Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tour de France- Stage 4

Wow! Didn't see that coming at all- I would not have believed you if you told me before the start of the TT today that we would end up with the winner we had. Pretty amazing...

The day wasn't "ideal" for a time trial, but the course offered very little resistance to the riders and the varying winds ended up helping many in the closing kilometers. The rains of earlier days played no role in the outcome as riders rolled off to fend for themselves in this Tour's first test against the clock.

Many of the usual suspects litter the top 20 finishers on the day- guys like Hincapie (9th), Kirchen (2nd), Pate (14th), Vande Velde (8th), Millar (3rd), Voigt (7th), Menchov (6th) and Evans (4th). However, two riders in the top 20 really stuck out to the other riders and to many people following the race- reigning two-time Time Trial World Champion Fabian Cancellara finished a surprising 5th (33 seconds down) on stage winner Stefan Schumacher of Gerolsteiner. Huh? Schumacher is not a terrible TT rider, but he is certainly known more for his one day race prowess and not as a specialist against the clock. By besting Cancellara by 33 seconds, he astounded more than a few observers and riders in the race.

Schumacher's ride was truly amazing and Cancellara offered little more than praise for the German rider and professed, "I’m not a robot. I'm not a machine. I don’t know what happened. I felt good, but I couldn't get my speed going. I'm disappointed. I'm the defending world champion. I'm not here just to show off my jersey. I wanted to win."

The GC was turned on it's head for now, but the real GC contenders all faired reasonably well. Valverde drops to 17th, just one spot behind Cunego, but Evans now sits comfortably in 4th and looks to be in the driver's seat after this first TT. Team Boring Kit's Kirchen now sits in second, but his overall chances really are pretty dismal by the end of three weeks. Schumacher now sits in yellow and his as-yet-with-title-sponsor-for-next-year Gerolsteiner team will be working to keep the yellow for as long as possible. For Gerolsteiner, this is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the team and help find a new sponsor, but Schumacher has a snow-cones chance in Arizona in August chance of winning the race. Still, he'll be fighting to stay in yellow and the team will slaughter itself for him, since this represents an entire season of glory for the team. In a way, that really plays into the true contenders hands, allowing their teams to rest until the real race begins in the mountains. They can't allow Schumacher, or anybody, to build too big a lead early on, but this does give them the chance to simply sit back and enjoy the free ride for a bit. Schumacher and Gerolsteiner want the jersey and many other teams/ riders do too, so they'll have to fight to keep it... but guys like Evans, Valverde, Cunego, Menchov and Sastre (23rd/ 1:43 down) can all relax a bit for now.

Tomorrow will produce a new stage winner, I'm pretty sure. The stage is pretty damned flat and straight, so it should be very fast- even as the race's longest stage at 232km. Expect to see the sprinters team's trying to make up for the their screw-up of stage 3. I'm thinking the really big boys like Hushovd, McEwen, Freire, Cavendish and other speedsters are going to be flogging their leadout trains to the finish line. Thursday brings real work with 4 categorized climbs- two of them Category 2 and an uphill finish- so the sprinters will be hungry to get a day for themselves. Look for fireworks on the day. Many will likely try to get away, but the fast guys will be wanting to show their quads and speed to the world.

Don't blink... you might miss the finish.

Tim

1 comment:

J.D. said...

Tim, I'm following your coverage of the TdF instead of the usual suspects. You sum it up nicely with some fun and humor (i.e. Team Boring Kit). Just wanted to say "Thanks" for the work.