Tuesday, July 14, 2009
As expected, the GC didn't change much, the only difference of note is that Contador stole a couple of seconds lead on Armstrong. It's impossible to know for sure, but Armstrong's and the team's reaction to Contador's attack seemed pretty genuine. So Contador's attack went against the team plans which Armstrong followed by not chasing him down. I would have done the same if I was Contador and if I was Armstrong I would be using his breaking of team plans to galvanise the team around me. It is going to be interesting to see how it pans out when we hit the Alps. An point of interest is Armstrong's improving fitness. I read an article by Armstrong's coach about how Lance needed to shed muscle from his upper body. He pretty much hit the targets just as the tour started, so in terms of form, the Giro is not going to be a good guide. The first two weeks of the tour could prove to be the perfect conditioning for Lance.
The only other significant event during the Pyrenees was the attempted breakaway by Cadel. He jumped onto a breakaway group and then jumped off the front of them to form his own breakaway. He was then joined by a number of other riders including Cancellara and Hincape. At Cancellara's prompting, the riders in the breakaway abused Cadel and refused to work with him until he gave up and returned to the peleton. They did this for two reasons, first of all Astana were always going to chase hard a breakaway with Cadel in it. Secondly a number of the riders in the breakaway had teammates with GC aspirations so their teams wouldn't let them support another rider gaining time on the GC.
Cadel received a lot of criticism from people for wasting energy on a stupid, doomed attack. This came from the same people that had a go at him for never attacking. Personally I think that while it had little or no chance of success, it was a great symbolic move. It showed that he is racing to win and won't accept that just because Astana are the strongest team, they will supply the race winner. Even Armstrong called the move "gutsy" http://www.foxsports.com.au/story/0,,25779408-5015775,00.html .
Many people are complaining that Cadel's team has lost him the tour. Yes they had a very poor Team Time Trial and even if they had had a trouble free run they probably still would have lost at least 1 minute. But watching the team in the mountains they have been brilliant. There have always been 1 or two guys with Cadel and they have even launched the odd attack to soften up Astana. If Cadel's team had performed like this last year, the results in Paris may have been very different.
Anyway, the race now has a couple of relatively flat days before we get into the Alps. The final week of this year's tour is supposed to be a monster week and looking at the stage profiles, the mountain top finish at Verbier on stage 15 will be critical, but some later stages with downhill finishes also offer some opportunities. The penultimate stage (20) is an HC mountain top finish coming after the Time Trial on stage 18. The tour may only just be decided by the time they start the stage into Paris.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Saxo Bank have had the Yellow Jersey since the prologue, but for the most part Astana have been behaving as if they have the Jersey. Not only because Astana done their fair share of pace setting, but also because of their behaviour in the peleton. When a narrow dangerous road approaches, Astana jump on the front and ride tempo to string the peleton out and make it safer. Last night (obviously day where the tour is) when they had a simple climb with a tricky descent, again Astana hit the front and rode tempo up the climb. They weren't looking to hurt people on the climb, more to string out the peleton so they could block the road on the descent and force the peleton to descend slowly and safely. All things Saxo Bank could have done, but seem happy to leave to Astana.
This behaviour is typical of a Johan/Lance team. Very dominant and bullying when necessary to ensure their GC contenders face the minimum possible risk. It's this attention to detail and building such a strong team that won Lance 7 tours. Lance is also the ultimate team leader. If you watch the team time trial, you will notice that when Lance peeled off the front of the group he would be talking to each team member as he drifted to the back. A couple of times I noticed him pace a team mate for a few seconds, up on his toes yelling encouragement to them. I didn't see any of the other team leaders do that.
So what does all this mean for the tour? The first stage in the Pyrenees tonight is a tough one with a very high mountain top finish. The Pyrenees are generally considered a little easier than the Alps and so you wouldn't expect the race to be won or lost tonight, but foundations could be laid.
Logically, this is how the stage should go:
- Astana set the pace over the early climbs and at the base of the last so that it is difficult for the other GC contenders to break away.
- Saxo Bank lets them.
- A pure climber with little GC hopes may get away on the early climbs and Astana will let him go, although they may try and get Kloden up the road with one of them.
- Other GC contenders attack on the final climb as they need to pull back some of the time lost in the TTT.
- Cancellera battles valiantly to hold onto yellow but loses time in the last 3-5 klms.
- Armstrong and Contador watch all the GC contenders and just cover their attacks. Neither of them attack unless the other GC contenders are showing extreme weakness.
- The majority of the GC contenders end up crossing the line together.
The one thing that may throw the cat among the pigeons is the dispute over team leadership at Astana. Armstrong has been seemingly taunting Contador in the press about his lack of leadership and how maybe the strongest rider is actually the strongest leader. He has been suggesting that Contador needs to attack this climb to take leadership of the team. He is effectively saying "hey Alberto, I have your team, if you're man enough come and get it".
Now this could be brilliant mind games by Armstrong, getting Contador worried about him and pressuring him into making rash attacks and burning energy wastefully. It would be a very Armstrong thing to do and would demonstrate how much of a master tactically he is. Of course it is also possible that the whole thing is a ruse by Armstrong and Johan to draw attention to Armstrong, confuse the opposition teams and give Contador the best chance possible. I reckon the former but would not be shocked if the latter turned out to be true.
We may well find out which tonight!
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
The opening Time Trial went pretty much to script. Contador managed to pull a little time on Evans, but not a massive amount.
The first big surprise of this year's event came on stage 3 when Armstrong was used his experience and found himself in the front half of a split in the peleton. The 40 odd seconds that group was able to pull out, rocketed him up the leader board. The surprise wasn't that Armstrong was in the group, but that so many of the other GC contenders missed it. Everyone was talking about the likelyhood of a split in the crosswinds and the corner where it happened was the obvious spot, but still plenty of guys got caught out.
The Team Time Trial was a disaster for Cadel. It's not so much that his team let him down, more that his team was never constructed with the TTT in mind. They were never going to set the course on fire and when you throw in a crash and a puncture you end up with a 2 minute + loss and probably throw away any chance at overall victory. I thought both Cancellara and Armstrong did brilliant jobs pulling both their teams through.
So what now? All the talk is about whether Armstrong will work for Contador or whether they will decided team leader after the first mountain stage. I have changed my mind about 30 times, so I decided to inhabit Armstrong's mind and work out what he would do.
So if I was Armstrong I would be thinking ..........
Damn I'm good (I think that even though I am not Lance). 7 time winner, I still have the pace and showed all those idiots on stage 3 what a Grand Tour is all about! "Lance should ride for Contador" they all say. Well screw that, Lance rides for Lance and Lance knows Levi and Popo will ride for Lance as well, all Lance needs to do is ask. The others probably will too. Johan is just waiting for an opportunity to shift things my way without obviously screwing Contador, just so he can shove it up those stupid, mankini wearing Kazaks! There is no way I am riding for that bunch of commies, I 'aint even taking their paychecks so I don't owe 'em nothin'. If that poor man's Mexican wants me to support him, then he is going to have to storm the Alamo! This team is my team no matter what names are written on their jerseys. When I tell 'em to ride they will ride and when I tell 'em to bury themselves for me I better see dirt flying! Screw Astana, screw Contador and screw Johan if he doesn't jump on board the Lance express!
So that's what I think is going to happen. Lance will solicit help from at least Levi and Popo and will ride for himself. If Contador wants his assistance then he is going to have to make it obvious that not only has he got Lance well and truly beaten, but can also get the most out of the team.
Unless Astana make a massive mistake or get thrown out because one of their members gets caught doping then the winner will come from Astana. There is just too much talent there.
Mind you, this is Le Tour so anything is possible!