Well, here we are, on the eve of the first mountain stage. Tomorrow’s stage 7 will climb to Arcalis where we will begin to have a much clearer picture of what the Tour will bring over the next two weeks.
Status Check. Armstrong is best positioned to take the Yellow Jersey, but his ace-climber teammate sits only 19 seconds behind, with Kloden and Leipheimer within a half minute. None of those four are weak climbers, and should be able to hold their own on a mountain like we will see tomorrow. The question is, will it be difficult enough to be decisive? Will these four riders unify and all ride for the strongest on the day, or will they shatter and race for themselves?
Further down the GC we have Sastre and the Schlecks, all three of whom are close enough to possibly take yellow tomorrow with a strong ride. It’s impossible to say what will happen.
With that, lets get to some predictions. No self-respecting cyclist would ever consider using a crystal ball to see into the future – way too heavy. Personally, I prefer carbon. Not high-modulus, just the regular stuff with the beautiful weave. Sure, I can’t see into it to make my predictions, but I certainly love staring at it. So, bearing in mind that I just said it’s impossible to predict tomorrow’s outcome – and that I am using an opaque object as my “seeing” device, here are my predictions:
- Armstrong wavers. Although he may end up on the podium in Paris, the Yellow Jersey will never touch his shoulders. He doesn’t have the confidence from 2001 to attack at the base of the climb to make the decisive move, and with his lack of racing over the past few years, he won’t have the acceleration to match the attacks that will no doubt come at him. He’ll have to rely on Ullrich-style consistency to stay in contention, but it will most likely end up with one of his teammates leapfrogging him on the GC. The only scenario I can see where Armstrong attacks is if he gets angry. And, the only way I see him getting angry is if Contador attacks him without a prior agreement to do so.
- Contador will lack the devastating accelerations we saw in 2007 when he won the Tour, but will be more than strong enough to match the other climbers. Provided he is given the green light to leave Armstrong behind, he will likely end up in Yellow.
- Leipheimer will be loyal to Armstrong and return the super-domestique favors given to him by Armstrong at the Giro.
- The climb is not steep enough for Sastre to attack and take the big time gains he did on l’Alpe last year; but he may well move into the top 5.
- The climb is also not steep enough for the Andy “Energizer Bunny” Schleck to really take advantage of his climbing skills, but he may move into the top 3.
- Cadel Evens will complain that he didn’t have teammates with him and will stay with the main group of contenders, whatever that ends up being.
- Andreas Kloden is a wildcard. He’s got “Grand-Tour Winner” written all over him, meeting all three requirements: he can climb, he can time-trial, and he is allegedly involved in blood-doping. Despite that, I don’t see him soloing away from anyone to take a big time gain, although he may well ride with the lead group and take yellow – provided Armstrong and Contador are not in that group as well.
- Frank Schleck will be the only rider with any wiggle-room and Arcalis suits his style. He will storm away at the bottom and bring himself within inches of taking the Maillot Jaune.
Boy, does that weave look great!