Big GC shuffle after the first time trial
Le contre la montre. The race of truth. The individual time trial. Today saw Stage 4 of le Tour 2008, and although it was short in duration, it was long on impact. The racing is off to a great start as we saw the third yellow jersey of the race in only four stages---and no doping allegations yet! Viva le Tour 2008.
Going into the action today it was French hero-of-the-day Romain Feillu who stole yellow from Valverde in Stage 3. In that stage the sprinters' teams let the four-man break have their way, which was a maximum lead of 15 minutes. At 50 km to go they still had about an eight minute advantage, and the catch seemed unlikely. Indeed it was not to happen, and Feillu and his fellow escapees took the stage with Feillu taking both time and the yellow jersey from Valverde.
Time to ante up
With the short time trial (29.5 km) any one rider's losses would be limited. However we mentioned yesterday that it would still create a pecking order among the GC contenders, as well as present an opportunity for serious competitors to ante up to the table and take a few (or more) precious seconds from their rivals. Accordingly, GC riders like Cadell Evans, Denis Menchov, and Kim Kirchen came out swinging and "attacked" each other and their rivals with the clock.
The hot pre-race favorites were Fabian Cancellara and David Millar, two time-trial specialists who have performed well previously. In fact Cancellara is the reigning world time trial champ. It was a nearly flat course, with only a few bumps in the road to break it up slightly. This neutralized the climbers and favored the time trial specialists like Cancellara and Millar. Sadly but not surpisingly, overnight French hero Feillu lost out a bit, giving 4:59 to the eventual winner and new maillot jaune Stefan Schumacher.
Next stop: Super Besse
It was a very tight race with the top ten finishing within 47 seconds of each other. That is a deep field and rearranges the standings just in time for the first mountain stage on Thursday. Schumacher is an interesting maillot jaune. He won two stages in the 2006 Giro d'Italia, won the Amstel Gold Race in 2007, and was third in the World Champs the same year. So he has had some success, and appears to be a budding all 'rounder whose climbing ability will be tested in Stage 6 this year. He will defend the jersey vehemently, but remains enough of an unknown to make it unpredictable up the two Category 2 climbs, where there will be plenty of attacks as riders test each other and try to gain more time.
Only one minute separates places 2-9 from yellow. Among the top ten, the only likely contenders are Kirchen, Millar, Evans, and Menchov (11th). And even among them Millar's climbing has always been inconsistent and not his strength. Team Garmin-Chipotle also have Christian Vandevelde, who can be a good climber but has never performed that well in the grand tours. Having said that, however, Garmin-Chipotle is in a superb position. They are a wild card entry this year with zero expectations, and have gone from strength to strength since the start of the year. Yesterday they nearly won the stage (2nd) and again today Millar placed highly (3rd).
But Evans is the big winner from the Stage 4 time trial. He sits currently in 4th place, 21 s behind Schumacher but only nine seconds behind Millar and Kirchen. Furthermore, he is over one minute clear of Alejandro Valverde and 1:20 ahead of Carlos Sastre, two Spanish climbers and favorites of many to take yellow in Paris. Obviously Millar and Kirchen can match Evans in the race of truth, but surely Evans will climb better than both of them. With his team throwing their support behind him and leaving sprinting legend Robbie McEwen to fend for himself, Evans then looks able to take and defend the yellow jersey.
Le Tour 2008: We like it!
It has been a great tour so far, with three lead changes and a likely fourth change on Thursday. The Super Besse stage on that day will no doubt produce another shake up as the yellow jersey will be attacked on the final climb (or even before). Add to this the fact that it is a mountain top finish, where time losses can be decisive, and you have a winning combination for some fantastic racing, with a rider like Evans possibly amassing a substantial lead over his rivals. Look for Silence-Lotto to try to deal a knockout blow to the likes of Valverde and Sastre and perhaps even Menchov. If not, the pressure is firmly on them to make up the 40+ seconds they owe to the Australian.
Roll on Stage 6 and Super Besse!
Welcome to the Science of Sport, where we bring you the second, third, and fourth level of analysis you will not find anywhere else.
Did you know?
Available for the Kindle and also in the traditional paper back. It will make a great gift for the runners you know, and helps support our work here on The Science of Sport.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Big GC shuffle after the first time trial