“It’s Lonely at the Top” or “The Worm Turns”

by wjohngalloway

First, let me say I stand by every syllable of the criticism I’ve shovelled in the direction of les frères Schleck and Ley-O-Pard Trek in general. My good chum Alex Cahill summed up my general sentiments pretty well in his tweet.

“happy to eat my words re: andy’s mettle. if he hadn’t spent the last few days crying for others’ honest advantage, i might be happy for him.”

However, (deep breath before squeezing out praise) the True Racing bunch came out on top after a stage of biblical proportions.

There was nothing innovative about the tactics today. Leopard Trek and BMC both had exactly the same plan and it’s one I’ve seen employed countless times in the decades I’ve been captivated by our sport. It goes like this: Chuck a couple of guys up the road and use them as a bridge for an attack by the team leader later in the stage.

However L.T. employed a couple of tweaks to the basic scheme which made all the difference today.

1:Joost Posthuma drove the sacrificial break HARD with the result that Evan’s BMC men were shed and spent by the time Cuddles needed them but Maxime Montfort still had some juice in the tank to help Andy S.

2: Schlek junior attacked with 60 km to go!

It all worked out perfectly for L.T.

The favourites watched each other and half heartedly marshalled the odd domestique to do his duty on the front of the Maillot Jeaune group whilst Andy gained time on the Izoard and, with sterling help from Montfort, preserved his gap up the Lauteret. Then, suddenly, it was crunch time. Everybody who was anybody stared losing the Tour straight in the face.

Voekler needed to preserve his energy, his jersey virtually sitting on Andy’s shoulders. Now that the terrain provided no place to hide he could legitimately say “I’m not a favourite, it’s you guys that need to chase.”

Contador had been to the voiture du médecin early in the day. Was he bluffing a la Lance on the day of “The Look”? A bike change suggested that he might be. He’d employed them to crushing effect in the Giro, changing to gearing perfectly suited for the final ascent.

Basso had Sylwester Szmyd in attendance and looked comfortable.

Schlek senior looked strong and was just along for the ride.

Cadel was the one to blink first. No team mates left, late in his career and with the form of his life he just had too much to lose and he set off in pursuit of Andy in a TT up the Galibier and, once the decision was made, never looked back or asked for help. A champion’s ride. By the time he crossed the line he’d cut a potentially Tour winning gap to Andy to only 2:15.

Frank nipped by at the end for a Schlek one-two. Having been sitting on wheels for much of the day it was expected.

We had our answer about Contador, he cracked near the summit, lost a big chunk of time and any chance of winning this years Tour.

Huge surprise of the day was Tommy V. On a stage perfectly suited to pure climbers and GC guys who’ve targeted this Tour as their only goal for the entire year Tommy V was there at the end, there with Frank, there with Cadel, there in yellow. He remains in yellow. I have to say though I was disappointed by the relative scarcity of tongue action from Tommy today. ;o)

I think that Leopard Trek expected Andy to be caught today and for Frank to launch a counter attack and gain time on the other favourites. He needs that time, he’s as good at time trialling as I am at ballet.

Contador’s so far back the Tour’s a whole new ball game now. He’s been the focus of all of the teams attention and now they have to rethink their strategy. Tomorrow will be fascinating, particularly with a fresh Frank and an Andy and Cadel who burned a lot of matches today.

Exciting individual stages? Drama? Controversy? Bravery in the face of adversity? This Tour has had all of that. The last few days has added the ingredient I’ve been missing. GC drama.