July 13, 2010
Pic: In Stage 7 RadioShack before Lance ws broken by three crashes in stage 8 ASO (c)
This 204.5 km stage is the second one in the mountains, and will be worst than the first.
It starts with a hard steep climb up the category 1 Col de la Colombiere, followed by a category 2 climb up Col de Aravis, then the Col de Saisies, a category 1 hiccup, and finally up the piece de resistance the Col de la Madeleine--an hors categorie col that seems to go on forever.
This is the kind of stage where Lance Armstrong could make up time and play with the riders, helping one of his teammates to the front. It's too early in the mountains for many of the General Classification contenders to follow him since he is almost now 12 minutes behind. But if we were talking about the old Lance, you could expect a surprise from him, and on this point he should not be underestimated today.
Armstrong's fall back was due to three crashes, the second possibly the fatal one that dealt both injuries and a time deficit that was impossible to make up as the leaders pushed the pace up the Col de la Ramaz and the ascent to the Station des Rousses. Today he has nothing to lose, and can assist his teammates to improve their standings, and possibly their chances to make it to the podium in Paris.
Many are betting that teammate Levi Leipheimer is that person because he is currently 8th, and 2 minutes 14 seconds behind the leader. But after his relentless performance in the mountains in the 2009 Tour, my bet is on RadioShack's Andreas Kloden. Whatever the outcome, there will be a breakaway that could stay away after Colombiere. If it sticks past the Col de la Madeleine, the downhill to the finish at Saint Jeanne de Maurienne could be an asset for the riders in front. Still, if the team is working as a team looking for a win in Paris, they may not attack in this stage, preferring instead to stay with the leaders.
Other strong possibilities are Cadel Evans who frankly I think will melt before the Madeleine, Schleck who is the most fit of them all, and Contador. But as we saw, despite all his bravado, Contador is not as fresh as he was last year.
Yesterday at a press conference for reporters outside his hotel, Contador donned a soccer jersey for Spain with a no "1" on the back. He said he felt bad for Armstrong's drop back but said it does not affect him. He also noted that he followed the wrong leaders in stage 8.
The experts are pointing to George Hincapie and Alexandre Vinokourov, but I am not so sure. Hincapie hasn't shown us a lot this Tour, and I am not convinced he can do well in the massive heat wave that has hit France. Vinokourov is a wildcard--would he really attack when his Astana teammate Contador has a chance to win the Tour? Another possibility is Samuel Sanchez, but after his major push two days ago, my bet his legs are hurting.
Finally there's Carlos Sastre of Cervelo Test Team who is 11th overall and came in 12th in the stage yesterday, and Jurgen Van den Broeck of Omega Pharma Lotto who is currently in 4th position. These gents could have something to prove in today's stage--is they can do it.