One of the things that makes the Tour de France much more interesting to me than a one day spring classic is the aspect of having to save enough energy for the next day, and the day after. It’s “easy” (in relative terms) to go all out to win a stage or a jersey, it’s harder to do it in such a way that you have enough energy to go out the next day and do it again.
On the final climb of a stage full of hard climbs, Floyd Landis, sitting in a pack surrounded by multiple T-Mobile, CSC and Casse de Eparne riders but without any real support from his own Phonak squad, was attacked hard, and bonked hard. He just ran out of gas. It was painful to watch as he slowly crawled up the mountain, getting passed by riders who had been dropped by the peleton kilometers earlier.
Meanwhile up the road, Rasmussen repeated the same strategy that won him the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey last year, and went on an attack. By the second last mountain he was alone, and he looked unstoppably strong until about 5km to go on the last climb, but by then he had such a huge lead that even Sastre couldn’t catch him. Sastre had attacked out the front of the main peleton, and had gotten major time on the rest of the GC men, but only got within 1:41 of Rasmussen as the rest of the GC contenders without Landis nearly caught him back up. Leipheimer went on a daring solo attack but eventually bonked on the last climb and ended up behind the “Groupe Periero”.
Landis finishes 10 minutes out, and is now 11th overall and has basically no chance of seeing yellow again this year. But he’s not a complainer and he’s not going to make excuses, and I expect him to come out agressively and try to prove he’s still a great rider, either on the last mountain stage or in the time trial.
Periero has to be the surprise of the tour – he was 28 minutes out of GC, and didn’t look like he had a prayer, until the Phonak led peleton let his break-away get 30 minutes ahead. Once he tasted yellow, he started riding like a contender. Will he keep it? I doubt it. I have to say that it’s probably going to be Sastre or Kloden, because they’ve got the strong teams, the experience, and the ability.
Over the Armstrong Era, we’ve come to think of the Alps as the place where the favourite made time on his rivals, gaining time on most or all of his rivals by attacking on the last major climb of stages with several killer climbs, never losing time to any of them. Well, it’s a new game in town, and favourites are human too. No one team and no one man is as dominant now as Armstrong and US Postal were. That’s both sad and exciting.