We have now had enough time in Le Tour to make some serious opinions known. Being lucky enough to actually know a few guys racing has some advantages and having ridden behind Andy Shleck for a few hours around Stellenbosch I understand how fluent the man is. There is a very cool competition running at Fellow #BOOM Custodian Marc Perel’s Tour Blog. Win some Oakley Livestrong shades.
Back to the action we go:
Here is my personal opinion: Bert (Contador) has been stronger over the first 10 days. Now before you start throwing inanimate objects at me, please read the rest of the article to understand. Andy has profited from being well placed but is not the stronger rider man on man. To recap:
Progolgue: Bert is 44 seconds up on Andy over 10km. Does NOT bode well for a final 52km TT, where the difference is likely to be around 2min over Andy, by Bert.
Stage 3: Andy places himself perfectly and gains 1:13 over Bert by riding Spartacus (Cancellara) wheel through the cobbles. Bert loses an extra 20seconds by puncturing with 1km to go where there are no cars. Best tactical move of the entire race by Andy and surprised Bert missed it. Had he not punctured it would have been 53seconds.
Stage 9: Andy attacks but gets roughly 2 seconds until Dirty (Sanchez) comes by and takes the gap to 10seconds. Andy profits from another rider again. Lucky boy.
So if you take the 20seconds off for the puncture and the 10seconds he gained by following someone else`s attack (theoretically) their total accumulated time difference is 11seconds. All that on the FLAT parts of the ride, where Andy out rode Bert on the COBBLES nogal. On the climbs there was NO difference and every attack was covered. One on one, Bert is up 44 seconds in a 10km time trial. He has spared his legs by attacking as little as possible through the Alps, saving his team for the Massiv Central which the riders now pass through to get to the Pyrenees, which is Bert`s homeland. Last year Bert made all his gaps in the Pyrenees, which came first in the 2009 Tour. The climbs are totally different to the Alps, where last year Andy was possibly stronger than Bert.
Realistically, I still believe Bert has a 1:15 advantage in terms of what Andy needs to be in the run for the title, all while getting through his least favorite mountains and the cobbles and only losing time on the cobbles. I can’t see the “Andy is the clear favorite” mentality just yet, but my opinion is just that, mine.
What we do know is that these two guys are evenly matched throughout the Alps, in the mountains. Nothing to separate them in Andy’s favorite mountains, where he was stronger than Bert last year.
Here is what I am thinking so far:
Bert will gain time in the Pyrenees. At some point he is going to give one of his big attacks and Andy will not respond. Andy can attack at 2km to go, Bert can do it from 5km out. That is a vital difference between them. Around 1min30 to 2min over Andy I feel is what Bert is good for, as history has proven. His team will be more fresh and possibly he will be more fresh. He seems to be looking forward to the Pyrenees, where the locals speak his language, where he is earthed. He will ride the crud out of Andy as much as he can so that in the last time trial, he will gain his 2min over Andy. Andy will this Tour have profited from having ridden on the wheel of the best cobble rider on planet earth more than he would have profited in the mountains. That is my prediction.
My prediction is that it will be closer than last year. 2min in it, maybe less overall. That is astonishing if you think about it. Signs of a cleaner sport, of the pressure it takes to be reigning champion. Their bikes are even identical. S-Works with SRAM Red, Zipp 202’s. The fact that there is only 1 time trial this year also means a closer race and is maybe the perfect Tour for Andy. Next year there may be 2 time trials and no cobbles, so there is a 5min advantage vs 2min already for Bert.
We are seeing a really tough Tour this year. More crashes than I have ever seen. It’s been up to 40deg Celsius out there. The first hour each day has been more crazy than what Phil Liggett & Co can remember in recent history. Reading some of the blogs of the guys who ride in the back is interesting. The domestiques will ride to the cars 5 or 6 times a day, to collect about 10kg of stuff, then have to sprint through the bunch (going at 50km/h) to get bottles and food to everyone, only to have to do it again every 30min or so. It’s an insane job and must kill the legs. They are really heroes in my opinion.
Two stand-outs yesterday. One was this guy…
He rode with a cracked elbow. 4800m vertical ascent over 150km with a cracked elbow. Have you ever hit your “funny” bone? Now imagine its cracked and you have to ride a bike over bumpy terrain. The guy is a legend for even attempting that.
The other was Jens Voigt. He paced Andy for as long as he could and when he went #BOOM it was spectacular. He went from riding 30km/h to 3km/h in 3 pedal strokes. He was gasping for air like a skydiving guppy over the Namib Desert and had, as Sherwin would say “had a very deep dig into the pain suitcase”.
Viva le Tour. It is far from over…