The 2010 Amgen Tour of California wrapped up on Sunday and as predicted, there was nothing ceremonial about the last stage. Michael Rogers was under constant attack on the final ascent of the Rock Store climb by Dave Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer who trailed the Australian by only nine and twenty five seconds respectively.
Adding to the drama, both Zabriskie and Leipheimer had teammates with them on that final ascent. Rogers, who found himself with no teammates, was definitely vulnerable, but the Aussie rallied to bring back every single attack. This was the type of action the race organizers were looking for when they selected this as their final stage and the three protagonists didn't disappoint.
What the spectators saw was undoubtedly some of the most exciting racing in the five year history of the AToC. Everything hung in the balance and Leipheimer and Zabriskie attacked at will hoping to gap Rogers. At one point, Leipheimer looked to have broken Rogers. Zabriskie quickly joined the Team Radio Shack rider in the move, but Rogers somehow found a way to claw his way back to the two.
Ahead of the fight for the overall championship, George Hincapie was leading the remnants of the day's major breakaway in hopes of salvaging his AToC with a stage win. Hincapie was clearly the crowd favorite and it would have been an emotional victory, but Ryder Hesjedal(Garmin-Transitions) spoiled the show with a late race move that put him in a sprint with Hincapie for the win.
The organizers couldn't have planned the finale any better, other than maybe having an American winner. The eight-day race was exciting from start to finish and should be back next year with even more competitive racing and unforgettable stages.
Michael "Mick" Rogers was the big winner today in the Amgen Tour of California's stage 7 time trial. While his HTC-Columbia teammate, Tony Martin, won the 20-mile test, it was Rogers who beat his two chief rivals Dave Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer by five and eleven seconds respectively.
Going into tomorrow's final stage, Rogers leads Zabriskie by nine seconds and Leipheimer by twenty five seconds. Normally, that would be enough to call it a wrap, but the AToC's final stage is deceptively difficult and could allow a late race challenge to succeed.
Sunday's stage is four laps of a 21-mile circuit in the Santa Monica mountains. The first 10 miles are flat and fast. The second half of each lap starts with the 2.5 mile Rock Store climb which is followed by another, less difficult, ascent and concludes with a very tricky downhill into the finish.
Because the first half of each lap is flat that will allow a concerted chase to peg back any significant moves. If Zabriskie or Leipheimer wants to gain time on Rogers, their best bet is to put everything into a last lap attack on the Rock Store climb and then hope they have the legs to drive it all the way to the line.
So, the race is far from over. Look for the Garmin-Transitions and Team Radio Shack to be putting pressure on HTC-Columbia from the gun in hopes of softening up Rogers and his mates for a late race attack.
As three-time winner of the Amgen Tour of California(AToC), Levi Leipheimer, predicted the race for the overall title will once again come down to the time trial. With the move of the race from February to May, it was hoped that the longer and more difficult courses would provide some separation, but that was not the case with the top four riders separated by only 14 seconds after 29 hours of racing.
To uplevel the discussion a bit, the race really does need a mountain top finish if it wants to provide a bigger challenge. Leipheimer has been vocal about the lack of such a finish, luckily for him, he is a very good time trialist. But, with the move to May, difficulty means not just adding more climbing, but making that climbing relevant. The fact that critical breakaways were chased down on both Stage 3 and Stage 6 demonstrates that it is not sufficient to put the final climb within 10-15 miles of the finish line.
So, without a mountain top finish, Saturday's time trial will be about as exciting as possible. The three strongest riders, Michael Rogers(HTC-Columbia), Dave Zabriskie(Garmin-Transitions) and Levi Leipheimer(Team Radio Shack) are all excellent time trialists. Michael Rogers is a three-time World Time Trial Champion. Dave Zabriskie has won time trials at the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia and is a medalist at the World Championships. Levi Leipheimer has won time trials at the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana and an Olympic bronze medal.
The one big unknown is the time trialing ability of Slovakian Peter Sagan. The 20 year old is the revelation of the 2010 season. He has shown he can sprint with two convincing stage wins at the AToC (as well as at Paris-Nice and Tour of Romandie) and that he can climb. But, can he go fast in the race against the clock?He is only fourteen seconds out of the lead and could take the jersey with an inspired ride.
Almost all of the time the story at a bike race is about the riders. But, every once and a while something comes along which seems to be a bit more interesting. With apologies to Levi Leipheimer, Mick Rogers and Dave Zabriskie, here's an insight into my last 24 hours.
Stage 3 in the Amgen Tour of California started in San Francisco right down the street from comedian Robin Williams' house. Robin was on hand sporting a gray mustache apparently necessary for an upcoming movie role. Besides Lance Armstrong, Robin is friends with Jim Ochowicz, the president of the BMC Racing Team. Robin came onto the BMC team bus and spent a few minutes putting the riders and staff in stitches.
After the start, I drove directly to the finish in Santa Cruz to watch the race in the press room and work on my articles for the day. I am covering the race for active.com, Cycle Sport Magazine and Cycling Weekly Magazine. That means at least two articles a day.
Once the stage had concluded, I headed to the post-stage press conference. The Amgen Press Officer entered and asked if anyone spoke Italian. I replied in the affirmative and the next thing I knew I was up on the stage seated next to Peter Sagan of Liquigas who was wearing the Best Young Rider Jersey. Peter and I exchanged greetings and I told him to please talk slowly so I could understand what he was saying.
Peter Sagan is one of the huge names in the 2010 racing season. Only 21 years old he has already won two stages of Paris-Nice and a stage at the Tour off Romandie. This guy is going to be a big star. That's a good thing unless you are the interpreter since it seemed like just about everyone had a question for the Italian. Needless to say, everything went well.
After the press conference, I filed my stories and headed over to the Versus TV trailer to pick up Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. I was emceeing a charity fundraiser with Phil and Paul at the Testarossa Winery in Los Gatos. We had a great time. Phil and Paul told stories that had us all laughing our heads off. They are truly the best.
I got home around 10:30pm and had just enough time to proof my articles for the UK magazines and websites before hitting the sack at midnight.
Unfortunately, I was up at 5am to head down to the start in San Jose to do several TV interviews for KNTV-11 and KRON-4 for their morning shows. It is tough to be awake that early in the morning. Trying to be awake and upbeat is even more difficult.
The sun was coming up as we finished the last interview. I actually had time to drive home and get a couple more hours of sleep before heading back to the start line to catch up with the riders and record a few more interviews including a very nice chat with Johan Bruyneel about Lance's fitness level.
Well, that's how those 24 hours were spent. I didn't stop any terrorists or expose any dishonest members of the Presidential staff. That stuff I leave to Jack Bauer.
There are always more stories surrounding a bike race than just the stuff making he headlines. Here are some stories and accompanying photos.
Usually, each rider has his name on his bike so the mecahnics can tel them apart. For the Amgen Tour of California (AToC) the riders on Team Radio Shack have the name of a cancer survivor on their bikes. Here is a photo of the bike of three-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer. He is riding for Nate Wagner, a 3-year old cancer survivor from Santa Rosa. Nate has a lot of energy, unfortunately he prefers golf to riding bikes.
Several of the members of Team Bissell are having a goatee growing contest during the race. While the judging of such a contest is highly subjective, the consensus is Ben Jacques-Maynes (pictured below) is the early leader.
Paul Mach is a PhD candidate in Mathematics at University of California-Davis. He is a former All American 800m runner who switched to the bike about five years ago. He is also participating in the Bissell goatee contest. He is pictured here wearing the King of the Mountains jersey which he won on Stage 1.
Even though it was raining fairly hard for Stage 2, that didn't dampen the spirit of the fans in Levi Leipheimer's home town of Santa Rosa.
Stage 3 took the riders from San Francisco to Santa Cruz also known as Surf City, USA.
The first two stages of the Amgen Tour of California are complete and while the winner of Stage 1, Mark Cavendish, was no surprise, Brett Lancaster's victory on Stage 2 was not as predictable. In the race for the overall championship, three-time and defending champion, Levi Leipheimer (Team Radio Shack) is still on track for win number four. But, his main challengers, save for Fabian Cancellara, have also finished at the front meaning the race is still far from over.
Stage 1 from Nevada City to Sacramento was held in warm, dry weather and until the race hit the three 2-mile laps of the finishing circuits in downtown Sacramento it was a pretty boring affair. That's not to say that the first day's four man breakaway wasn't deserving of their time off the front, it is just that with the powerful HTC-Columbia team driving the chase, a field sprint was inevitable.
Drenching rain greeted the peloton for stage 2 and it was another breakway which dominated the early and mid-race action, but as in the first stage, the escapees were caught. But, unlike the first stage it wasn't the whole field rather a select group of the overall contenders including Leipheimer, Dave Zabriskie(Garmin-Transitions), Mick Rogers(HTC-Columbia) and Andy Schleck(Team Saxo Bank).
Noticably absent was Fabian Cancellara who started the race sick and succumbed to his illness and ultimately losing fifteen minutes by the stage finish.
Twenty five riders contested the sprint into Santa Rosa with Brett Lancaster(Cervelo Test Team) taking the win over emerging spring sensation Peter Sagan(Liquigas). Lance Armstrong, whose fitness had been called into question before the race, was also part of the lead group. Radio Shack had five of its eight riders in the front at the finish, a strong showing by their team which bodes well for the difficulties ahead.
Because of his stage 2 win and the accompanying time bonus, Lancaster assumed the overall race lead from Stage 1 winner Mark Cavendish. Tomorrow's stage, a hilly test from San Francisco to Santa Cruz will most likely cause a change in overall race leadership as well.
Here are some more photos from the Team Radio Shack pre-season camp.
The boys coming back from their 100km training ride. Lance is leading the team with Levi to his left and Haimar Zubeldia on his right.
Chris Horner had a very up-and-down season in 2009. He showed signs of brilliance in the mountains during the Giro, but it seemed like everytime he was just about to hit his stride he went down in a crash. Here's hoping that he has much better luck in 2010 including a ride in the Tour de France.
The Trek-Livestrong U23 team was also training in Tucson at the same time as their professional big brothers. Taylor Phinney is the team leader of the squad. He won the U23 Paris-Roubaix and the World Championship in the 4000m pursuit in 2009 while he was still a teenager!
Jani Brajkovic is undoubtedly Slovenia's most talented cyclist. He had a breakthrough year in 2009, his best racing came at the Giro where he was very strong in the second and third weeks.
South African Daryl Impey is probably best know for being taken down in a sprint finish in the Tour of Turkey by Theo Bos. He is recovered and motivated to ride well.
There are several items worth adding. First and foremost is that Lance Armstrong has apparently made his decision whether to ride the AToC or the Giro which had conflicting dates. The good news is that Lance has said that he will be on the start line in Nevada City when the AToC begins on Sunday May 16th.
Lance's participation in the AToC is a huge boost to the race which has been extremely popular, but has yet to show a profit for AEG, the event's owner. Having Lance on board will give the AToC it's best chance at success. Rumor has it that if the race doesn't show a profit this year, AEG may decide to either sell the race or disband it.
Another interesting observation is that there will be a lot of climbing and, finally, a mountain-top finish. The queen stage of the race is stage 6 from Pasadena to Big Bear Lake which is rumored to contain over 13,000 feet of climbing. Unfortunately, the Station Fire, which ravaged a portion of the San Gabriel mountains may prevent the stage from climbing up to the Angeles Crest Highway.
However, if that hurdle is cleared, look for the very challenging stage to begin with a massive, 5000+ foot climb from Azusa on Highway 39 to the Angeles Crest Highway. This ascent, known locally as 'Cloudburst', is very similar in length and percent grade with the big, legendary climbs of the Tour de France like the Col du Tourmalet or Col du Glandon.
Once the race reaches the Angeles Crest Highway, there is a about 1500'-2000' of up-and-down ridge riding on the way to Wrightwood. If the race descends from Wrightwood all the way down to San Bernadino, the final ascent to Big Bear Lake is 5000+ feet. Though the grade of this climb is a bit shallower than 'Cloudburst' look for major fireworks on the long grind uphill to the finish.
With a 30-mile, flat time trial the next day in Los Angeles and a tough circuit race featuring the 2-mile, 10% Rock Store climb the final three days in the 2010 AToC will be nothing short of spectacular. Three-time AToC champion Levi Leipheimer is clearly one of the favorites, but with the switch to a May time frame he might find a few more competitors with potential race-winning form. On paper it looks to be a very exciting race.
In early October, Levi Leipheimer hosted a Gran Fondo in his adopted home town of Santa Rosa, California. For those of you wondering what a gran fondo is, it's an Italian phrase which roughly translates to "big ride." Gran fondos are all the rage in Italy with as many as 10,000 cyclists showing up for the most popular events. It's a big deal in Europe and it's about time that these events migrated west across the great pond.
This past March, the Gran Fondo San Diego(www.granfondosandiego.com) was the first gran fondo to be held on American soil. Since then, gran fondo fever has hit the states with the Levi Leipheimer event being the next in line and a whole bunch of events scheduled for 2010. If you haven't experienced a gran fondo, you will have plenty of opportunities to do so next year.
Levi's event(www.levisgranfondo.com) featured a picolo(25-mile), medio(63-mile) and gran(103-mile) fondo routes with the 103-mile course following one of his favorite training rides. King's Ridge is one of the most beautiful roads in Northern California; it was hard to find a cyclist complaining about the challenging climbing and stunning views. Both the 'gran' and 'medio' fondos finished with the short, but steep, ascent of Coleman Valley Road, which was featured in several editions of the Tour of California.
Undoubtedly, the most heartening aspect of the Levi Leipheimer Gran Fondo was the outpouring of support from the community of Santa Rosa. It seemed like half the city came out to either volunteer for support or cheer on the riders. Levi has definitely made an impact on this community. His three wins at the Tour of California and his efforts to bring that race to Santa Rosa have endeared him to the public and the gran fondo offered Levi's fans an opportunity to show their appreciation.
Whether you go to San Diego, Santa Rosa or parts east, if you haven't ridden a gran fondo it's definitely worth checking out.
I posted my best guesses on the proposed route for the 2010 Amgen Tour of California, but speculation is just that speculation. I had the opportunity to speak with one of the organizers and he was kind enough to fill me in. BTW, the official announcement of the route is scheduled for October 22.
The first stage of the race will be a point-to-point course starting in Nevada City in the Sierra Foothills and finishing in downtown Sacramento. Stage 2 will start in Davis and travel to Levi Leipheimer's hometown of Santa Rosa. The course will be lengthened from last year's route to include a spin by Bodega Bay which also means that the steep Coleman Valley climb may also be on the program.
Stage 3 is San Francisco to Santa Cruz which is similar to last year's stage, but it will probably not cross over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Stage 4 is San Jose to Modesto, most likely along the same route as was used in 2009 when Thor Hushovd claimed Cervelo Test Team's first ever win.
The details of Stage 5 are a bit sketchy, though it will finish in Bakersfield. Race organizers would like to put the actual finish line at Bakersfield College which sits on top of a bluff and would allow for several challenging finishing circuits once the race reaches town.
Stage 6 appears to be the mountain-top finish at Big Bear Lake. Stage 7 will be a flat, 30-mile individual time trial in the Los Angeles Area.
The final stage, Stage 8, will be very difficult. It starts with a descent from the Woodland Hills area down Encinal Road then a climb back up Decker Canyon Road. After that, multiple circuits of a local loop which includes the Rock Store Hill, a very steep climb that ascends 1000 feet in 2 miles, will be ridden before finally finishing in Thousand Oaks, the hometown of the race's primary sponsor, Amgen.
Previously, I reported that Yosemite Valley was on the agenda. Unfortunately, the Park Superintendent decided not to allow the race to come into Yosemite, because the event offers prize money and there is a rule prohibiting races of such type in the park.
Details of the route for the 2010 Amgen Tour of California(ATOC) are leaking out bit by bit though the official announcement is scheduled for sometime next week (October 6?). As was announced earlier this year, the race will move from February to May with the 16th to the 23rd being the proposed dates.
It appears that the race will start in Sacramento, but unlike last year when the stage was a very short prologue, the course will most likely be a road race up into the Sierra foothills that begins and ends near the Capitol.
The next stage is rumoured to include Levi Leipheimer's home town of Santa Rosa.Given that Santa Rosa is over 100 miles from Sacramento, the stage will most likely finish in Levi's hood, a potential start city could again be Davis, the new home of the US Bicycling Hall of Fame.
It is not clear if the race will visit the San Francisco Bay Area, but what seems to be clear is that Yosemite Valley will be on the agenda. One proposed route could be from Merced to the Yosemite on Hiway 140 and then a return on Hiway 41 to a finish in Fresno or Clovis, where there was a stage finish last year.
The 2010 race route was supposed to be announced just before Interbike last week, however, last minute logistical hassles, mostly like dealing with the race entering Yosemite National Park, caused a postponement until next week.
The town of Bakersfield will host either a stage start or more likely a stage finish as the Rabobank Arena, owned by the race's third most important sponsor behind Amgen and Herbalife, is located there.
Another stage finish is scheduled for downtown LA at the Staples Center which is owned by AEG the owner the Amgen Tour of California and is the home of the LA Lakers.
The first ever mountain top finish for the Tour of California is penciled in for the village of Big Bear Lake in the San Bernadino Mountains. Sitting at 6000' above sea level, any route up to this ski resort town will include a major climb.
The usually decisive time trial stage will follow the finish in Big Bear Lake and is slated to be a 29-mile test in Venice, just west of LA, on the Pacific Coast.
The race is not scheduled to visit the San Diego area in 2010; the final stage will most likely end in Thousand Oaks the hometown of the race's primary sponsor Amgen.
So, there you have it. Mix speculation with rumour, add just a hint of fact and you have the route of the 2010 Amgen Tour of California. Well, maybe!?!?
Chris Horner's run of bad luck this season continued at the Vuelta as a crash on stage four into Liege resulted in a fractured wrist and his premature departure from the race. It was a huge crash caused by a rider touching the wheel in front of him as the peloton went through a roundabout with about 2 kilometers remaining. The crash occurred right at the front of the peloton which caused over a third of the riders to go down with the remainder caught behind the carnage. Only six riders at the front were still upright and able to contest the finishing sprint.
Chris's misfortune is yet another setback in a season beset with bad luck. Chris injured his knee in a crash in the Tour of California. He returned to racing at the Tour of Basque Country only to break his collarbone in a fall when the teammmate he was following broke his chain. Through all of this, Horner persevered and came back in super form for the Giro. He was the only rider on Team Astana who was able to keep pace with Levi Leipheimer on the climbs and was clearly a critical player for the team's overall hopes. However, on stage 10, he crashed on the descent of the Monte Cenis and broke his leg.
His Giro crash put him off the bike for twelve days, but again, his determination saw him accompany Lance and Levi to Aspen for a pre-Tour training camp. Long miles at altitude saw Horner regain his Giro form, but politics kept him off the team and he was denied the Tour de France for a second year in a row. Most likely in response to his Tour snub, he was given the team leadership role at the Vuelta. He was clearly headed for a top ten finish at the Giro; single digits at the Vuelta was clearly in the realm of possibility.
Horner is one of the nicest guys in the pro peloton. He is always available for interviews and gives frank and insightful comments. It is an unfortunate side of professional cycling that there seems to be a lot more bad luck than good. Obviously, you can't win all the time, but if you have paid your dues like Horner, you should get your chance to shine in the sun. Hopefully, Chris will be back in form for the Giro di Lombardia in early October, a race where he has been top 10 several times.
Today, September 1, the gag order on discussing rider transfers inside the pro peloton was lifted so a number of riders and teams were able to announce their key signings for 2010. Here's what's up.
Levi Leipheimer has signed a two-year deal with Lance Armstrong's Team Radio Shack. Team BMC made a strong run this summer to try and lure Levi to their team, but in the end Team Radio Shack won out probably based on the fact the Levi has had the best results of his career under Johan Bruyneel.
The Garmin-Slipstream team made a number of signings. To bolster their leadout train for fastman Tyler Farrar, the argyle crew signed South African sprinter Robbie Hunter who has won a stage of the Tour de
To fortify their classics campaign, they signed Johan Vansummeren who was most recently with Silence Lotto. He has finished top ten in Paris-Roubaix twice.
Peter Stetina, son of former US standout Dale Stetina, moves up from the development squad to the Pro Tour team. He rode exceptionally well against the likes of Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer at the Tour of Gila.
Tom Zirbel, the former distannce runner and current US road pro with Bissell brings his considerable time trialing talents to the team.
Fredrik Kessiakoff is a four time Swedish National Mountain bike champion who is currently riding with Fuji Servetto and will be looked on for his uphill talents.
Team BMC has acquired four big European stars, will next year be the year they ride the Tour?
Undoubtedly the biggest name coming to BMC is George Hincapie who leaves Team Columbia-HTC.
Marcus Burghart, who won a stage at the 2008 Tour de France also leaves Columbia-HTC for BMC.
Reigning World Road Race Champion Allessandro Ballan will move from Lampre to BMC.
Karsten Kroon has also been named to the BMC squad.
With the Alps looming all eyes are on the battle expected to commence as the third week of the Tour begins. Actually, it will most likely be two battles in the Alps as first, Team Astana tries to sort out the leadership on its squad and secondly as all the other teams with overall contenders such as Silence-Lotto (Cadel Evans), Cervelo Test Team (Carlos Sastre) and Saxo Bank (Brothers Schleck) try to either take down Astana or at the very least, climb onto the Tour podium.
The battle for leadership at Astana has already has already seen two rounds as first, Lance took charge in the crosswinds of stage three then in round two, Contador took the initiative by attacking in the final four kilometer to the mountain top finish in Arcalis. Since then the two pugilists have been in their respective corners waiting for the bell to sound for round three.
I expect Lance to take the initiative in the Alps and not wait for Contador to show his ambitions. However, the tricky part is that riders like Carlos Sastre, who seems to get better in the third week of a grand tour, and Cadel Evans, who continues to show the aggression we first saw in the Dauphine Libere, and the Brothers Schleck to attack, attack and attack.
If Astana can't control the lead group and they let riders like Sastre and Evans get up the road, then the advantage shifts to Contador as he is more able to respond to sharp attacks than Armstrong. Having said that, I am impressed by Lance's improving form and he might just be able to match Contador's legendary accelerations by the time the Tour reaches the Alps.
One interesting development is that the director sportifs of several of the teams with overall contenders may be waiting to see if the disharmony inside Astana is weakening the team and making them more vulnerable to cracking in the Alps. In talking with those directors, none of them have any answers on how to take down Astana. With three or four strong riders the situation is similar to being only four shots back on the final afternoon in a golf tournament, but having four golfers in front of you on the leader board. You might be able to beat one or even two of them, but expecting all four to fail is long odds.
Clearly, Astana is weaker with the departure of Levi Leipheimer, but Andreas Kloden looks very solid as does Yaraslov Popovych and Haimar Zubeldia. Lance called the third week of the Tour "sinister". With both the battle within Astana and the battle of the best of the rest, it is going to be one of the most memorable finishes in recent Tour history.
On a very rainy day in the Vosges Mountains, Heinrich Haussler was off the front for over 100 miles, dropping his breakaway companion Sylvan Chavanel on the descent of the penultimate climb and soloing for almost 30 miles to victory. The Cervelo Test Team rider is better known for his sprinting prowess, winning stage 2 of Paris-Nice and almost beating Mark Cavendish at Milan-San Remo. But, today, he proved that once again in this year's Tour, anything can happen.
Undoubtedly the biggest news of the days was the non-start of Team Astana's Levi Leipheimer. He crashed on a left hand bend with 2.5 kilometers remaining yesterday, but appeared to be fine at the stage finish. However, the pain in his wrist worsened over night and a trip to the hospital in the morning revealed that it was broken.
I saw the crash and it just didn't look that serious. The tumble by Ryder Hesjedal the day before looked way more serious, but Hesjedal was basically unscathed. Leipheimer was enjoying one of his finest Tours sitting in fourth place overall and looking very comfortable and relaxed on the bike. It is a pity that Levi will not get to show his form in the Alps. In both 2006 and 2007, he was one of the few riders who seemed to get stronger in the third week.
The race leaders took it easy in the day's trying conditions, there were no changes to the overall standings other than Leipheimer's untimely withdrawal. Thor Hushovd managed to stay with the GC leaders over all the climbs and took second in the field sprint for sixth place which allowed him to take the green jersey off of Mark Cavendish's shoulders.
The Armstrong/Contador affair is interesting to watch. I asked Rolf Aldag, DS of team Columbia-HTC, about the perspective from the other teams.
Bruce: do you think Astana will destroy themselves with all the conflict?
Rolf: I think in the end, they are so strong as a team, that even if they ride against each other they will succeed whoever that will be. If you see how much resources they have. Until now they didn't need Leipheimer. They didn't need Kloden to ride. They still have so much resources that up until now they can easily control it with out making any decisions (about team leadership) so I think it stays wide open.
It is interesting to watch (the Armstrong/Contador battle) from the outside. If you don't have a hand in the game there it is really interesting to follow and wonder what are they going to do next.
When Lance was in the front in the crosswind there was definitely a big 'chapeau' from our team wondering how he managed that. Three years off he is definitely physiologically older, he is definitely focused on the race. So it was kind of 'Wow! He made it into that group'.
When Contador attacked up to Arcalis it was the same thing to say 'Wow. There is no way for us to go with him.' So we watched it and we were also like 'Phew'. It was a good attack. It was strong how he went to the finish.
Right now it is six and eight seconds so it is totally open. It is so exciting we are kind of like spectators in the first row. It is kind of funny.
Bruce: Does Contador need to be strong psychologically to do what he did?
Rolf: I think so, but I also think it is kind of a relief for him. He is as good as he is and he has to show it. If there is any doubt that he is good enough then he will be in bigger and bigger trouble. If he shows that he is good enough, that he is there because when he was not there in the break in the crosswinds, it was a big advantage for Lance. 'See. That is not my mistake that you haven't learned. That might happen to you everyday.'
Psychologically he (Lance) had a big, big advantage over Contador, but Contador now responded and said 'See. Even if I miss it I am strong enough to correct it.'
It is really exciting to follow that as long as we are not paying the bill which we are not going to do. Cavendish is no threat to Astana.
I finally had time to look through all the photos I shot in the past two weeks. Here are a bunch from the team time trial that I think you will find interesting.
There are some fit riders in the Tour.
Check out the Cervelo Test Team's motto on their shorts. It seems to be working as they have won two stages.
Flatting in a team time trial can cost a GC rider precious seconds and potentially minutes. The mechanics always wipe off the tires just before the start in case a piece of glass has found it's way into the rubber.
Tom Boonen packs a gel just in case he needs it during the 45+ minute effort.
Because of the logistics between the start and finish of the team time trial, Team Astana decided it needed another bus to park at the finish. Mechanic Geoff Brown got the call the day before and drove the second bus 700 miles (1100km) from Astana's European headquarters in Brakel, Belgium to Montpellier. The speed limit for busses is 60 mph(100kmh) so the trip took over 11 hours. He arrived only two hours before the stage start. He drove the bus 700 miles back to Belgium the next day.