In what should have been a normal first-week stage for the sprinters with little effect on GC, the riders found themselves amidst some of the most exciting racing the Tour has seen in several years.
When Lance Armstrong and 2 teammates found themselves in the HTC-spawned break of some 28 riders the prospects for the outcome of this race turned on their heads. Cycling News has a thorough rundown of what transpired. All of the action created more questions than it answered.
Is there now an intra-squad battle at Astana. On Twitter Lance says no: “At dinner with the team. Despite what some might think, morale is sky high. We’re psyched for tomorrow. Gotta love the TTT..” Well of course, what else is he gonna say?
Over at Cycling Weekly they have a darker take. Basically that not only is there a battle betw. Armstrong and Contador, but that other riders on the team have already taken sides. They even go so far as to say “There is now no doubt the team is split in two. Armstrong has gained the upper hand, and now leads Contador overall by 19 seconds.” I think there is plenty of doubt that this is the case. First the gap of 19 seconds is nothing. If Contador is as fit as I think he is he could make that up in 2 km in the mountains. Secondly Astana now has 4 GC riders (Armstrong, Contador, Kloden, Leipheimer) within 30 seconds of each other. That puts them in an incredibly strong position. If Kloden goes in a break how hard do the other teams chase knowing that the other 3 are there for the counter? They have so many cards to play at this point. The only thing I will say with “no doubt” is barring a massive collapse on multipole fronts Astana will put at least one, if not 2 men on the final podium in Paris.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still think there’s plenty of intrigue. As I tweeted right after the stage I wonder if Hincapie gave Lance the heads-up on what HTC had planned. He says no, but that’s what I’d say too, true or not.
Tomorrow’s TTT will be cool to watch and the US media will go apeshit if Armstrong gets in yellow, but the sort out should come on Friday’s climb to Arcalis — 10 km straight up to the finish.