Tour 2009: A Day of Rest

After racing hard for a week an a half, today is the first rest day of the 2009 Tour de France, and after three tough stages in the Pyrenees, the riders are welcoming the reprieve.

The standings remain exactly the same coming out of the weekend, with the top riders shadowing each other over the mountains on Saturday and Sunday. Italian rider Rinaldo Nocentini remains in the Yellow Jersey, and while he looked shaky on Saturday, just one day after he was part of a major breakaway that put him in yellow, on Sunday he rode with more confidence and looked strong. The big guns of the tour are sitting just behind him, with Team Astana‘s Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong just six and eight seconds back respectively.

Norway’s God of Thunder Thor Hushovd took the Green Jersey off the back of Mark Cavendish on Saturday, and now leads in the points for the sprinters. As a former winner of the Green Jersey, Thor could hang on to the lead for some time, but with several fast, most flat, stages ahead, I expect that this will be very contested in the next few days. Cavendish is the fastest man in the world when it comes to riding a bike, but his Columbia-HTC team has worked hard in the first week of the Tour.

The competition for the Polka Dot Jersey heated up in the Pyrenees with a number of riders going after the title of “King of the Mountain”. Spain’s Egoi Martinez took the lead in that category over the weekend, with two very strong days in the mountains. He’ll likely hang on to the Jersey until next week when the race moves into the Alps, and things get very challenging for the climbers once again.

Finally, the White Jersey is currently on the back of German Tony Martin, who looks to clearly be the top new rider in the Tour this year. He’s sitting in seventh place overall in the General Classification, and while he isn’t expected to be a threat for the Yellow Jersey this year, he looks like quite a promising rider for years to come.

Looking ahead, I don’t expect to see any major changes to the leaderboard until next Tuesday when the race wanders into the Alps. Barring any unforeseen issues or accidents, Nocentini will ride into the next mountain stages with the Yellow Jersey still in place, and while he has proven himself to be a strong climber, I don’t think there is any way that he can hold off both Contador and Armstrong, who will have the full strength of Astana helping them out.

Some of the other contenders, such as Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre looked for opportunities to make moves in the Pyrenees that would put them back into contention, but weren’t really able to make up any ground. They will have to try again in the Alps, but it’s really looking like this is going to turn into a two man race, with Armstrong and Contador battling it out. How the team dynamics work into this should be interesting to watch, and we’ll see if one or the other is forced to take a backseat or if they’ll just work it out amongst themselves on the course. Either way, it’s going to be fun to watch!

Kraig Becker

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