Beyond the Peloton

July 19, 2010 12:27 PM

Fair Play or Unsporting?

"My stomach is full of anger right now. I will take my revenge."

With that, Andy Schleck promised the next two stages in the Pyrenees will be riveting drama, with bad blood rising with each climb, culminating in Thursday's death match up the Col du Tourmalet.

96d180c6-f195-48b0-8427-ad83f7b5d050_part6.jpgSchleck had just launched an attack up the HC Port de Bales in Monday's Stage 15 as Contador scrambled to respond. But just as quickly, Schleck's chain came off his bike. As he slowed to fix the problem, Contador zoomed past him on his left and a few others followed. Schleck regained some of the lost time with a spectacular effort on the rest of the climb, but lost it all - and then some - on the descent into the finish.

The result left Schleck fuming, and without the yellow jersey that he's worn for the past six days. Contador now leads by 8 seconds, as he was given the maillot jaune to a smattering of boos and jeers.

The reaction from the peloton was mixed. But the consensus seems to be that Contador had the right to do what he did, but he has lost some honor and respect - from both the riders and fans - for his tactics.

We side with Contador in that a mechanical failure is part of racing. In any motor sport, a mechanical failure can easily decide the outcome of a race. Cycling's unwritten rule on not attacking during a crash doesn't quite apply here. We do take issue with Contador's disingenuous claim that he had already launched his attack before Schleck's chain came undone, that was patently untrue.

But Monday's incident also was a revelation. Contador is scared of Schleck. Scared to death, in fact. So far in this Tour, Schleck has looked the better man in all the climbing stages but one (Stage 12). Schleck has been far more assertive and put Contador on the defensive repeatedly. Contador's reaction Monday was an admission that he doubts he could continue to keep up with Schleck and therefore he needed to take every advantage he could, fair or not.

There is little question Schleck will attack again, probably as soon as Tuesday's first pass through the Col du Tourmalet. Even though the setup of the Stage, with a 60-km descending finish, isn't suited for an attack, Schleck just might do it to send a message.

He would be better served, however, to save his righteous anger for Thursday, when the Tour really will be decided on the second pass up the Tourmalet, up the nasty and untamed western side. In short, a ride from hell.

Schleck has ridden an amazing Tour, especially considering that he's without his most trusted lieutenant, brother Frank, and constantly isolated in the mountains. So far the only thing that's stopped him was his bike chain. If he plays it smart, he should wait to hit Contador until the final climb on Thursday and take perhaps three or four minutes off the Spaniard.

Then he'll have won, fair and square.

Stage 16 Preview (Bagneres-de-Luchon to Pau)

This will be the hardest day in the saddle in this year's Tour. There are four climbs of either HC or Cat. 1, with the toughest being the third, the first pass through Tourmalet. The stage actually isn't set up for a major selection among the GC contenders as the final climb up the Col d'Aubisque, though very long at 30 km, isn't very steep. And it finishes on a long descend into Pau, allowing anybody who have lost time to catch up.

Prediction: Lance Armstrong. He might not get it done, but this will be his last shot to win a stage in his final Tour. With him so far down in the standings (40 minutes behind Contador), he will be allowed to break away, then it'll be a matter of whether he can outsprint whomever he's with at the finish. Schleck and Contador will fight to a draw, waiting for the ultimate denouement in Stage 17.

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