HOW WILL THE ITT's IMPACT? I was wondering... with times among the top 8 contenders for the Yellow Jersey within four minutes of each other after 11 stages AND with two big Individual Time Trials coming up (this Saturday - Stage 13 and next Saturday - Stage 19), what difference might these ITT's make in the GC?
HOW THEY FARED IN 2006. So, I just did a bit of checking on how the current contenders fared in last year's two Individual Time Trials. Last year's ITT's were 52 km and 54 km rides. Combining the results (and, trust me, there may be error in my adding and subtracting hours and minutes, but it's relatively close), here's some of our current contenders' combined 2006 TdF ITT times, starting with the fastest and showing the deficits from there. 2007 contenders current place in the GC is in ( ):
(2) Andreas Kloden 2 hrs. 11 min. 52 sec.
(13) Oscar Pereiro 2.14.48 -2'56" behind Kloden's time
(4) Cadel Evans 2.14.58 -3'06"
(18) Denis Menchov 2.15.44 -3'52"
(6) Carlos Sastre 2.16.11 -4'19"
(14) Christophe Moreau 2.17.01 -6'19"
(9) Levi Leipheimer 2.21.35 -9'43"
(10) Mikel Aztarloza 2.21.52 -10'00"
(1) Michael Rasmussen 2.24.48 -12'56"
HOW THEY FARED WITHOUT COMPLETING. A few of this year's contenders started last year's Tour but weren't around for the first or second Individual Time Trial. Some didn't ride in last year's Tour. Here's how they've fared in TdF ITT situations in the past:
(2) Alejandro Valverde - finished 5th in the 2006 Prologue, 4.49 behind Thor Hushovd's winning time. Valverde crashed out of the 2006 Tour before reaching the first ITT. He abandoned before the 2005 TdF ITT, too.
(3) Iban Mayo -5.36 behind the Stage winner for 82nd place in the first 2006 ITT. Mayo abandoned the Tour before the second ITT. Mayo is a past podium finisher, however.
(5) Alberto Contador - did not race in the 2006 TdF, but finished in the top five in the 2005 Prologue, 1.51 behind the winner. He finished the 2005 ITT -6.12 behind the stage winner -- Lance Armstrong.
(19) Alexandre Vinokourov - did not race in the 2006 TdF, but in previous Tours, his time trial finishes are consistently in the top ten. Here's where Vino can make up significant time in 2007.
LURKERS WHO COULD FACTOR. Some of the GC lurkers and long shots like Frank Schleck, Chris Horner, and Yaroslav Popovych have good times in past TdF ITT's, but not the kind of times that could move them from their current placements into contention...unless they literally fly while others falter.
X-FACTORS. Have any of the current top contenders vastly improved their time trialing since last year? Levi Leipheimer, supposedly; but his Prologue time was mediocre. Christophe Moreau, supposedly; but he dropped lots of time today. Cadel Evans? Who else? Also, consider: the first Individual Time Trial comes on Saturday, after these flat transition stages and prior to the punishing Pyrenees. The second ITT comes the day before Paris, after the riders have had a few more flat transition stages. After the Pyrenees, some will be very motivated for the second ITT; some will be crestfallen.
Andreas Kloden is the best-placed to benefit from the ITT's. He can take over the lead with consistently strong ITT's.
Cadel Evans can move on up to the top, too. Who wants it more?
Alberto Contador's a wild card, but his ITT times indicate he could move from 5th place into the top three. Will this Discovery Channel team member be permitted to contend for the Yellow Jersey along with team leader Levi Leipheimer, or will his prowess be sacrificed to assist Leipheimer onto the podium? Or, will Levi serve Alberto? What will team director Johann Bruyneel do? These are the Days of our Lives...
The ITT's will prove a challenge for current Yellow Jersey wearer Michael Rasmussen. I know he thinks he's still a contender, but history says the Dane can't compete in the ITT's with the company he's currently keeping. To be fair, his ITT last year was simply disastrous, including a wreck.
Levi Leipheimer, too, needs to prove his mettle with these upcoming ITT's. He's finished well enough, but not with championship-winning exploits. If ever you've sensed the moment, Levi, this may be it! Carpe diem (or something like that...)!
Alejandro Valverde? Inconclusive; consider it a wash. Let's just hope he actually finishes the Tour this time.
Iban Mayo? Less than stellar; a wash at best. If he's not leading coming out of the Pyrenees, his second ITT will be critical.
Oscar Pereiro? This poor guy is getting no respect, even though he placed 2nd in the 2006 TdF. But his ITT finishes indicate he will improve his chances before Paris.
Christophe Moreau? It's a dream, but not out of reach. Can you put the hammer down for France, Christophe? You know the lay of this land better than anyone. Claim it!
Alexandre Vinokourov? Vino may well cruise to the top five times in both ITT's, putting him back into the mix. If Vino does very well on Saturday, he'll be motivated to climb like a wild banshee in the Pyrenees. If he does well there, he'll smoke the last ITT and glide into Paris.
So, what do you think? Weigh in...