A few story lines from the first difficult mountain stage with a mountain finish (the most fun to watch/follow):
KUDOS TO THE ESCAPEES. Eight of a group of nine escapees made it to the line ahead of the select bunch who are in real contention for winning the Tour de France. Kudos to Frenchman Brice Feilleu who won Stage 7 and to Italian Rinaldo Nocentini for donning the Yellow Jersey as race leader. Both cyclists were part of a long breakaway group of nine riders who successfully stayed ahead of the peloton all day.
STYING IN CONTENTION. Every legitimate contender to win the race was in the group of cyclists who finished together over three minutes after Feilleu crossed the line: Cadel Evans, Lance Armstrong, Frank Schleck, Levi Leipheimer, Bradley Wiggins, Tony Martin, Denis Menchov, Carlos Sastre, Christian Vande Velde. Out of this group (plus one) will come the 2009 Tour de France champion.
CONTADOR MAKES A POWER GRAB. And 20 seconds ahead of this group of contenders was 2007 Tour winner Spaniard Alberto Contador. Contador attacked this select group in the last kilometer, going against this team's plan, to erase his 19-second deficit to teammate Lance Armstrong. The move was likely calculated to give him the Yellow Jersey, but it failed. It moved Contador from third to second place in the overall standings and puts him two seconds ahead of third-place Armstrong.
TIT FOR TAT. Those few seconds may have cost Contador much more. His move was a power grab and a direct assault on/insult to Armstrong. We'll see how Armstrong responds. Contador may have "fired a shot across Armstrong's bow" (to quote VeloNews), but he may have lost the confidence of his teammates and ensured that Armstrong is now free to attack him whenever he feels like it. Interesting team dynamics, eh?
CANCELLARA'S REIGN ENDS. Fabian Cancellara, who has worn the Yellow Jersey since Stage 1, gave it up and will not wear it again in this year's Tour. The Swiss is not enough of a mountain climber to compete with the elite ones. He may win a few more stages, but his leadership of the Tour is over.
JERSEY, JERSEY, WHO WANTS THE JERSEY? Look for the Yellow Jersey to switch backs quite a few times over the next two weeks. Whoever is wearing the Maillot Jaune, watch for the ultimate winner to come from the group listed above. I think it's going to come down to Armstrong and Contador. And my sentimental favorite Armstrong.