Beyond the Peloton

July 24, 2010 1:40 PM

Did Contador Steal This Tour?

ap_Alberto_Contador_tour_de_france_eng24jul10.jpgAbout those 39 seconds ...

That was exactly the amount of time Alberto Contador gained on Andy Schleck during Stage 15's "chaingate." After beating Schleck by only 31 seconds in Saturday's time trial - not the 1-2 minutes most had expected - that's how much Contador is leading the Tour by, and most likely how much he'll win this Tour by.

So what would have happened if Contador did the sporting thing and not attacked while Schleck had his chain troubles? Presumably they'd finished the stage with the same time and Schleck would've gone last in the time trial, 31 seconds ahead instead of 8 seconds behind.

Maybe with the maillot jaune on him, Schleck would've gone even faster and successfully defended it? Maybe Contador would've ridden harder and either really gained a separation or bonked in the finishing stretches? And if you want to play turn back the clock, would Contador have gone on the attack on the second pass of Tourmalet instead of playing defense?

Lots of what ifs. And without a doubt, Saturday's time trial would've been even more exciting had those 39 seconds not changed hands.

But all the second guessing isn't going to change this fact: Contador has won this Tour - and he deserves it.

We stand by our original observation that Contador's move was within bounds of fair play. As competitors, you play to win. Contador didn't cheat or break any rules. Sure, it would've been more sportsmanlike to have not taken advantage of the situation. But Contador is busy building his legend, and he'll dispense with niceties.

There's nothing wrong with that.

He was equally ruthless in imposing his will in an untenable situation last year, when it's obvious his team and even his manager did not have his back. Contador realized there was a danger that Lance Armstrong could steal the Tour from him and he went on the offensive and made it a fait accompli, despite the divided loyalty on his team.

El Pistolero obviously took Knute Rockne to heart: "Show me a good and gracious loser and I'll show you a failure." Not winning the Tour isn't something Contador would even contemplate. He's now on the verge of winning his fifth grand tour, in five attempts. He is already nearly the equal of Armstrong and Miguel Indurain, in terms of accomplishments. If he keeps this up, in a couple of years, only Eddy Merckx will be ahead of him.

Contador won't be able to soft-pedal to cycling's Mt. Olympus, though. Schleck will be a formidable foe for years to come. In fact, judging by his better-than-expected time trial Saturday, he may very well rip the yellow jersey off Contador next year.

Schleck is already at least Contador's equal in the mountains. If he can make the necessary improvement as a time trialist, he will be a multiple Tour winner. He will need to have a stronger team around him, however, as it's clear the loss of his brother Frank in Stage 3 due to a broken collarbone utterly crippled Saxo Bank's ability to assist Andy in the mountains.

For now, Schleck will have to settle for the white jersey for the third year in a row, tying him with Jan Ullrich. Schleck certainly would not like to have a role model in Ullrich, a supremely talented rider who made a career out of finishing second. Schleck already has two seconds now, and as we quote another racing legend: "Second place is just the first loser."

Dale Earnhardt would have slowed down for nobody's fallen chain.

Stage 20 (Longjumeau to Paris)

In the Tour's customary ceremonial ride to Paris, we'll see clicking of champagne glasses and a few pranks along the way, all in good fun to celebrate the end of another grueling ride around France. All the competition is over except for the green jersey and the final sprint on the Champs Elysees.

Prediction: Mark Cavendish. After crashing in Stage 1, he has fully recovered to win four stages, including a ridiculously easy victory in Stage 18 with absolutely no lead-out help. This isn't even going to be close. The more intriguing matchup is the one between Alessandro Petacchi and Thor Hushovd for the green jersey. Petacchi leads by 10 points and is a better sprinter, so he should be able to hang on. Hushovd can only rue the no-race decision in Stage 2 that would turn out to cost him dearly.

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