What we have learned from the Tour is that it takes from the strongest as well as the weakest. Many riders have struggled during the first days in the mountains, some because of fatigue or fitness and some because of bad luck.
For Cadel Evans, it was the latter--a matter of the right place at the wrong time. He was riding near the front of the group, paying attention as he should, when one of the Euskatel riders, riding in the first 10, overcooked a turn and crashed about seven riders. Cadel was a casualty of that crash, breaking his helmet in three pieces and shredding his shorts and jersey. In an instant, Cadel went from Tour favorite to a Tour victim.
The first mountain stage went to Riccardo Ricco with a Pantani climbing flare that has not been seen since Marco Pantani's last Tour victory in 1998. Ricco danced on the pedals, accelerated out of the saddle on the climb, and made the tilted roads look easy to pass over. For the others, the Col d'Aspin was a launching pad for multiple attacks, and it provided a great racing day for only being day number one in the mountains.
Kirchen kept the yellow jersey, but he showed vulnerability by riding in the middle of the pack instead of near the front of the group. The Luxembourg rider was weakening right when he needed his strength the most.
The biggest day of the Pyrenees was Hautacam, and it proved to shake things up a bit but not as much as I had thought. Alejandro Valverde had a horrible day, losing contact with the peloton on the Tourmalet and he never caught up. CSC struck out to try and get the yellow jersey, but I'm surprised they didn't attack earlier on the Tourmalet. As it ended up, Frank Schleck only lost the yellow jersey by one second.
Cadel Evans was lucky to get the yellow by the way he and his friends rode up Hautacam. It was a staring contest between Denis Menchov, Ricco, Carlos Sastre, and Evans, while Christian Vande Velde just watched from the corner of the room. For Vande Velde it was a new experience, so he waited for the big guns to make their move--they never did! Finally, Christian said the **** with it and it was his attack that allowed Evans to take yellow. I believe Cadel will ultimately out think himself from the yellow jersey and a win in Paris.
After Hautacam was a nice rest day. It was a beautiful day in Southern France for the riders to rest and train a little before they hit three transition stages before the Alps. Many of the riders' wives and girlfriends were around, and some of the press were treated to Chipotle burritos at a Garmin-Chipotle media event. To say burritos are rare in France would be an understatement.
Of course the news before Stage 11 was the fact that Moises Duenas Nevado from Barloworld was busted for EPO from Stage 4. Duenas and the team doctor were taken to the police station for questioning, and of course the rest of the team endured questioning at the start of Stage 11.
In this next week I believe Saunier Duval-Scott will play a large role in the outcome of the Tour de France. This team is climbing so well that anyone that can hang on or tag along will have a big advantage.
Here at the start of Stage 11 David De La Fuenta and Saunier Duval-Scott had tons of fans cheering them on.
CSC will start to become more visible; since Andy Schleck has lost time, he will be getting in some breaks to put pressure on the teams. What might end up happening is that Cadel, because he has a bad mountain team, will benefit from the Gerolsteiner and Garmin teams working to keep their spots on the G.C., and in the end help Cadel keep his jersey.
This year L'Alpe d'Huez will be as critical as ever. The winner of L'Alpe d'Huez will probably take the yellow and this rider will be the winner of the Tour de France.