“It’s the stupidest thing. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of.
This is what Ryder Hesjedal said after officials seized his bike at the finish line of today’s stage of the Giro d’Italia to check for any hidden electric motors. The full story can be found here at Velonews.
There have been rumors of some riders using electrically assisted bikes for a while. I think it started after the 2010 Ronde van Vlaanderen when Fabian Cancellara rode away from Tom Boonen on the Kapelmuur. (round about 2:40 on the video clip)
Electric assisted bikes exist. My wife Grace has one, and it works well. It also weighs 22 kg, of which the battery accounts for about 3 kg and the motor probably about another 3 kg. In other words the motor and the battery weigh about as much as the average pro’s race bike.The maximum power boost is probably about 120 to 150 watts, using it at that level the battery would last about two hours.
I think the important part of the bike to focus on is the bottom bracket area (where the cranks are) If you look closely at the E-Bike you will see a grey rhomboid shape just in front and above the front chainring. This is the motor housing. Do you see anything remotely like this on the Cannondale – no. Electric motors produce power roughly in proportion to their size, so to get a significant power boost you need a reasonably sized motor, something which I don’t think could be hidden in the seat tube. Another thing worth noticing is that grey box on the lower tier of the rack, that is the battery. It is conceivable that you could fashion a battery that would fit into the down tube, but I’m not quite sure how you get it in and out without cutting the frame nor can I see how you would charge the thing without leaving evidence of a charging port. Also note the wires everywhere on the E-bike and not so much on the Cannondale.
On top of that why would a professional cyclist want the penalty of the extra weight of a battery and motor on a mountain stage for a five or ten minute boost?
“A similar incident last summer was even more traumatic. I was training in Zuid-Limburg, in the Dutch hills, doing efforts on a climb. Efforts mean riding up a hill as fast as possible. Again. And again and again. When I did the effort for the fifth time, gasping for oxygen and with legs about to explode, I suddenly saw an aged couple two corners above me. They were pedaling up as well.I should have realised immediately that only Super Granny would be capable of riding up a climb like that. For ordinary-aged people it was far too hard. But doing efforts blurs ones vision. I could just notice that this aged couple’s pace was pretty high. Actually, they seemed to be flying up. I was giving it all and I hardly came any closer. WTF?, I thought. WTF, OMG, BBQ?!?! I squeezed out every bit of energy I had left in my body and found myself back in the slipstream of the couple. And there I saw what I should have realised minutes before: electric bikes.
Having tried to follow Grace in full boost mode up a hill, I tend to agree with her.
It is time to fire up the blog again. Le Tour de France est presque sur nous mes enfants. Next Saturday on the 30th of June one hundred and ninety-eight riders set off from Liège in Belgium in the hopes that one of them will pull on that final maillot jaune on the Champs-Élysées three weeks later. It is starting a week earlier than it normally would because of some silly multi-sport event that London is staging the following week.
(More London-based whines about the Olympics will follow over the next month or two.)
One hundred and ninety-eight riders start but only one can win, so who is it likely to be? I can tell you who it wont be. It won’t be Andy Schleck, he is out with a fractured pelvis sustained in a fall in the Criterium du Dauphine. It won’t be Alberto Contador, he is banned until August because of doping violations or eating a dodgy steak, depending on whose story you believe. It won’t be Mark Cavendish, he will lose twenty minutes the first time the road tilts seriously upwards and at least another twenty on every subsequent occasion.
This years route goes clockwise round the country, with the Alps coming before the Pyrénées.This is normally reckoned to favour the all-round riders like Cadel Evans against the pure climbers like Frank Schleck. This year’s course also features two long individual time-trials for the first time in a few years. All in all including the prologue there is about 100km of racing against the clock. Again this doesn’t help the climbers. The climbers will have to think about how they are going to win this years tour. I don’t think the will be able to wait to the final climb of the day before they attack, because they won’t gain enough time that way. They will need at least three minutes over the likes of Cadel Evans or Bradley Wiggins going into the final time trial to have a hope of winning. The moyen montange stages could prove to be crucial. The other stage that I think will be important is Stage 16. This the classic Pyrénéan stage from Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon as won by Robert Millar back in 1983.
So who is going to win? For the first time, probably ever, we have a British rider, Bradley Wiggins, with a realistic chance of overall victory. Some bookmakers have him odds-on to win, which is ridiculous. There are far to many variables in a three-week stage for any rider to be odds-on to win it. Wiggins isn’t Frankel, streets ahead of the opposition, he is one of about five or six riders with a realistic chance of winning the race. They are in my opinion, and in no particular order; Cadel Evans (last years winner), Frank Schleck, Bradley Wiggins, Vincenzo Nibali, Robert Gesink and Ryder Hesjedal.
Cadel Evans (BMC) (Aus) has been there done that and last year finally got the tee-shirt. There will be no doubt about who is the BMC team leader and what the teams object is. He is strong, determined, more than a good enough climber to stay with the best in the mountains, and even if he can’t always match the sudden accelerations of the pure climbers, has repeatedly shown the ability to drag himself back up to them and limit his losses. He is also one of the peleton’s better time-trialists, especially at the business end of a three-week tour. This years course probably suits him even better than last years. However last year he was one of the oldest riders ever to win the Tour de France and this year he is one year older. At the Critérium du Dauphiné he did not seem to be at full form, but neither was he at his best last year, besides there is a saying in the peleton “Good Dauphiné, bad Tour, bad Dauphiné, good Tour”, meaning that it is possible to peak too soon.
Bradley Wiggins(Sky) (Gbr) had a good Dauphiné, he won it. He has also won Paris-Nice and the Tour de Romandie this year. He is undoubtedly the man in form. He is a similar rider to Evans, in that he is a good climber albeit one who generally prefers to climb at a steady pace and he is probably the best time-trialist in the world at the moment. If he is within three minutes of anyone bar Cadel Evans at the start of the final time-trial I will expect him to in Yellow by the end of it. I think that he can even give Evans a minute. In the three races that he has won this year he and his team have made controlling the race look easy. However in the races up to now the team has been wholly dedicated to making sure that Wiggins is on the top step of the podium. In the Tour Mark Cavendish will be looking for stage wins and probably trying to keep the Green (Points) Jersey that he won last year. The riders required to take care of “Cav” and lead him out in the sprints are not the same type of rider that Wiggins needs in the mountains. Possible conflict there.
Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek) (Lux) is one of the climbers in the race who could win it. Normally he is slightly in his younger brother Andy’s shadow. Andy being out injured perversely could actually help Frank. Last year they had a tendency to try to make sure that one brother’s attack wasn’t putting the other brother into difficulties, so when they did attack in the mountains, they didn’t persist, allowing the other riders to come back to them. This year when he goes, he wont have to worry about his little brother being left. Having said that, he is generally not as strong a climber as is brother and in last years final time trial he lost 2:34 to Cadel Evans over a course that was 11 km shorter than this years. In addition, rumour has it that he (and Andy) are not happy with their current team and the Team Manager (Johan Bruyneel) in particular. So while I think that Frank Schleck might influence who wins I don’t think that it will actually be him who stands on the top step in Paris.
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) (Ita) is another rider whose main strength is his climbing, but he also rides a reasonable time-trial, if not in the same league as Wiggins and Evans. He has won a Grand Tour before, the 2010 Vuelta d’Espana (Tour of Spain) so he knows how to defend a lead if necessary. Liquigas’ normal tactics in the mountains seem to be set a high but steady pace to make sure that there are no surprise attacks and then for the leader to try to nip off at the end. This plays right in to the hands of the likes of Wiggins and Evans, both of whom are quite happy to sit behind anyone who is setting a steady pace, almost no matter how high. What they find more difficult is a pace that is constantly changing, having to constantly put in an extra effort to drag themselves back up to an attacker. In this years Giro d’Italia those tactics didn’t do the eventual winner any harm.
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin) (Can) won this years Giro d’Italia in the final time-trial. A similar rider in many ways to Evans and Wiggins, this years course should suit him. He rides for a team that works as a team, and regards a victory for anyone on the team as a victory for the team. He will have some of the most experienced riders in the peleton working for him, but the Tour de France is a step up from the Giro, and we will also need to find out if he has fully recovered from the Giro, something that might not become apparent until the third week.
Robert Gesink (Rabobank) (Ned) is a tall skinny Dutch climber with a reasonable time-trial. He won this years Tour of California with a superb attack on the principle mountain stage, so his form is there. The Tour of California, however doesn’t attract a very strong field because it takes place at the same time as the Giro. A fourth place at the recent Tour de Suisse show that he is still up there. His main problem, however is a tendency to fall off.
Because the course suits all-rounders rather than climbers, and because the two climbers (Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador) who are able to disrupt the equilibrium of the all rounders in the mountains are both out of the race, this is how I think the final podium will be. It’s an all Commonwealth affair;
First Bradley Wiggins
Second Cadel Evans
Third Ryder Hesjedal
Of course a rider could appear, if not exactly from nowhere, but from below the radar, and surprise us all. Last year’s White Jersey winner Pierre Rolland is one who springs to mind.
I shall have a look at the Green (points) Jersey and the Polka-dot (King-of-the-Mountains) Jersey competitions in my next post.
The time trial, or contre la montre if you are feeling French, around Grenoble was the decisive stage as far as Le Maillot Jaune and le Maillot Blanc (for the best rider under 25). Le Maillot au Pois Rouge (polka dot jersey) has already been decided, as there are no more classified climbs between l’Alpe d’Huez and les Champs-Élysées. Barring a serious accident or illness, which is unlikely, Samuel Sánchez will wear that jersey on the final podium. The team competition was as good as in the bag for Garmin-Cérvelo, although disastrous rides by all their time trial specialists and brilliant rides by AG2R and/or Leopard-Trek could, in theory, have seen them lose. Nothing much was going to happen with Le Maillot Verte (points competition). The final sprint on the Champs-Élysées will decide the winner
Stage 20 was a 42.5 km loop starting and finishing in Grenoble. Today’s story was simple. Cadel Evans, who is one of the better time-trialists in the peleton had 4 seconds to make up on Frank Schleck and 57 seconds to make up on Frank’s Brother Andy if he was to win the Tour de France. Frank and Andy, historically, are comparatively weak against the clock. The stage was set for the dénouement.
Any tension there might have been was over by the first time check after 15 km. Evans was already 36 seconds ahead of Andy Schleck and by the second time check at 27.5 km it was officially game over as Evans was 1:49 ahead of Andy Schleck, or 52 seconds ahead overall. The only question left was could he win the stage as well as the Tour? He didn’t quite manage that he finished second.
There were a couple of minor sub-plots. Who, if any of the specialists against the clock, such as Fabian Cancellara, Tony Martin and David Millar still had enough left in their legs after nineteen stages of working for team-mates to put in a winning ride? The Young Riders competition was still up for grabs. Rein Taaramae trailed yesterdays hero Pierre Rolland by 1:33. This was a similar scenario the fight for Yellow. Taaramae is easily the better of the two against the clock, but could he make up the deficit?
Tony Martin took the stage by 7 seconds, but I don’t think Evans was too upset about that. The other contre la montre specialists didn’t feature. The weather when Fabian Cancellara and David Millar rode was not particularly favourable, but the real reason they failed was that after a long hard tour they just did not have enough left in their legs. Pierre Rolland kept his lead in the Young Riders Competition. Garmin-Cérvelo kept the lead in the Team Competition. Samuel Sánchez didn’t fall off, in fact he produced a surprisingly strong ride to finish the stage in seventh place, so keeping the Mountains Jersey.
Someone also took a very unusual photograph of Cadel Evans. (Evans is a complex, emotional, and often prickly character, hence his nickname, given by the cycling press, “Cuddles”) The photo shows him wearing Le Maillot Jaune and smiling. The relationship between these two things has not been proven, but should not be discounted.
After breakfast in Grenoble, the riders travel via TGV to the start of today’s 21st and final stage in the Parisian suburb of Créteil for the 95 km ride to the finish on les Champs-Élysées
The final stage is often described as ceremonial, and in some ways, especially as regards the General Classification, it is.The Points Competition is still up for grabs. Mark Cavendish has a lead over Jose Joaquin Rojas of 15 points. There are a maximum of 65 points available for won on todays stage. It will all come down to the final sprint. Cav has won on les Champs-Élysées for the past two years, his team are the best in the business at setting him up for the sprint. It is a forgone conclusion, no?
We will know by about four this afternoon.
My post for today’s stage and my overall thoughts on this year’s Tour will be up sometime after that.
I thought that the racing in the Pyrenees was a bit boring, and said so in a couple of my recent posts. The riders have more than made up for their apparent reluctance to race properly since Le Tour hit the Alps.@lancearmstrong agrees with me, he tweeted earlier;
If you thought the Pyrenees were boring (I admit, so did I) then the boys are making up for it yesterday and today!
Stage 19 was short (by Tour de France standards) 109.5 km trip from Modane Valfréjus to Alpe-d’Huez. That is the sort of distance that I might do on a Saturday ride. I probably wouldn’t take my route over the Col du Telégraph the Col du Galibier and finish it 1850m up on l’Alpe d’Huez. and I couldn’t even dream of trying to do that distance in just over three hours, even if it was pan flat.
The stage produced another fascinating afternoon of racing. This time with Alberto Contador animating the race. I was working at home today and I managed to resist going downstairs to watch it, just relying on cyclingnews.com’s live text report to keep up with what was happening. I cracked before Thomas Voeckler did for the second time, and went down and put the telly on to watch the final climb.
I’m not sure why Contador initially attacked on the Col du Telégraph, if he was only intending to win the stage, surely he would have been better to wait until the final climb? If it was to try to win the Tour, then it was a brave move, but the 45 km descent from the Galibier to Bourg d’Ossians was always likely to bring the race back together at the foot of the final climb. It might just have been a show of defiance.
Another thread in the narrative of this year’s race has been the failure of a French rider to win a stage. Norway has two riders in the race, France had forty-four at the start of the race. A the start of today’s stage the score was Norway 4 France 0 – slightly embarrassing. Thomas Voeckler salvaged a lot of national pride with his time in le Maillot Jaune, but as early as the Col du Telégraph, when he found himself stuck in no-man’s land after trying and failing to go with Contador’s first attack, it was obvious that today would be the day when he was going to finally lose the jersey. Pierre Roland, the rider who has been Voeckler’s bodyguard throughout his time in yellow was given his freedom to ride his own race. He grabbed it with both hands.
He attacked initially with Ryder Hesjedal at the bottom of the final climb. They were both caught by Alberto Contador after he had attacked the GC group. They dropped Hesjedal soon after that. Roland hung on for a while after before Contador gradually rode away from him. With about 5km to go Samuel Sánchez attacked the Schleck/Evans group and quickly bridged up to Pierre Roland, Roland took his wheel and allowed Sánchez to take them both up to Contador. By this time Contador was beginning to fade, not too much, but you could see that it was beginning to hurt seriously. Roland attacked and neither Sánchez or Contador could do anything to counter. He rode off to record the first French stage win of this Tour, and the first French win on Alpe d’Huez since Bernard Hinault won there in 1986.
About a minute further back the Schlecks and Cadel Evans were having a slightly bad-tempered stalemate. Andy Schleck wanted Evans to ride, Evans said no, there are two of you and only one of me. The all eventually finished in the same time, about a minute down on Roland.
Three of the competitions are pretty well tied up. Samuel Sánchez, by finishing second on the stage today picked up enough mountain points to put him into the lead in the King of the Mountains competition, and since there are no more climbs he has won the Polka-dot Jersey. Garmin-Cérvelo have the team prize as good as won, and Mark Cavendish looks to have the Green Jersey tied up as well. Cav lost another twenty points for finishing outside the time limit (along with roughly half the peleton) but his nearest rival Jose Joaquin Rojas was also in the same group so he lost 20 points as well. The Green Jersey is now his to lose.
Le Maillot Jaune is still very much in the balance. Andy Schleck has 57 seconds lead over Cadel Evans (and 53 second over his brother Frank, but I am assuming that Frank won’t try to beat Andy). Evans is a better time trialist than either of the brothers. Andy Schleck’s time trialling has improved over the years, and in last years final time trial, he matched Alberto Contador for a long time before fading slightly towards the end.
A reporter asked him whether he would beat Andy Schleck by enough to win the Tour a very grouchy and monosyllabic “Cuddles” stated;
“I’ve had been is a similar position twice before, and both times I lost.”
We will find the answer about quarter past five tomorrow afternoon. For what it’s worth I think that he probably has enough of a time trial to take the required 57 seconds back, but it could be as close as 1989
The stage will be won by Fabian Cancellara, probably with Tony Martin second and possibly David Millar third.
I am glad to see that Andy Schleck reads my blog and takes my advice. Yesterday I suggested that it would be good if one of the favourites went for it on the Col d’Izoard and put 10 minutes into the race in the style of the great riders of the past. Andy Schleck, channelling the spirit of the great Luxembourgian climber of the fifties Charly Gaul, did just that. Well except for the ten minutes. He managed about two and a half, and didn’t quite manage to dislodge Thomas Voeckler from le Maillot Jaune.
Alberto Contador struggled and eventually failed to hold the group containing Cadel Evans (who did almost all the pace-making), Voeckler and Frank Schleck. He eventually finished fifteenth on the stage and lost 3:50 to Andy Schleck. His hopes of winning the Tour are probably over.
Tomorrow’s stage to L’Alpe d’Huez may decide the winner. If Andy Schleck can repeat what he did today then it is all over bar the shouting. However, today’s escapade may have taken a lot out of him, so he could be vulnerable to an attack. Voeckler continues to ride to his absolute limits to keep the Jersey. He had to be lifted off his bike at the finish today, and while I now think it is unlikely, I do not completely rule out his standing on the top step on the Champs Elyeese.
Today we have to say: “Norway…… Cycling capital of the world!!”
Stage 17 went 179km from Gap to Pinerolo. The two biggest climbs of the day were the Cat.2 Col de Montgenèvre, which took the race into Italy and the Cat.1 climb up to Sestrières ( a stage finish in the past). A 40km descent to the foot of the final climb the Cat.2 Côte de Pramartino, followed. The peleton allowed a fourteen rider break-away to form and by the time they reached the intermediate sprint at 81.5 km they had a six-minute lead. The main contenders were content to bide their time on the first two climbs as any time gained would have easily been brought back on the long descent.
After losing out in the sprint yesterday Edvald Boasson Hagen decided that there was no way this was going to happen again. On the Côte de Pramartino he countered a Sylvain Chavanel attack, sat on his wheel for a few seconds then went himself. Chavanel couldn’t counter and Boasson Hagen rode away for a well deserved stage win.
Behind him in the Yellow Jersey group Alberto Contador was trying to attack the same way he did yesterday, but with less effect. He probably didn't want to go too deep today, bearing in mind tomorrow’s massive stage over three hors categorié climbs and finishing at the top of the Col du Galibier. I also think that Andy Schleck was a bit more with it today. That said Contador did manage to open a bit of a gap on the descent into Pinerolo, but the Schlecks and Cadel Evans closed it down in the last kilometre. Thomas Voeckler managed to lose a few seconds by overcooking a bend on the descent. Fortunately some one had left the gate to their driveway open so he got away with it, it could have been disastrous if they had left it closed.
The Tour organisers are probably hoping that tomorrows stage will define the Tour. My fear is that it is so hard that riders will ride very conservatively and only think about attacking in the final few kilometres. I would like to see someone take a chance and go on the Col d’Izoard and try to put 10 minutes into the race in the style of Coppi or Charly Gaul, but some how I don’t think that is going to happen. However in the meantime don’t forget;
Le Tour is now into its last week and as the riders take their second rest day I will take the chance to recap on the happenings since the last rest day and to update my predictions.
Stage ten took us from Aurillac to Carmaux was a typical transition stage through the Massif Central up and down all day with a scattering of third and fourth category climbs to keep riders who fancied wearing le maillot à pois for a day interested. The stage should have been one for a breakaway, but in the end it came down to a bunch sprint. The big surprise of the day was not that Thomas Voeckler kept the yellow, but that Mark Cavendish was beaten in a bunch sprint.
Philippe Gilbert found himself in a win/win situation. He attacked on the short but brutal final climb.He knew that if he got a gap he had a reasonable chance of winning the stage and even if HTC brought him back it would seriously mess up Cavendish’s lead out train. HTC did bring him back, but the result was Cavendish being left to his own devices in the last 500m. Cavendish said he made a mistake and didn’t go hard enough when went for the line. Possibly that was the case, but André Greipel (who left HTC to get out of Cavendish’s shadow) managed to pass him to record his first ever Tour de France stage win.
Stage 11 was from Blaye-les-Mines to Lavaur, another transition stage taking Le Tour to the foothills of the Pyrenees. There was a bit of climbing, a Cat.3 climb about 30 km from the start and a Cat.4 about 30 km from the finish. The parcours was a bit up and down but the last 30 kilometres were down hill or flat. I was probably the last stage before Paris that had bunch sprint written all over it and Mark Cavendish had a rare defeat to avenge. Actually to give “Cav” his due he was generous in his praise for the way Griepel took the stage. That wasn’t going to stop him trying to win this one though.
There were no late attacks to-day and his team gave him a textbook lead out and Cavendish finished it off in his normal style. Thomas Voeckler hep the Yellow for another day.
Stage 12 took us from Cugnaux to Luz-Ardiden and into le haute montange for the fist time. It was a bit of an anti-climax. Geraint Thomas and the inevitable and indomitable Jeremy Roy were the first two riders over the Col du Tourmalet. BY the foot of the Climb to Luz-Ardiden their escape was over. Samuel Sánchez and Jelle Vanendert got away from the group of the overall contenders and worked well to keep their gap. The Olympic Champion Sánchez manage to jump away in the last 500m to take the stage.
Further back down the mountain the group that Phil Ligget refers to as the “heads of state” – the GC contenders seemed content to try mini attacks which went nowhere and were easily covered. Frank Schleck eventually managed to get away, but only managed to put about 20 seconds into the rest of the group. Contador, who had not looked on the top of his game lost an extra 13 seconds. Thomas Voeckler who had done more than just hang on, kept le maillot jaune.
Stage 13 from Pau to Lourdes had the pundits talking inevitably about miracles. I suppose it was a minor miracle that one of the heaviest riders in the race, and sprinter to boot, (although he was always a lot more than just a sprinter) the World Champion Thor Hushovd won a stage that included the hors catégorie climb of the Col d’Aubisque. The summit was too far from the finish to make it worthwhile for the GC riders to waste energy trying to drop each-other. The stage looked like a stage for a breakaway specialist. Step up Jeremy Roy, who must have thought that he had finally cracked winning a stage, he had two-minute at the top of the Aubisque and about 40km downhill all the way to Lourdes. Disappointment, is probably far to mild a word to express what he felt when Hushovd came pst with 3km to go. He got the lead in the King of the Mountains competition as compensation, but I am certain he would have swapped it for the stage win.
Thor Hushovd thoroughly deserved the win. He rode a brilliant tactical race, covered his weakness in climbing, and played to strengths. He showed exactly why he is wearing the rainbow jersey this year. Thomas Voeckler kept yellow (obviously).
Stage 14 from Saint-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille was almost a carbon copy of Stage 12 to Luz-Ardiden. British rider in the early break, check. It was David Millar this time and not Geraint Thomas. Thomas Voeckler riding reasonably comfortably in the GC contenders group, check. Samuel Sánchez and Jelle Vanendert getting away from the GC group, check. Though this time it was Vanendert who took the stage. GC contenders making pretend attacks the giving up when some one tried to follow, check. A Schleck charging off in the last kilometre to gain a few seconds, check, though this time it was Andy and not Frank.
Stage 15 from Limoux to Montpellier was a flat transitional stage, taking the riders away from the Pyrenees towards the Alps. Obviously there was an early break, obviously HTC chased the break down and obviously “Cav”, despite some attempts by Sky, Garmin, Lampre and Liquigas to disrupt his lead out train, Mark Renshaw dropped him off at 200m to go. Obviously Mark Cavendish won the stage, taking his total stage victories to nineteen and setting a record of being the only rider to win four road (as opposed to prologue or time-trial) stages every year for four years. Even Eddy Merckx can’t match that.
He also extended his lead in the Points competition.
Rest day thoughts
The Green Jersey looks like it is Mark Cavendish’s to lose. Phillipe Gilbert could pick up points n the next two stages, but he is 70 points back, and won’t beat Cavendish on the Champs Elysees. His biggest danger elimination on time delays in the mountains, especially the stage that finishes at the top of the Col du Galibier.
The situation in the GC is not what I expected after the Pyrenees. I, along with the man himself, thought that Thomas Voekler’s time in yellow would finish at Luz-Ardiden. He has however ridden well and courageously and still has a lead of 1:49 over Frank Schleck and over two minutes to Cadel Evans, and Andy Schleck. Basso is just over 3 minutes back and Contador is 4 minutes off the pace.
I’m not sure if they are all at about the same level and can’t drop each other, or no one is yet willing to take the risk of losing the tour by making a major attack and blowing up, but what I do think is that if the racing in the Alps continues in the same vein as it did in the Pyrenees, the Thomas Voeckler on the top step of the podium next Sunday is a distinct possibility. If either of the Schlecks or Basso wants to win they need to have at least two minutes on Cadel Evans going into the time-trial. Contador would need to be at least level with him. Some one somewhere is going to have to attack and persist, the probably attack again if they want to win this race.
I am beginning to get the feeling that Andy and Frank Schleck don’t want to drop each other and when one attacks he seems to wait for the other, allowing everyone else back in. Liege-Bastoinge-Liege did show that they are not the sharpest knives in the block when it comes to tactics, though even a tactical genius of the calibre of Dimitri Konyshev could not have done anything against Philippe Gilbert that day.
Predictions? Cadel Evans for yellow in Paris, the other two steps I really don’t know. Contador is improving, but need to get four minutes, I think the Schlecks will find a way to lose the race between them. Basso and Samuel Sánchez are both looking good, but I don’t think quite good enough to win. And as I have already said don’t rule out Thomas Voeckler.