Home > Sports > Tour de France: Verbier

Tour de France: Verbier

Contador, in yellow at last

Contador, in yellow at last

I’ve been looking forward to today’s stage since the start of the Tour two weeks ago. Last week, I wrote, “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.”

I was right. But then, I don’t know who seriously thought otherwise. It got a bit tiresome in recent days to listen to Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen during the TV coverage on Versus as they would tell us that Lance is still sitting in perfect position overall. I love listening to them. Phil gets confused sometimes, and I get tired of his talking about simple addition and subtraction as though it’s serious mathematics (as when he says that Paul is furiously working the numbers to see if a certain rider will be in the lead). Occasionally he’ll admit that you don’t need a mathematician to know who’s leading, but more often you’d think you need a super-computer to add figure out whether someone who is 45 seconds behind someone else will take the lead by finishing the day 1’13” ahead. Well, that’s just my little pet peeve, aside from which I could listen to them forever. Except when they’re dishonestly talking up Lance to keep the audience of presumably-ignorant, Lance-supporting Americans interested.

So when Contador took off early on the climb to Verbier today, as I have to think everyone in the world anticipated, I was stunned to learn from Phil and Paul that Lance was riding really well, all things considered. The guy is 37 after all, and 4 years removed from his last Tour. He sure is doing a good job. And yes, he is. But for days you had given us to believe that when the big climb came, we would find out once and for all whether Lance would win. We were to understand that Contador sure looked good — that he was probably the best climber in the world right now — but Lance looked good too, and surely the Tour winner would be one of the two. Well, guess what? Lance isn’t going to win, and I strongly doubt he’ll even finish on the podium. Which takes nothing away from his performance. He’s amazing. He just isn’t one of the best 2-3 riders in the Tour this year. He knows it. And now we all do. I just wish we weren’t led to believe he was second best, if not best, and then in just seconds, when Contador made his break and Andy Schleck left everyone else behind to go after him, the story changed so easily.

Anyway, now we have it. Contador is the class of this year’s field. Andy Schleck and Bradley Wiggins looked awfully good today. So did Kloeden, the Astana teammate of Contador and Armstrong. And Nibali. I think it’s going to be a pretty good race for second and third. In addition to mountains in the coming days, there’s Thursday’s individual time trial. Let’s look back at the opening day of the stage, also a time trial. Putting aside Cancellara, the winner that day but not a factor overall, we see that Contador was second, Wiggins 1 second back of Contador in third, Kloeden 3 seconds back in fourth, and Nibali and Armstrong were 19 and 22 seconds back in 9th and 10th. Andy Schleck was 42 seconds behind Contador, in 20th. I think these are the riders we need to be watching.

By the way, I enjoyed Lance’s comments immediately after the race. He immediately conceded that Contador was the best climber this year. No excuses. No explanations. The truth is on the road for everyone to see. There’s nothing more to add. He noted that everyone was suffering when they hit the climb, but Contador was the one who could do yet another acceleration when no one else did. And he reminded us that he knows the feeling. He has been that one in the past. But not this time.

It should be a great final week.

Categories: Sports
  1. awilliams53
    July 19, 2009 at 5:14 PM

    This is what Lance used to be able to do….

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