Tour 2009: Pyrenees Punish Peloton!

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As expected, it was a very exciting day in the Tour de France as the race moved into the mountains for the first time on a 224km (139 miles) stage from Barcalona to Andorra that shook up the leaderboard of the race, and put a new rider in Yellow.

Heading into the day Fabian Cancellara clung to a lead of less than one second over Lance Armstrong, with Alberto Contador lurking 19 seconds back. No one expected Cancellara to hold on to the lead, as while he is an amazingly strong and fast rider, he is not a seasoned climber. The question was, who would end up in Yellow at the end of the day.

The main group of riders stayed fairly close to one another throughout the day, despite a couple of early climbs, including a Category 1, that tested their legs at the mid-way point. With 177km to go, nine riders made a break, leaving the Peloton behind, and moving as far as 11+ minutes ahead of the field. But once the riders hit the beginning of the final climb, a beyond category monster that had the stage finish at the 2240 meter (7349 feet) summit, that gap began to close, as Team Astana led the charge up the mountain.

To his credit Cancellara hung tough as long as he could, but eventually he fell off the pace, with contenders Armstrong, Contador, and Cadel Evans going on the attack. They weren’t able to reel back in the breakaway, and at the end of the day the stage was won by French rider Brice Feillu who made a solo dash to the finish that was impressive to watch, and he was soon followed by Rinaldo Nocentini of Italy, who would put on the Yellow Jersey thanks to making up more than 3 minutes on the contenders in his surprising ride as part of the break today.

But Nocentini is not a contender, and his days in Yellow are already numbered. The most impressive ride of the day, in my eyes, came at the end, when Alberto Contador made it clear that he is the strongest rider in the Tour, blasting past Evans, and leaving his teammate Armstrong behind as well. For his part, Lance played the roll of a good teammate and stayed close to Evans, but the end result was that Contador moved past him in the GC standings and is now in second place, six seconds behind Nocetini. Lance is now in third, another two seconds back.

The intrigue in this year’s race only continues to grow. At some point, Astana will have to choose a rider to be the one they throw the weight of the team behind, and right now that’s either Contator or Armstrong. We have two more mountain stages set for tomorrow and Sunday, and I think it’s highly likely that one or the other of these two riders is going to be in the Yellow Jersey when the first rest day arrives on Monday. After that, the positions aren’t likely to change much until the Alps, when the tough decisions will have to be made. Or they could just duke it out, mano e mano style. Lance and Alberto for the Yellow Jersey. It’s sure going to be fun to watch!

Kraig Becker

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