Beyond the Peloton

July 13, 2010 11:17 AM

It's a Two-Man Race Now

54923427.jpgPop, there goes Cadel Evans. Off to the back and never to be a factor again in the rest of the race.

Tuesday's Stage 9 made it abundantly clear that the 2010 Tour will be a contest between last year's top two finishers. As the peloton approached the day's final climb at the HC Col de la Madeleine, Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck decided it to make it their personal race.

Schleck's attack was matched only by Contador, and by that time, Evans was long gone, having been dropped by an earlier acceleration with a broken wrist not a small nuisance. The rest of the contenders could only watch the duo ride away in exhausted amazement. The rest of the Tour, for them, would be fighting for third place on the podium.

Just how much better was the tandem? Contador and Schleck managed to reel in the breakaway group that at one time had a three-minute advantage on the climb. They were on such a fast descent that they caught up in the final km. On the other contenders, they gained more than two minutes in a stage where an all-out attack wasn't really expected.

Contador and Schleck will settle things in the Pyrenees, with four days in the mountains, including two climbs up Col du Tourmalet. Schleck will have to continue to attack because Contador will be comfortable to keep the current 41-second gap. Schleck will need to lead by a minimum of two minutes, maybe up to three minutes, entering the individual time trial in the penultimate stage to have a chance to unseat Contador.

As for third place, Radio Shack's Levi Leipheimer now has as good a chance as anyone to grab it. Having taken over the team leadership from Lance Armstrong, Leiphemier is now in sixth place, just over a minute behind surprising Sammy Sanchez. As the strongest time trialist of the remaining podium contenders, Leipheimer should be able to gain time on the likes of Denis Menchov and Roman Kreuziger as long as he keeps up with them in the Pyrenees.

Stage 10 Preview (Chambery to Gap)

The last day in the Alps won't be as punishing as the first two. The stage opens with a Cat. 1 climb, followed by two lesser climbs and a downhill finish. Since it's unlikely for GC contenders to gain time in this stage, they will opt to allow a breakaway to succeed. And since it's Bastille Day, a number of French riders will chase for glory.

Prediction: Thomas Voekler. We went with him yesterday but it ended up being fellow countryman Sandy Casar. As for the yellow jersey, Schleck will keep it for the rest of the week, maybe all the way until the individual time trial, maybe all the way to Paris?

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