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Tour Withdrawal, Stage 1

Contador on Arcalis

Contador on Arcalis

I wrote five posts last week about the Tour de France (here, here, here, here, and here). Since then, stages 6, 7, and 8 — comprising this year’s visit to the Pyrenees — have taken place, and I haven’t said a word. Well, what’s there to say? Just more of the same, and you can read about it better elsewhere. (See, for instance, Alexander Wolff’s excellent article in SI about drugs and the Tour.)

The second and third days in the Pyrenees were the quietest days yet, both because the first day in the Pyrenees was so difficult and because the big climbs in days two and three came early, with long descents and flat stretches afterwards, so none of the leaders tried to break away. All the drama came in that first mountain day, Friday, a brutal day, 224 kilometers of riding, from Barcelona into Andorra, culminating with the massive climb of Arcalis. A breakaway group was never reeled in, but none of them was a threat to win the Tour, so the leading group was content to let them go. As a result, the young French rider Brice Feillu was able to win the stage, and the Italian veteran Rinaldo Nocentini came in fourth, 26 seconds behind Feillu, which was good enough for him to claim the overall lead and the yellow jersey.

The real action was in the group behind, which did make up time on the final climb, and which seemed destined to finish together. But then the big move came, the dramatic attack by Alberto Contador with about 2k left. He created a gap, and since 3 of the other top riders were his Astana teammates Armstrong, Leipheimer, and Kloeden, they allowed him to go rather than helping the leaders of the other teams to close the gap. Or at least that’s one version of the story. Eleven riders finished 21 seconds behind Contador, including fellow race favorites Armstrong, Leipheimer, the Schleck brothers, the recent Giro winner Denis Menchov, and last year’s Tour winner Carlos Sastre, along with this year’s breakout star, the young German rider Tony Martin. Kloeden was a little farther back. This was enough to move Contador into second place overall, 6 seconds behind Nocentini and 2 seconds ahead of Armstrong.

The big question is, did Armstrong really stay back to support Contador and their Astana team? Or, is Contador so strong, simply better than everyone else in attacking the mountains, that neither Armstrong nor any other rider could have closed the gap on him? Now that we’re through the Pyrenees, the answer will have to wait the Alps in a week. Watch for Stage 15 next Sunday, which finishes with the climb to Verbier. That may be the first big shakeout of the general classification.

My own guess? Lance is riding well. He may well be in top form, able to handle the stages that await in the Alps and then Mont Ventoux. But I suspect we’ll find that Contador is better still, and we may find that out at Verbier.

As for the title of this post, there’s no racing tomorrow. The first rest day. What am I supposed to do? I’ve awakened to the Tour for nine days now. The riders know they can’t rest too much. They need to get out there and ride or they will regret it on Tuesday. If I wish to avoid withdrawal symptoms, I need to get out there and watch something. Too bad I don’t have old Tour DVDs to watch. Maybe I should rent one. The 2000 Tour would be a good place to start. I could watch the famous climb of Mont Ventoux, the duel between Armstrong and Marco Pantani, in preparation for this year’s climb of Ventoux.

Of course, in two weeks I’ll have to deal with a much more serious case of Tour Withdrawal. I better be prepared.

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