Whoever wears the yellow jersey into Paris will definitely earn it as the drama expected in the high Alps didn't disappoint. As Jens Voigt predicted in my interview with him yesterday, Team Saxo Bank came out firing and launched a number of attacks to try and climb onto the podium at the Tour. Schleck's accelerations succeeded in dropping Cadel Evans, Christian Vande Velde, defending Tour Champion Carlos Sastre and Lance Arsmtrong.
But, in clearly one of the biggest highlights of this Tour, Armstrong erased a 30+ second deficit on himself to the Schleck/Contador/Wiggins group and put saved his current second place overall. It was a display of climber prowess that we were used to seeing from the Texan during his record-setting seven Tour wins, but frankly, many had felt that after his performance to Verbier, those accelerations were a thing of the past.
Garmin-Slipstream's Bradley Wiggins continues to look casual climbing with the leaders and kudos to teammates Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie for regaining the yellow jersey group on the climb of the Petit Saint Bernard. Zabriskie is finally regaining the climbing form we saw him display in the 2005 Giro when he rode exceptional tempo for his team leader Ivan Basso.
One negative moment was a horrific crash on the final descent by Saxo Bank rider Jens Voigt. It is unclear what caused the crash, it just looked like his front wheel slipped out on a white center line which can be slick if wet. In this case it was dry conditions so the mystery remains for the rider who is known as one of the best bike handlers in the pro peloton. Personally, I really like Jens. He always has time for my interview requests and give honest, heartfelt if not a bit humorous interviews. The Tour has lost some of its enjoyment for me as a result of his crash and abandon. Heal quickly Jens!
I talked with Astana director sportif, Johan Bruyneel, before the start of today's stage.
Bruce: what is the strategy for the team in this third week?
Johan: From now on we just want to bring the yellow jersey to Paris. We know it is going to be difficult today and tomorrow. We expect attacks. A lot of attacks. We will just wait and see what happens and keep our team together and defend the jersey.
Bruce: is everyone working for Contador now?
Johan: Well, we want to win the Tour. Anything else we can get we will try to get itm but not at the cost of the potential of losing the Tour de France.
I spoke with Garmin-Slipstream director sportif, Matt White, before the start of today's stage and asked him about Bradley Wiggins and the team strategy for the third week.
Bruce: Is Bradley Wiggins climbing better than you expected?
White: Not really. A little bit better, but the level we saw at the Giro he has improved and that was the plan. We had some goals at the Giro. One was to win the team time trial and the other was for him to win the final TT in Rome. We came second in both of those. After the second week of the Giro we deliberately eased him off so he would be able to perform here and it certainly worked.
Bruce: What is the strategy for the third week?
White: We are not here just to ride. That's for sure. We have Bradley in third place on GC and we are going to just take that day-by-day. It is the perfect place for us to be. Last year Christian did a great finish in Paris on his own. He had to play off of other teams. Now we have two cards to play.
Bruce: Wiggins is an exceptional time trialist. With the TT coming up in Annecy in two days, does this put extra pressure on his rivals?
White: It does put a lot of pressure on the other teams because Bradley is one of the world's best time trialers and will be in contention for the stage win in Annecy. So it does put a lot of pressure on them and give us a bit of a buffer zone on the mountain stages.
Bruce: How do you prepare Wiggins mentally for what is coming ahead?
White: One thing that is Bradley's forte is his mental strength. You don't win three Olympic gold medals and five world titles with luck. He has a very, very strong belief in himself and it is a new place for him to be in, but one of his big, big strengths is that he believes in himself. What result comes of that, time will tell. But, he has a big faith in himself and he has had that for a long, long, time. You don't acheive what he has achieved with luck. That is for sure.
Bruce: the team was riding for Tyler Farrar in the sprints and now will be riding for Bradley Wiggins on the climbs. Is this a cohesive team?
White: Tyler is definitely not on vacation in the mountains. He is on survival mode until we get to Paris. All the team is helping out as much as they can. Julian and Tyler are coming back for bottle. We have a very tight team and it has shown here at the Tour de France.
Bart Knaggs is one of Lance Armstrong's closest friends. He is currently working on helping to put together Lance's new professional team for 2010. Look for information on that development near the end of the Tour. I asked Bart about how he felt Lance's 2009 Tour was progressing. He is pictured here with his daughter Caroline.
Bruce: Lance looked a bit vulnerable on the Verbier stage. Was that just a one-day thing or was his form a bit off?
Bart: I think he is getting better week by week by week. I think if the Tour had been three of four weeks further away he would be better still. I think the shoulder hurt, the broken collarbone. You forget that you come back to 90% pretty quickly. To get back to that 99-100% take racing; it takes time for the edge to get sharp. I think that is what we are seeing. He is just not quite right on the edge when he wants to be. But, he will be better day in, day out from here to the finish, too.
Bruce: Lance has stated that he can't win the Tour and will be working for Alberto Contador. Is he really going to work for Contador?
Bart: I think you are going to see Lance recognizing team strategies and hierarchies and the way cycling works. First and foremost the objective of this team was always to win the yellow jersey. I think he very good about what he has done. I think he would like to be a little sharper sometimes. In one year to come from where he was to where he is and to be one guy, who is your teammate, out of first place is impressive.
I shot some photos early in the stage.
Here is the original two-man breakaway. In the front is Katusha's Vladamir Karpets with polka-dot jersey wearer Franco Pellizotti.
In recognition of his crash, here is my last photo of Jens Voigt in the 2009 Tour de France. He will be sorely missed.
Team Astana was on the front for the first climb and descent setting tempo for Alberto Contador in the yellow jersey.
Lance leads Alberto who seems a bit distracted at 35+ mph.
Stage 9 winner Brice Feillu leads Garmin-Slipsream's Bradley Wiggins and Martijn Maaskant.