It's been an amazing first week of the Tour de France. Tough stages has meant that the GC has been significantly affected early on, and already there are GC riders well out of contention for the overall. Then again, we must remember this past year's Giro d'Italia, where eventual overall winner Ivan Basso was over ten minutes down on the GC after the first week. Only problem was, it wasn't Alberto Contador ad Andy Shleck that were ahead of him by that much time. So, keeping that mind, here are the goods and bads thus far from this year's Tour.
Monday, July 12, 2010
As was the case in 2009, Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador are clearly head and shoulders above everyone else when it comes to climbing. The two have put minutes between themselves and their competition, and should their form hold the Tour is fast shaping up to be a two horse race for the top step of the podium. Schleck seems to be best on the uphills right now, but Contador is improving every day, and will likely strike in the final week.
The race for the third meanwhile is also very compelling, with Sammy Sanchez leading, Denis Menchov, Jurgen Van Den Brouk and Levi Leipheimer all a minute or less behind Sanchez. Further down, teammates Ivan Basso and Romain Kreuziger trail Sanchez by three minutes. Of these second tier riders, Leipheimer and Sanchez look the strongest on the climbs. However, Basso seems to get better the longer a stage race goes on and Menchov has an excellent time trialing capability. These above riders will ensure the final two weeks of the Tour aren't boring, even if they aren't the ones battling for the top step in Paris.
On the team scene, not enough can be said about Saxo Bank. They have worn the yellow jersey for three stages with two different teammates and now their GC leader Andy Schleck is in the driver's seat heading into the last half of the race. Bjarne Riis' teams are always successful in big races throughout the year, but they have separated themselves in this year's Tour as the best overall team, at least so far. With all of their success year in and year out, it is hard to believe that Bjarne Riis had trouble finding a sponsor for 2011 and beyond.
Cadel Evans, Mick Rogers, Brad Wiggins. All out of the running for the GC. Yes, something strange could happen, seeing one of them move back up the classification. In reality though, they are likely done and the PR machine can start now for each one.
In the most hot water will be Brad Wiggins, who signed with the new British Sky team for 2010 with one singular goal: To win the Tour de France. The outspoken Brit claimed that he needed a better team to support him if he were to hope to make the Tour podium and Sky answered the call. Wiggins though has deflated from the beginning and has never really been in the conversation for the GC. He seems to have come back down to earth after having left the tuteledge of Garmin's Jonathan Vaughters and it is looking like his 2010 season is sunk. He'll have to go on the offensive for the remainder of the Tour, hoping for a change in his fortune.
Cadel Evans, like he did in 2009, has lost big time in the high mountains. The reigning world champion just has not looked as fresh as the other GC riders, and he was caught out in a big way in today's stage 9. He isn;t completely out of the race yet, but like Wiggins it isn't looking good. A 5th overall at the Giro shows he can still contend in stage races, but two sub-par performances in a row for the Tour never bode well for a rider.
Mick Rogers was quietly confident heading into this year's Tour, having taken two stage race victories, including the Amgen Tour of California. Yet the Aussie seems a level below most of the other GC riders, close but not close enough in both the time trials and mountains. Rogers is still a great stage racer, but he is probably better suited to the one week long stage races instead of the grand tours. Because of his great early season Rogers can still ride with little pressure, but like the others he'll hope to be in the conversation for a stage win at some point over the final two weeks.
With two weeks yet remaining, there will surely be more surprises, but thus far this year's Tour has been one for the ages. Now, we will see if Contador is as dominant as last year, or whether he'll finally be unseated.