Today is the first rest day in the 2010 Tour de France, and after a tough weekend in the early mountain stages, it seems the riders can really use the break. It was certainly an eventful couple of days to say the least, as the true GC contenders took center stage yesterday, as we can now see where the battle lines will be drawn. Meanwhile, Lance Armstrong sees his last attempt at winning slip away on a brutal day for the Tour legend.
On Saturday, the riders entered the first medium-mountain stage with a 165.5 km (102.8 mile) ride from Tournus to Station des Rousses. The route featured six good climbs, including three Category 2 slopes, and while none of the big names made a major move, it did allow for Jérôme Pineau to solidify his points total in the King of the Mountain competition. Pineau took of as one of the riders in a five man break, and ended up earning first place in nearly all of the KOM checkpoints, giving him a firm grip on the Polka Dot Jersey. The stage was won by his teammate, Sylvain Chavanel, who also donned the Yellow Jersey when Fabian Cancellara fell off the pace while battling on the moderate climbs.
Chavanel wouldn’t stay in Yellow for long however, as Sunday brought a true mountain stage featuring two Category 1 climbs. The 189 km (117.4 mile) course ran from Station des Rousses to Morzine-Avoriaz, giving the riders their first real taste of what the Alps had to offer. It was a day filled with crashes that left many scraped, bruised, and battered, and few escaped unscathed. The big showdown would come on the final climb of the day, one of the Cat 1 slopes, with a summit finish. As the lead riders neared the top, Andy Schleck kicked it into climbing mode, and left everyone else behind, including Tour favorite Alberto Contador, who looked unwilling or unable to respond. Schleck took the stage win, gained valuable time on Contador, and now sits in second place, 20 seconds behind Cadell Evans. Contador is in third, 1:01 back from the leader.
As for Cadel, he made me look like a genius for predicting he’d come out of the weekend in Yellow last week. He’s riding well, and is sticking to the plan, and seemed genuinely emotional when he put on the Jersey yesterday. The question is, can he defend it in the days ahead? We have a lot of riding to go yet, and while he is the world road cycling champ, he didn’t appear to have an answer for Andy Schleck yesterday either. That said, Cadel was involved in an early crash that I’m sure didn’t help how he was feeling, and he really didn’t have to chase down Schleck either. As long as he can do it in the Pyrenees, he’ll be fine. Will he still be in Yellow then?
The other big news from yesterday was the utter meltdown by Lance Armstrong, who avoided an early crash only to later catch his pedal on a curb, sending him reeling over the top of his handlebars. Visibly shaken by that accident, he never really seemed to recover. He was later caught up in another crash, and although he didn’t suffer any more damage, it slowed him down further, and kept him out of his rhythm. Post-race we learned that Lance hit the wall following his crash, and bonking hard, he just didn’t have the energy and stamina to catch-up to the contenders. When the dust settled, he lost 11 minutes and 45 seconds to the leaders, effectively ending any chances he had of winning the race. While this can happen to any rider of course, it was just strange to watch Lance seem to have no ability to respond. In his prime, he was the strongest rider in the Peloton, and while I still think he is amongst the top riders in the world, he had a combination of bad luck and bad timing sap him of his chances to contend once again. Don’t feel too bad for him however, as he does have seven Tour championship to his name.
Today, the riders will rest, eat, and lick their wounds. It has been a tough Tour already, but the worst is yet to come. On Tuesday for instance, they’ll see that the mountains they’ve conquered so far are nothing compared to what lies ahead. The 204.5 km (127 miles) course will take them from Morzine-Avoriaz to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, and along the way they’ll face a Category 2 climb, two big Category 1 climbs, and a Beyond Category climb. Fortunately, the stage finish is at the bottom of a mountain, so we’ll see the riders bombing down the hill towards the end tomorrow. It should be a great stage, with plenty of action, and lots more to come in the days ahead. We’re not even half way through the Tour just yet.
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