Today was the first big test of the 2008 Tour de France, an 18-mile (29.5 km) time trial in Cholet, and there were a few surprises both in the stage winner and the holder of the yellow jersey. Well, the same guy won both with an inspired ride which left heavy favorite Fabian Cancellara in fifth place. It all goes to show the up and down nature of cycling. Last year 'Spartacus' as he is known to his teammates, was winning against the clock and in the front of the whole peloton.
But, this is not about those who didn't deliver, this is about those who did. And, Gerlosteiner's Stefan Schumacher did just that making the post-race trip to the podium for both the stage win and to get the maillot jaune. My guess is his failed bid to win stage one is all but forgotten and it was a bittersweet victory for his team who is losing their title sponser at year's end. Maybe that is a valid reason for sipping champagne tonight at dinner instead of the sponsor's bottled water.
Schumacher wears his teams lowest number which means that he is the designated team leader, but few believe that even though he has won hilly classics like the Amstel Gold Race, he will not be up with leaders in the big mountains. Hey, but that doesn't mean he can't enjoy the yellow jersey while he has it. In fact, not having to worry about defending it in the mountains probably takes a lot of pressure off both Stefan and his team.
The next big test is the stage to Super Besse on Thursday. There are two moderately big climbs one right after the other for the first authentic mountain-top finish of this year's Tour. Schumacher might just be able to climb well enough to hold onto the jersey, though if he does succeed, the Pyrenees loom two days later. What's a rider to do?
In the chase for the overall title, Cadel Evans and Denis Menchov were right there, but all their challengers, Cunego, Valverde, Sastre, were closely grouped about a minute back. That's bad news for those three, but it's good news for us as there will clearly be some fireworks when we reach the mountains.
How about those Garmin-Chipotle boys? Millar and Vandevelde rode exceptionally well to put both of them top ten on the stage and top ten overall. In fact, Millar was a hair's breadth of taking the stage, a second top-three finish for the team in two days.
The other American squad, Team Columbia, put three of its boys in top ten as well with Kim Kirchen, George Hincapie and Thomas Loqvist. The Swede also claimed the white jersey as best young rider while Kirchen wears the green sprinter's jersey. Not a bad day for America if you are keeping score.
I am still rooting for Mark Cavendish to win a stage. Tomorrow is an excellent opportunity before then next sorting out on Thursday. Now that France has both a stage win and held the yellow jersey, maybe they will settle down and quick flying up the road at every opportunity. Not!
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