If there was any doubt who was the team leader on Astana that is pretty much a foregone conclusion as Alberto Contador siezed the initiative once again by attacking Lance Armstrong and the lead group with 5.5km remaining to the ski station at Verbier. The Spaniard was first across the line with Armstrong 1'35" back in ninth place. In the race for the overall, Contador is now 1'37" ahead of second-place Armstrong with Garmin-Slipstream's Bradley Wiggins in third just nine seconds arrears of the Texan.
In fact, while everyone expected Contador to climb well, the biggest surprise was Wiggins who looked comfortable both following and initiating attacks in the final three miles (5km). His teammate Vande Velde was about 1'30" seconds back of Wiggins and is now in twelfth overall 3'59" back of Contador.
Tomorrow is a rest day before two tough days in the Alps, a 25-mile individual time trial and the ascent of Mont Ventoux remaining on the program. While Contador looks very good, the Tour is far from over.
The biggest buzz after yesterday's stage concerned the negative remarks George Hincapie made about his former US Postal/Discovery Channel teammates, now on Team Astana, working at the front of the peloton to rob Hincapie of the yellow jersey. By dissecting what actually happened both on the road and in the media we can see that it was all a big misunderstanding.
The problem began when the Versus TV commentators made the remark that Team Astana's work at the front of the main peloton had cost George Hincapie the jersey. Using this information, the Versus post-stage reporter asked George, on TV, what he thought about his former teammates working to keep him out of yellow. George, obviously frustrated at losing out on the yellow jersey after being off the front of the race for 100+ miles, just reacted to the question without knowing what really happened.
In reality, we know that it was not Team Astana that caused Hincapie to lose the jersey. Some have pointed the finger at Garmin-Slipstream and their growing rivalry with George's team, Columbia-HTC. But Jonathan Vaughters, the head honcho at Garmin stated that his team was only riding on the front in the final 10km to keep their GC riders out of trouble. He didn't want Bradley Wiggins or Christian Vande Velde getting caught out, as happened to Bradley a few days ago, and lose
So, it looks like a bit of misinformation posed as a post-stage question to a frustrated George Hincapie created a situation that wasn't a situation at all. BTW, when Lance heard about George's comments about Astana, went into overdrive to make sure George got the real story about what happened.
Cadel Evans finished seventh on the stage and dropped to 14th overall. I caught up with him at the Silence-Lotto team bus.
Cadel: I think this is the worse day I ever had in the Tour de France when I didn't have a crash. I haven't recovered since yesterday. I don't know why. At kilometer zero I was terrible. It was one of the most important days of the Tour. If you have a day like this your Tour is over and pretty much your whole season.
Q: Was it the cold of the past few days?
Cadel: No. I just had various reasons.
Q: What are your chances on the general classification?
Cadel: it is pretty terrible. I am riding a terrible Tour and I am dissapointed, but not much I can do about it right now.
Q: What about the rest of the week?
Cadel: I will think about that in 36 hours.
Carlos Sastre usually comes alive in the third week of a grand tour which is how he won this race last year. On the final climb today, he got dropped early on from the lead group, but clawed his way back up to the leaders. He finished sixth, 1'06" back of Contador in same group as Bradley Wiggins and now sits in 11th overall at 3'52". I talked with Carlos at the Cervelo Test Team bus after the stage.
Q: How did you feel the first day in the mountains?
Carlos: it was a hard day. It was really fast. It was OK. It was more or less what I expected. It has been a difficult Tour de France, but I closed super (in the final KMs) and I was there and I am happy because I did my best. The team was fantastic. Today all my teammates were close to me. It is an important moment and we are happy. It has been a very successful Tour de France for all of us.
Q: You lost the wheel at the bottom, but you came back. Was that part of the plan to go your own pace and catch those guys back?
Carlos: It wasn't part of the plan. I would like to have the same explosivity as them, but I didn't have the explosivity so I needed to ride more at my rythmn which I did. I came back. I was there. I think for me it was OK. A difficult stage after almost one week on the flats, you know. This kind of fitness I like, but I recognize that there are a few riders who are stronger than me.
Q: Are the tough stages coming up in the Alps more Sastre "country?"
Carlos: It has been a really strange Tour de France. Everybody is talking about Armstrong/Contador like they are the only (ones) doing this race. I am happy with my condition. I am happy with the team. I am happy with the results. I don't think too much about anything. I go day-by-day, just do my race and doing everything which is good for me.
Danny Pate is a support rider on the Garmin-Slipstream team. I caught up with him as he was looking for his team bus.
Q: What was it like out there today. Were you trying to set it up for Bradley (Wiggins) and Christian (Vande Velde)?
Pate: Yeah. All day we just tried to protect them. We wanted one guy in the break and Ryder (Hesjedal) was perfect to have in the break becasue he can climb out of the break and if they (Wiggins and Vande Velde) needed help they could catch him (Ryder) at the right time and he (Ryder) could help them (Wiggins and Vande Velde) later.
Other than that it was the normal thing; protect those guys, help them get to the bottom. Everyone did a little bit to help them get there. Dave and I were the last guys to help them by the bottom and set them up real well to
do their thing.
Q: Wiggins had a great ride today.
Pate: he was riding great at the Giro and he had really good prep between the Giro and the Tour. The team didn't expect him to do any races or get results inbetween there so he had time to chill out and prepare for this.
Q: How will the team chemistry be now with Bradley moving ahead of Christian with a more substantial margin?
Pate: I don't think there will be any problems. I am amazed at the ride Christian has had here. After what happened to him at the Giro. He has blown me away at how prepared he was. Wiggo as well. They are riding unbelievably.
Q: So, they will continue to work together as a team?
Pate: oh, for sure!
Q: After you have put all your efforts into launching Wiggins and Vande Velde up the climb, what do you do to make it to the finish and conserve energy?
Pate: today's climb wasn't so bad. It was not a huge climb and it wasn't really steep which makes really good sense why Wiggo did so well today. He's quite a bit lighter than he has been before. But still it wasn't that steep of a climb or really that hard of a climb so it wasn't so bad for me.
Q: What is your body feeling like going into the third week?
Pate: it depends on who you are. By now you kind of feel the same. You feel the same in the third week. If you are going to be bad, you already feel bad.
Q: So how are you feeling?
Pate: I am feeling OK.