Time Trial Eve
[Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images, from The Guardian]
It’s been an exciting two days in the Tour de France. No surprise, that. The first days in the mountains always are, as we separate the contenders from the pretenders.
Yesterday’s concluding climb of La Planche des Belles Filles in the Vosges brought the first major shakeout. The climb is not long — 6km — but unrelentingly steep. Tour co-favorite Bradley Wiggins was led out by three Sky teammates: Chris Froome, Richie Porte, and Michael Rogers. Defending champion and fellow co-favorite Cadel Evans, on his own, attached himself to them. First Rogers dragged them up the hill, then he dropped off and Porte took over. With 2km to go, it was Froome’s turn, Wiggins glued to his wheel and Evans to Wiggins’ wheel. Joining this elite group were Vincenzo Nibali, Rein Taaramae, Denis Menchov, and Haimar Zubeldia. Zubeldia and Menchov would fade in the upper reaches, leaving the others to fight it out.
Overall leader Fabian Cancellara was minutes behind, so the yellow jersey would go to Wiggins, if they stayed together, or Evans, if he could ride 10 seconds clear of Wiggins. Froome dropped back part way into the final kilometer, as expected, allowing Wiggins to move into position, but then Evans accelerated, looking for both the stage win and yellow. Would Wiggins go after him? Suddenly, Froome did, racing up to and blasting right past Evans in the final 200 meters to win the stage by 2 seconds, with Evans second and Wiggins on his wheel for third in the same time.
A great day for Team Sky. Wiggins in yellow, stage win for Froome, and the polka dot jersey of best climber for Froome as well.
The day ended with a new general classification that may bear some resemblance to the final standings: Wiggins in first, followed by Evans, Nibali, Taaramae, Menchov, and Zubeldia.
Only minor changes took place today, as the Tour passed into Switzerland via a series of climbs through the Jura mountains, ending in a downhill-flat finish. The big thrill was Thibaut Pinot’s stage win. The overall leaders caught the other members of a breakaway group, but he raced ahead of the breakaway on the final climb and survived on the descent, as the leaders closed to within 26 seconds. Evans sprinted for second place, with Wiggins, Nibali, Menchov, and Zubeldia finishing in the same time. The lone victim of the day, two minutes behind them, was Rein Taaramae, dropping back to tenth place overall as Froome moved into sixth.
The new top six: Wiggins, Evans, Nibali, Menchov, Zubeldia, Froome.
And don’t sell Froome short. He’s more than a simple support rider for Wiggins. Last year, at the Vuelta a España (the Tour of Spain, the last of the three major annual tours), he was charged with leading Wiggins to victory, only for Wiggins to fall short and Froome to prove the stronger rider, Froome finishing second to Wiggins’ third. (Juan José Cobo won, by 13 seconds, the slimmest of margins.)
Tomorrow will bring an altogether different sorting, with the Tour’s first time trial, a ride of 41.5 km into Besançon. Only then will we have a fuller reading of the top riders’ fitness.
I’ll close with this enjoyable tidbit, brought to us by The Guardian’s William Fotheringham:
A journalist asked Wiggins for his opinion on comparisons being made on the internet between Wiggins’s Sky team and Lance Armstrong’s US Postal Service team, which has been linked to a current investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency.
The journalist was given short shrift. “I say they’re just fucking wankers. I cannot be doing with people like that,” said Wiggins. “It justifies their own bone-idleness because they can’t ever imagine applying themselves to doing anything in their lives.
“It’s easy for them to sit under a pseudonym on Twitter and write that sort of shit rather than get off their arses in their own lives and apply themselves and work hard at something and achieve something. And that’s ultimately it. ”
I hope he’s not talking about me.