“Alberto came to win and, quite honestly, so did I”

Lance Armstrong, 7th July

Only last week Lance was claiming he was nothing more than a domestique deluxe in the Astana team, and that Contador was the leader. This was re-stated by Bruyneel at the start of the Tour. We’d all questioned his age, his time away from top-level competition, his ‘beach weight-lifting with celebrity buddies’ size, his broken collar bone, his improving but insufficient form from the Giro. But – by the same token – would this man really come back to ride his beloved Tour de France and play second fiddle to anybody, three-time grand tour champion or otherwise?

Just four days in and – already – Lance is only fractions of a second from the maillot jaune and looking ominously good. He looks lean, he looks strong on the bike, he seems to be orchastrating Astana’s tactics whilst using his experience to eek out time gaps on Contador and co. And finally – despite his pre-Tour protestations – he has admitted he is there to win.

Lance_TTT_09

Together the Astana team are making this Tour impossible for other contenders: one has to question the options remaining for Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre, and arguably the Schleck brothers – all between 1.41 and 2.59 back already on Lance. Denis Menchov’s Giro form – and luck – seems to have dried up, and despite much promise Michael Rogers (the best placed of possible non-Astana challengers) has always struggled on the big climbs.

Whilst putting Lance in yellow would have been nice, it does mean that – crucially – Saxo Bank and not Astana will be shouldering responsibility for the leaders jersey and the peleton in general. This means Lance and team will be fresh come Friday. The ITV4 team speculated that this was intentional (see Lance shifting down gears just before the line as the 5th man in their TTT finish); that the man can judge things to fractions of seconds is severely doubtful. But Lance oozes such control and authority that – with his pedigree for mind games and tactical nouse – it’s almost believable that even this, and the leadership battle, could be planned Armstrong/Bruyneel tactics to confuse rivals and aid his victory cause.

Now, Lance is saying the Astana team leadership will be discussed – or re-discussed – after the stage to Andorra. The Tour often throws up surprises, but if I were a betting man I’d place my money on a Lance v Contador show down for the GC win. And I just can’t help feeling that the wise old owl Armstrong will come out on top yet again!

Advertisements

Who will win Le Tour?

The Classics season is over. The Giro’s finished. The Dauphine Libere starts this coming weekend. Most of the early season favourites have shown form of some description, but this remains the most open of Tours in years. So who is going to win?

Contador goes into the Dauphine – traditionally Lance’s Tour warm up event – as one of the favourites and has an opportunity to be the genuine Astana (or whatever their name is come July 4th) team leader. Levi’s early season form seems to have deserted him, but Astana look incredibly strong and – as mentioned in my Giro reflections – I wouldn’t write off Lance just yet. The Schleck brothers looked very good – bar Frank’s crash in the Amstel Gold race – in the Classics, but will either trascend the status of young prospect and mount a serious yellow jersey bid? Can Menchov challenge in a second successive grand tour? Is Basso up to the task as he continues his come back? Does Evans have the ability to go one better than 2008? Will Sastre improve on his Giro form and retain his title?

Here are the latest odds.

TdF Odds

So far 75% of you think Contador, making him the undisputed favourite. Vote now!

Who do you think will be the winner in Paris?

The Poll – Tour de France

 

As I prepare this site for it’s July kick off – experimenting with some features, widgets, gadgets and thingy-ma-jigs – my mind has naturally wandered onto one fascinating prospect that will also kick off in July. Whichever way you look at it, the 2009 Tour de France is promising to be a real corker. We’ve not even finished the classics season and already we’ve had the come back of one of the greatest cyclists in history, followed quickly by said cyclist’s broken collar bone, followed even more quickly by allegations of doping violations. We’ve seen disputes over team leadership – unsurprisingly also involving said cyclist – with the two team mate rivals launching their seasons in fine fettle; Leipheimer winning the Tour of Castille and Leon, and Contador winning several stages (and at the time of writing leading the Tour of the Basque country). Meanwhile, we’ve also watched Mark Cavendish continue his superb form from 2008 by winning Milan-San Remo, and promising another stage win haul come July. And we’ve heard Bradley Wiggins talk about his season off the track to focus on the road, which could mean he joins Cavendish on the TdF podium. Whatever happens between now and 5th July, the 2009 Tour will surely be one of the most exciting in years. But who’s going to win the yellow jersey? Well, my personal view is…