Go Dad Go!

A self-important blog about riding bikes, raising kids and the all-too-rare nexus of these two pursuits.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

It just gets better and better: Stage 16 recap

Chris Horner and Juergen Van Den Broeck may differ; even Johnny Hoogerland or Laurent Ten Dam may draw a different conclusion. But to this cycling fan, this Tour is thrilling.

Thrilling enough that my distaste for Contador is diminishing: Fighting to close a deficit that opened with a stage 1 crash and has widened, a few seconds at a time, over a couple of key climbs, el Pistolero is bringing his big guns to the small battles, not waiting for towering Alpine ascents to wage war but attacking on some of this Tour’s milder climbs. Today he did just that, accelerating twice over the stage’s “minor” final climb, the second time distancing himself from predicted rivals Andy and Frank Schleck and new-found rival Thomas Voeckler. Of the favorites, only Cadel Evans and Sammy Sanchez could stay with him, the former taking the opportunity to build a lead of his own down a wet, treacherous descent into Gap, while the latter loyally paced his countryman Contador, closing a margin that could have become ultimately decisive. Contador’s riding was gutsy and savvy, borne of frustration, determination and solid tactics, as he and his director Bjarne Riis had clearly planned to use the plunge to the finish to the Schlecks’ descending disadvantage, and the Spaniard executed well. Perhaps Andy saw his career flash before his eyes as he descended toward “the Beloki corner,” as Phil Liggett called it; whatever the reason, he couldn’t keep up, and he lost valuable time.

For all of Contador’s – I’ll say it – panache, Evans was the day’s big winner. His BMC team of super-domestiques, including George Hincapie, who knows a thing or two about shepherding a GC winner to the base of a climb unharmed, did yeoman’s work in keeping him at the front of the peloton, so that when the big move happened, he was in prime position. Contador takes off like a shot; Evans is more like the Space Shuttle: you can see his big engine firing as he marks time, and loses ground, and then he begins to budge; you can almost picture smoke billowing from his thighs. Soon he’s fully revved up, and then those boosters kick in and he’s riding alongside and even past Contador. And once he reached the summit of that final climb with Contador, Riis’ tactics backfired as Evans, former mountain bike world champ that he is, gapped* his rivals by taking a few more risks on those wet curves. With Sanchez’ help, Contador kept the damage to a minimum, but in this Tour, every second counts, and Evans added a few more today.

While BMC’s performance put Evans in the right spot, Garmin Cervelo’s launched a successful break that saw two of their riders finish on the podium today, with Hushovd once again on the top step. This continues to be the Tour of the Great White North, as two Norwegians and a Canadian led today’s stage. Surely Hushovd would have sacrificed his own chances to see teammate Ryder Hesjdal take his first-ever Tour stage win, but with a fast-finishing Edvald Boasson Hagen between them, the risk wasn’t worth taking, so Thor added another stage victory to his palmares.

With the Alps looming, then, the Schlecks find themselves in a tough spot; they still lead Contador, but they appear very fallible. And one wonders: if they can’t win it this year, with Contador seemingly still tired after the Giro, and riding on a team that’s been built for them, with some of the world’s best time trialists supporting them on a route with many big climbs, just one individual TT and a decisive team time trial, a Schleck-brother may simply not be in the cards.

Which could be the one chink in Phil’s armor that ultimately makes him vulnerable. He still leads our game by 13 points, but his best GC hope is Andy Schleck – who may not even finish on the podium. The others beneath him hold combinations of Contador, Evans, Sanchez, and even Voeckler, so this is still anyone’s Tour. I’m sure that someone – Phil – could work out scenarios, maybe run some Monte Carlo simulations that calculate the likelihood of various results playing out – but please don’t. Let’s just sit back and watch this thrilling storyline play out.

A demain –


*You’ll notice that I made no “Gap” puns today, nor did I once suggest that Hushovd’s victory in Lourdes was a “miracle.” I haven’t even called this the “Thor de France.” We must draw the cliché line somewhere.


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