Friday, July 8, 2011

Tour de France

The first week of the Tour de France has been very interesting to watch, but quite brutal (and bruising) for the riders. As far as I can tell,only Team HTC-High Road and Team Leopard-Trek have come through the many crashes largely unscathed (perhaps because they've been riding at the front most of the time). Defending champ Alberto Contador has crashed three times so far; Levi Leipheimer seems to be averaging about one crash per stage so far. Another of Team Radio Shack's four GC contenders, Janez Brajkovic, crashed out of the race yesterday. Even on today's seventh stage, favored by good weather, a mostly flat course, and pretty wide roads, several yellow-jersey contenders were caught in a huge pile-up. The main loser from today's carnage was Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins, who finished the race in an ambulance with an apparent broken collarbone. And Team Radio Schack's dynamic American duo of Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner have just about crashed out of contention for the yellow jersey (on the other hand, their large time gaps may allow them to escape on breakaways, once the race gets to the Pyrenees this weekend).

I can't recall a previous tour where so many of the GC favorites lost so much time during the first week. Here is how much time some of them have lost to current race leader (but not yellow-jersey contender) Thor Hushovd:

Ivan Basso 1:03
Alberto Contador 1:42
Christian Vande Velde 1:57
Levi Leipheimer 4:29
Roman Kreuziger 5:35
Chris Horner 12:59

It's possible, of course, for great climbers like Contador to pull back large chunks of time in the mountains, but he's going to have to leapfrog a number of strong climbers to get back to the two step of the podium, including Cadel Evans, the Schleck brothers, Andreas Kloden (Team Radio Shack's only GC contender to have survived the first week of racing), and Robert Gesink. Each of those riders leads Contador by at least one minute. And several of them, including the Schlecks, Kloden, and Evans, have stronger teams to help them. If Contador comes back to win the Tour this year, it will be his greatest victory.

What seems most clear after the first week of racing in France is that no American rider will stand on the podium in Paris on July 24th.

UPDATE: Cyclingnews is reporting (here) that Horner's TdF may well be over. He finished today's stage, but apparently has no memory of it. He suffered what must have been a pretty serious concussion as well as a broken nose. Those injuries occurred in the same crash that put Bradley Wiggins in the ambulance and out of the race. Team Radio Shack, which started with four potential podium contenders, are now basically down to one, Andreas Kloden. And if Horner is not there to help protect him, Kloden's prospects are definitely diminished.

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