The Tour: four questions

Oh the irony! For years the first mountain stage was the stage where Lance Armstrong killed the Tour de France. A summit finish would often see him gain control of the race. First his team would shrink the bunch, then one or two lieutenants would select the pace for a select group and then we’d get the rotary frenzy of a high cadence attack. From that moment onwards it was always about who else could finish on the podium. But yesterday Armstrong went out the back on the first 1st Category climb.

All the same, the race has hardly been turned upside down because one outsider blew. I’ve got three questions for the GC contenders today:

How much can we rely on one summit finish?
Riders and fans alike will scrutinise the video and results in order to tell who is strong and who is not, to measure the relative levels of different riders. But does one stage always set the tone for rest of the race? In this instance, I’m not so sure. No roads went above 2000 metres yesterday and whilst tough, the Ramaz was short and sharp and Morzine just isn’t that steep. This partially explains why the group of GC contenders was so big, that if we lump Schleck and Sanchez with the larger group 10 seconds behind then we have 11 riders. If we get more climbs and steeper sections then I think we could see the group shrunk to four or five.

Contador vs Schleck?

Whilst it’s human nature to focus on duels, the surprises could come from other riders. Yes Andy Schleck took 10 seconds in the final kilometre but whilst all eyes are on him, note it was actually Samuel Sanchez who did a lot of work. The Spaniard’s often had erratic form and struggles in the very high mountains but he too got the jump on Contador. We should think about Kreuziger too, he was the first to attack the select group yesterday. Van den Broeck looked pretty relaxed too and the same goes for Gesink, still on the mend from his injuries. In summary, the race might come down to two riders but others are certain to have their say. Oh, and don’t forget Menchov, the invisible man.

What now for Evans?

Cadel Evans is present, to use a French phrase he’s going to play the referee. He always lacks a powerful acceleration so at times you think he’s struggling to close gaps but he works his way back. He wasn’t convincing yesterday but picked up a tissue injury from his crash at the start of the stage. It’s not long term but apparently it hampered him. So the best is yet to come. At the same time the lack of a team and his season-long campaign might tell, the third week will prove decisive.

Game over for Armstrong?

I’m a bit reluctant to give it too much coverage as Armstrong’s demise is being covered in forensic detail elsewhere but I wonder about his abilities. Messages on Twitter were claiming he’s reduced to more humble performances thanks to the heat of the federal agencies on his back.

But this doesn’t fit. He was climbing well in Switzerland and his result in the prologue was as good as any prologue from his glory days. So perhaps it’s too early to write him off as pack fodder. Like it or not he’s got a lot of pride, some call it arrogance, and if he can stay upright then I could see him hanging on to the lead group and then contesting a sprint finish in one of the mountain stages without a summit finish.