As if Astana wasn’t holding enough cards before the TTT they now have 5 riders in the top 10 that have significant time gaps over all the other contenders.
Could the tour effectively be over for everyone, but Armstrong and Contador? A quick look at the time gaps says yes, but this being cycling, of course, anything can happen. The combo of Monday’s field split and the TTT has left contenders like Sastre (+2:44), Evans (+2:59), Menchov (+3:52), and Andy and Frank Schleck (1:41 & 2:17) relatively far behind Armstrong and Contador. Yes, loads of time can be made up in the mountains, but in order for that to happen Lance and Alberto would both have to have bad days. And even if that were to happen Astana still has Leipheimer and Kloden near the top.
I believe that the only chance any of other GC guys has to wrestle the 2009 title away from Astana is to form an alliance w/ one or 2 of the other contenders. It’s the kind of thing that allegedly doesn’t go on in pro cycling, but probably does. None of those chaps have a chance w/ just their own teams, so an unholy alliance is all that can salvage any podium hopes.
It will be interesting to see how Astana plays it on Friday. The stage is pretty nasty — 5 categorized climbs ending in the beyond category (HC) Andorre Arcalis. The last time the Tour came here a young Jan Ullrich destroyed the field to set the stage for his 1997 win. It’s 10 km at an average gradient of 7 percent. The first km averages almost 9 percent which should knock the group down to a select few very quickly. Will Astana play the old role of driving the pace w/ their leaders in reserve? Or is there a new strategy w/ several strong men?
If you’re anywhere near a TV tomorrow you should try to catch the last hour or so of coverage on VS. It will be a slug-fest.