Beyond the Peloton

July 9, 2010 9:52 AM

Whose Tour Is This Anyway?

Mark Cavendish won back-to-back sprint finishes, dispelling the notion that he wasn't on form. In Stage 6, he held off American Tyler Farrar, who's still mending a broken wrist but determined to reassert himself for the sprint finishes later in the Tour.

But now, as the Tour heads into the mountains, we'll find out who will be taking control of things shortly.

The first part of the Tour, amidst all the carnage, saw the emergence of Fabian Cancellara as the peloton's de facto spokesman. He's the one who brokered the "no race" in Stage 2 after all the spills and crashes. And though he lost the yellow jersey that day, he regained it a day later by leading a savage attack on the cobblestones. For now, he wears the crown as the patron.

But even Spartacus knows he's not a mountain climber, so over the next few days - most likely, Sunday - he'll be relinquishing the maillot jaune. He would like to hand it off to teammate Andy Schleck, though all the GC contenders will make their play in the Alps, and particularly in the Pyrenees, where there will be four stages in the high mountains in five days.

0708-contador-story.h2.jpgThe pre-Tour consensus is that teams likely will form alliances to beat Alberto Contador, the defending champion and odds-on favorite, but that may be shifting a bit. The recent thaw between Contador and Lance Armstrong may be an indication that there may even be a tacit agreement between Astana and Radio Shack to gang up on Saxo Bank.

That actually makes sense. Despite the fact that Contador is the best rider, he clearly has the weakest team among the major contenders, so he needs some outside help. Both Saxo Bank (with Schleck) and BMC (with Cadel Evans) have formidable corps of domestiques to do a lot of pulling and attacking in the mountains. Also, after the disaster on the cobblestones, Lance may have already realized that he can no longer win the Tour, so he must fight for a podium finish, and that means beating Schleck and Evans. Finally, Johan Bruyneel is the guy who mentored Contador from a promising upstart to a four-time grand tour winner. After Armstrong retires, who knows if they might hook up again.

All the backroom (or back of the bus) dealings will make for a fascinating final two weeks. So now we reset the standings, putting where the major GC contenders are in relation to each other to provide a clearer picture of what's ahead:

1 (3 overall). Cadel Evans (BMC), in lead
2 (6). Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), :30 behind Evans
3 (8). Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), :52
4 (9). Alberto Contador (Astana), 1:01
5 (14). Bradley Wiggins (Sky), 1:10
6 (16). Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas), 1:45
7 (18). Lance Armstrong (Radio Shack), 1:51
8 (24). Levi Leipheimer (Radio Shack), 2:14
9 (28). Andreas Kloden (Radio Shack), 2:22
10 (46). Carlos Sastre (Cervelo), 2:40
11 (47). Ivan Basso (Liquigas), 2:41
(OUT). Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank), crashed in Stage 3

Preview Stage 7 (Tournus to Station des Rousses)

The first mountain stage of the 2010 Tour, with three Cat. 2 climbs (two in the final 30 km), will surely split the peloton. The major GC contenders probably will refrain from attacking in this stage as they will be conserving their energies for the much harder racing in Stage 8 on Sunday. This will be ideal for a breakaway as the leading teams will not waste their time chasing it down.

Prediction: Igor Martinez. Just a hunch. Since the GC leaders will let anyone who's not a threat go, a small group of riders who are way down in the standings just might succeed in staying ahead of the pack. Also, because the peloton won't be looking to set a punishing pace, Cancellara will keep the yellow for one more day. 

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