So the story of the Tour 2012 is now clearly outlined. We don't know the ending, but we have the the main characters emerging and rough idea of what might the plot. Tomorrow is a rest day, the following two days in the Alps are proper mountain stages, although only one ends with a mountain top finish. Loads of climbing and descending, if any of the riders or teams want to try and make something happen. Whether it is the 31 k of climbing and 33k of descending at the end of the stage Thursday, or the big hills (one over 2,000 m) and mountaintop finish on Friday, it is hard to believe nothing will happen by the weekend. I should spend Saturday watching the last climb of the day in Sete.
The basic story is that Sky seems to be the strongest team in the race, by a margin. They have two guys in the top three, either of whom could win the Tour. That is not normal, and defeating both of them will require some ingenious strategies and some risks on the part of teams and individuals. If no one can think of some strategy (alliances/attacks), if no one takes a risk, and everyone rides to secure “a place in the top ten”, then it will be a procession to Paris. I doubt it. Maybe I am always optimistic, but I cannot believe that Evans and Nibali, at least, won't try something very soon. I also think the mountains jersey is up for grabs and someone will escape the attention of Sky and be allowed to go forth and climb. So at least we will have an escape. Both days. Radio Shack, judging by their performance on the last stage and today's ITT, has an excellent team, even if they don't have an outstanding rider. I am sure they will have something to say, although the team's internal politics seem to be a complete disaster. This might have some effect on their performance. I feel like I should belike Bernard Hinault, with a megaphone screaming attack, attack.
As for the results of the ITT, they were a bit unambiguous and yet not altogether unexpected. Surprises? I had no idea Tejay would do so well. It is his first Tour, he is a lad, and he rode like a demon. If you told me that the top three Radio Shack guys after stage 9 would be Zubeldia, Montfort and Tejay, I would have laughed out loud. I can only assume that the other big hitters on the team will come through soon, maybe cause a bit of trouble. Don't forget, there were four of them at the end of the last medium mountain stage. Four. If you had predicted that Chavanel would beat, Evans, Kloden, Menchov, T Martin and Nibali in the ITT, I would have thought you were on some kind of French chauvinist kick. Bravo Sylvain. Maybe he has more to say.
Still, when all is said and done, one-two in a long ITT does not often happen for a team. Sky is the one to beat. Our pleasure will be to watch and see what solutions the other teams come up with to try and beat them. Froomie and Wiggo do look pretty on those TT bikes. Even Jalabert is beginning to think that is it possible to lose weight (climb well) and still retain power (TT well). This is what the Sky trainers have said all along. On the forums and elsewhere, the suspicions of drug taking multiply. No one can believe it comes from good diet, attention to details, careful training and excellent equipment. We will know soon enough whether they are riding clean or not. For now, you have just heard me say all I will say.
Did you notice that both Bradley and Cadel are now in the top ten of the points jersey? After the next two mountain stages there might be more climbers too. Sagan should still take the jersey though. The mountains jersey is still on Kessiakoff's shoulders, since there were no certified climbs in the ITT. But there can be no doubt whatever that after the next two stages, the jersey will probably rest on the shoulders of a serious pretender. We still have utterly no idea who is interested in that jersey. Although I thought we might know by now, it is also true that there are more points on offer in the next stage alone than there have been in the entire Tour until now. For example, the first guy to the top of the big climb on Thursday's stage will automatically take the virtual jersey. The first guy over the HC climb gets 25 points. The current leader has 21. We have not even begun to hit the real mountains. So we have some fun to come in that contest. The young rider's jersey looks like it is between Rein and Tejay. Two funny names. Surely Tony Gallopin, who is third, cannot possibly survive the next two stages with all that climbing. Thibaut Pinot might do some attacking, he is only three minutes behind. However, is he likely to drop both Rein and Tejay? The rest of them are out of the contest. Although maybe Izaguirri might still have a very outside chance. Radio Shack is now “the best team”, mainly due to their spectacular result on the last stage, and their pretty good performance on the ITT. Unless there is some serious event, it should be either Shack or Sky who take the team prize.
With all the talk about crashes and riders being eliminated, it is surprising to know that 11 of the 22 teams in the Tour have not lost a single rider. Not one. Although there are a few bandages and a fair bit of pain being carried around. On the other hand, Euskatel has lost four riders, with Garmin and Movistar losing three.
Sorry to mention this stuff, it is not a pleasure.
Off I go on my rest day. See you on Wednesday after the stage that ends with two climbs (one Hors Categorie) and long downhill run to a slightly uphill finish. Seems like maybe stage for a break to stay away, while the top ten guys look at each other.