Tour de France Recap #1
Well, ten stages of the Tour de France are now complete. We’ve seen the predictable, the unpredictable, great riders and disappointing riders. The first ten stages have gone more or less according to form, but let’s recap them, take a look at what should happen in the next week, and discuss some strategies that may be employed by some of the teams.
David Zabriskie road a great race to win the opening time trial, but the real story here was that a lot of the contenders, Ullrich included, gave up an exceptional amount of time to Armstrong on what was only a 19k time trial. This was the first sign that Armstrong was in good form, and that several others were potentially quite weak.
Stages 2 and 3 went rather predictably to Tom Boonen, the great Belgian sprinter and one day racer.
Stage 4, the team time trial (TTT), went to Armstrong and Discovery Channel in a very close finish with CSC and T-Mobile. Their margin of victory over the other GC contenders’ teams was smaller than past years, but with the TTT rules change last year, the margin is no longer terribly important. Euskaltel was the big loser here, finishing a disappointing 16th.
Robbie McEwen got back at Boonen by winning the sprint for stage 5, and after a crash spoiled Alexander Vinokourov’s chance for a win, Lorenzo Bernucci scored a surprise win in stage 6.
McEwen won another sprint for stage 7, and after a collapse by his Discovery team left him alone, Lance Armstrong had to chase alone as Pieter Weening won stage 8 with contender Andreas Kloden in tow.
Stage 9 saw the ride of the Tour as The Chicken, Rabobank’s Michael Rasmussen, went on the attack for 167k to win the stage by over three minutes and put over six minutes into Armstrong. For reasons unexplained, CSC thought it wise to send a rider, Jens Voigt, out on the attack into no man’s land between Rasmussen and the rest of the peloton. Voigt, no threat to win, picked up the overall lead, but that was of little use to team leader Ivan Basso. That brought us to yesterday’s Stage 10 and the first of the mountains..
Going into Stage 10, Armstrong led all the other GC contenders by at least a minute with Vinokourov being closest at 1:02 down. During Armstrong’s past six wins, this first mountain stage saw his team ride a fast tempo as far up the final climb as possible, and this stage would be no exception. After the last of Discovery’s other riders had peeled off and a couple of accelerations were made, we were left with Armstrong, Valverde, Rasmussen and Mancebo. These four rode together till the end of the stage, where Rasmussen, and then Armstrong, attacked hard to try and drop the others. Ultimately, Armstrong was unable to drop Valverde who passed him for a great win. Rasmussen and Mancebo finished 9 seconds back. The rest of the GC riders, and all of the T-Mobile team, lost more than a minute on the stage with Vinokourov losing 5:18.
So who are the winners and losers? Armstrong is now in control of the race. He did well in the time trials, and in the first of the mountains, and has a lead of 2:40 to Ivan Basso, the first of the contenders he expected to battle for the overall. He is exactly where he wants to be.
The Illes Balears team and their two big riders, Valverde and Mancebo, have also been good. After some expectedly mediocre time trialing, they turned it on in the mountains and are now in a position to attack Armstrong should the opportunity arise.
Rabobank’s Michael Rasmussen has been awesome. For him to hold pace with Armstrong for all of Stage 10 after his long solo ride on Stage 9 was a shocker. He is now in second, only 38 seconds back. His team is not strong in the mountains, but if he can escape on another solo ride, he could pull off the biggest upset in Tour history.
Ivan Basso has been very average. His time trialing was OK, but to be dropped on the first mountain stage had to be a blow. If Stage 10 was simply a bad day, he is still close enough that he can come back, and there is a lot of climbing left to go. His greatest impediment may prove to be Bjarne Riis, the team Director who has made a lot of questionable decisions at the Tour in recent years. The bottom line is it appears Riis doesn’t think Basso can win. If he doesn’t think he can win, why should I?
Levi Leipheimer has been a pleasant surprise. I didn’t think he would do well, but he has hung around when others have faded and is quietly into sixth overall.
Jan Ullrich has proven a huge disappointment. The good form he showed earlier this year is gone. He was slower than Armstrong in the time trials, and in the mountains there are two dozen riders in the race who can drop him any time they want. Armstrong has already announced his retirement; don’t be surprised if Ullrich is right behind him, but for different reasons. I can’t see any pro team paying serious money for Ullrich. I know, there is still half the Tour to go, but for Jan that is only an opportunity to lose even more time. At this point, short of the Discovery and Illes Balears teams being wiped out by a meteor strike, I don’t see any way for him to make up enough time to get back into contention.
Along with Jan, the T-Mobile team came apart at the seams on Stage 10. Vinokourov looked like he might die on the stage. Kloden slowed to help out Ullrich, but he clearly would not have stayed with the four leaders either. If they let him ride for the overall and not as helper, Oscar Sevilla might actually be their highest placed rider right now. With Ullrich looking lousy, and Vinokourov with a contract that soon expires, this team could easily deteriorate into nine guys doing their own thing for the rest of the Tour.
Iban Mayo has been another loser. Losing 20 minutes on the first mountain stage, and finishing behind some of the people he did is unacceptable for a high dollar riderand the climber he is. It will be back to the drawing board for Euskaltel and Mayo.
So what’s next? Stage 11, another mountain stage, will be very important I think, but for different reasons for different riders. Expect Discovery to try and ride a hard tempo again and repeat yesterday’s performance. If they can, and the damage is anywhere near as bad as Stage 10, Armstrong will be nearly impossible to beat. Discovery / Postal have been using the same tactic for years and it still seems to surprise some team Directors as it did on Stage 10 yesterday. Bjarne Riis, of CSC, had used up one of his good riders, Voigt, in a long breakaway on Stage 9, and then had Carlos Sastre launch an attack on the final climb without his leader, Basso being able to follow. As a result, he left Ivan Basso totally isolated on most of the final climb. Riis had to know what Discovery was going to do, and it would have been good tactics to rein in Voigt the previous day, and focus the team solely on protecting Basso. For Stage 11, it would be a good idea for Illes Balears and CSC to attack as hard as possible on the first climb. Armstrong will not be dropped on the first climb, but Discovery gave a very hard effort yesterday, and some or most of his teammates could be dropped by a hard attack, leaving Armstrong isolated on the final climb. If the other contenders play it safe, Discovery will likely be able to control the stage again and get Armstrong another good result, after which they get two flat stages where they can let the sprinters teams do the work. In addition, Armstrong could be tired after yesterday’s hard day, but we’ll never know if no one tries him.
For Michael Rasmussen, Stage 11 will be a test of survival. After two very hard efforts, he has to be tired, but if he can survive one more day, he will get two flat stages on which to regain some strength before the Pyrenees. If he can survive to the Pyrenees without losing significant time, he can possibly mount an attack and catch Armstrong on a weak day.
So that’s it for now. I’ll be back for the Pyrenees and hopefully we’ll still have a close race.
Posted by BVBigBro at July 13, 2005 07:49 AM
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|# July 13th, 2005 8:00 AM kris|
|This is the first time I've really watched the Tour, so these are my first-timer impressions:
-I like Armstrong a lot more than I did before. He seems fairly cool for a superstar.
-I LOVE Tom Boonen. Actually, I like all of the sprinters. I can't imagine doing what the climbers or time trialists do, but I could imagine doing what the sprinters do.
-The climbs, when they get crowded with people, are cool to watch, but I actually like the descents even more. I like the way the cameras kind of swoop over the riders. I watch it and I find myself moving my body in time with them down the mountains.
-Favorite riders: Boonen, Erik Dekker, Valverde (because he's cute) and Rasmussen (even though he looks like a concentration camp survivor) and poor, doomed Zabriskie.
|# July 13th, 2005 9:56 AM ToddC|
|I watched the coverage last night. Lance dismantled the field. By pushing them this hard this early in the Alps he sent a strong message to his rivals showing his superiority.
Stud. Animal. Most dominant athlete in the world.
|# July 13th, 2005 10:01 AM BVBigBro|
|He was very good, but they worked very well as a team. Bruyneel is just so much better than Riis in the grand tours. Armstrong couldn't drop Valverde though. The teams that passed on Valverde when the Kelme team was looking to sell his contract probably wish they had a time machine now. The theory that he couldn't win outside Spain, i.e. in "real" races, looks really foolish now. |
|# July 13th, 2005 12:41 PM kris|
|When will Euskaltel give up on Mayo and ride in support of Zubeldia? He's just 10 minutes out after today.
OLN would hate it, but it'd be kind of exciting if Rasmussen sticks it out and maybe even gets a lead after the Pyrenees.
|# July 13th, 2005 1:02 PM BVBigBro|
|I would love to see The Chicken roll the dice on Stage 15 and see what damage results. |
|# July 13th, 2005 1:03 PM kris|
|Is that the Basque stage? |
|# July 13th, 2005 1:26 PM BVBigBro|
|That's the stage with a Cat. 2, four Cat. 1 and one HC climb. It's in the Pyrenees, so there will be plenty of orange in the crowd. |
|# July 13th, 2005 1:30 PM kris|
|I'm going to use "HC" in casual conversation...like "He's an asshat HC" |