Coming out of the rest day, I looked to take stock in the race leaders to see how they are doing.
Cadel Evans. Wearing yellow at the moment should be a good sign. My concern here is that his team is showing to be a lot weaker than I thought. He is easily isolated in the mountains and that in a dangerous situation for the Aussie. He can afford to give a little time to all his rivals with the exception of Menchov since he is far superior to everyone in the Time Trial. Watch out though because time lost in the mountains can come in big chunks. I’ll still put him on the top step in Paris but I am less sure of that prediction than I was at the beginning. Chances of victory: Good
Denis Menchov. Made some mental mistakes that cost him precious seconds. He sits 57 seconds off Yellow so he’ll need to show some aggression in the Alps. I would like to see him with a slight lead over Evans heading into the final time trial. Menchov needs to guard against any aggression creating his signature bad day. I also don’t think Rabobank can support Denis in yellow too long. Chances of victory: Fair
Carlos Sastre: CSC is clearly the strongest team among the leading contenders. Carlos Sastre just can’t seem to deliver a solid blow to the other racers. I don’t know if he lacks the ability to do it now or the killer instinct. I don’t see the acceleration he once showed in 2003 on the Plateau de Bonascre. While he was riding defensively since Frank Schleck was up ahead, he had an opportunity to escape alone and bridge the gap to Schleck where the two could have put serious time into Evans. He gave what looked like a half hearted try. Time is running out since he will need at least 3 minutes going into the final time trial. Chances of victory: Poor – Fair
Alejandro Valverde: After completely blowing up on the Tourmalet, Valverde’s chances are slim to none. Time to think of the Vuelta.
As for the long shots, Cunego did not make a peep before being dropped with Valverde on Stage 10. I expect Damiano to take a shot at redemption on L’Alpe. Kim Kirchen is really making a name for himself as the best of the rest. He led in both the points and overall classifications by showing he is a very strong rider.
Frank Schleck is having a great tour. He showed us his Achilles heel with a very weak time trial losing a huge amount of time ( 2:14) over a short 29km. He will not be given much room to break away in the Alps and I don’t think he has the acceleration to break free on his own. If CSC decides to dedicate themselves to him, he may stand a chance to get time. Then he has to ride the TT of his life. A lot of “ifs” for a real shot at the top step. He has a very good shot at 3rd.
I’m not going to give much press to Ricardo Rico. He has shown he has tremendous talent as a climber. A top eight finish is probable.
Finally, Christian Vande Velde is having an unbelievable Tour. Garmin is getting paid back their entire investment in just one race. I hope he can hang on through a tough final week and get a shot at the podium. Will midnight strike for this Cinderella in the Alps? Here is someone who is hoping it does not.
I’ve given you five names for three steps. The fight for each step is going to keep me rivited.