As I watched Stage 8 yesterday, I thought the best part of this year’s Tour is that it is an actual race. What I mean by this is there is no clear rider, or team, that is the obvious winner on the first serious mountain stage – as has been the case in recent years.
Lance Armstrong (Radio Shack) had a rough day yesterday, with three crashes. The first one was his fault. In post-race interviews he said he clipped a pedal on the turn, sending himself and others down. This crash caused the team to do some chasing to catch the peloton before the climb, a costly crash indeed. Armstrong ended up behind two other crashes. Neither one caused him to hit the pavement with his body - but the third one did force him off the bike. He claims his Tour podium prospects are over, which means he will support team mate Levi Leipheimer.
Andy Schleck put the hammer down near the finish line and Alberto Contador couldn’t match the pace. This kind of power move ignites the Saxo Bank team with energy and sends all others back to the planning table, most notably Contador’s Astana team.
There were questions pre-race, whether or not the Astana team could support Contador. They seemed to support him quite nicely; he just couldn’t match the power of Schleck.
Staying somewhat under the radar, until now, Cadel Evans (BMC) has been riding a solid Tour. Like Armstrong, Evans contributed skin to the pavement yesterday; but he was able to ride strong through the end of Stage 8, putting him in the leader’s yellow jersey.
Looking at the overall standings, there are six riders within two minutes of Cadel Evans and 13 riders within three minutes. More than likely, the winner of the Tour will come from the current top 14 riders.
Sitting at number 14 on the GC (general classification) is Bradley Wiggins. His SKY team put in a huge effort on the climb yesterday at a time when Armstrong was suffering most. An interesting move, especially given the effort didn’t help Wiggins. Who called that move and what were they thinking? Maybe they just wanted to crush Armstrong? Perhaps they think SKY and Wiggins can make a move on Tuesday’s Stage 9?
I would love to hear the team discussions going on today, a much needed day off. The Col de Madeleine, the first HC (French for hors catégorie, a climb beyond categorization) will surely be a place where teams will try to make a move. There are many strong teams in this year’s Tour so look for at least seven of them to be making moves on the Madeleine.
The big question is if a team can push the pace with the intention of putting their designated leader in a position to gain time on the GC leader board, can that person deliver?
Right now, there is no clear-cut strong man, or team, of the Tour. Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a race!