Tuesday, July 8, 2008


CHANGE, CHANGE. First it was Spain that celebrated. Yesterday the French could celebrate. Today, it's the Germans. Tomorrow?

SCHUMACHER BURNS UP THE COURSE. Today's Individual Time Trial was a short 29.5 kilometer ride that called for a sustained blast of energy. Most riders finished the course in about 40 minutes, but the winner, Stefan Schumacher of Germany completed it in 35.44 minutes, averaging 49.534 km/h. Schumacher's time was not only good enough for the Stage 4 win, but good enough to put him in the Yellow Jersey as the third leader in 4 stages of this year's Tour de France. Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara was heavily favored to win this stage, but he finished fifth. What happened?

SHAKE UP. The ITT shook up the leadership of the Tour, making the race leadership look more like it would have looked like had there been the usual Prologue prior to Stage 1. It looks good for Cadel Evans and Kim Kirchen, even Christian Vande Velde. On the other hand, it looks like Alejandro Valdverde is not yet strong enough in time trials to stamp his leadership on the Tour.

AMERICANS. Two Americans, George Hincapie and Christian Vande Velde finished in the top ten in the ITT. Danny Pate was in the top 15. The Americans have learned from Lance Armstrong that a key ingredient to a successful Tour is to work hard on and ride well in individual and team time trials.

TOP TEN. Here are the top ten times in the race after Stage 4 (name, nation, team, time):

1 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner total lapsed time: 14 hrs. 4 min. 14 sec.
2 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Columbia -0.12
3 David Millar (GBr) Garmin Chipotle -0.12
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto -0.21
5 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) CSC-Saxo Bank -0.23
6 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin Chipotle -0.37
7 George Hincapie (USA) Columbia -0.41
8 Thomas Lövkvist (Swe) Columbia -0.47
9 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas -0.58
10 José Iván Gutierrez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne -1.01

OTHER CONTENDERS. Here's where others considered contenders to win this Tour are placed after Stage 4:

11 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank -1.12
16 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre -1.26
17 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne -1.27
18 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team CSC-Saxo Bank -1.29
23 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC-Saxo Bank -1.43

SIX TO WATCH. After four stages, the race appears to be up for grabs among six riders. Count David Millar and Cancellara out of the running; they are not mountain climbers. Hincapie and Lovkvist will sacrifice themselves for Kirchen in the mountains (too bad for Hincapie, because I think he's got the stuff to lead Columbia and be on the Paris podium). Nibali and Gutierrez, likewise, are support riders. Team leaders Denis Menchov, Damiano Cunego, and Valverde are great mountain climbers and they can readily erase 90-second deficits. But can they put enough time ahead of Evans, Kirchen and Vande Velde in the mountains before the second Individual Time Trial to keep the lead, should they capture it? We'll see.

HOW TO LOSE IT IN THE FIRST WEEK. Lance Armstrong was quoted recently as saying (repeating): "You can't win the Tour in the first week, but you can lose it." How to lose it: (1) wreck in the peloton, (2) do a poor Individual Time Trial, (3) fail to respond aggressively to breakaways. It looks like Evans and Kirchen are following his formula closely.

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