Tour 2009: Waiting for the Alps  //  Tour building to a crescendo (we hope)

16 Jul 2009 Posted by
The Tour has ticked over (as much as ‘ticking over’ happens when you ride 200 km a day in a bike race), and we’re now on the verge of the big showdown in the Alps. After the relative disappointment of the Pyrenees, the Alps provide the next potential stage for the big showdown for the overall leadership of the Tour.

You’ll excuse the lack of posts in the last two days, as my own posting has mimicked the lull in the Tour – I have been doing some reading, and I came across this absolutely brilliant article from SI in the USA. It’s lengthy, but really well worth the read. Some of the best quotes you’ll read on cycling.

The race – status quo remains

Nocentini continues to look after the yellow jersey for the big contenders, Mark Cavendish has now taken ownership of the green jersey, and the polka dots are on the line from tomorrow onwards where that battle starts to heat up. The radio ban on Tuesday produced what Lance Armstrong called the easiest day ever in the Tour de France, and when you start to factor in the neutralized climbs of the Aspin and Col du Tourmalet, and the “easy” rides through the transitional stages, the big contenders for the Tour should have a great deal to throw down come the high mountains in the next week.

The shake-up in the Alps awaits us

The ride through the Alps really only starts on Sunday, but we have what are called “medium mountains” starting tomorrow. A Category 2 and a Category 1 climb await on a stage that welcomes the Tour to its crucial week. The Cat 1 summit is 60+ km from the finish line, so much like the Tourmalet stage, it’s suited to a break and not to a big battle between the top 10. Therefore, it’s unlikely to shake up the leader board, though some aggression from anyone (something that has been sorely lacking in the Tour so far) might see yellow change hands.

That would of course be a significant moment in the race, but it is unlikely that any of the podium challengers will be aggressive or be dropped on this day – their battles seem likely to be begin on Sunday, with three consecutive days in the mountains (broken up by a rest day on Monday) including a mountain-top finish on Sunday, a couple of out of category climbs, and a very tough day on Wednesday featuring four Category 1 climbs. That is followed by the Individual Time-Trial in Annecy on Thursday, and so by then, we should have a much clearer idea of where the yellow jersey is destined.

Ald d'Huez. Photo by Flickr user Robbie Shade (robbie_shade)

Ald d’Huez. Photo by Flickr user Robbie Shade (robbie_shade)

The protagonists remain much the same as they have – Contador and Armstrong, supported by Kloden and Leipheimer, hold the team-aces with Astana. Andy Schleck will count on brotherly support from Frank, while Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre are quite close to “last-chance” territory and really have to attack to regain lost time. Andy Schleck in particular looked brilliant in the Alps last year, and has featured at the front of climbs in the Pyrenees.

Contador, for his part, said the other day that if Armstrong were to attack, he’d be obliged NOT to respond. That may be part gamesmanship, part truth, but I suspect Contador is staking that statement on the expectation that Evans, Schleck and maybe even Sastre WILL attack first (probably on Sunday), and he can of course follow their attacks. I expect that Evans will be first to attack in the Alps, but that Schleck will be doing most of the early damage when he does attack, probably in response. As for Armstrong and Contador, they’ll follow, and depending on the form of Schleck, it might open the door that Contador needs to counter attack and build his lead on the rest of the race.

No indication of form so far

Unfortunately, because of the relatively sedate pace of the climbs, debating who has form is guesswork at this stage. Of course, we know more or less who is going to be competitve, based on the prologue and the way they rode the Pyrenees, but so far, little has been done to really suggest who will come through and who will fade away on the very steep climbs when the pressure is turned up. When a group of 70 riders summits the Tourmalet, you know the pressure is right off.

Similarly, even on Arcalis, where the biggest attacks of the race have come, the race didn’t exactly fragment – Cadel Evans threw in an attack that split a group of 40 into a group of 20, and then Contador did break away, but about 10 riders were able to follow Evans in the chase. So, at this mid-way point of the Tour, it’s anyone’s guess who has the legs.

We will see what the Alps reveal…

Sorry for the lack of data today – just an opinion post. The mountains provide the most food for analysis, so we’ll get into that as the peloton gets into the Alps!

Join us then!

Ross

This post is part of the following threads: Tour de France Analysis, Tour de France timeline – ongoing stories on this site. View the thread timelines for more context on this post.