The Tour couldn't be different than during the Armstrong era. With no real favorites riders are all looking at each other and no one team dares to try and take control of the race. The cynical might even say that, sans dope, no one is sure what they're individually capable of either. And cynical or not, you can't argue the fact the race is a lot slower than it's been in years. And the riders are the same, so what could the difference be? Anyway, the result is some interesting racing, for sure.
Today we leave the Alps and the race is whittled down to 9 true contenders, minus a few of those from the preview. Most missed will be Vino, whose injuries form a crash have been too much to overcome. With Denis Menchov also losing the pace today, both Astana and Rabobank now have clear leaders to work for.
Here's a quick rundown on those left in the GC fight.
Michael Rasmussen, Rabobank - With nearly 3 minutes in the bank he's going to need more time with 100K of time trialing to come. Last year, he lost 14 minutes during the tt. This year, he came in 166th in the prolog. Luckily, there are some big mountains to come. Overall chance to win: very small.
Alejandro Valverde, Caisse d'Epargne - The "sprinter who can climb" or "climber who can sprint" is now my favorite to win, since he also now can time trial too. He will need to drop a couple of guys prior to the final time trial because those sprint wins at the summits aren't going to give him enough of a buffer over Kloden or Evans. His team is also very strong and may need to employ a bit of stategy to pull this off.
Iban Mayo, Sunier Duval-Prodir - One of the few climbers every to drop Armstrong in the mountains, his form has been erratic his entire career. He's riding very well but isn't a good enough time trialist to win the whole thing.
Cadel Evans, Predictor-Lotto - Riding very strong he's now a major favorite. Almost a cinche for the podium, at least.
Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer, Disco - Contador is a "future star" whose time may be arriving a bit early. If he has a good TT on Sat, Levi may have to work for him. But Leipheimer has been timing his form to come good in the Pyrenees and he hasn't lost enough to be counted out. It's all oh-so interesting for Discovery. Bruyeneel is a great tactician, making the Disco boys a major player once again.
Christophe Moreau, Ag2r - At 36 winning the Tour doesn't really seem possible. His form is very good and it would be nice to see this classy rider get on the podium. Unfortunately, his time trialing ability has been sacrificed a bit to improve in the mountains and he hasn't been gaining the time he needs. His chance for the podium looks pretty slim, but my fingers are crossed for him.
Calos Sastre, CSC - CSC is a formidable team and won't go down withouth a fight but Sastre has showed nothing yet to indicate he can do anything but follow the best riders. Maybe he's waiting for the Pyrenees, which I'm sure is the psyche card CSC is playing, but is it a reality? Not likely.
Andrea Kloden, Astana - Having finished on the podium twice, Kloden is now the major favorite to win providing his injury isn't too bad, which it doesn't appear it is. He lost a bit of time to wait for Vino the other day and it could cost him. But when on form he's the best time trialist of the contenders. It figures that the others will need to drop him in the mountains; something they haven't been able to do yet.
Starting Saturday, it should all get very interesting.
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