First Mountain Stage Anticlimactic, Fireworks Expected Tomorrow
The first day in the mountains is always an important turning point for the Tour de France, but unlike previous years, the first major climbs in this year’s race didn’t provide much opportunity for any of the favorites to take control of the race. While the breakaway group rolled to a large lead and relieved T-Mobile of the yellow jersey, the overall contenders rode conservatively and saved their strength for what’s certain to be an aggressively contested stage tomorrow.
Besides watching each other to see who was climbing comfortably and who was struggling to keep up, riders and directors were watching to see which teams had the most riders at the summits of the day’s two big climbs. T-Mobile looked strong, as expected, although their decision to stay on the gas at the front while their man in the yellow jersey yo-yoed off the back of the group on the Col de Marie Blanque clearly showed he’s not their man for the overall. That role has almost certainly passed to Andreas Kloden, who finished second overall to Lance Armstrong in 2004.
George Hincapie, Paolo Savoldelli, Floyd Landis, Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov, Christophe Moreau, and Vladimir Karpets all looked comfortable throughout the stage and were well supported by teammates. The bigger test will come tomorrow; it’s one thing for teammates to survive when the contenders’ group is riding a steady tempo, and another for them to handle the added pressure that comes with aggressive riding.
Of course, the day wasn’t great for everyone. Levi Leipheimer looked good on the first climb and came off the back of the contenders’ group on the second. His post-race comments indicated that he ran low on fuel, which may mean that he can rebound and perform well tomorrow, but once you get behind in nutrition or hydration it can be very difficult to recover.
Tomorrow’s a new day
The racing tomorrow is going to look a lot different than what we saw today. With the beyond-category Col du Tourmalet as the first ascent of the day, followed by three more Category 1 climbs and a summit finish atop a fourth, riders have a lot more to gain by racing aggressively tomorrow.
A pure climber like Michael Rasmussen is likely to go off the front on the first climb of the day in order to rack up maximum points in the climbers’ polka dot jersey competition. However, unlike today, that escape is not likely to survive to the finish line because the contenders and their teammates will keep the pace high on each of the climbs to apply pressure and reduce the number of teammates each contender has with him for the final two climbs.
When the contenders’ group reaches the base of the climb to Pla-de-Beret, we’ll finally see which teams have the depth to fully support their leader. Considering the difficulty of the stage, it’s probably realistic to think there will be a maximum of four riders from any one team in the contenders’ group as they start up the final climb. T-Mobile, Discovery Channel, and Phonak are likely to have a strong presence, but riders like Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov, Vladimir Karpets, and possibly Christophe Moreau are likely to be completely isolated or supported by just one teammate.
And while Cyril Dessel put in a great ride today to capture the yellow jersey, there’s a good chance he’ll lose it tomorrow. With several challengers and their teams looking to assert dominance over the Tour de France, the pace tomorrow is likely to be very fast. After spending all day today in a breakaway, Dessel may struggle to keep up tomorrow, and even if he makes it to the bottom of the final climb with the contenders’ group, men like Landis, Evans, and Hincapie could very well take back more than five minutes on the Frenchman.
Most likely, we’ll see a new race leader again tomorrow afternoon, and with his current position among the favorites, there’s a good chance Landis could don the first Tour de France yellow jersey of his career.
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