July 21, 2008

Tour de France Rest Day Report #2

Now the Tour really starts. After two weeks of cat-and-mouse games in the flat stages and the Pyrenees, we're down to 6 riders with a shot at the yellow jersey. The time in between the rest days was mostly for the sprinters, but yesterday's first Alpine stage set the tone for the week to come.

I think everyone expected to see the field separate a little bit after Stage 15 yesterday, with a few of the contenders dropping off. Instead, we're left with 6 riders within a minute of new leader Frank Schleck. Here's a look at how close the standings are at the top of the leaderboard:

Rider Team Gaps
2. KOHL Bernhard GEROLSTEINER + 00' 07"
3. EVANS Cadel SILENCE - LOTTO + 00' 08"
4. MENCHOV Denis RABOBANK + 00' 38"
6. SASTRE Carlos TEAM CSC SAXO BANK + 00' 49"

That's really close. Any of those six have a shot at winning it all, and the next two stages will thin down that field even further. Tuesday and Wednesday are both grueling mountain stages in the Alps, with the climax being Wednesday's finish atop L'Alpe-d'Huez.

If you're going to watch one stage of the Tour de France this year, it should be Wednesday. There are 3 "HC" category climbs in the stage. HC means hors categorie, French for "The f-ing thing is too big to categorize." The finish line is at the top of L'Alpe-d'Huez, the Tour's most famous mountain. It will be packed with fans lining its famed switchbacks and you'll see some of the best athletes in the world reach the point where they can't keep up with their rivals. There aren't many sports events where athletes with unbelievable conditioning are forced to say "You know what, I can't do this anymore, you guys go on ahead without me."

The two stages in the Alps will set the stage for Saturday's final time trial. It's unlikely that anyone will have a big enough lead coming into the time trial to coast, so this is the stage that will really determine the winner. No teams, no slip-streaming, just each individual rider pushing himself to try to gain every second possible. It's going to be a great finish.

This is probably pointless, but I'm going to take a stab at predicting what will happen in the final week of the Tour. Either Tuesday or Wednesday (possibly both) we'll see Denis Menchov and Carlos Sastre try to break away from the field to gain some time on the leaders. Menchov can do it (he almost did yesterday, but his wheel slipped out from under him as soon as he started to break away), and I think we'll see him wearing yellow into the time trial. Cadel Evans looked spent at the finish yesterday, and I don't think he'll be able to make up time on Schleck until the time trial, which may be too late. Kohl and Vandevelde are just happy to be in this position, and won't try to attack too much, which would risk them falling further down in the standings.

For Menchov to win, he'll have to stay on the bike

That leaves only Schleck, who has the best team around him of the overall contenders. He won't be alone in the climbs up the Alps, which will help him greatly. I think if Menchov can overtake him, Schleck will still manage to stay within striking distance going into the time trial. If that happens, it's anyone's guess whether Schleck or Menchov can pull out the victory in the time trial.

3 Responses:

Russell said...

I think Vandevelde has a really good shot, long though it may be. All he has to do is stick with the others in the Alps, and then make up the ground in the time trial.

The other guys who are good in the time trial (Evans, esp) are looking tired. Even Menchov looked beat at the summit on Sunday, dropping off the lead group and almost falling back to the Evans and the rest.

Brien said...

Yeah, if no one can open up a gap in the Alps, the time trial will be wide open. I think some of the contenders will have to try some Rassmussen-like moves, though, especially Sastre and Menchov if they want to compete.

Lacy Kemp said...

I'm not sure what kind of a time trialist Schleck is. I also don't now if CSC can really keep up that pace today and tomorrow. They were incredible on Sunday (haven't watched today's brodcast yet). I'm rooting for Vandevelde to just hang as close as possible in the Alps and then unleash the fury in the time trial. Fantasy? Maybe. But wouldn't that be cool?

Summer is here and there's never been a better time to try your hand at online sports betting. Place your bets on your favorite horse with horse racing or even try your luck with your favorite football team. Enjoying sport is just a click away!