I’m not usually one for histrionics, but I’m running out superlatives to describe the action we’ve seen thus far in the 2010 Tour de France—it truly might go down as one of the most exciting Tours in recent memory. Os someone said in today’s Bicycling Magazine live blog, “2010 Giro d’Italia, meet the 2010 Tour de France.”
Here’s what we noticed:
1. Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck seemed perfectly willing to shut one another out of the race today, even going so far as to let Denis Menchov and Samuel Sanchez ride up the road. While their time cushions remain relatively secure, one has to wonder if today’s display could hurt them later on. Schleck has the most to lose—Menchov and Sanchez are both better time trialists than he is—but Contador must be careful as well. Instead of eliminating two dangerous contenders for the overall title in Paris, they’ve allowed them to creep a little bit closer. With several hard days left in the saddle, anything can happen.
2. As for Schleck, I wondered whether or not we might see him suffer today, as he spent most of the day on the back of the group. But in the end, all this was merely an attempt to shadow Contador—everywhere he went. Schleck’s confidence should be peaking right now, but will it be enough for Schleck to extend his lead over the Spaniard between now and Saturday’s time trial?
3. Menchov and Sanchez are both beginning to look as if they might have the firepower to knock one of the top two favorites from the podium—if given more opportunities to do so. Menchov’s Tour has gone perfectly to plan—having a top-10 contender in Robert Gesink as your lieutenant certainly helps. And Sanchez now has two top-3 stage finishes in this year’s race along with a sixth-place result in Mende. One of the peloton’s most respected descenders, the Euskaltel rider copuld come through with a win tomorrow.
4. Belgium’s Jurgen Van den Broeck had another fantastic day with an attentive and powerful ride to defend his fifth place overall. I’m still wondering if VDB2 might want to tone it down a bit, perhaps letting others set the pace while he waits to launch an attack or two. That said, his strategy is certainly working—he’s on his way to the best finish for a Belgian in years.
5. I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to feel sorry for Levi Leipheimer. He’s receiving virtually no support in his bid for a high finish in Paris and today lost a place on GC. Radio Shack’s implosion is quickly becoming an embarrassment. Lance is sitting-up to save himself for a stage win, Kloden and Horner seem to be mailing it in, and Bruyneel seems more concerned with the tactics of Contador in last year’s race than those of his own riders in this one.
6. Liquigas was another victim of today’s action with both Ivan Basso and Roman Kreuziger losing time to the other GC contenders. Basso now sits in tenth overall, while Kreuziger has slipped back to twelfth. There’s plenty of race left for both men to improve their standing, but at this point, top-5 finishes appear out of the question.
7. And by the way, Bradley Wiggins confirmed (literally) what we already knew.
8. And lest we forget it in all the GC hubbub, Christophe Riblon took a fantastic stage win today—the fourth French victory in this year’s Tour and the most in over a decade. Add two days in yellow and a near eternity in the polka dot jersey, and you have the makings of a fine year for the home nation. Bravo!
Looking ahead, the Pyrenees continue Monday with another long day in the saddle. While there’s no summit finish on tap, the top of the hors categorie Porte des Bales comes only 20 downhill kilometers from the finish in Bagneres-de-Luchon. After what we saw on the Madeleine earlier in the week, there’s no reason to think we won’t see more action from the men contending for the overall. A break might indeed get away to take the stage, but I still see Contador trying to shake Schleck on tomorrow’s major climb.
But then again, I’ve been wrong before.