Limits Damage In Tour De France Test |
"I felt pretty good most of the day, especially on the second climb. It was just on the last one that I was overcooked and there came a point when I had to back off so I wouldn't completely blow. It was a damage limitation exercise,” he said at the finish.
Armstrong's Tour Challenge Collapses |
"I clipped a pedal [in the roundabout -ed.] and next thing I knew I was rolling on the ground at 65 kilometres per hour," Armstrong explained after the stage. "I didn't make it back on until la Ramaz and I was pegged."

His jersey torn, Armstrong was slow to remount but made contact before the critical climb of Col de la Ramaz. However Sky and Saxo Bank set a strong pace, and it proved too much as the American slipped back from the leaders. At first he was assisted by Chris Horner but later Janez Brajkovic took over, as Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden stayed with the leaders.
PezCycling News - What's Cool In Pro Cycling
Back in 1996, the cycling world wondered whether Miguel Indurain could become the first cyclist to win the Tour de France six times. He had dominated the race for five consecutive years by steamrolling the competition in the time trials and riding steadily in the mountains. But 1996 he struggled, and on Stage 7 he was suddenly unhitched from the lead group in the mountains. The calm demeanor and steady pedaling action were gone and Big Mig was in trouble. He lost more than 4 minutes that day, and by the time the race reached Paris, Indurain finished what would be his final Tour de France in 11th place, more than 14 minutes behind winner Bjarne Riis.