Friday, July 10, 2009

The Tour de France Heads into the Pyrenees

The Tour de France heads into the Pyrenees today after the most exciting first week in memory. Unlike previous Tours, we've had several events to sort out the contenders early on. Fabian Cancellera is still wearing the yellow jersey, though many expect him to lose it by the end of the stage.The next four riders in the general classification are from the Astana team: Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador, Andreas Kloden and Levi Leipheimer. All are strong climbers, all have finished on the podium, and all are within 31 seconds, with Lance just 22/100 seconds off the lead.
Today's stage is the first of eight in the mountains. I expect Astana to ride together to sort out their rivals. Carlos Sastre, the defending champion, Cadel Evans, a two-time runner-up, and Andy Schleck will be looking for opportunities to attack and make up the time they've lost in the first week. Another contender, Denis Menchov, is already down nearly five minutes.
Astana will be able use its strength at the top of the GC to great tactical advantage. Rivals looking to claw their way into contention will have four riders to watch. Armstrong and Contador don't have to attack, but if Kloden or Leipheimer mount a charge, any rider looking to move up will have to respond.
The return of Lance Armstrong has galvanized the Tour. The peloton hasn't had a patron or boss since his departure, and he is back with the toughest posse in town. As the riders head up the slopes of the Pyrenees, Astana will be dictating the action. It's hard to imagine that Astana will let anyone else wear yellow from here on out, but we still have 16 days to go and two mountain ranges to cross.

Photo: Joel Saget / AFP / Getty Images

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