The Tour de France 2009 is shaping up to be a truly great race. Any pretence that the Astana team is led by race favourite, Contador, has been dropped — by Armstrong at least. The tough-talking Texan has spoken in several interviews about the team having more than one leader, in his (singletrack-)mind at least.
Armstrong’s legs did the talking on Monday, a flat 3rd stage of the race. Usually the peleton would stick together on such a stage and it would end with a bunch sprint, probably won by Cavendish, and there would be no changes to the general classification (i.e. the yellow jersey competition).
Cavendish did indeed win the sprint but the big news of the day was the break in the peleton, something which can happen in high winds. After the split Armstrong rode in the front group; with Contador in the second group. The split extended to 40 seconds and by the end of the day Armstrong led Contador in the race by some 20 seconds. In the post-race interview shown on ITV4, did Armstrong say he should have dropped back to help Contador? Hell no, he accused Contador of tactical naivety, gaining unexpected support from a disgruntled French rider.
Frenchman Christophe Le Mevel claimed it was Contador’s failure to stick to the wheel in front of him which caused the split with around 30km to go. — BBC Sport report
In yesterday’s team trial the Astana team rode well together to win the stage, and came within tenths of a second of grabbing the yellow jersey for Armstrong.
It is interesting to note that had the field not split on Monday, Contador would have been in yellow in Montpellier. Before the Columbia-led move, to which Armstrong and team-mates loyal to him gratefully contributed, Contador was just 18 seconds down overall. Had the bunch stayed together, he’d have been in yellow by 22 seconds after the team time trial. — Cycling News
Contador still looks the man to beat and yesterday’s team time trial has set him up well over many of his rivals. Let’s not forget how well he did in the prologue; let’s see how he fares in the mountains. Armstrong may be able to needle and even outsmart him, but I can’t seem him outriding him in the Pyrenees, the real start of the yellow jersey competition.
As a rider, Armstrong has been admired and feared more than loved. He’s determined and ruthless rather than charismatic. During his 7 Tour wins he stunned his rivals to the point they even failed to capitalise on his mistakes. I suspect he’ll be depending on mistakes now, and I can’t see Contador making another. What’s more, Armstrong will need charisma and love in his future political career. He is turning the 2009 Tour into a great race, but one he will ultimately fail to win, and he will speak truth in defeat; and we will, at last, love him for it.