Thursday, July 23, 2009

TDF 1009 Stage 18: Contador Dominates, Armstrong Upsets

Contador take stage beating Cancellara at his Game: Armstrong Takes Third and Announces Radio Shack Partnership

Alberto Contador took the win for the time trial in Annecy today, showing that he can not only keep the Yellow Jersey but handily fend off any contenders, especially Andy Schleck by a margin of 4 minutes and 11 seconds.
Pic: Lance Armstrong after coming into finish today

Lance Armstrong showed his stuff coming in one minute 30 seconds after Contador, bettering the time of both Andy and Frank Schleck and allowing him to move into third position overall in the Tour.

Andy Schleck kept second position in the overall class, but came in one minute and 45 seconds behind Contador.

Bradley Wiggins of Garmin Slipstream moved up to 4th position in the overall class, and Andreas Kloden of Astana assumed 5th, knocking Frank Schleck to sixth position.

But maybe the biggest surprise of the day though was Armstrong’s announcement that he will be leaving the Astana team for a deal with Radio Shack next year.

It was a close one for Contador in the 40.5 km mostly flat stage: His time of 48 minutes and 30 seconds going at an average speed of 50 km/ hour, was 3 seconds ahead of Fabian Cancellara, Swiss time trial champion, and one minute and 45 seconds ahead of Andy Schleck, both of Saxo Bank.

Armstrong’s performance knocked out his biggest threats as well, Bradly Wiggins by 9 seconds, Andy Schleck by 15 seconds, and Frank Schleck by 34 seconds.

The other stage winners were Fabian Cancellara who came in second, and Mikhail Ignatiev of the Katusha team who came in third, 15 seconds after Contador.

Gustav Larsson of team Saxobank made an exceptional run, ending 33 seconds behind the leader. He managed to beat out two time trialing champions, David Zabriskie and David Millar.

Contador’s time advantage will be hard to beat either in tomorrow’s flat stage, or in the final decisive stage at Mont Ventoux, unless he has a bad day, or becomes isolated again with the two Schleck brothers in the mountain. Anything is possible.

In all it was a day full of promise, but also full of surprises. The race took place on the edge of the expansive blue lake in front of Annecy, and the weather went from sunny to rainy, with big droplets falling to the ground.

For a couple of minutes it looked like the weather might spoil the course for the riders who still had not gone, mainly all the top riders. But the sun finally came out and stayed out.

Fans crowded the entire length of the roadway inside the town of Annecy, making it impossible to pass from one area to another. The race took place on a postcard worthy backdrop of a blue lake framed by mountains and cumulus clouds, and painted with families old and young with children and dogs in tow and people dipping themselves in the warm water.

It was also the day when Armstrong, disappointed with his performance said the first half of the time trial was good: “I was aero and I guess there was a tailwind,” he noted. “But I was not very good on the climb, and I just did not feel very good on the second half.”

“I guess I just ran out of gas,” he said, after leaving doping control. “But it was nice to move onto the podium,” he noted, with not just a little modesty.

But he had a smile on his face when he spoke about the decision announced today that he will be moving to a sponsorship with Radio Shack. “The partnership with Radio Shack is very good for us,” he said.

That partnership will be between Armstrong’s cancer foundation, Livestrong, and will complement “the usual suspects,” other smaller sponsors like Nike and Trek, he said, though those deals had not been finalized. They chose Radio Shack because of its pre-existing close relationship with Livestrong, and its strong commercial presence in the United States.

Armstrong stated yesterday his intent to complete at least two more Tours de France.

But he was still is not sure if he can bring Johan Bruyneel with him to the team. “He is the best directeur sportif, and he is also a good friend, but I just don’t know if he’s in a situation within the [Astana] team that will allow him to go.”

As for the day after tomorrow’s stage to Mont Ventoux, Armstrong’s objective is to protect his podium position from Frank Schleck: “I’ll just watch for the moves and not let him get away,” he said.

Cadel Evans who reportedly had never done a reconnaissance ride of the course this morning came in 12th in the stage, one minute and 14 seconds behind Contador, and beating Lance Armstrong.

Cancellara spoke to the press before the final results where in, noting everyone was tired from yesterday’s stage: “We are tired, but the two brother will do the maximum. If not they should make it up in Mont Ventoux,” he said.

Today’s stage was also more evidence of how different towns offer different levels of freedom of access to the riders. And in Annecy, after a valiant effort by thousands of police and special forces, as well as the ASO security, they broke down and allowed fans to congregate outside the “anti-dopage,” or doping control center.

A French boy of 11 years, Corentin Long who stood with his fingers grasping the fence, waited for the riders to exit. Inside was Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck, Lance Armstrong, Andreas Kloden and Bradley Wiggiins. Who is your favorite rider? “Armstrong, and Contador,” he said.

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