I am planning to be “back on the bike” for today’s 40 km Time-trial in Annecy, which should be a key day in the determining the final classification when we get to Paris. Hopefully, I will be able to analyse the pacing strategies employed by the top ten riders – so tune in for that a little later today!
Until later, a short summary of the Alps.
A summary of the Alps
The last two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, produced hard riding but nothing as spectacular as the climb up to Verbier. The Tour “pecking order” was established on that climb, as Alberto Contador set himself up as the man to beat. From that moment on, it was always going to be about who would have anything left to throw at him.
The Schleck brothers certainly did their best, and their aggression and efforts on Tuesday and Wednesday made for the excitement. I really enjoy Andy’s riding style, as he promised to attack and then delivered. Ultimately, it was a “failed” effort is as far as dislodging Contador goes, but he has managed to put himself into second (along with a little help from Astana’s team orders that compelled Armstrong to allow the Schlecks to ride on ahead – I suspect he would be much closer had that not happened, if not ahead of them). Andy’s second place will come under major threat in the time-trial and possibly on Mont Ventoux, where the big shakedown for the podium will come.
It seems as though Contador has, barring disaster, got the Tour sewn up, since he was pretty comfortable in following the attacks in the Alps. He may lose some time in the time-trial, particularly to Armstrong and Wiggins (if he recovers and has form after the Alps, of course), but I can’t see him losing the yellow now.
His attack near the summit of the Colombiere inspired criticism of a “bad move”, since it put his team-mate Andreas Kloden into difficulty. Different versions of the event exist – Contador says that the plan was to attack and gain mintues, and that he discussed it with Kloden on the climb, who told him to go for it (there certainly was a lot being said between the two Astana riders). Johan Bruyneel was quoted as saying he had advised not to go, since there was no need for attack. It is the latest in a series of “misinformation” events from within Astana, and it’s anyone’s guess who is telling the truth – this great article from the Times sums up how Contador has been portrayed from within Astana to date. So when Contador and Bruyneel give conflicting stories after the stage, one of them is lying. Which is it? Who knows? Misinformation is certainly nothing new in cycling, especially when it comes to Bruyneel and Armstrong, who have used it tactically in the past (remember Alp d’Huez 2001 for an example – that was the best bluff in the history of the Tour). I suspect there are probably elements of truth in all the accounts – maybe it was a plan before the stage to attack, but then as the stage unfolded, Bruyneel decided rather not to.
The podium battle
The podium battle then remains, with Andy and Frank Schleck occupying second and third. Both positions are tenuous, Frank in particular will be looking over his shoulder today as Armstrong fights to regain the podium spot. But for team instructions, I suspect Armstrong would already occupy it, he has certainly shown the form on the last two days to at the very least have conserved his advantage, which he’d then be building on, rather than attempting to narrow gaps. That little sub-plot – the battle for second and third, should provide the best spectacle in the next three days.
Brad Wiggins has probably lost a little too much time to challenge seriously for the podium. Unless he produces a miracle time-trial, his great Tour will probably end in the top five, but not top 3. Nibali and Kloden make up the other protagonists, but with Mont Ventoux still to come, it’s too early to say – the one advantage of the Tour route this year!
So bring on the time-trial and let us see what transpires. I’ll try to analyse the pacing strategies a little later, so join us then!