Saturday, July 11, 2009

TDF 2009: Stage 9 Preview and the Lance-Alberto Divide

It was a day of big flux today, July 11. Riders formed and reformed breakaways, chase groups, and even the peleton.

That made it a great racing day for the Tour de France, a chance to move away from the fake or real drama unfolding about the battle for dominance between Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong of the Astana Team.

Contador clearly can win the Tour--if he doesn't have to perform in the final time trial in Annecy. Therefore to do so would mean technically he would have to outpeform Armstrong by such a big time margin, that it would be obvious he is attacking his own teammate.

This would either have to happen by chance in one of the stages, or slowly and imperceptibly over several stages. Either way, it's a tough spot for Contador, because Lance makes for good T.V., he brings up the ratings and the dollars pouring into the Tour.

Who wants to watch a skinny little brat from Spain beat the 7-time tour winner? That could be perhaps the dilemna that team director Johan Bruyneel is contemplating, and maybe wishing he hadn't put the two together on one team. Yet two things are true: a real or imagined duel between them, the handsome young Spaniard, and the 37-year-old legend who inspires all men over the age of 40--that duel also makes for good T.V.

But back to the race: can Armstrong do it? Obviously as an overall racer with strategic prowess, Armstrong is the better rider.

Which brings us to tomorrow's stage, St. Gaudens to Tarbes. The 160.5 km stage crosses the Col d'Aspin and Col du Tourmalet, a 17 km climb at a 7.5 percent grade--another hors categorie (outside of classification) climb.

That's at the midpoint or about 90km, and from there it's all downhill. Strategically it means a smart rider will make sure they are at the top of the Tourmalet before the descent, and dusting the peleton would be part of that strategy.

Once again combining a climb with a fast second half points to unpredicatable breakaways and riders coming to the front.

If Hushovd (Cervelo) manages to stay near the front as he did today, he could possibly be a sprinter in tomorrow's stage. I also see Cadel Evans continuing his aggressive actions through stage 9, and if he can stay near the front at the climb, Evans also is someone who could win tomorrow.

But because of the aggressive nature of tomorrow's stage, and it's steep climb to the Tourmalet, I predict that Nocentini will be out of the Yellow Jersey.

Maybe even Lance will be in the Yellow? Afterall it's a climb followed by a descent.

Pics: Livestrong.com, and right, the Astana team after they won the Team Time Trial in Montpellier

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